22 Jan 2020

Men are the worst

Men are the worst.

This sentence might make you angry, especially if you're a man. If it doesn't, my hope is that it will by the time you're done reading this.

I’m not a man. I’m non-binary, approximately feminine within some margin of error. But I was assigned male at birth, and so for the last 25 years, I've been trying to find my place in masculinity. Now that I've realised my place is outside it, I have some parting thoughts.

Masculinity is narrow. In our culture, being a man restricts so much of your life: appearance, dress, careers, hobbies, sexuality, emotional literacy, emotional intimacy, platonic affection. It bars you from asking for help. It prevents you from showing emotion, be it sadness or joy. It tells you that you are superior if, and only if, you prove you’re manly enough by obeying its restrictions, and it encourages enforcing those restrictions and exploiting that superiority with mockery and violence.

When men are called out on bad behaviour, a common response is that "boys will be boys". It is in the nature of men to harass, to creep, to be violent, to exclude, to treat others as lesser than them. It is innate. It is unchangeable. It can’t be helped, or so it is said.

If it can’t be helped, the rational solution is to lock all men up for the betterment of society, so it’s just as well that this is complete nonsense.

If you are a man, this defence should insult you; it is saying that you are not capable of being better. But that is not the truth. Masculinity as it is now is not the way things must be. Men can create a new, better, safer masculinity, one that is fearless in its love and kindness and inclusion.

Traditional masculinity is exclusively and aggressively heterosexual, so gay and bi men are excluded from it, and they suffer for that exclusion. Outside its confines, many of them have created a masculinity that is richer, more diverse, and far more interesting. Tear down those confines, and you simultaneously welcome them in and let yourself out.

My boyfriend wrote this, on the topic of toxic masculinity amongst trans men (a topic that is itself not my place to discuss):

We need to carve out a healthy masculinity space. Occupy it, exemplify it, use our voices to protect others, and show that the place exists. We need cis men to join us, rather than us joining them in toxicity.

In finding their way to masculinity, some trans men arrive at one that is not traditional masculinity, but that is healthier and kinder. One of those men says "we need cis men to join us", but cis men themselves need that space more than many of them realise.

If you are a cisgender man, your journey is different. You can find your way to masculinity—the masculinity that culture guides you to—on autopilot. But maybe you shouldn’t. To an extent, trans people’s journeys to our gender identities are conscious and deliberate, out of necessity. Maybe yours should be conscious and deliberate too.

There are also positive forms of traditional masculinity, men that see themselves as traditionally masculine, but that reject the toxic parts of that identity. They reject the gate-keeping of masculinity, and they reject that long list of important parts of life that traditional masculinity sees as weakness. They reject the idea that those unlike them are lesser, and they treat women, non-binary people, and non-conforming men as equals worthy of respect.

Create a masculinity that is so much broader, more welcoming, and more inclusive than the one we have. Create a masculinity where you can be you, and where others can be themselves.

Men are the worst, and that should make you angry, because that fact is hurting you and everyone around you. But this is not immutable, and you can be part of the solution, and perhaps you already are!

So treat masculinity like a campsite, or perhaps like it’s a buggy legacy codebase you inherited from the generations before you. Leave masculinity better than you found it.

This is a written adaptation of my Linux.conf.au 2020 lightning talk of the same title.