“If I am a man, then what kind of man am I going to be? And how am I going to carry that in the world in a way that leads to the liberation of all people?” —Shannon TL Kearns
Our fifth episode is based around the question of whether the best path forward for a healthy, loving society is to focus on the “bad parts” of masculinity in hopes of creating a less toxic, more nurturing version of manhood, OR do away with the gender binary, and perhaps the concept of gender, in general. Is the goal to be a “good man,” or is the goal to be a good human being? Or is that the wrong way to frame the question to begin with!?
We realize that that has the potential to be a pretty abstract or theoretical conversation, so we tried to bring it down to earth and talk about how our responses to that question might impact the work that needs to be done, and our lives. A big section of this episode is just us reading and reflecting on adrienne maree brown’s must-read piece “Relinquishing the Patriarchy.”
We also have a fantastic guest for the last word, Shannon TL Kearns of Uprising Theatre and QueerTheology.com.
As always, if you like it, please subscribe (on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, all the usual platforms). If you really like it, please feel free to leave a review, and spread the word- share a favorite quote, or ask a question, or just share the link; we’ll be using the hashtag #WhatsGoodMan on Twitter and IG. Find our previous episodes here.
Here’s the transcript:
“What’s Good, Man?” Episode Five: “Masculinity: Fix It, or Forget It?”
OR: “Real men” don’t create artificial limits to dictate what a “real man” is, so is there even such a thing as a “real man?” Is the problem masculinity, or is the problem reality itself?
OR: I’m coming out of my shell and I’m not doing just fine.
Kyle: Welcome to “What’s Good, Man,” an ongoing, open conversation about men, masculinity and culture.
tony: We are your hosts. I’m tony the Scribe, a writer, rapper and activist in Minneapolis, MN.
Kyle: And I’m Kyle Tran Myhre, also known as Guante; I’m also a writer, rapper and activist in Minneapolis, MN. We start every episode with three notes. First, this show is about masculinity, but it’s for anyone interested in that topic: cis men, trans men, people who don’t identify as men but have some kind of relationship with masculinity, and beyond.
tony: Second, this show exists because we listened to people, especially women, in our lives who told us that men need to speak up more about these issues, especially with other men. But we also know that “men speaking up more” isn’t always the answer. So we’re going to try and strike a balance, and be intentional about what stories are ours to tell, what topics we want to address, and how we want to address them.
Kyle: Finally, we’re not experts. We’re just rappers. We both have experience as organizers and educators around these issues, but we don’t have all the answers. We’re here to work through this stuff with you. Because we still have a long way to go. So let’s get into it. What’s good, man?
tony: Welcome to critique corner with tony and Kyle.
Kyle: So we recorded all of this first season of episodes kind of all at once. And so we don’t really have a lot of space to do like, listener comments or real-time reactions to what people are saying…
tony: Or incorporate feedback but create or incorporate feedback in real time.
Kyle: Yeah. But you know, that kind of feedback and that critique, especially for a show like this, on this topic, is really, really important. So we’re going to take a little mid-season break right now to punch in this segment, just sharing some of what people are talking about.
tony: Yeah, and this isn’t a space for us to respond to every single critique or rectify every mistake we’ve made. I’m sure we’ve made a lot of mistakes and some of them we’ve heard about from our audience and from y’all, and some of them we haven’t. This is intentional for us because it’s super easy for us to get defensive or try to rationalize stuff. But that’s not necessarily what we want this to be about. What we do want it to be about is hearing about spaces where we missed a thought or where we can expand our thinking around something and then ways that we can engage more thoroughly about that in the future and especially in the second season.
For example. We’ve been really aware of how the straight, cisgender male perspective has been centered on the show so far. Some of that is intentional, both in terms of… some of that is just based in our identities, how we move through the world, who’s in the conversation, and what our show is going to naturally be about. Some of that is about the identities we hold and feel comfortable talking about. Some of that is intentional in terms of the target audience. But some of it… we also really want to make sure that there are a diversity of identities, especially gender identities that are represented on the show. So one way that we’re doing that: our last episode of this season has six guests and they hold a bunch of different gender identities and relationships to masculinity. And hopefully in season two, we’ll be able to use that as a springboard and open things up even more.
Kyle: Yeah. And finally, you know, this little segment is about normalizing critique in a more general sense, like, how do we not get so scared of it? How do you make it fun? How do you show real appreciation and gratitude to people who are taking the time out of their day to check in with you and let you know their thoughts? You know, I want to engage with critique in a way that is deeper than just “I agree with this” or “I disagree with this.” I want to think critically and process and turn the defensive part of my brain off or at least turn it down a lot.
So we’re going to share some of the comments and thoughts that people shared with us over e-mail, over social media, or in real life. One of them is about language and about inclusive language. You know, this is a show about men and masculinity. And we say in our opening caveats that we want that to be a broad conversation. So, like, you know, trans men are men. There are other people who don’t identify as men, but also have some kind of relationship to masculinity. You want this to be a conversation for everybody. That being said, if we really want that, we have to be careful about how we talk about it. Our friend Peter mentioned, you know, you can use a phrase like “men and anyone else conditioned by or participating in masculinity.” And, you know, Peter acknowledged that that’s kind of a mouthful. But I think the broader idea of making sure that our language is inclusive is important. Peter also mentioned that the word “dude,” for some people, is maybe more gender normative than the word man. And we both say dude sometimes. But then even in a broader sense, beyond just the language part of it, trying to diversify the guests, the stories that are told, the examples we bring up, the role models that we use, when we talk about men and masculinity.
tony: Another one that we’ve heard, along that language tip: sometimes we’ve used language along the lines of “men, women and trans folks.” And that sort of implies that trans folks are not real men or real women. And that’s certainly not true that we feel that way about that. But definitely understand how that language that we’ve used could imply that and create space for that. And we’re sorry for that.
Another piece that we’ve sort of heard, especially on the feminism episode, is that we didn’t necessarily do a good job of understanding the diversity of different feminisms and different ways that people engage with feminism based on their other identities. So, for example, looking at the history of feminism in the way that white feminism has been used to exclude women of color, Black women, indigenous women, and the ways in which those folks have fought back and created their own ideological ways of looking at the patriarchy and gender problems. That’s something we would love to go deeper into in future episodes. For now, if you want to sort of get a Blacker perspective on masculinity, I would highly encourage you to check out “Let’s Talk Bruh,” which is another podcast that folks run that talks about masculinity that I think is really awesome. So I would encourage you to go over there and check that out as we sort of continue to explore those topics more deeply.
Another one that we heard was from Emmanuel and it was actually really interesting. It was talking about this sort of again… on the feminism episode, we talked about this phrase, “men are trash.” And I specifically talked about the fact that “men are trash” can feel demobilizing to me. And I also talked very briefly about the fact that it hurts my feelings. And what Emmanuel’s perspective on that moment was, was that I basically said “it hurts my feelings or whatever.” And then immediately moved on to talking about something else. And for me, like the reason that I do stuff like that is because I don’t want my feelings to override the conversation. And I know that men’s feelings or defensiveness can override a lot of healthy conversation sometimes. But Emmanuel also raised the point that it was an instance of need, dismissing my own feelings and my own lived experience around a topic in order to, quote unquote, say the right thing, and that that’s a way in which patriarchy can create problems for us. So that’s just a really interesting, deep, nuanced critique. And I’m thinking about it a lot as we move forward: what exactly is the right amount of space for our feelings to hold in this conversation and our vulnerability around our feelings versus sort of the theoretical intellectual content of the stuff that we’re talking about?
Kyle: Yeah. Another thing we’ve heard, just to keep the list going, is image descriptions. You know, we do a lot on social media, on Instagram, on Twitter, on Facebook, to promote the show and share some of the quotes, whether from us, from other people… just to make sure that when we’re sharing the quote images or memes that they have image descriptions.
tony: Yeah. And the last one is sort of this conversation around accountability partners. So we’ve been asked if we have accountability partners for the show, if there are people who hold identities different than ours who we’re consulting with as we’re making these episodes and helping to put them into the world. And the answer for that, at present, is no. We talked about it a little bit before we put the season together. And then it sort of fell by the wayside as we got into trying to make sure that everything got done and put into the world. Again, we’re talking to people with a lot of different identities for our last word segments. But we don’t have accountability partners that we’re talking to on the front end. I think that’s a really good thing to explore, honestly, as we move into season two, because we want to have these conversations in a way that’s really powerful and deep.
Another thing that we heard was around looking for more opportunities to engage in the conversation. So if there’s like an online forum or a channel for feedback or how we can sort of have deeper conversations around this stuff. We don’t have anything like that at present. I think it’s, again, a really good idea to explore and we’re gonna be thinking deeply about it. For now, the hashtag is a really good place. #WhatsGoodMan on Twitter especially or Instagram to continue conversations around this stuff. But in the future, we could think about a Facebook group or about an email list or something like that. If you want to share feedback, by the way, with us privately, you can reach us via email. My email is tonythescribeMGMT@gmail.com; Kyle’s is email@example.com.
Kyle: Yeah, once again, just wanted to say thank you to the people who have taken the time to reach out. It really means a lot.
tony: Yes. Thank you for the positive feedback we’ve received. And for the critiques. It’s going to take a lot for us to keep building the world that we want to see together. And we appreciate all of you who are investing time and energy and working with us to help get there.
tony: “Real man conversations.” I need the funk flex bomb in there. OK, strong/weak. What’s going on with you? How are you strong; how are you weak this week?
Kyle: Yeah, I think the weak in my spirit right now is just this time of year is very hectic. And I know I’m not alone in that; it’s the most cliché thing to say, like, “oh, I’m real busy.” But that busyness is draining, right? So a lot of meetings, and meetings about meetings, and meetings to plan other meetings, and gigs and blah blah blah. On the strong side, I’m super excited about… Again, I don’t when people are listening to this, but I’m home this weekend. Someone I’ve known for a really long time is putting out their first book: chavah gabrielle, who is this year’s St. Paul Youth Poet Laureate and they’re incredible. And I’ve watched them grow as an artist for years and years and years. And I get to go host the release of their first book at the Black Dog in St. Paul.
tony: I’m just so mad I’m out of town for that. That shit is gonna bang so hard. They’re so good. Let’s see. I’m feeling weak. My body is weak as hell this week. I have been sleeping really horribly and eating really badly and probably drinking too much and going to sleep too late. I just have been going after it and I think it’s because I’m moving. And some of my stuff is still in boxes and my body is just like so done with my bullshit right now. The strong is probably that I’ve been doing a lot of bodily shit despite that, like, I’ve been keeping up my martial arts even though my body is mad at me about it. And anytime I feel like I can keep up a routine, even though, you know, my body doesn’t want to be keeping up with it, it’s good for my mental health. So I’m glad I’m doing it.
Kyle: Hmm. I quit processed sugar, cold turkey, and I don’t have anything interesting to say about it. You know, it’s either supposed to be like you crash and it’s terrible or you feel amazing. And like, I feel exactly the same. So I don’t know.
tony: That’s good because it means that I’m definitely not going to quit processed sugar.
Okay. Let’s get started. So let me tell you about this friend I have. This friend I have grew up on a mixture of tree climbing and soccer; plays a ton of video games. Works out a ton. Loves martial arts movies, owns a couple of guns, works as a bartender and is generally pretty assertive. Any guesses as to what this person’s gender is?
So most of us would probably assume that they’re a man, and in this case, we’d be right. So all of these activities, a fascination with violence and interest in video games, work as a bartender, are things that describe people of all genders. But we carry a set of assumptions about what behaviors and qualities are masculine with us everywhere we go, and we carry a different set of assumptions about what behaviors and qualities are feminine. So some stereotypically masculine qualities are like, independence, strength, courage, stoicism, assertiveness, leadership; and some stereotypically feminine qualities are diplomacy, I would say resilience, kindness, compassion, connection and empathy.
So clearly none of these values are exclusive to anybody, right? So lots of women and non-binary folks are independent, strong, courageous and assertive, for example. On the other hand, you have plenty of men who hate being alone, avoid conflict and can’t stand the thought of being looked to as a leader. The truth is that we all have qualities traditionally seen as masculine and feminine to various degrees. All of us have the capacity to be these things. It’s part of being human. Now you might be saying yourself, wait, but like, most of the men I know ARE more assertive than the women I know, right? Or are more stoic. Or are more independent. So that might be true for you. But how much of it is that those men are naturally confrontational? And how much of it is that they were encouraged from a young age to demand that those needs get met? And how much of it is that the women, you know, were socialized to be more diplomatic?
Kyle: And right away, I think there’s something. You used the word “natural.” We don’t have time to go off on a huge tangent here; maybe it’s fodder for a future episode. But I think in so many conversations, there is this assumption that these traditional notions of gender roles are natural or “just the way it is,” or somehow like ingrained in people. A lot of it goes back to this idea of evolutionary psychology, right? The idea that like, men are better at computer programming because ancient hunters had to assess multiple variables in real time while they’re hunting mastodons and dodging saber-toothed tigers and shit like that. Again, we don’t have to go on a long tangent, but I just want to say that all that is bullshit. It’s pseudoscience, in the same way that phrenology is pseudoscience.
tony: And honestly, you know, all humans are capable of hunting mastodons. They’re slow. And you know, if you have a good sharp thing, you can pierce their hides pretty well, or at least that’s what I hear from my homies. Anyway, the problem isn’t that people have stereotypically masculine or feminine qualities; that’s cool. The problem arises when we take the idea too far and people twist themselves into stereotypes, trying to live up to an impossible ideal. So in men’s case, that could say, you know, we should be capable of leadership, but we should know how to follow each other’s examples, too. We should be strong and resilient, but we should also be able to let our guards down and be vulnerable and grieve when we need to. We should be able to advocate for our own needs, but we should also know how to hear our enemies out and find common ground.
Kyle: So when I do this work, I go into colleges; I’m talking about masculinity with young men. One point that comes up a lot is the idea that if you embody one of these traditionally masculine stereotypes, that isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Like, say, you’re not a super emotional person, that you don’t cry a lot. I don’t think that’s necessarily a bad thing. It can be a bad thing. And I think it becomes a bad thing when there’s an expectation that you can’t cry, that you should never cry because it’s “wrong.” I think that’s part of, you know, we’re going to talk about this organization later called A Call to Men. And one of their things is the idea of the man box, that people are stuffed into these gender boxes. You have to fit perfectly into one of the two gender boxes. And if you don’t, there’s something wrong with you. So that’s something we’ll talk about. So another thing that came to mind was this idea that, you know, this balance you’re talking about can be hard for some of us to strike.
I think obviously, there’s the toxic idea that a “real man” has to always be dominant, and the dominant partner in a relationship. And that’s messed up. But like, there’s also this kind of weird opposite of that. Like “real men respect women.” And that’s obviously a positive thing and it’s coming from a good place. But I’m wondering if there’s a problem with the premise of this question in the first place, with the idea that there is such a thing as a quote unquote, real man, because even when it’s positive, it’s still putting up walls, it’s still creating hierarchies. And if we take that question to its logical conclusion. I think we’re left with, you know, the guiding question for today’s episode:
tony: Should we fix masculinity or should we give up on it?
And yeah, that could easily be some sort of big theoretical, academic question, but it has some real-world, tactical applications too, which we’ll get to. So I think when we talk about theory, or when we talk about the way that we approach conversations about masculinity and when we talk about how we respond to toxic masculinity (which, if you don’t know what that is, you can head back to our first episode and peep more about it). But I think there are two real perspectives and we can call them the fix it and end it theories, right? So the fix it theory proposes that the problem isn’t the idea of masculinity, it’s that the idea has been taken too far. And what we need to do is build a healthy, nurturing masculinity. Some folks argue that this is how our world used to be, that at some point in the past, whether that means in prehistoric times or in the eighteen hundreds or in the 1950s, we turned away from good masculinity and found ourselves surrounded by bad masculinity. Other folks would argue that masculinity has always been toxic, but that it doesn’t need to be. That we can find a way of being masculine that isn’t harmful.
Both of these factions, though, think masculinity can be a really beautiful, dynamic way of existing in the world, and we just need to find our way there. So one example quote of this that I really like is by Robert Bly, from his book Iron John.
tony: Minnesota. Robert Bly was one of the major leaders of this thing called the Mythopoetic Men’s Movement, which was a group of men who came together in the 90s and used basically poetry, myth, and introspection to talk about how masculinity had become toxic and we needed a change. So the quote is: “We’re living at an important and fruitful moment now, for it is clear to men that the images of adult manhood given by the popular culture are worn out. A man can no longer depend on them. By the time a man is 35, he knows that the images of the right man, the tough man, the true man, which he received in high school, do not work in real life. Such a man is open to new visions of what a man is or could be. We make the path by walking.”
Kyle: So that reminds me of this contemporary example: an organization called A Call to Men. People may have seen Tony Porter’s really famous TED Talk and I think it’s called A Call to Men, which the organization kind of stems from. But A Call to Men is an organization that does all kinds of outreach work around healthy masculinity. And one of the things they have, and it’s at their website, it’s “a principles of healthy, respectful manhood.” I can just read them really quick: Embracing and expressing a full range of emotion. Not conforming to the pressure to always be fearless and in control. Valuing a woman’s life, treating all people equally, and promoting the betterment of humanity, not using language that denigrates women and girls, developing an interest in the experience of women and girls outside of sexual conquests, and modeling a healthy, respectful manhood to other men and boys. These are all really good things. And I support that stuff and I support A Call to Men as an organization; they do really cool stuff. But if all of that is part of the fix it theory, let’s look at the other one. Let’s take some time to explore the end it theory.
tony: Yeah. So the end it theory suggests that the problem isn’t toxic masculinity; it’s masculinity, period. So the folks who think this usually argue that masculinity and femininity are nothing more than a way to force us into boxes, and that the idea of them itself is harmful. So they basically say if we lived in a world without ideas about gender, we would all be free to express our true selves without fear of failing to live up to anything. So with that perspective, it might make more sense that rather than trying to rehabilitate masculinity, people who identify as men should give up on the idea of gender entirely. So one quote that I think is a really good example of that is by Lisa Wade. She’s a sociologist at. Occidental College in Los Angeles. This is a quote from The Big Picture: Confronting Manhood After Trump. And she says:
“If we’re going to survive both President Trump and the kind of people he has emboldened, we need to attack masculinity directly. I don’t mean that we should recuperate masculinity-that is, press men to identify with a kinder, gentler version of it-I mean that we should reject the idea that men have a psychic need to distinguish themselves from women in order to feel good about themselves. This idea is sexist on its face and it’s unsettling that we so rarely think of it that way… The problem is not toxic masculinity; it’s that masculinity is toxic. Its appeal is its alluring promise that if we obey it, we can all bask in a sense of superiority over someone. It’s simply not compatible with liberty and justice for all. If we are going to finish the gender revolution, then, we need to call masculinity out as a hazardous ideology and denounce anyone who chooses to identify with it. We need to stop talking about what it means to be a ‘real man’ or an ’empowered woman,’ and begin talking, instead, about what it means to be a good person and a good citizen.”
Kyle: Wow. So it reminds me of whenever I visit a city and I talk to press, the question that I always, always get is: “What does being a ‘good man’ mean to you?” I get the question. I get where it’s coming from and why it might be useful. But my instinct is always to reject the premise. It’s always to say, you know, I don’t want to be a good man. I want to be just a good person. Like, why is that gendered? That’s where my head is that. But also, I know; I get it. That end it theory, I think, can feel a little more utopian or far off for a lot of people. And there are some real world, right now problems like relationship violence, or the prevalence of men committing sexual assault or doing mass shootings and stuff. Those are all very present for a lot of people. And so I think there are definitely useful and not-as-useful elements to both to fix it and the end approaches.
tony: But because we’re men and we love arguing, we’re going to flip a coin and we’re going to argue about it. So heads, I’m gonna argue that we need healthy masculinity and Kyle’s going to argue that masculinity is inherently harmful and shouldn’t exist. Tails, I argue that we abolish masculinity and Kyle argues that we try to fix it. All right. You got it. Yeah. So so heads, I say we fix it. You say we end it. Tails, you say we fix it. I say we end it.
tony: OK. So we’re gonna come back in a couple minutes here and think through what exactly we’re gonna say and then we’re gonna argue. Yeah.
Kyle: Cool. So I’m going to do the the end it proposition, that we’re better off without these categories, we can just be ourselves. And I know this is supposed to be a debate and argument. But it’s pretty clear that the answer to this larger question of “fix it or end it?” is a little bit of both. Especially when talking about, like I said a minute ago, there is this long term work of gender equity in a very large sense…
tony: Bad arguing!
Kyle: And there’s also the short-term work of, you know, disrupting the violence that stems from masculinity. I mean, if telling a group of men that “real men don’t beat women,” stops some of them from beating women, like, I can’t really be mad at that. And also, I mean, I think we’re gonna get into it later, but I’m arguing the end theory; but I also know that we’re not saying here that gender isn’t real or that it doesn’t matter. You know, I know trans people for whom gender is really, really important and very real. But I think the reason, you know, if I had to lean in this direction or argue this point, I guess it’s kind of a science fiction reason, right? Kind of a personal thing. In this debate, one of the first questions I find myself asking is what does gender look like in a hundred years? What does it look like in a thousand years? And like, I don’t know what the specific timeline is going to be because culture can shift really, really quickly. But I personally have a lot of trouble picturing a future in which stuff like, you know, “men wear pants and women wear dresses” isn’t just completely ridiculous and outdated or, you know, on a deeper level, like “men are strong and women are nurturing.”
I think that these stereotypes, and remember: even quote unquote, good stereotypes are ultimately harmful because they flatten us; they force into boxes. I think these stereotypes are dying. You know, I work with teenagers, and teenagers tend to be really, really, really smart about gender stuff. And so I think it’s cool that these stereotypes are going away. And I’m reminded of like, you know, spending time on the Internet. You might see the memes that, you know, show a picture of something that is quote unquote, ridiculous. And the caption is “this is the future the left wants” or “this is the world the left wants.” And so often. it’s a far right person showing a picture of like, you know, a drag queen reading stories to little kids at the library. And it’s like, “this is outrageous!” And so many other people are like, well, yeah, that IS the world I want to live in. You know, people are free to be themselves and express themselves in whatever way makes sense to them. And they’re helping each other out and they’re doing good in the world. You know, I imagine the far right envisions this kind of future where there’s this, you know, genderless utopia and it’s like, you know, everyone’s kind of androgynous and probably polyamorous. And children are raised a little more open, like in a more open and communal way. And that’s supposed to be this really scary, terrible thing.
tony: Horrible! Haha that sounds awesome.
Kyle: We’re going to do a whole show on what the future of masculinity might be. But even on a very basic, like everyday level, you know, if you’re a married man and your wife always does the dishes and laundry, like, you should do some of the dishes and the laundry-not because you’re redefining masculinity or you’re embodying some new way of being a man, but because, like, you live in that house! It’s a responsibility thing. You have a partner; like, to do the shit, right? You know, I think we can say that the framework of masculine and feminine qualities is unnecessary without saying that the qualities themselves are unnecessary. Let’s all be strong and nurturing and emotional and brave and everything. You know, without having to gender it all. And I’m reminded of, and you’re going to talk about this later, but I’m reminded of the whole idea of we can talk about this in terms of masculine and feminine. But we can also talk about qualities in terms of yin and yang. I don’t know if you pick that pick up that thread at all. But just as an alternate framework for thinking about this stuff.
tony: Yeah, absolutely. So because we landed on heads, you’re super wrong, right? And it’s great that, you know, we want to talk about this world in which gender doesn’t exist or whatever, like 100 years from now. But there are very real reasons that, you know, that people find comfort and identity in gender. So I think it’s great that that we agree that, you know, like if you’re a man, you should do the dishes, for example. But like, what I don’t see is why your identity has to change, you know, from being a man, in order to do that. Like, what is it about this idea of manhood that’s so offensive that it means that men can’t handle their shit? You know, like it honestly makes me feel sometimes patronized that people don’t think that men are capable of not being trash. You know, there’s nothing about being called a man or whatever that’s like even really all that real, let alone that precludes you from doing something else, and being a different way in the world. And I think a lot of men can get hung up on this idea. We’re talking about the idea of ending masculinity. That opens more questions than it answers for most people. Like, most people are going to be like, what does that even mean? How would I not be a man? You know, I am a man. I feel like a man, right? And even for somebody like me who, you know, I’m not necessarily too attached to gender as a concept; like, I’ll rock a dress every once in a while when I go out. I’ve put on makeup before and gone out, like that kind of stuff doesn’t bug me. But like, when I think about changing the way that I identify or the way that I move in the world: like, I’m a dude and I’m always probably going to be a dude as far as I know. So the idea of just being like, “no, if you want to be healthy in the world, then you have to give up that identity” doesn’t feel right to me either because the identity is mutable. The idea is shiftable, and the idea is something that is very personal. I mean, gender is a personal idea. And like, I don’t see why because I was assigned male at birth and I happen to understand those categories and agree with those categories, then it automatically means that I’m a bad person. And I think like, again, if I’m being a bad person, if I’m being hypermasculine, then that’s fucked up for its OWN reasons. But it’s not necessarily just because I’m a dude, right? Like my socialization plays into that. But ultimately, like, I’m my own person and my identity shouldn’t matter one way or another when we’re looking at how my actions are perceived, right, and how morally I’m moving in the world.
So I think that’s one reason that I think fixing it makes sense. And I think like, again, we can get into the neighborhood of theory a lot, sometimes, talking about this stuff. And again, what place is there for, like, most men who didn’t grow up in super progressive spaces or whatever. To all of a sudden just like, decide that they’re going to start identifying as something different, you know. And if they actually feel that way and they can find their way to those spaces, then great. But what do you say to a man who’s like, hey, I feel like a man. I want to be a man. And I want to be a good person at the same time. And then I think another piece is, like you mentioned earlier, like gender matters to a lot of folks who are not men too, and to a lot of folks who weren’t assigned male at birth as well. So if you’re going to talk to a lot of transmen, you know, like who is anybody to tell those folks that they can’t have the identity that they are, you know, and that we should end their identity because their identity themselves is toxic? You know, I don’t think that’s really anybody’s business to do for them.
And I guess the same is true for cis men, right? People get to have the identities that they have. And we don’t deserve to like, I guess, legislate people’s gender identity and what we think is acceptable or not. Like, we should make sure that people’s actions are accountable, whether or not, you know, they identify as men or something else. I think the last point for me is that there’s a very clear… this is an organizing perspective, actually, more than it’s anything else… but again, is it easier for us to convince men the world over to abandon the idea of manhood? Or is it easier for us to convince men the world over to abandon the idea of toxic masculinity? And I guess there’s different perspectives on this, but is what we actually need for men to abandon masculinity altogether, and the idea of masculinity, or is it really just that we just need to do away with the idea of toxic masculinity? And I think the answer is we need to do away with toxic masculinity, and manhood itself is only problematic insofar as it intersects with toxic masculinity.
Kyle: Yeah, so I mean, my high school didn’t have a debate club, so I feel like I’m not very good at it, but that was really good. Thank you for those thoughts. And I mean, we’re taking these sides here just to elucidate the positions, but is that your for real, how you feel about it?
tony: Yeah. I mean, it’s some of how I feel about it. Right. Like I am a cis dude. And I feel like a cis dude. And you know, that doesn’t mean that I’m that attached to the idea of cis dudeness, right? But it would also feel really wrong and weird for me to just like, decide that I’m non-binary without actually feeling that way, without actually having that identity, and run around telling people that I use they/them pronouns, and, you know, I’m not a man anymore. Especially when I’ve been socialized with masculinity, when I’ve been socialized my entire life to have the privilege that comes with being a man in different spaces. And where I was born with a set of physical characteristics that mean that I get read as a dude in physical spaces and I get a privilege that accords with that. It feels like for me, as a person who doesn’t identify as non-binary, right, or trans, or whatever, like it would be wrong of me to all of a sudden claim that, you know, and pretend that like, “oh, well, you know, I don’t have to deal with any of those conversations about masculinity because I’m not a man.” And that is NOT to say that that same thing holds true for people that do actively identify as non-binary, who were assigned male at birth. Because those folks deserve the identity that they feel and that they are. And, you know, just because you’re socialized within masculinity doesn’t mean you’re a man. And doesn’t even mean that you carry all the privileges of manhood. So yeah, so I don’t know.
Like, for me personally, I would love to live in a world where, like, gender doesn’t really matter. And I when I see a lot of like you said, like teenagers coming up, I see a lot of folks less invested in the idea of gender. And I see more and more folks identifying with genders outside of the binary. And I think that’s super, super tight. But it’s not my experience and it’s not the experience of a lot of people I know. And so I think that, like, it’s great that there’s space for that. And we certainly shouldn’t be like trans exclusionary and not let those people have those identities. But I think like, having the conversation and saying we shouldn’t have masculinity at all or we shouldn’t have manhood at all is like throwing the baby out with the bathwater. And there are a lot of people that are going to feel excluded if that’s the conversation that we’re having and don’t know how to move forward.
Kyle: That’s interesting; it reflects the whole… I don’t wanna get bogged down in theory/academic stuff, too, but what I was gonna say was…
tony: We got time, dog.
Kyle: What I was going to say is that it reflects the whole like, there’s short term work that needs to happen and there’s long term work that either needs to happen or is going to happen naturally because of how culture shifts. I don’t want to, you know… maybe I’m not like, ideologically smart enough. But I agree with both. I agree with everything you said and with everything I said. And another response I have to that question of like, you know, “how do you really feel about this?” It’s like… how do I phrase this? In my head, what I’m saying is I don’t really care.
Kyle: Because I think both questions, regardless of where we fall on our arguments, they lead to the same action. And I’m really, really interested in the action.
tony: Totally. Because like, as men, we need to find ways to deprogram the most toxic parts of the masculinity we’ve been socialized into. We need to find ways to bring ourselves into a more like, integrated way of being in the world where we see kindness and vulnerability as important as power and courage. And if we think masculinity is worth saving, that’s going to bring us closer to that reality. And if we think we should leave the idea of masculinity itself behind, like we can start with teaching ourselves a way of being outside masculinity. Like, none of this shit is gonna happen overnight. And honestly, like, if we can figure out how to subvert it and how to break it down and how to transcend its worst impulses, then we’re gonna move towards a better world regardless of whatever our end goal is, right?
You have a phrase in A Pragmatist’s Guide to Revolution off of You Better Weaponize. What do you say? Like, where you say “we don’t care about the books you read or the revolution in your head/ Don’t put your fists in the air; Use them to build something real instead.”
Kyle: That’s a good line. Can I say that?
tony: It’s a really good line. You wrote that. I was listening to it last week. But yeah, we don’t care about the revolution in your head. Like, it doesn’t matter what you’re building towards exactly. And I think sometimes theory m’fuckers can get real caught up thinking about what your utopia is. And then people start fighting with each other all the time and can’t actually get anything effective done. So I think, again, the question is like, “where do we go from here,” more than it is, you know, “what do we want to see?”
Kyle: And I don’t want to say that theory doesn’t matter. I know that’s probably not a necessary caveat, but…
tony: I do. No, I don’t. Maybe I do.
Kyle: Should I even use this word? Praxis. I hope people know the word praxis.
tony: So the word praxis means like a movement towards, basically. So it’s like a way that people talk… It’s like it’s basically synonymous with practice. But for m’fuckers who have like gender studies or ethnic studies degrees.
Kyle: See, I’ve always understood it more as: How does your theory, how does your ideology, how do your values and principles LIVE in the world? It’s movement. It’s an integration of theory and practice.
tony: Yeah, that’s probably right.
Kyle: Let’s run with that.
MID EPISODE BREAK:
tony: Hey, this is tony the scribe. Welcome to the fifth episode of What’s Good, Man? Thanks for joining us again. If you’re enjoying the show and you want to figure out a way to support us, the easiest way that you can do that is by sharing it with other folks. Podcasts spread best via word of mouth. And we want the show to spread. We want these conversations to spread. So if you also want that, post about it on your social media. Share it with a man in your life. Share it with a woman in your life. Share with a non-binary person in your life. Really, whoever. Share it with your cats, share with your pets, whoever you want to experience healthy masculinity, let them have it. If you want to keep talking about it in public spaces, you can always use the hashtag #WhatsGoodMan to keep chatting. Twitter is probably the place where I spend the most time; you can find me @tony_the_scribe. Kyle’s Twitter is @elguante. We’re also on Instagram and Facebook. And at WGMpod.com. That’s where you can also reach out if you want to get in touch with us, or book us for a live show, or you want to read transcripts of the show, or you want to share transcripts of the show with folks. Our theme music is by daedae and letmode. All the other music is by me. Thanks so much for listening. And looking forward to a new year and to everything that comes with it. Thanks.
tony: Praxis?! We talkin’ about praxis?! We ain’t even talking about the game; the game I would die for. We’re talking about praxis.
Kyle: So the question is where do we go from here? What is this work that we’re talking about? Regardless of which side of this debate we fall on, what does the work look like?
tony: Yeah. I think one of my favorite resources for what that work looks like was written in 2019, and it’s from writer, facilitator, podcaster, activist, and just general badass amazing human adrienne maree brown. So she wrote this piece “Relinquishing the Patriarchy” on her blog, which I think everybody should read. And she gives us 14 action steps that can help us to get free. We’re gonna read six of those that feel particularly applicable. But again, I encourage everybody to go and check it out. I just don’t want to sit here and read 14 points.
Kyle: Yeah, we’ll include the link in the show notes. So for example, right away, the first one on the list is this cool mix of… just knowing adrienne maree brown’s work; like, if you’ve read Emergent Strategy or if you’ve listened to the How to Survive the End of the World podcast, there’s a cool mix here of kind of heady, like, spiritual cool stuff, and then also some really, really practical stuff. The first point is: “recognize that as a man you are a part of patriarchy, even if you have made some effort to break out of it. The system/insanity of patriarchy is still there for you to fall back into under pressure or duress.” I think that’s a great umbrella point for all the other ones here, to like, always have in the back of our minds. Did any other ones kind of jump out for you or stick?
tony: Oh, yeah, I mean, a bunch of them do. I think that one is really good because it reminds me that even at my most benign, right, like, those privileges and those impulses are still available to me. And, you know, I’ve caused harm through hypermasculinity before in my life. And that doesn’t make me a horrible person forever. But like, it does mean that, like, I need to, you know, constantly be aware of my ability to do that. And I don’t carry so much shame around that or even guilt at this point in my life. Like, I’ve forgiven myself for that. But I still think it’s important to remember that I am capable of great evil and all of us are capable of great evil. I mean, no matter what our gender is. But that’s a particularly important thing for me to remember when I’m thinking about conversations around masculinity.
Kyle: I mean, there’s something really deep in there. But then again, on this idea of like, it’s also practical. We might talk about this more, but it reminds me of just how important it is to be in a community with people and not just be, you know, a brilliant, smart, feminist individual… because particularly for men, this idea of like, you can be brilliant, smart and awesome… until you’re not anymore, until it gets hard. And then we go back to this other culture that is always there, open, waiting for us and lets us feel powerful. And so like having people in our lives who will hold us accountable and who we can talk to and process things with.
tony: You want to read three?
Kyle: Oh, yeah. I mean, that relates. So number three is: “Don’t get into language supremacy or ‘I’ve read the most feminists’ supremacy. Don’t think that you are better than other men because you know the language of patriarchy, feminism and other isms. It’s the overcharged, competitive nature, the desire to be better than, the inappropriate topping itself that is toxic.” Wow.
tony: Yeah, it’s really good. And I love “inappropriate topping.” I love that phrase in that sentence. I think part of the thing with that that’s really important, too, is like there’s this “woke dudeness” that can be really problematic… where it’s like because you’re woke, you can’t be fucked up, right? Because you’re a feminist, you can’t be fucked up. And I think a lot of the time that like outward wokeness, like I’ve read the most feminists, I have the perfect, you know, theory or whatever, I use words like praxis at Spyhouse…
Kyle: “I have a podcast about toxic masculinity.”
tony: Right! No, exactly right. Like, I think a lot of the time that can cover up really deep insecurity, about feminism. And about being a man, and you know, about sort of recognizing the tension between the world that you want to live in and the world that you’re socialized into. And so I get why people do it and why people, like, run to that space of theory. But like ultimately, like, your brain isn’t going to liberate us, your lived experience in the world is going to liberate us.
Kyle: Well, and I mean, just as a very brief side note: There’s also the whole issue of men using that language and that space to engage in predatory behaviors.
tony: Yeah, absolutely. And again, we should talk more about that in another episode. Another one, sort of along with that, and this is a good check on that one I think is five. So it’s: “practice trusting the women in your life to see what you cannot see. Seek, wrestle with, trust, and apply their feedback.” So that one’s been really helpful for me. Because again, part of the idea of privilege is that it’s shit that you don’t have to think about. And it’s shit that you don’t have to interact with or think deeply about. So when people say, hey, I have a problem with this aspect of masculinity or, you know, like, for example, catcalling. So my women friends tell me all the time that they get catcalled, like, constantly, like multiple times a day. I SEE someone get catcalled on the street like, maybe a couple times a year. Like, it is not an experience that I have directly at all, not even because I don’t even experience it, but because I don’t even see it, right? I don’t even hear it. So it’s easy for me, or at least WAS easy for me for a time, to be like, “does that really happen? You know, like, I’m not even sure that that really happens. You know, I feel like if it was happening all the time, I would see it.”
But I talked to literally dozens of my female friends about this and literally thousands of women are out in the world talking about it. And like, people get catcalled, folks get catcalled and it’s mad fucked up and it shouldn’t be happening. But if you were to just ask me, you know, 10 years ago or whatever, “do women get catcalled?” I would’ve said that’s probably not that much of a problem. And so I think it’s really important when stuff is that invisible to us, as men, we need to ask the women around us about what they think about the situation and what to do about it. We need to do, you know, the work of asking women in our workplace, you know, if they get talked over in a meeting. Like whether it was cool and they felt like it was generative, or whether they felt really marginalized by it. And like, we can’t make the decisions as men about what aspects of masculinity are perfect and what aspects are problematic, like it needs to be a discourse, it needs to be a conversation we’re having with other folks, too.
Kyle: I think that word trust is really key there. I’m just thinking about how, you know, I can think of times in my life where I’ve been in conversation with a woman or with women and I disagree about like, their analysis of the situation, or of a thing that’s happened. And I may have good reasons for disagreeing. Like, I may know something else… but I have to shut the fuck up. This whole podcast is about the importance of men speaking out more, but I think that idea of not always having to respond all the time, not turning every conversation into a debate, just listening and processing and reflecting…
tony: And just because you disagree doesn’t mean you have to die on that hill. You know, there are a lot of hills that you should not die on. Especially on Twitter, I feel like people forget that all the fucking time. Like, just don’t die on that hill. You know, there are a lot of beautiful hills out in the universe. You do not need to pick that hill to die on. So, I mean, again, I think trusting is different from agreeing with. You know, you can trust that somebody’s experience is that way and that they feel that way about their experience and disagree with it. Those multiple truths can exist alongside each other and you don’t need like, unless it directly affects your life, you don’t need to disabuse them of that notion either. And actually, that can be really messed up and feel like denying that their experience is true to folks. Right? Nobody likes to be told that what they’re feeling isn’t real. And so: A: how do you know what’s real and what’s not right? Like, there’s a lot of truth is out there in the world. And then B: what makes it your job to “correct” somebody on what they feel like their experience is?
Kyle: Yeah. You know, it’s fundamental to the construction of masculinity to want to be right all the time, to want to “win” conversations and like, when you talked about choosing the hill you want to die on… I think that’s a super useful framework because… this is an easy little pop-culture example. But like, let’s say you went to see Captain Marvel and you thought Brie Larson’s character was underwritten or was not very interesting as a superhero,
tony: Which I did.
Kyle: Yeah, like, that’s a perfectly valid opinion to have. But do you then go on Brie Larson’s Instagram and post comments like, “hey, I thought your character was underwritten”?
tony: Yeah, definitely not.
Kyle: Or argue with people on Twitter about this character and how it should have been, blah blah blah.
tony: Yeah. Or like, if people come up to me and are like, “oh my God, I loved Captain Marvel. Like, it was so empowering. And as a woman, I don’t get to see myself be the hero in super movies like that.” I’m not like, “actually, you’re wrong. Brie Larson did a bad job with that role, and it’s mostly because the screenwriters wrote it badly.” Now, I’ll say that on my talking to another man podcast. But I’m definitely not going to, like, run up on somebody who’s like, talking about how great it was for them and shut them down. Because it can be true. You know, and more power to people that thought Captain Marvel was a good movie.
Kyle: You know, it’s also a good example because it’s not an objective one. Like there are subjective things that people can just argue about. And you can say “you’re wrong” about that, because you know it’s not literally wrong. And there may be other examples where it’s a little more objective, but it’s still a good practice: To not have to respond right away and just chill out and just listen.
tony: Totally. Totally. No one is demanding that you issue your perspective on every single thing all the time. And most of the time, you can avoid a lot of trouble for yourself by just shutting up. And that doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t be vulnerable and have clear conversations with folks about stuff, but it’s about choosing the space. And I think that one flows really nicely into the next one that I want to talk about, which is point seven.
So it’s: “Practice sitting in groups with other men. A group of two is a fine and valiant beginning. And speaking of feelings, do not offer solutions or try to cheer each other up. Invite the feelings as they are. Sadness, heartbreak, abandonment, fear, trauma from the process of masculinization. Be there for each other. Build friendships of radical honesty.”
Kyle: Yeah, I mean, that’s a whole episode, right? Talking about how important it is for men to cultivate (and I use the word cultivate very, very intentionally) to cultivate friendships. Outside of like, their partner.
tony: Yeah. ‘Cause like I think a lot of men get trapped in that place sometimes where they feel like they’re not allowed to be friends with women, but being friends with other men, they don’t ever get to go deep. They have like a lot of bros, but no dudes. You know what I’m saying? And so I think what ends up happening, right, is that they’re like “the only place I can feel my feelings is with my partner.” And that’s actually just way too much to put on one person. Like, your partner is not your therapist, and even your therapist isn’t responsible for you, like, all the time in all the ways. They’re responsible for how you feel within like, the space of you being in their office for an hour.
Kyle: This is a good point to really get specific. When it says practice sitting in groups with other men. What does that actually mean? Maybe it’s rooms that you’re already sitting in. Like, maybe it’s friendships that you already have; just taking a moment to maybe ask a deeper question once in a while, or just to ask like authentically like, how are you doing? Like, what’s up with you in your relationships, in your life, in your dreams? Have those deeper conversations. That can also mean, again, depending on who you are and what you’re going through and what’s up, maybe seeking out a group; maybe that’s a literal men’s discussion group which do exist in various places. And like, if nothing else, if someone’s super isolated, like maybe that’s even an online space, where you can go in, maybe even anonymously or whatever, and just start to allow ourselves to have these conversations and process and grow as human beings.
tony: I totally agree. And I’m lucky enough that I’ve had a lot of spaces like this over the course of my life. From really middle school on, I’ve had dudes that were really, really close in my life. Right, that we share absolutely everything. We’re really vulnerable with each other. We really help each other out. We’re really there for each other. So I have a lot of like, one on one dude’s friendships that are that way. But then my martial arts group also feels that way, you know, and there are some women in my martial arts group as well. But there are times when it’s all just dudes, like just all dudes showed up for practice that day. Or for a while we were an all dudes club, not purposefully. But that’s just the way that it shook out until more other folks started coming. And that’s a space where we do model that strong/weak stuff. Where like everybody talks about how their week is going really honestly. And even this space, right? Like this podcast to me is some of that. Trying to build spaces of radical honesty and vulnerability.
Kyle: “Leave a comment.” But like for real. I know I said it in a sarcastic way, but like for real, you can ask questions. So I mean, we’ve talked a lot about, you know, feelings and emotions and our internal lives. And I think number eight on this list is really good because it moves that into… again, I don’t wanna use the word praxis. I’ll just say into how do we make it come to life? So number eight is: “practice taking action together. Go to marches to protect women’s rights. Volunteer to hold the line at abortion clinics. Intervene on observed acts of misogyny and patriarchy in private and public.” And so, yeah, again, there’s this question of how are we not just like “good feminist men,” but like, what does that actually mean in real life? I think some of that is on that list. Like, going to a rally I think is both a literal thing, like go to the rally, but it’s also a symbolic thing. Organize. Support organizing efforts that can make real structural, institutional change when it comes to gender issues. Whether that’s reproductive justice work, or pay equity work, or all these different issues that…
tony: Consent education work.
Kyle: Yeah, definitely.
tony: And I think that’s really true. And I think another piece of that that’s really important to note is that if you recognize that, like, part of the problem is that you are not free, it’s great if you want to get free and if you want to help build yourself towards being free. But then it’s also incumbent upon you to help other folks with that work, too. The conversation around masculinity cannot end with like us being like, “okay, masculinity feels like it’s in a good place now. We’re gonna get out of here, right? Like we’re no longer standing in solidarity with really anybody else, right?” The work can’t just be we get ours and then we dip. It has to be more deeply invested than that or it’s not healthy. And the last one we’re gonna read is the 13th one. And I like it because it speaks to a lot of the way that I have found my way through the world and become a healthier person.
Which is: “Seek professional help. Go see a therapist. Go see a healer. Go see somebody. Require that your therapists and or healers identify as feminists. This doesn’t mean that they are women. This simply means that they believe in the equality of men and women. Not the sameness, but the equality. No sex is superior or inferior.” And I think that’s really important because number one: I think everybody should go to therapy. I think therapy is really, really great and it can be hard to find the right fit, but especially for men and people who have been socialized not to talk about their feelings, it’s a really, really safe space to do that. And where you know that nothing you say is going to go outside the four walls that you’re in, and where you have a very clearly defined relationship where that sharing is normalized and feels good.
Kyle: There’s a structure to it too, which I think for men who are resistant to some of this stuff, I think that structure can be helpful. This is a completely different example, but I’m reminded of how I don’t like going to other people’s shows sometimes, to talk to people and like, navigate around the room. I love going to shows when I can sit at the table and sell merchandise or whatever. Because it’s a controlled, structured act. And I feel like there’s a metaphor there, for how if it’s hard for me to express my feelings or whatever, in therapy, that’s what that place is FOR. Like, it’s structured.
tony: And you kind of have to. There’s like a rigor to it. When you go to therapy, regardless of how you’re feeling, like, you’ve got to sit there and be in your feelings for an hour, or for forty five minutes. It would feel really weird to go in and talk for 15 minutes and then check out and just leave, you know? And so I think that rigor can be helpful sometimes too. It’s like lifting weights, right? Like at first, it’s really, really hard. And you keep doing it and, you know, you get stronger. And you get the ability to do more.
Kyle: (joking): “Real men go to therapy.”
tony: “Real men go to therapy and lift weights. Real men lift weights in therapy.” So before we wrap up, like, I just want to shout out adrienne maree brown again. She’s the person who wrote those six points. She is absolutely incredible. Her podcast, How to Survive the End of the World, with her sister Autumn Megan Brown is incredible. She’s written Emergent Strategy and Pleasure Activism, which are both great books. And I would highly encourage you to go out and buy those books, support the podcast, Patreon, and support her wherever you find her work, because it’s really important.
Kyle: Yeah. So before we wrap up: any last questions, things you’re sitting with, or fodder for future episodes? Things that feel like they’re still kind of in the air.
tony: I guess one thing that we didn’t really talk about, and I don’t really think is ours to talk about, but is really interesting to me too, is like other people’s experience with the idea of gender, and whether we should keep it or whether we should get rid of it. Like, I’m interested in talking to nonbinary folks about that experience, and about what they think about gender. Whether they think binary gender on its face is a bad thing or whether they’re just like, that’s just not for me. I’m interested in talking to women about what would it be like to ask women to give up femininity because like if we’re all going to live in like a genderless utopia or whatever, like everybody’s got to give it up. And I think that’s actually one of the things about that Lisa Wade quote that’s really interesting to me is I think she’s asking men to give up masculinity, but she’s not asking women to give up femininity. And so I think there’s like sort of a deep question there of like, OK, so what is men’s work? In that conversation? But then also, like, what is women’s work in that conversation? Like, what’s nonbinary folks’ work in that conversation? And trans intersections on this question. I don’t know. There are a lot of voices that I would like to hear answer this question, because I think it’s a really interesting question.
Kyle: Yeah, I mean, one of most powerful moments in my career, because, you know, I’ve said this a million times, but I go around and I talk about masculinity and do poems and stuff. After a gig, once, someone came up to me and they’re like, “Hey, I’m a trans guy. I just kind of came out and I’m just trying to figure out some stuff. And I’m wondering, like, what are the good parts of masculinity? What should I be keying into to take with me?” And in the moment, I did not have much of an answer to that question, because it’s a deep, interesting question. And I feel like this conversation that we’ve had today maybe doesn’t provide answers to that question, but I think for me at least, pointed me on a pathway towards what those answers might be. But it’s still something that I don’t feel 100% comfortable with in terms of… even just the guiding question of this episode, “end it or modify it” or whatever: I think there are so many points on both sides of that question that are valid. And I mean, maybe that’s the answer too, just figuring it out as we go.
tony: And I think this is a kettle of fish to dive into, as we end this episode…
Kyle: A kettle of fish?
tony: Yeah, a kettle of fish. A can of worms. A barrel of monkeys. Anyway, I think one of the ways to answer a question like that, for me, is talking about yin and yang. And again, we talked a little bit about that earlier in the episode. But yin and yang are Chinese concepts and there are corollaries in a lot of different cultures around the world. But the basic idea is that yin is yielding, is diplomatic; yin is flowing. Water is yin and it’s very strong. But its strength doesn’t come from structure. Its strength comes from flexibility and malleability. And then you have yang, which is unyielding and stable and structural and powerful and loud and glaring. And a lot of the time, a lot of cultures talk about these things as if they correlate directly to the feminine and masculine.
So when you talk about feminine things, you’re talking about yin. You’re talking about feminine energy. And when you’re talking about masculinity, or masculine things, or masculine energy you’re talking about yang. So yin, for example, is the moon, right? It’s reflective, it’s beautiful, it’s serene, it’s calm. Whereas the sun is yang. It’s powerful and disruptive. And it hurts to look at, but it’s life-giving and it’s assertive and it’s powerful, too. And I think, again, you need both of those things. In a spiritual practice, you need both of them. I think in life, in interpersonal relationships, you need both of them. You can’t let people walk all over you. But you can’t be endlessly screaming at people and asserting your power and dominance over them either. There needs to be some give and take. And so, again, I think when I think about the positive elements of masculinity, like one of the ways that I frame that in my head are like, what are yang qualities? And yang doesn’t have to be masculine and yin doesn’t have to be feminine. But that’s been a useful, I guess, just a useful reframe of the question for me to be like, OK, so like, what are some useful masculine qualities? So for me, a useful masculine quality is sometimes telling people to fuck off. You know, like, there’s something to be said for like building a relationship with people and holding people in accountability and, you know, trying to resolve things diplomatically. But sometimes, people are garbage and you don’t need them in your life, right? And the best thing for everybody is to set really clear boundaries and tell them to get out of your space, and that they’re not welcome.
You know, I think that there are pluses and minuses to both of those things, and they need to exist in this combination, in this flux. Like, that’s what the yin yang symbol when you see it, which is called the Taiji, that’s what it is, right? It’s the idea that there’s a little bit of yang in yin, and there’s a little bit of yin in yang, and all of it needs to exist together for the world to work the way it does anyway. That might be too esoteric or, you know, too…
Kyle: I think that’s a beautiful way to end this conversation because, you know, it speaks directly to what we’ve been talking about, but also speaks directly to it WHILE reframing it, looking at it from a completely different angle. I like that.
tony: Yeah, you can be the yang, and there’s nothing wrong with being yang, but you have to have some yin inside you too, and you have to recognize that that in and of itself is incomplete and that yin and yang need to exist together in a deeper relationship for the whole of our humanity, for the whole of our planet, for the whole of the universe.
Kyle: Yeah. For all people, but especially I’m thinking about as an artist, how important that.. I don’t want to say duality. I want to say like, combination or movement between those different qualities as an artist, as an activist, like how vitally important that balance is. I’m wondering if maybe it makes sense to end this episode with adrienne maree brown again, who’s contributed so much to this conversation. One of my favorite quotes like, in the universe. You want to read it? You want me to read it?
tony: Let’s read it together.
Both: “We are bending the future together into something we have never experienced, a world where everyone experiences abundance, access, pleasure, human rights, dignity, freedom, transformative justice, peace. We long for this. We believe it is possible.” –adrienne maree brown.
tony: For the last word today, we’re going to be hearing from an old friend of mine, Shannon Kearns. Shannon TL Kearns is a transgender man whose playwriting is obsessed with big questions told through small stories. He’s committed to work by and for marginalized communities, using writing to create a new future for all of us. He is the founder and artistic director of Uprising Theatre Company in Minneapolis, Minnesota. You can find him and his work at shannontlkearns.com and QueerTheology.com. So, Shannon, what’s the last word? What’s the deal with masculinity? Where are we going? Should we fix it, or should we kill it, or should we do something else?
Shannon TL Kearns: Love this question and I struggle with it at the same time. I think as someone who grew up in a fundamentalist evangelical culture that was heavily gendered and never really felt like I fit in with the gender that was being assigned to me. And so, in many ways throughout my entire life, I’ve kind of pushed against and fought back against gender norms. And at the same time, I find that some of the ways that I was socialized helped me to be, I think, a better man and a better advocate for the women in my life in that, you know, I was taught not to take up space and not to be a leader because I was presumed female. But I find that when I can carry those things into spaces around women, I think I do a better job at making space and stepping back when it’s necessary.
And yet at the same time, I think that, you know, had I been born a cis guy in that fundamentalist evangelical culture, I would have grown up an asshole because I had all of the stereotypical things that would have been really celebrated. And so the fact that I had to fight to claim my own identity and gender and had to fight to make my space and place in the world… And then the fact that I transitioned and chose and picked masculinity for myself, I think has made me into, in some ways, a different kind of man. I carry masculinity in a very different way than I think I would have had I grown up cis guy. Which is fascinating to think about because I hate it when they talk about transmen as a different kind of men. And yet I also understand from my own socialization that like, I do carry masculinity differently. And I think with this question of like, should we reform it or kill it, for me, I have such a deep intrinsic sense of myself as a man that I don’t think I can imagine a world without masculinity because I think that there will always be people who have that intrinsic identity within themselves. And it doesn’t make sense to me to create a world where we abolish gender; that feels to me just as stifling as the really strict binary roles that we are forcing people to live in now. Like that world doesn’t work. And I don’t see a world with no gender at all working either. And maybe I’m just not imaginative enough, but as someone who has really fought to claim my own identity and fought to say like, “no, you will see and recognize me in this way.” Like, I’m claiming this for myself and I’m demanding that you acknowledge me that way. To me, it feels like masculinity will always exist.
So then the question for me becomes if this is going to exist, if there are always going to be men or people who identify with masculinity. And this is the question that I ask myself every day: if I am a man, then what kind of man am I going to be? And how am I going to carry that in the world in a way that leads to the liberation of all people? Because I believe in liberation and I believe in being a channel, an avenue for liberation. And so I have to carry my masculinity in a way that liberates both myself and others. Or else it’s no good. And to me, that’s the more interesting question than are we going to kill it or are we going to save it? If it’s going to exist, in what ways will we carry it? And how are we working for liberation for all?
tony: Mic drop. Thank you so much. Again, that was the last word with Shannon Kearns. You can find him at shannontlkearns.com. Thanks so much for joining us here on What’s Good, man? And we’ll see you in two weeks.
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