It’s hard to believe that I’ve lived in Minneapolis for five years now (see past years-in-review: 2008, 2009, 2010, 2011). I knew when I moved here that it’d take at least five years to carve a real foothold, and I think I got more than a foothold now. Thanks to Tru Ruts, See More, Big Cats, Claire, Patrick and everyone else I’ve worked with so far. Here are some highlights from 2012.

I’ve talked at length about this project (check this link for my thoughts, plus critics’ opinions, plus info on how to listen/buy), so if you haven’t guessed by now, I’m very proud of this album. I think these are the best songs I’ve written, over the best beats I’ve worked with, featuring some of the best artists I know. We didn’t just succeed in making a “good” album, we created something truly unique and powerful. It may have almost killed me, but it’s out there now, and that feels unspeakably good. Check it out if you haven’t already.

This year, I received a grant from the MN State Arts Board to organize a show and get some high-quality footage of some of my best work to share online. And thanks to the amazing Patrick Pegg from Unique Techniques (who also put together the music video for “To Young Leaders”), we definitely did that. We haven’t released all of the videos yet, but here are a few:

We got a bunch more; check out my YouTube page for everything that’s been posted so far. Aside from these grant-funded videos, I also posted a ton of other new stuff this year, including “Five Horsemen,” “Neutral,” “Action” and this next one:

While it certainly isn’t my highest-quality video, my poem 10 RESPONSES TO THE PHRASE “MAN UP” got picked up by a ton of blogs, tumblrs and more this year and is now up past 60,000 views. Sometimes I stress about view-counts, but the fact that anyone sits for 3-4 minutes and listens to someone say a poem in this day and age is kind of miraculous. And while this isn’t my most poemy poem or most powerful performance, I’m very glad that this conversation about masculinity and the construction of gender is being had:

While we’ve been throwing these HHAH shows since 2009, we were able to pick up a lot of steam this year because of the referendum battle (which we won, by the way). We played big HHAH shows all over MN, from the Twin Cities to Brainerd to St. Cloud to Northfield and beyond. A huge thanks to Kaoz, Heidi Barton Stink and See More Perspective, who played all of them with me.

This was, by far, the busiest and most rewarding year ever for me in terms of performing. From sold-out hip hop shows to performing in the Fringe Festival for the first time to playing dozens of different colleges and universities to shows with Doomtree, Andrea Gibson, Murs, Psalm One and more, it was a very busy year. I also curated a series of shows at Intermedia Arts (including “MN Splice: A Celebration of Mixed Heritage” and “Death Poetry Jam: Songs and Poems about Death and Remembrance”), traveled all around the Midwest, and played more benefits and fundraisers than any other artist I know. A new challenge this year was being commissioned to write, memorize and perform new work for big nonprofits or companies and their gala events. Very challenging but very rewarding too. My full (well, not completely full, but the stuff I’ve recorded) list of performances is here.

I won the MPLS Grand Poetry Slam this year, and joined our national team for the fourth time. We didn’t win the whole thing this year (like we did in 2009 and 2010), but we repped the Twin Cities at NPS in Charlotte, NC and performed beautifully yet again. This will probably be my last NPS for a while (or ever), so it was great to go out on a high note, with a very powerful, forward-thinking team. Check them all out here.

When I say I’m an artist/educator, I take the “educator” part of that seriously. It’s not just “I talked to some kids one day about rapping.” This is my job. I doubt anyone is all that interested in a full list, but I facilitated a ton of workshops and classes this year, engaged in a few longer residencies (including full weeks at Highland Park High, Roseau High, Tri-County and more), sat on a bunch of panels and even gave a few keynote addresses. As an artist without a day job, this is kind of my bread and butter when I’m not performing, and I’ll only be doing more this coming year. Get in touch if you want to book something. I’m also really excited to keep working with Tish Jones (in the photo above) on the K.N.E.W. MN Youth Poetry Slam series. More news on that coming soon.

While “Weaponize” took up most of my time and energy this year, I was able to put out a few other songs here and there:

This is a remix of an old Guante & Big Cats song by Graham O’Brien, who plays drums in No Bird Sing and makes some of the hardest beats out there:
This Is The Opposite Of A Suicide Note (Graham O’Brien Remix) by Guante

This is a song me and Kristoff Krane wrote over a Big Jess (of Unknown Prophets fame) beat for his “Honorable Mention” series. I actually wrote a bar-by-bar analysis of my verse here. Here’s the song:
Pushing Boundaries w/ Kristoff Krane (prod. Big Jess) by Guante

I wrote a song called “Tattoos for Toddlers” to a Lazerbeak beat for a Doomtree contest and made the finals:
Guante by Lava Bangers Rap Contest

I was honored to feature on two songs on Heidi Barton Stink’s brilliant debut album, “A Charming Gut.” Here’s one of them:
Won’t Let Ya Slide by Heidi Barton Stink featuring Guante and SEE MORE PERSPECTIVE
A cool posse cut from Junkyard Empire’s new album featuring me, Truthmaze and RDM of the Abstract Pack:
The Junkyard Cypher by Junkyard Empire
And while it wasn’t an official release with a promo push or release party or anything like that, my “Extra Life” sampler CDs sold out this year, with 2000 physical copies gone. You can still get a modified version of it online here.

Here are the highest-traffic posts of the year, aside from posts about my music or poetry:

Watch for more writing on music, social justice and more this year, plus more video blog/PSA stuff. Thanks for reading and spreading the word!

I also bought a house, aced the GRE and got a new tattoo. As always, thanks again to everyone out there listening, reading, coming to shows and engaging in dialogue. It may seem silly, but I think the thing I’m most happy about this year was asking for 100 shares of our Bandcamp link on my Facebook page and actually getting it (and more). That kind of word-of-mouth is worth more than any write-up or blog attention.

2013 will be even busier. While I may not be slamming or even releasing another hip hop album anytime soon, I have some other projects in the works that I’m very excited about. Check back here or follow me on Twitter for updates. Thanks again for all the support.

(Syria: photo from AP/The Guardian)

The other day, hip hop artist Dessa tweeted this: “Alright, all you informed activists. I’m moved by the situation in Syria. I don’t know how to help. Suggestions?”

This is a very common question– not just about Syria, but about any number of causes. As someone who people call an “activist” (though I could definitely do more to live up to that, and be more involved in any number of important struggles than I am), I get this question a lot– from students, from fellow artists and from random people on the internet. I don’t have answers, but a few thoughts:

1. The Power of Education and Media
“Media activism” sometimes gets looked down on as a form of “slacktivism,” as a bunch of people posting Facebook statuses dedicated to ending world hunger or re-tweeting some vaguely political statement made by Lupe Fiasco. And sure, social media isn’t going to save the world. But let’s not pretend that every person using social media, writing letters-to-the-editor or designing stencil graffiti patterns is intending to “save the world.” Political, social and cultural change is a big, long-term process, made up of many different strands– some concrete and immediately impactful, others more intangible and long-term.

Media activism is about spreading information. It’s about education. It’s a bottleneck through which we can have a lot of impact for minimal effort– and “minimal effort” isn’t automatically a bad thing. You can’t build a movement around any issue if people don’t know anything about it. And you can’t win if people don’t care.

So yes, whether you have 100 Facebook friends or 100,000 Twitter followers, spread the word about the issues you care about. Find someone more knowledgeable than yourself and help amplify their voice. Write letters and op-eds. Shoot a PSA. Create poetry and visual art and film based on the things you care about. None of this by itself will change anything, but change won’t come without it either.

Related: “Beyond the Benefit: 3 Ways Artists Can Have a Concrete Impact on the Election and the Larger Movement”

2. Make Global Issues Local
Whether you’re talking about war and torture in Syria or poverty and oppression anywhere else in the world, it is neither possible nor helpful for you to want to “go somewhere and save everyone.” That’s not the right attitude to have. Instead, research the issue. Figure out the connections between what’s going on “over there” and your own community. It’s not too unlike poetry– you have to take big, abstract ideas and make them manageable.

It’s the difference between holding a rally to demand that the US stop supporting Israel and engaging in a targeted, tactical divestment campaign within the local university. It’s the difference between protesting “war and imperialism” and setting up a counter-recruitment booth at a school or community event where the military is trying to recruit kids. It’s the difference between saying “I’m against racism” and organizing a weekly facilitated discussion where you and your neighbors can talk about their experiences and build. It’s the difference between supporting LGBTQ rights, voting for LGBTQ rights, and volunteering to campaign to get 1000 people to vote for LGBTQ rights. The list goes on and on.

When problems like the violence in Syria, or global warming, or global poverty are so huge, we have no choice but to think tactically, use the power of own communities and…

3. Organize Together
If there’s an issue that you care deeply about, you’re probably not alone. Google it. Find an organization. Find a crew of like-minded people with whom you can work. Maybe they’ll have ideas about what to do, or maybe they’ll be as confused and inexperienced as you. But this is how movements start: people identify a problem, get together, and do something about it. One person may not be able to make a difference when it comes to fighting these huge world problems, but one person can definitely make a difference in the context of an organization. For Twin Cities readers, be sure to check out the MN Activist Project, which lists a bunch of good local activist organizations.

This is also about understanding, however, that sometimes there’s nothing you can do. Well, that’s not quite right. There’s always something you can do– that’s what this essay is about. But there isn’t always a clear path, easily-identifiable solution or action point. Using Syria as an example, you can try to pressure your own government to adopt a particular stance (diplomacy & sanctions vs. arming the opposition vs. all-out invasion vs. whatever), or you can donate to a particular charity that is involved with helping civilians, or you can organize a rally for awareness, but you can’t march over there and punch Assad in the face. “Activism,” as I understand it, is about recognizing both the power you have and the power you don’t have, and forming a plan from there.

Whether the issue is intensely personal or big and abstract, local or global, well-known or unknown, it can always be addressed somehow. Movements of everyday people have won, time and time again. I think these three points are important first steps to consider, but there’s always more– anything anyone would add?

Related: “Where Does Change Come From?” and “Five Steps Toward Getting Involved

(Soundset crowd; photo jacked from

Obviously, there’s nothing wrong with benefit concerts (usually). Artists will always be involved in raising money for charities, campaigns and organizations, and that’s cool. But as any organizer will tell you, raising money isn’t the end goal. And artists have a lot more to offer.

Here’s the thing: I’m not asking artists to take leadership roles in social movements or do anything that affects their income. I’m also not asking anyone to change their style or preferred subject matter. I’m just saying that artists– especially rappers and musicians– are uniquely situated to make a big difference in the upcoming election (and in activist movements beyond that) because of our networks and promotional capabilities. In a perfect world, we’d all get directly involved in activist campaigns, but I know that reality doesn’t always allow that to happen. So here are three examples of easy, concrete things that artists can do to make a difference:

We know that in elections, cities (especially the TC) generally vote progressive, and the suburbs and rural areas generally don’t. Obviously, a lot of this has to with demographics, but there’s also the fact that progressive campaigns are easier to organize in big cities. So who has access to thousands of people outside of the metro area? Touring artists. When you play shows in Bemidji or Brainerd or Winona or Duluth or Rochester or St. Cloud or Morris or wherever (including the Twin Cities, because we shouldn’t make the assumption that everyone here is “already down,” because they’re not), that’s a tremendous opportunity. Standing on stage in front of 800 mostly-white, politically-moderate young people? That’s a gift. Touring artists have the potential to reach and influence thousands of potential voters and potential activists.

All it takes is a minute out of your 45-minute set to say a few words about, for example, the upcoming photo ID and marriage amendments and why we should all vote no on both. Or maybe you tell people about the Occupy Homes movement and the amazing work that they’re doing. Or maybe you just direct people to a table that has information on how to get involved with whatever local movement is going on, or to register to vote, or whatever. If you’re not comfortable speaking about this stuff, connect with an activist who can. Or hell, get at me and I’ll come to your show and talk.

The key word is “intentional.” A lot of artists are on some “I don’t want to be preachy; my music encourages people to think for themselves” and that’s cool but it’s wasted potential. Sharing resources isn’t being preachy. Connecting your art to something substantive and positive doesn’t make you self-important or whatever. It’s just a concrete, effective way to leverage the fact that we have audiences, audiences that activist movements can’t always reach as easily. That’s power– and it’s wasted if it’s not realized.

It doesn’t just have to be in real life, either. Artists have access to email lists, Facebook fan pages, Twitter accounts with lots of followers and more. If you’re on Twitter, follow accounts like Take Action MN or MN United or Jay Smooth or any other activist, group or campaign and re-tweet stuff every once in a while. Obviously, posting articles and links on Facebook and Twitter doesn’t change the world by itself, but when an artist has ten thousand “likes” or five thousand Twitter followers, it really does make a difference. Ripple effects can happen.

In this case, it’s not even artists who are necessarily important– it’s just anyone with a large network. Artists tend to have larger networks than civilians, but maybe you’re just a cool kid with five thousand Facebook friends– this applies to you too, then. Spread the word– “media” isn’t just the nightly news, pop radio and the newspaper– it’s all of us. We are the media, and we can transmit the information we want people to know about.

Is it fair that so many people pay more attention to their favorite rapper than their congressional representative? Maybe not. But it’s also a reality, and we can use it. If you’re even a halfway-successful artist, people are paying attention to you. People like some aspect of what you’re about. Maybe they just think you’re cute. Maybe they think you’re brilliant. Maybe they just like you because their friends like you– it doesn’t matter. Related to the other two points, this one is about taking advantage of your position as a beloved or semi-beloved public figure.

This can be as simple as wearing a “vote no” t-shirt on stage or adding a political note on your Facebook page’s banner. Another great option is to record a simple video PSA about an issue that you’re passionate about and then share it widely. Here’s an example:

And I’ll be real: this isn’t about altruism. I don’t expect artists to do all this stuff out of the goodness of their hearts. It’s about building community and creating sustainable synergy: when you take a stand or get involved, that helps you and your career too. It opens up new audiences for you. It adds depth and substance to your artistic persona. It simply gets your name out there more. These are all positive things– everybody wins.

A sold-out show at First Ave. that doesn’t include any of the above is a wasted opportunity. Even a lightly-attended show at Honey or the Nomad that doesn’t include any of the above is a wasted opportunity. It might still be a great show and a lot of fun– I’m just saying that as a community, we have the potential to do so much more.

I believe that artists are uniquely situated to have an impact on not just the upcoming election, but on the progressive movement as a whole (because let’s be real: there’s going to be a hell of a lot of work to do no matter what happens in November). But we have to be intentional. We have to be clever. We have to be proactive. Feel free to leave any other ideas or suggestions in the comments.

RELATED: Artist/Activist Partnerships: Five Tips for Booking Your Benefit

(photo by See More Perspective, who has a new song out)

A few months ago, I wrote this essay for WIN Magazine, and now it’s out: Artist/Activist Partnerships: Five Tips For Booking Your Benefit.  It also includes a basic history of the Hip Hop Against Homophobia series.  If you’re an activist event organizer, it may be worth a read.  I think it’s important to be very intentional (a word I use about a hundred times in the essay) about collaboration, and that’s really what the piece is all about.  Feel free to share.

A few other random updates:

1. My poem REACH is featured at Indie Feed (audio) and at Button Poetry (video). If you like spoken-word, these are both major resources you should know about.

2. I’m currently booking shows for Fall, Winter and Spring, both spoken-word shows and/or Guante & Big Cats shows. If you have any contacts (especially at colleges and universities– activist organizations, hip hop or spoken-word organizations, social justice student centers, performing arts committees, etc.), shoot me an email at and we can set something up.

3. We didn’t win the National Poetry Slam, but we did eat a lot of southern food. I have some great videos of my team— will post them this month sometime. Also got into a constructive discussion on my Facebook page about slam, democracy, elitism, sexism and more.

4. Ayo I’m on Wikipedia now. I don’t know who set up the page, and there are a couple of small errors, but thanks. Here it is. Guess I can retire now.

5. Finally, big new Guante & Big Cats album announcement coming up soon. We finished the second round of mixes today and now just have to send it away to get mastered and duplicated. We’ll be releasing the tracklist, album cover, release party details and some videos and songs over the next two months. The album is called YOU BETTER WEAPONIZE and it’s the best thing I’ve ever done.  Stay tuned.

Recently, comedian Daniel Tosh dealt with a heckler by saying “wouldn’t it be funny if that girl got raped by like, five guys right now? Like right now? What if a bunch of guys just raped her?” This touched off a firestorm of both criticism and defensiveness and knee-jerk reactions. And this is nothing new. Comedians (good ones and bad ones) have been making rape jokes for a long time, and Tosh is just the current lightning rod. But I think this is a good opportunity for dialogue, especially among artists—comics, poets, rappers, writers of every kind. Here are three points I think are important:

1. We’re not picking sides between “pro-censorship” and “anti-censorship.” We’re picking sides between “pro-rape jokes” and “anti-rape jokes.”

This is not a free speech issue. As a comic (or poet, or rapper, or singer or whatever), you have the right to say whatever the hell you want to say on stage. But your audience has that same right. If you say something hurtful or offensive, they can heckle you, call you out, start internet campaigns to ban you from clubs, whatever. And you have to deal with that.

No one is trying to make it illegal for a comic to say offensive shit; we’re just trying to hold you accountable. That’s a huge difference, and people hiding behind the “free speech” argument are really missing the point. I want you to take chances on stage, to challenge people, even to deal with hecklers harshly—but there are a million ways to do that without joking about something that is extremely hurtful to so many people. Less offensive ways, sure, but funnier ways too.

2. “Edgy” comedy or art shouldn’t just be about saying naughty words and pissing people off; it should be about pissing people off in order to make a larger point.

I’m not against any kind of joke on principle. A good comic can make anything funny. But if you’re going to make jokes about rape, your excuse has to be something more than “it’s okay to hurt people because the bit landed, it was funny.” If you’re going to make jokes about potentially offensive topics, there’s an easy way and a hard way. The easy way is to just shout out offensive things in the name of free speech and “pushing people out of their comfort zones.” The hard way is to provide an unflinching, in-depth analysis of the way that people deal with these painful topics, to really explore them, in order to make some kind of profound point about them (and be funny).

Most people who make rape jokes (or gay jokes, or racist jokes, or whatever) aren’t smart enough to have anything worthwhile to add to the conversation. They’re hacks. It’s like a little kid shouting “poop!” in the grocery store and then grinning. Truly edgy writing pushes people out of their comfort zones, sure. But it pushes them toward something, some deeper truth or observation about humanity.

3. Rape jokes don’t magically turn people into rapists, but they do contribute to a larger culture of normalizing rape, blaming the victim, shaming, silence, etc.

If you’ve never heard the term “rape culture,” that’s really what we’re talking about here. No one is arguing that you’re worse than Hitler because you made an off-color joke; they’re saying that rape jokes are yet another “little” thing that contributes to a society in which women (and men) are raped. A lot.

These “little” things add up—maybe it’s a rape joke at the comedy club, plus a newspaper op-ed blaming the victim, plus a music video turning women into objects, plus a fellow student saying “that test raped me,” plus movies or TV shows that glamorize the “tough anti-hero taking what he wants without apology,” plus a family culture of silence and shame around sex, plus a police force who just goes through the motions when it comes to investigating or working to prevent sexual assault, plus a million other things—it’s a tsunami of shit. And you can add to it, or you can fight against it.

With Tosh, sure, his whole shtick is that he’s an offensive jackass; his joking about rape shouldn’t be surprising. But that doesn’t mean we should all just ignore him. If you’re against rape, you have to be actively against rape culture. There is no neutral. And just like rape culture is a tidal wave of “little things” as well as big things, fighting back against rape culture can take that same form. Call people out. Start conversations. Hold yourself accountable. Maybe something positive can still come from all this.

~Responding to Common Arguments About What Is or Isn’t Offensive
~Eight Invalid Pop-Culture Arguments

So you’re out to dinner and your friend’s friend just said something offensive. Maybe it was a sexist remark to the waitress, a homophobic slur under his breath or a racist joke. Whatever it was, you decide to say something, because you’re a decent person.

A: (something offensive)

B: Whoa, come on, man; there’s no need for language like that.

A: Oh great, here comes the PC police.

B: Really, the “PC Police?” What are you, a hacky stand up comic from ten years ago? I just think saying things like what you said is unnecessary. If you’re upset, there are a million different ways you can express that; choosing one that is offensive to a lot of people is just needlessly mean-spirited. Political correctness doesn’t mean censoring your thoughts or emotions; it just means trying to express those thoughts or emotions like less of a jackass.

A: Whatever. I didn’t even mean it in an offensive way.

B: It doesn’t matter what you meant to say. That’s what you said. You don’t get to dictate whether or not other people are “allowed” to be offended. If you set a house on fire and people get hurt, you don’t get off clean because you thought the house was empty. You are responsible for your actions, and your words.

A: It’s okay, I offend all groups equally, I’m an equally-opportunity offender.

B: So you’re someone who likes to participate in the oppression of all kinds of different people? You think that excuses you? That’s a hundred times worse!

A: It’s just a word. You should care more about the real problems in the world.

B: That’s assuming that language doesn’t impact the “real problems” in the world. It does. It’s also assuming that I don’t already care about the “real problems” of the world. I do. It’s possible to care about big issues and little, everyday issues, and the real key is seeing how they’re all intertwined.

A: But it’s freedom of speech!

B: I’m not trying to make it illegal for you to say stupid shit; I’m trying to talk to you directly about why you shouldn’t. That’s a big difference. It’s legal for you to commission a painting of yourself riding a unicorn across the Grand Canyon, but that doesn’t mean you have to do it. It’s legal for you to cheat on your partner, eat jellybeans for every meal and listen to the Black Eyed Peas, but that doesn’t mean you should do any of those things. And it’s not like you’re saying offensive things to make some larger point or comment on some grand, radical idea. You’re just being offensive for no reason. To hide behind the “freedom of speech” argument is pretty cowardly.

A: Why are you being so sensitive?

B: Why are you? Why can’t you just apologize for saying something hurtful? Why do the people who say or do offensive things always get so defensive? Why can’t you just admit that you said something you shouldn’t have, try not to do it again and move on? Why do people like you cling so desperately to your “right” to be an insensitive jackass and cry so readily when anyone tries to call you out on it?

A: Fine. But explain to me why it’s offensive.

B: Do I owe you an explanation? It’s not like anyone is arguing that you shouldn’t use the letter “H” or that all proper nouns are racist. That would be inconvenient. The language that the so-called “PC police” want people to avoid is stuff you probably don’t say that much anyway. For example, do non-Black people really need to use the n-word? Like, are you just DYING to use it all the time? Does it offend or sadden you that you’re not “allowed” to use it? Probably not. So don’t use it, ever. Believe it or not, it’s incredibly easy to live your whole life without ever calling someone a “fag” or saying that you “got jewed.” A person kind of has to go out of their way to be offensive, and that’s part of why it can be so frustrating to deal with.

A: Okay, okay. I’m sorry. But I’m really not a bad person.

B: Most people aren’t “bad people.” We all make mistakes, we all have issues to work on and we all could do better. The important thing to remember is that the impact of your language/actions is always more important than your intent. Friendly, decent people can still take part in oppressive systems, and language is one of the most common potentially oppressive systems that we have to deal with. We have to take responsibility for the impact of our words and actions, no matter what the intent behind them may be.

A: Thanks for the lecture, Professor Buzzkill.

B: You’re welcome.

(RELATED: “Invalid Pop Culture Arguments”)

UPDATE: This is the newest version of this piece. The Button Poetry version has a million+ views (plus 10 million more on Facebook, which maybe speaks to how these ideas are striking a chord with people right now), but I think this one captures a more polished performance.

If you like it, here’s a good intro to ALL of my work.


New piece. I really hate those Miller Lite commercials, but it’s definitely bigger than just that. Felt good to talk about it on stage.

On a side note, I know there are a ton of spoken-word pieces out there about masculinity.  I’ve got this one too.  But I think it’s important to keep talking about these issues, especially if you can do it in a creative way, or at least have a new angle or hook.  I think there’s a bad tendency in spoken-word circles to dismiss any poem that covers well-trod territory (like “here’s another hip hop poem,” or “here’s another domestic violence poem”) and while I completely understand where that’s coming from and agree that we should be pushing ourselves in terms of subject matter, I ALSO believe that certain topics deserve the attention.  Especially as someone who works with young people–particularly young men– I like to have three or four of these kinds of poems in my pocket.

Anyways, hope you like it.  Might be a bit of a “preaching to the choir” piece in some ways, but that all depends on with whom we all share it. Any FB posts, tweets, tumblr posts, re-blogs and whatever are much appreciated, as always.

UPDATE: A few more thoughts:

I see a lot of comments informing me that the phrase “man up” actually means “to take responsibility and handle your business.” And it’s like, yeah, I know that. The point of the poem is less to question that advice (although there are times when it should definitely be questioned), and more to question why we *gender* that advice, why we don’t just literally say “toughen up” or “handle it” instead– why we always seem to equate competence, strength, and resolve with maleness.

It’s also about what the implications of that are.

Because there’s a bigger point here about the inability of so many to make connections, to see beyond the specific. This is not a poem about one specific phrase that I happen not to like. It’s a poem about language, and habits, and how the “little things” we don’t always think critically about connect to larger realities of harm and violence. If to be male means to always be strong and in control, what happens when we aren’t? Or what happens when are, but that “strength” and “control” become violence? What percentage of mass shooters are men? What percentage of killers, abusers, warmongers, and exploiters are men? Why is violence so often associated witih masculinity– in pop culture, in policy, and in everyday experience?

The poem doesn’t have room to answer all those questions, but it’s trying to point in a particular direction, and trying to make some connections. It’s also trying, if nothing else, to encourage us all to think a little more critically about the messages we receive about gender– where they come from, who benefits from them, and what kind of world we might be able to shape without them.

TEN RESPONSES TO THE PHRASE “MAN UP” (words are for the updated version)

1. Fuck you.

2. If you want to question my masculinity, like a schoolyard circle of curses, like a swordfight with lightsaber erections, save your breath. Because contrary to what you may believe, not every problem can be solved by “growing a pair.” You can’t arm-wrestle your way out of depression. The CEO of the company that just laid you off does not care how much you bench. And I promise, there is no lite beer in the universe full-bodied enough to make you love yourself.

3. Man up? Oh that’s that new superhero, right? Mild-mannered supplement salesman Mark Manstrong says the magic words “MAN UP,” and then transforms into THE FIVE O’CLOCK SHADOW, the massively-muscled, deep-voiced, leather-duster-wearing super-man who defends the world from, I don’t know, feelings.

4. Of course. Why fight to remove our chains, when we can simply compare their lengths? Why step outside the box, when the box has these bad-ass flame decals on it? We men are cigarettes: dangerous, and poisonous, and stupid.

5. You ever notice how nobody ever says “woman up?” They just imply it. Because women and the women’s movement figured out a long time ago that being directly ordered around by commercials, magazines and music is dehumanizing. When will men figure that out?

6. The phrase “Man Up” suggests that competence and perseverance are uniquely masculine traits. That women—not to mention any man who doesn’t eat steak, drive a pickup truck, have lots of sex with women—are nothing more than background characters, comic relief, props. More than anything, though, it suggests that to be yourself—whether you, wear skinny jeans, listen to Lady Gaga, rock a little eyeliner, drink some other brand of light beer, or write poetry—will cost you.

7. How many boys have to kill themselves before this country acknowledges the problem? How many women have to be assaulted? How many trans people have to be murdered? We teach boys how to wear the skin of a man, but we also teach them how to raise that skin like a flag and draw blood for it.

8. Boy babies get blue socks. Girl babies get pink socks. What about purple? What about orange, yellow, chartreuse, cerulean, black, tie-dyed, buffalo plaid, rainbow…

9. I want to be free, to express myself. Man up. I want to have meaningful, emotional relationships with my brothers. Man up. I want to be weak sometimes. Man up. I want to be strong in a way that isn’t about physical power or dominance. Man up. I want to talk to my son about something other than sports. Man up. I want to be who I am. Man up.

10. No.