The below is the first half of a 2 part series on masculinity, toxic and healthy.
I aspire to masculinity, but I recognize that there has been a corruption of the ideal which leads people to do sick things. Because of this, I was inspired by a brother (thank you Brendan, whose own wonderful and insightful writings can be found at https://www.facebook.com/Acratophorus-865039256875008/ or https://www.greatnoontide.com) to examine Masculinity, both it’s healthy and unhealthy manifestations.
To even begin down this road required examining a lot of my thoughts surrounding masculinity, what it is and isn’t, and it’s relation to our lives as well as my own relationship to topics like it. As such, this first half doesn’t even touch on masculinity as such, but on the context of a discussion of healthy and toxic masculinity. This is the stage I must set before diving into the material in any significant way.
Why must I examine and own masculinity as an ideal?
I’ve been dealing with an identity crisis for some time. I’m too conservative for the liberal crowd and too liberal for the conservative crowd. I do not consider myself a feminist, but people call me one both as a compliment and as an insult. I’m gay but about as far removed from gay culture as is possible in Los Angeles. In short, in any political group I generally find myself speaking for “the opposition”. As such, I’ve found myself taking pot shots at all the groups and unconsciously shielding myself from needing to make any positive statement of my own. There’s not a lot of virtue to that so I figured this is as good a time as any to make a positive statement, and decide to own masculinity, in both it’s virtue and it’s vice.
On Black Lives Matter, crypto-fascism, plain usage of terms, and masculinity:
This is my definition. It may not match other definitions you’ve heard, ones which authorities espouse. I’m ok with this. The #blacklivesmatter movement is lead and was invented by 3 academics. As they postulate it, it embraces radical queer and feminist theory. Their website covers the “herstory” of the movement. While we can talk about what the founders like and what they’re promoting, we must contrast this with the millions of people employing the term. I sincerely doubt that the poor black 17 year old male from Compton who made it out to peacefully protest in front of LAPD headquarters is thinking about anything except stopping police brutality. I do not believe he’s there to engage in discussions on queer theory. I believe the plain language of the term has trumped the founders intentions, as it should. So also, I am adopting a plain language definition of toxic masculinity, one which implies by it’s very phrasing that there is at very least a “non-toxic” or let me suggest instead, a noble and aspiration-worthy form of masculinity.
My friend posited that the idea of “Toxic masculinity” implies that the essence of masculinity is, itself toxic. The way I’ve seen it used certainly does leave open the question, to which I’ve not seen too many good answers, what then is a non-toxic, or “good” masculinity. I want to answer that question, but I also want to address the idea that embracing the term “toxic masculinity” is inherently anti-masculine. This idea, as it was presented to me, reaches back to the idea that, as the term originated in gender-studies and feminism, and as some of the popular use can be read as implying that masculinity itself is toxic by nature, that any use of the term is inherently forwarding these ideas, even if not consciously.
To examine this, I want to examine another idea, which I likewise reject. During the last election, we heard a lot of the term “crypto-fascist”, a term coined by Gore Vidal in 1968. In this case, however, the original usage of the term is much more reasonable than how it has come to be used. (despite his accusation that Buckley is one being completely wrong as well as out of line) As originally intended, it meant someone who actively and consciously supports fascism, but hides their support in plain language. As I’ve heard it used recently, it’s come to mean that anyone using a given term which is itself harmless, “actually means” some unacceptable thought, one they may not even REALIZE they have, but which their support for an unassailable idea such as liberty, or supporting law and order as a concept, is secretly some love of fascism, and desire for violence.
Just as I utterly and completely reject this idea that people should be condemned because you think they hold a belief which they “don’t even realize they hold” (read: don’t hold) and hence we should reject terminology which has nothing into and of itself wrong, so also do I reject the same idea as it applies to the left.
On throwing the baby out with the bathwater:
A penultimate note before I dive into my actual definition: A while back a good friend encouraged me to read Jack Donovan’s “Androphilia” He thought that, because Donovan’s critique of gay party culture matched many of my own critiques, I would enjoy it and appreciate Donovan’s work. I believe he was taken aback when I was disgusted and disappointed in the book and it’s author. I didn’t find any of his critiques wrong, nor did I take umbrage at his desire to distance himself from that culture. What bothered me was that, based on a brief few years in New York’s club scene, arguably the most intensely hedonistic culture extant at the time (or since), he had decided that that was what it meant to be “gay” and as such, he was not “gay”, and to be “gay” was inherently to be of this hedonistic, disgusting, and sick culture that he had become part of, and now sought to distance himself from. This is, of course, nothing but projecting onto others and an entire group the fears you carry about yourself, and I’ll have no part of it.
This applies to masculinity as well. I grew up with a relatively “macho” father. He was not a jock, but he bragged regularly of how he’d beat up Jocks or the fights he’d won and who he’d embarrassed, as well as his sexual conquests. I grew up knowing that “faggots” [sic] were diseased and going to hell, and had a tendency to get “Disappered” in ‘Nam, that “real men” fight when someone says something bad about them or their family (an ethos that got me more than a few beat downs, none of which I won) There were parts of masculinity I grew up with which were toxic. That being said, my father is a good man and true. He worked with what he had, and his understanding today, like so many people’s, is more nuanced and understanding, without, I believe, giving up that which is noble and true for men to aspire to.
If we are to embrace masculinity, we must admit that it can be approached correctly and incorrectly, and to do so incorrectly can be toxic to the individual and to his community. By admitting this, we free ourselves to embrace the better parts, without need to hide from nor excuse those whose understanding of the same harms themselves and others.
As much as I know at least one reader who will roll their eyes and/or throw up a little in their mouth from this, I reject the idea that gender is nothing more than sex, and that it is inherently binary. I embrace the idea of gender as a wide range of identities and aspirations, neither on a single axis nor merely a range between two extremes (masc/fem) but instead many dimensional, existing in part as a means of understanding ourselves and our relationship to ourselves and others. As such, Masculinity and Femininity are ideals within a wide realm of understanding, “a star among stars” to abuse a Thelemic term. To recognize them in oneself and aspire to them does not in any way denigrate or lessen those who do not aspire to them, be they of the same sex or some other. All work is personal, and as such, while Masculinity and Femininity in their traditional sense are complimentary and opposed, they neither threaten nor invalidate the many other points upon the spectrum, but rather provide one long-held and useful set of aspirational ideals to which we can aspire to improve ourselves. My masculine aspirations are a threat to no one excepting they who aspire to the same and are threatened by others success, which, by the way, would be a purely toxic understanding of any aspirational model, masculine or otherwise.
Masculinity is an ideal, but it is a complex and nuanced ideal. I can think of no single part of the masculine ideal which is entirely unique to masculinity, but in composite there is something which makes a man better at being a man, and that is the thing which I will call masculinity. It is traditional and ancient, having existed from time immemorable. It can be corrupted, but it’s essence is something of incredible value, and something we have as of late, not commonly embraced. I believe that by a true approach to masculinity, many men will greatly improve themselves and the communities which surround them.
I will endeavor within the next week to begin from this premise and build out my understanding of those aspects of ones personality and aspirations which together form a masculine ideal, and to examine how they can be most beneficial, and how they can become toxic.