What is the Future of Masculinity? (#WhatsGoodMan Live Season Finale)

“How can you become what you cannot imagine?” -bell hooks

Here’s the last episode of season one! We recorded this LIVE at the University of Minnesota in November 2019. We knew we wanted to end the season with something forward-looking, speculative, and maybe a little weird. We also knew we wanted to bring in a bunch of other voices. These guests were so generous, and so brilliant; we’re super grateful for their contributions.

Thanks also to all of the sponsoring organizations at the University of Minnesota: the Women’s Center, the Asian Pacific American Resource Center, the Aurora Center, the Office of Fraternity/Sorority Life, and the Martin Luther King Jr. Program. It’s definitely cool to see that kind of collaboration; if you’d like to bring #WhatsGoodMan to YOUR college, conference, or other space, get in touch!

Also thanks to all of our listeners over the past few months. It means a lot, and we hope people will keep sharing episodes, sharing quotes, leaving reviews, and of course- continuing the conversations, whether that’s with the hashtag #WhatsGoodMan on social media, or in real life!

We will be back!

(L-R) top row: Kyle, Malik, Alec, Sawyer, Abeer; lower row: Mick, tony, Katie

Kyle: What is the future of masculinity?

tony: OR: masculinity as science fiction.

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 the last episode of this season of What’s Good Man. Thanks for riding with us so far. We’re really excited to have been through this journey with you, and we’re really excited for what comes next as well. So today we’re going to bring it back to the beginning of this whole journey. So the day that we released the first episode of this season, we hosted a live show at the University of Minnesota sponsored by a bunch of awesome on-campus groups, and today we’re going to be bringing you the audio from that live show.

So we had six amazing guests on to talk about what the future of masculinity looks like, in five years, in fifty years, in five hundred years. It was a great conversation; we had a lot of amazing insights shared and we’re excited for you to get to those today. Unfortunately, we had some technical difficulties recording that show, and so thanks to Martin Sheeks, we have audio that was recorded from the crowd. So it’s not as buttery smooth as a lot of our previous episodes; but the insights our guests shared were just too good to pass up. So we hope you will understand that this one might not sound as good, but there’s a lot of amazing stuff in there.

Kyle: Yeah, we’re actually recording this little intro in Boneshaker Books here in Minneapolis, so shout out to Boneshaker, a beautiful little bookstore.

tony: Yeah we’re in the kids’ literature room, which has a lot of awesome radical kids’ literature. So if you’re trying to radicalize a young child in your life, you should definitely take them to Boneshaker Books in Minneapolis.

Kyle: So just for the sake of tradition, should we do some strong/weaks?

tony: Yeah, before that, though, I think we should tell people what’s coming next. This is not going to be the end of #WhatsGoodMan. We’re planning on having a second season and beyond. But both of us are tired, both of us have a lot going on. So we’re taking the Spring off to focus on other projects and get our heads right. We should be back around summer of 2020. And we’re looking forward to sharing a bunch of amazing topics then; we talked about some future topics back in episode 8. So yeah, let’s jump into strongs and weaks; how are you feeling strong; how are you feeling weak?

Kyle: As is often the case, the thing I’m feeling strong and weak about is the same thing. Our primary is in a week. Here in MN we vote on Super Tuesday, like a lot of the country. And I think tonight I’m going to post my “here’s how I’m going to vote; here are three reasons why.” And I think that’s an important thing, not because I’m any kind of authority, but because I think it’s important for all of us to just like, have conversations, to talk it out, to have dialogue, to question each other, to exist in community with each other.

But it’s also just scary. When you say, “here’s my candidate,” candidates become this avatar for you and your politics, in ways that I don’t think they should be. I don’t like or trust any politician. What’s that quote? I don’t remember who said it, but it’s like “you’re not voting for your ally; you’re voting for your enemy.” You’re trying to elect your enemy. You want someone who is going to be accountable… or pressurable by mass social movements. And I think that’s really good advice.

tony: Yeah, it’s like harm mitigation. I was actually thinking about that; a lot of folks who talk about safe drug usage use a lot of harm reduction terminology. Folks are going to use whether or not using is criminalized, so the objective shouldn’t be to try to punish them for that; the objective should be to try to make sure that it’s as safe and healthy as possible, as it can be, knowing that people are going to do that anyway. And the radical in me kind of feels that way about voting. Knowing that people are going to be voting anyway, and knowing that the electoral process, at least right now, is going to exist and be a major force to contend with, how can we engage with it to make it as good as possible, or at least as not-evil as possible?

Kyle: My metaphor that I always come back to is that some people, people on the more radical/leftist side of the political spectrum will say “voting’s just a bandaid; it doesn’t do anything.” And I feel that, but I also think a more precise metaphor is that voting is pressure on the wound. It gives communities, and it gives organizers a little bit of chance to maybe be more offensive rather than defensive, to heal, to do the work that needs to happen and not be constantly in response to something bad that’s happening.

tony: Yeah, and bandaids are useful! So my strong and my weak… I think my strong is that I have a lot of cool opportunities and things coming up right now. I won a MN emerging composer award for 2020, and got some grant money to be able to do art stuff with, and that’s really exciting. We have some cool What’s Good Man stuff coming up, different presentations and stuff like that that people have invited us to do; that’s really cool. And I think I’m really realizing that this podcasting stuff, and audio content production in general, is a thing that I want to be doing for the rest of my life. So that feels really strong.

I guess my weak, in a completely different vein, is anxiety. I’ve been really anxious lately, dealing with a lot of anxiety in my life. And trying to find ways to address that, and deal with it; but it’s always a challenge, but it requires a lot of attention and a lot of work. I’m just continuing to try to chip away at that; February’s always a bad month for me, but I’m trying to find ways to build in a little more health, and a little more rest, moving into March and beyond.

Kyle: That was beautiful.

tony: Thanks. So let’s kick the episode off. So most of the episode is going to be that live show audio, but a couple things to share before we get started. One: it felt really important to end this season with this episode, talking about the future of masculinity. Because so often, our conversations about masculinity and gender end with the present. We talk about history sometimes, we talk about context, we talk about what’s going on today and what the problems are… but we so rarely talk about what kind of world we want to envision for ourselves. And I think there are a lot of amazing thinkers out there– adrienne maree brown, Autumn Brown, Ricardo Levins Morales, who are like, encouraging us to think along those lines, about what do we want to be working towards, instead of what we want to be working away from. That’s one of the reasons it really feels right that we’re coming back to the beginning with this one, and looking forward to the future in terms of what we want to envision and imagine. So Kyle, why don’t you share that quote with us that we used to open up the show, and then we’ll dive into the body of the live show.

Kyle: Yeah. So the guiding quote for today, the quote that we shared with all our panelists, is from bell hooks, from the book Feminism is for Everybody: Passionate Politics:

What is and was needed is a vision of masculinity where self-esteem and self-love of one’s unique being forms the basis of identity. Cultures of domination attack self-esteem, replacing it with a notion that we derive our sense of being from dominion over another. Patriarchal masculinity teaches men that their sense of self and identity, their reason for being, resides in their capacity to dominate others. To change this males must critique and challenge male domination of the planet, of less powerful men, of women and children. But they must also have a clear vision of what feminist masculinity looks like. How can you become what you cannot imagine?

(Audio transitions from the bookstore to the live event)

Kyle: So tonight, we’re gonna listen to our imaginations. We’re going to talk about the future; what might masculinity look like in five, fifty, five hundred years; will it even exist? How will we talk about gender more broadly in the future based on the trends that we’re seeing right now? And maybe most importantly, what will the work to get to that future look like? What will it look like for everyone, but especially for men? We have some thoughts on that, and we have some incredible guests to bring up to share their thoughts on that tonight. Does that sound OK?

tony: I think the thing that I love about this question, and Kyle’s the one who came up with this question; we’re like, oh, what do we want to do about a live show? And I think the thing about it that I really love is this framing of like, looking at it from like a really, really long timescale. Right. Like what will masculinity look like five years from now? What does masculinity look like fifty years from now? What does masculinity look like five hundred years from now? And I think it’s really important that we acknowledge that, like, not everybody who comes up is going to have the same answer. And hopefully they don’t! Like, gender is really personal. And I think one of the things about “standard, comes in the box, vanilla masculinity” that’s so shitty, is that it asks that we all  choose exactly the same version of gender. And assume that it looks the same way for everybody. So I’m really excited to see… I mean, maybe we have all of our guests come up and they all say exactly the same thing. But I really doubt it. So I’m excited to see what folks’ takes on this are. And we came up… we got some really, really amazing guests. So shout out, y’all, for coming here and being willing to sit and talk with two dudes on a stage about masculinity. That’s a brave thing to do. Give it up for our guests.

Kyle: So we have six guests. Three of them are actually from the U; three of them are just people we know in the community. There could have been a lot more people we ask to come up here, but these are the six that were able to do it. We gave them a lot of room to respond to this question. If they want to talk specifically about masculinity, if they want to talk about gender more broadly- however they interpret that question of the future focused understanding of these issues. And we’re going to let them each talk for a few minutes. We’ll have a little conversation, and then they’ll leave and we’ll bring the next guest up. And so it’s kind of you know, this is an alternative way to do a panel… should we get into it?

tony: Yeah. Absolutely. So our first guest is the assistant residence director at Middlebrook Hall right here at the U of M…

Kyle: Anyone from Middlebrook Hall?! (laughter) … Mick Castro! Please make some noise.

Mick:  Hi, everyone. It’s strange to hear my voice out of like, speakers and not out of my own mouth, but hi, I’m the assistant residence director over at Middlebrook Hall. Sounds like there’s no one here who lives there except for me. I use he/him/his pronouns. Fun fact about me: I’m from California. I’ve been living here for…

Audience member: That’s what’s up.

Mick: Yeah, anyone here from California? This is going to be my third winter. And so I slipped on some ice, some kind of ice this morning. And that was interesting. So, yeah. Is there anything else you want me to talk about?

tony: What? Yeah. So, Mick, what do you think the future of masculinity looks like? What do you think- five years, 50 years? Five hundred years from now- masculinity looks like? What would you want it to look like?

Mick: Jeez. So, Guante sent this question to me like a month ago. And I was like, why would you do this? I can’t even think about what I want for like, lunch and everything. And thank you for like, actually saying, like, what do I WANT it to be? Because that’s the first part of where my brain kind of went was like, what would it look like and what do I want it to look like?

Being a trans person like, I tip toe or like, play with the line of gender quite a bit. And my very existence tends to play on like “how do I form masculinity in this moment?” Being someone who is also femme presenting and very femme identified at the same time. Like, in my work, I don’t read as that. And that’s totally fine. It actually provides me a space to actually start to bring up the conversation of masculinity. I’m also very grateful for these lights because I can’t see y’all. Let’s see. So I tried to go chronological, and then I started going backwards, to think about how did I come to understand my masculinity, and how/why am I such a fuckery of masculinity, or how I feel like a fuckery of masculinity?

My understanding of masculinity came out of an understanding, way back when I was prowling the deep, dark hole of Tumblr and was trying to figure out what does gender mean, and like, I was a lot more androgynous at the time. And all I saw was this image of the trans man. And the trans man was this person who wanted to be, or who like, rejected their femininity. And I was trying to, like, fit myself into that mold and just found myself hating that image of myself and trying to figure out like, am I a real trans person?

And so when I think about those roots, I started thinking about what does masculinity look like in the future? And my immediate response to the five years was like, why does masculinity or healthy pieces of masculinity that are celebrated in pop culture, or like people like Terry Crews who are like on the like far end of like masculinity, he’s like hypermasculine, but also like celebrates like some like feminine qualities or things like that. And is just kind of discovering this… and why does it have to be a binary of like negotiating this hypermasculine self while also celebrating this feminine self and stuff. And why does it have to be that, rather than a blend?

And so that ended up making me go through a wormhole of like, what do I want out of that? I want to imagine a world where you can blend those things and you don’t have to prove yourself. And you think, see, like… I think one of the things that’s beautiful, or like when I think of liberation and what does liberation feel like, I think of going into a space and you’re not expecting anything from someone and you’re expecting to like… and what you’re expecting is to be… to exist in a space and know that you are seen. And so like I think about that in 50 years. In five hundred years. I’d like to see some… like I want to go to space and debate gender with an alien. That’s what I want to do. I had a dream about that this morning.

So that was something that I was exploring myself. So I think what I would like is just a blend. And like being able to like, fuck with gender and that being like: you’re masculine. And saying that you’re masculine, and that’s like, accepted and seen. And y’all talked about it as like this dominance culture is about power and control. And like, when I think of masculinity, it’s about power and control. And I think what I want is that power and control and the control of that expectation to just be let go. So that’s… I just ranted. 

tony: Yeah, that was awesome. So almost like play. You take the power and the dominance out of the situation and you can choose what it looks like in any individual moment… that sounds like play to me in some ways. Is that what you’re saying?

Mick: Oh yeah definitely. I love playing. I’m always like… you were talking about D&D earlier; just like, I love the concept of D&D. I’m going to be playing my first like, one shot of D&D in like two week. So that’s exciting.

Kyle: Would you be willing to share your character? Or do you know yet?

Mick: Yeah. I’m so excited about this character. So my D&D character is a werewolf who’s genderqueer and is a bounty hunter that really likes people. And there’s also a lot of stuff… I haven’t really figured out anything else about that. But like, that’s who they are. And we’ll see who that person will be when they, like, come out in said one shot.

Yeah, but I was thinking about how masculinity and gender can play a role in like exploring… or how role play can play such an awesome role in letting you play with gender and play with, how can you like imagine a world without necessarily immersing it in a reality that you already know kind of sucks sometimes. Yeah.

tony: Cool. Well, thanks so much, Mick. Give it up for Mick!

I talk about it all the time, but one of my favorite podcasts is called The Adventure Zone and it’s by a family called the McElroys, and one of my favorite things about that podcast is in addition to a bunch of other random shit they do, they have non-binary characters who use they/them pronouns on the show who are like part of the mileu of like, what’s happening with everything. So like, it like gets listeners who maybe only care about D&D and haven’t thought critically about gender ever before to like, have to start learning how to use they/them pronouns just by like listening to the show and like talking about the characters on the show. So I think that’s really tight. Roleplaying’s tight. We’re gonna do an episode on that.

Kyle: So one more time, Mick had to go first, so thank you, Mick, so much. Next up to the stage, we have another representative of the university here. I mean, not like officially or formally, I don’t want to put that on anybody; but another person who works for the university. This is the men’s engagement coordinator for the Aurora Center for Advocacy and Education here at the U. Please welcome Malik Mitchell… Oh, and coming from the spoken word community, we do the thing where you clap all the way until the person makes it to the stage.

Malik: Thank you. I was going to go that way. Then I saw that block and I was like, I can’t make it around. Hello.

tony: Can you eat the mic just a little bit more? 

Malik: I’m sorry. I speak with mics a lot and I still don’t really know how they work. But when I got this email, I was excited. I read the prompts and I had a few thoughts. At first, one of my first thoughts was that it’s bold of y’all to assume that our planet will be habitable in 50 years… (laughter + crosstalk) The Earth will be fine. She’ll just get rid of all of us and start over. And then my second foremost thought was thinking and reflecting about how my masculinity shows up. And I think one of my realizations and one of my reflections in being a masculine presenting Black man is that sometimes I get stuck in survival mode. A lot of the times, being a person with an identity that oftentimes reminds me of my fragility and my mortality, that I’m confronted with a lot. Seeing the death of people who look like me daily on repeat, on speakers, on the news, on Facebook, which luckily I don’t have anymore. But being faced with that, sometimes it’s a reminder that future planning is a luxury that not everyone has access to. So that’s something that I think about. And I’m grateful for opportunities like this to kind of take me out of that headspace and really, really deal with what it means to be a Black man, to be a Black man that sees old age, to be an aging Black man and what that means. 

So that’s not five hundred years from now because I’m not immortal, but I…

tony: Not yet.

Malik: True. I haven’t sent my my DNA into any of those like ancestry dot com websites because I’m afraid I’m gonna be like ninety two and they’re gonna send it back to me like “you want to live to be two hundred? I have something for you.” But they can’t have my DNA.

I read a lot about masculinity. I think a lot about masculinity. And I’m thinking about some of the major experiences and quotes in conversations that I’ve had that have influenced my view of masculinity and what that looks like. So one of my biggest influences is actually bell hooks. I was also excited to see that that was the context for this episode. And I remember reading her work, and listening to the work of Marc Lamont Hill. If you’re not familiar with him, he’s an academic, an activist and author; all of those great things. And I went to one of his talks a few years ago and he talked about making a difference and changing our world in the context of something that we haven’t seen yet. Imagining the unimaginable. So seeing that bell hooks, quote, I was like, wow, look at all these dots connecting. So I think I talk about that a lot, especially at our staff meetings at work. 

How do I think about my own masculinity? How do I create a masculinity that doesn’t have to be violent to be effective, doesn’t have to be violent to be on display? And what that means, and really how masculinity…. And I was talking about this earlier today: traditional masculinity, Western masculinity, hegemonic masculinity was created in opposition to femininity. And does that have to be the case? And one of my greatest hopes long term is that masculinity and those forms of gender expression can still be very personal and that folks can use to express themselves but will work its way out of obsoleted… in the idea that it’s the idea of having power over everyone who’s other, everyone who’s not masculine. So that’s one of the things that I think about in how do I contribute to being a person that does that, that allows people a full range of expression.

One of the activities that I do when I talk about masculinity is I ask folks to think about a masculine or male-identified person in their life and write down some things that they appreciate about that person. So list those things. A lot of the times folks come up with like, caring, I feel listened to. I feel safe when I’m with that person. And some of those things line up with like traditional masculine ideals. A lot of times they don’t. And then I ask them to think about what ideas do we get about masculinity from the media, from pop culture, and how do those things intersect? How do they line up? How do they differ from each other and how that came to be. So we have a lot of good conversations that way.

Another thing that I was talking about a little bit earlier today is that talking about masculinity, or any form of dominant identity that asks you to be evolved to have power over another person- doing anything to subvert that is vulnerable. And it can be really painful depending upon what somebody’s experience with masculinity is because we all have a story of masculinity, regardless of if we identify as being a masculine person or not. And for a lot of people, that’s a painful story. Right. So thinking about that vulnerability and how can we hold space for that and asking people to buy into that space and making sure that it’s it’s safe for them, that doesn’t mean that it’s not going to be uncomfortable. That doesn’t mean it’s not going to be painful. But we can promise that we’ll hold that space for them. And that’s the person that I want to be. Knowing that there’s space for you here to talk about whatever your story about masculinity is. So that’s one of my goals.

Another prompt that I thought about was something that I heard from… and I’m obviously going to forget his name, but he was talking about what the world would look like in terms of war in the future if we never had male leaders, didn’t have any men in office, what would that look like? And I was like, yo… that’s a thought. And then he went on to talk about how everything would be less violent. There wouldn’t be as much war. People would just be chill all the time. And I was like, maybe… But then he went on to talk about how women are just like, inherently more calm or inherently more… and I was like, you know, you fumbled that. You could have just stopped talking and you didn’t. Wow. It made me think about how… and then he flipped it a little bit. I’m like getting better. OK, I see you… About how- asking the question if we rob women and feminine people of their agency by denying them anger, by denying them violence, by denying them the ways in which they can show up in the world and thinking about what is inherently feminine- to be powerless, to be docile, to not react, or to only react in acceptable ways. I was like, a little bit redeemed, but I don’t know.

So I thought about that, and kind of our history and our our society’s arc of femininity and masculinity, and what those things look like and how hopefully we’re bending toward where we don’t need those things in opposition of each other, how folks can just show up and be who they are and have that be held and have that be accepted and not something that’s either celebrated for a person of a particular gender and then demonized for a person of another gender.

So I think, bringing it full circle and and kind of thinking about how masculinity has looked for me, trying to again- go back and find a place where I can express my masculinity in a way that doesn’t feel finite. In a way that doesn’t make me feel hypervisible and also hypervigilant, for my own safety. And then really thinking about the future and future planning in a way that sometimes folks don’t have the luxury to do if they’re stuck in survival mode. So I’m hoping for the future of masculinity that we can take men out of defending themselves, masculine folks out of defending themselves, and take them out of survival mode and thinking about how we can thrive as masculine folks, as men who are masculine, as folks who are masculine that don’t identify as men and really need a space for what that might look in the future. So assuming that the planet isn’t on fire, and we’re still here in five hundred years, I think that’s what I’d like to see.

Kyle: Thank you for that. That was quite an answer. I have one really brief question, as someone who does men’s engagement work like, I feel like the men’s engagement work that I do is a little more shallow, in that I go from school to school to school, and like, do good stuff at those schools, but it’s not the deep relationship building; I see different groups of people. So I’m wondering, through your lens doing that work (and I know that you haven’t been here forever), but doing that work here… what I was saying earlier about that kind of forced optimism; things do seem to be shifting. When I work with 18, 19 year old boys and men, young men right now, like the culture seems to be shifting in a positive direction; not the same way for everyone all the time, universally, but in a general sense, the ball seems to be rolling in a positive direction, in my experience. I’m just curious, as someone who does men’s engagement work, if you’ve seen any trends that give you hope or optimism, or if you would push back against that.

Malik: I should be more optimistic. But sometimes I see something and I’m like, wow, we are the same as we’d been 50 years ago, 100 years ago. And I think that’s a pitfall that I fall into a lot, of thinking that the ways that things show up now is the way that it always has been, and the way that it always has to be. And I think, again, that I get trapped in that line of thinking that if I have to make a change, it has to look a certain way, because that’s the way that it’s always looked. So I see nonconformity in some of the youth that I work with. And that’s really exciting. Not just in terms of gender, but in terms of societal stereotypes, in terms of expectations, in terms of dreaming, in terms of careers, things like that. And that makes me really excited that there’s a lot of folks who believe better and assume better of other people that they’re around. So that’s something that I’m like, that’s a great thing to see. And in some ways, I know that we see a lot of violence, that we see a lot of pushback, but oftentimes the resistance is loudest right before the change. So I think that’s something to keep in mind that things do look bleak and it’s okay to feel that. It’s okay to feel that hurt. And I want to leave space for people to do that. But I also want to remind folks that, again, oftentimes the people who push back, the people who back with backlash, the people who resist change, know that they’re losing their power and losing the majority in the way that they show up in society. So I think one, seeing that non-conformity; two, knowing that the resistance is louder, but so is the counter-protest, so is the counter-narrative to that, and that there are a lot of people who are allowing themselves space to future-plan.

Kyle: Thank you. One more time for Malik Mitchell!

tony: What you said about safety is so dope. Like, I find myself thinking a lot about my masculinity, like threats around my masculinity and danger of my masculinity in terms of the danger that I can be to other people because of the way that I’ve been socialized. And I don’t think I take enough time or space to think about the ways in which, like, masculinity has been a threat to me and that I feel like I have to defend myself in my masculinity. That’s really interesting; I’m going to go home thinking about that. Thank you.

Okay. So next is a friend of ours. She’s an activist. She’s an organizer. She is a pizza critic sometimes. And she won more votes that Pete Buttigieg when she became the U of M student body president. Everybody give it up for Abeer Syedah.

Abeer: Did you write that? I didn’t get more votes than Pete Buttigieg.

tony: Somebody said that on Twitter today. I do.

Abeer: That’s not true. Hi. I’m Abeer Syedah. I use she/her pronouns. I do want to start by saying I’m like a totally cis woman who’s never used the term masculine to self-identify in any way. And I think that’s important because I’m going to talk through this question that was asked of me, which I originally declined, because I was like, well, what could I contribute? And also, I don’t want to. I want you guys to do this. You know, I want to relax. And so I was like, okay, well, first I need to be able to define masculinity. And I studied gender studies and we have all these words and those are good, but they come with a lot of context. And so I was like, how would I like, tomorrow if I just had to talk to my brother about masculinity? How would I define masculinity?

And I thought a little bit about the fact that I didn’t know how to describe masculinity in a manner that wasn’t negative, which is part of why, again, I didn’t want to come up here because we’ll I’m going to be a real bummer; I was like genocide, conquest, fascism, entitlement, anger; there’s like not a lot of positivity in my story here. And so then I was like, okay, well, that’s not going to go anywhere of substance.

But I also think that it’s interesting that I don’t know as a cis woman how to say anything about masculinity removed from those. And so I wanted to unpack that a little. The question that was asked was about a vision for masculinity in the future. And for me, the only vision I could think of for masculinity in the future is one that unpacks all of the bullshit that I don’t like. And the only time I think about masculinity is when I’m irritated, frustrated or angry. And so I can only think about unpacking those things. And I thought a little bit about how interesting it is that so many of my frustrations can be found in things that I think were about how we were raised, and the differences in how we were raised. And if you’re socialised with whatever masculinity is, the masculinity you were socialised with, or you were socialized with femininity, whatever that may mean, or you were socialized with something else- those differences can account for so many of my day to day frustrations with gender, gender identity, expression, and how people… and the negativities that I affiliate with masculinity. 

So I think about emotional labor, and why in my day to day, my primary frustration with men is emotional labor and just how I wish you all would think more and talk less. And in unpacking that, I thought how interesting would it be to live in a world in which we could all be raised with our own abilities to express our attitudes and our identities; to be who we are and do that differently, but not unequally, and with no one feeling entitlement, control, conquest, any of that. So like, if I was to undo everything that pisses me off about emotional labor, it would just be like, can you think as much as I do? And if you were to think as much as I do, you would need to be raised with an equal amount of contribution to this world and an equal amount of responsibility to the world around you. So that was really intriguing to me.

I also thought about the fact that I didn’t know… something I learned; oh I said I’d close the yearbook, but then I’m opening the yearbook. But something I learned when I was at the U and I did some leadership stuff was that I didn’t know what strength or leadership looked like separate from masculinity. I actually, and I realized that because I was like, oh, I’m kind of a dick sometimes. And I was like, why am I, like, incapable of expressing my emotions? Why would I… I refused to cry when something really horrible was happening because I was in front of a room. I was like, do the tongue on the roof of your mouth to stop yourself from crying; hold it back and then move forward. I was like, why did I do that? That’s how I was feeling. And nothing’s wrong with that. It’s because I don’t know what strength and leadership are without masculinity.

I learned to stop expressing emotions because I wanted strength and leadership. I learned to stop expressing emotions; I learned to stop talking about the things that interested me. I learned to wear heels that would make me taller, but wouldn’t make a lot of sound because that’s like a little too feminine. I learned to laugh at stupid shit that’s like not interesting, even though my humor is far more interesting than that. But I was just laughing at dumb dude jokes and I realize that that’s because that was the only way I knew what strength and leadership actually looked like. And so another vision for masculinity in the future would actually just be one where visions of leadership are diverse and where people are seen as leaders and people are seen as strength in manners that are soft, in manners that are authentic, and manners that are everything but what I just described. So, yeah, those are my answers. I don’t have much more to say.

Kyle: Next up, a sexuality educator and, quote unquote, your favorite gender outlaw. Please welcome to the stage. Alec Lossiah.

Alec: Thank you. Thank you. Yes, my name is Alec Lossiah; I’m a sexuality educator, I use they/them and she/her pronouns and I also am trying to run a masculinities circle, but it’s a little in limbo. It’s very exciting. And I’m incredibly nervous to be onstage. I’m an educator. I like the way that Mick started off with talking about his own gender. And so I think that’s where I need to start with mine, before I answer this question about what the future of masculinity is.

And so I haven’t known my entire life that I was not a man, but I think that I started thinking about it… Oh, my gosh. Before I get into this, I want to thank a couple people in my life just because I want to give credit where credit is due. My best friend Liv Novoty’s helped me immensely in my gender journey. Ericka Hart and Ebony Donnelly, who are incredible sex educators, have really pushed this kind of education forward with me. And so much of my knowledge comes from them. And there is just so many queer and trans people and women in my life. And that’s what I’m gonna…

But anyway, my own gender journey, I didn’t know that I was trans until last October. I was at a public school where I was one of the only queer people. And I read this post in the staff lounge that said something like, if you don’t think you’re a trans woman because you think you would be an ugly woman, that’s not true. And you are a trans woman. And I don’t know if that’s quite exactly what it was. But then I was like, oh, well I would be an ugly woman if I was a woman. And then I was like, that’s what the poster said! And then I was like, fuck, I’m trans! And I was around all these like cis-het people and no one to share it with. And it was so isolating. And I feel like gender, as deeply as it is personal, the way that it is like constructed right now is so incredibly isolating and masculinity is so, so isolating and just about internal and external fear and internal and external violence. And it is just a tragedy that people have to experience something that confines them so deeply to themselves and not be in touch with their own humanity and the humanity of others.

And so I feel like in realizing that I was… I didn’t feel like a man or I didn’t… you know, sometimes I feel like a man. But I identify as nonbinary and transfeminine and genderqueer and gender-fucked and agender and genderfluid and all of these things. And it feels like everybody is experiencing gender fluidity from moment to moment in context to context. But I don’t think people are talking about it in the same way that trans people are talking about it. And so when I think about the future of masculinity, it’s like, how are we allowing ourselves to be fluid people and how does… what is gender even? It’s not a thing. And it’s also everything. And, ah, you know, it’s like this amorphous blob that I hate and I love and…

And so when I think about how I am like, challenging myself to understand my own gender and like, unlearn toxic masculinity and maybe masculinity isn’t a part of my own gender at all. Maybe it is. I know the direction that I always need to go is the place that I am most scared to go. And I think that when I think about the future of masculinity, it is devoid of that fear of being whatever it is that people want to be, because so much of masculinity is being scared to be not-masculine. I feel like that’s just entirely what it is. It’s just rejecting everything but this one thing that you have to choose. And it’s just so terrible and isolating. And when I think about it, it’s just so lonely to experience that for so long. And so I feel like in understanding gender more fluidly and being like, I’m not going to play by these rules that… like who’s… well, white settler colonialism set the rules. And I feel like it’s this game of like, football, but we could be playing Calvinball, you know? I don’t know if you know Calvinball? You make up the rules as you go. That’s the game I’m trying to play. Where rules don’t matter and you can make them up and you can play by whatever rules that you want to.

And there’s a certain privilege in being able to not play by certain rules that I have as a trans person who is white and able-bodied. But there’s certain rules that we’re all playing by with gender that we just don’t need to. And those are the rules that I want to just be to devoid in the future. Like 500 years from now, people can identify as a man and act however they want. And maybe there’s 50 new genders in the future, because that sounds beautiful to me. And maybe 10 of those are like genders that are “men genders.” But there’s 10 of them. It’s like a character in D&D. You know, you could be like a cleric that’s also…

tony: You can multiclass!

Alec: Exactly. I played D&D once. I died the first round. And also my character was trans. Spoiler alert, Alec: you’re trans.

So, yeah, I really just like, this fear is all I think about with gender. And I think that’s mostly what I wanted to say. I want to check my phone. I had a good note at one point. I was like, I wanna read a poem to my past self. And then I was crying while reading that poem. And then I was like, I don’t know if I want to do that on stage. And then I read it on the way here. And it wasn’t very good. I was like, I was just in my feelings! But I felt like I was trying to fit the mold, you know, but then I was like, that’s not me; I’m an educator. 

I think a couple parting thoughts that I have was: the phrase “be a man” is just a violent way to say that I’m scared. If I learned anything in therapy, it’s that curiosity is the opposite of fear, because fear tells us to withdraw and fight, and curiosity asks us to be open; it’s about listening and reflecting and internalizing what works for you. I think if there’s anything that I want men to learn, if they connect with my story at all. Two things: that it is OK to cry. It is deeply powerful. You should listen to the song “It’s okay to cry” by Sophie. And that if you want to develop a healthy masculinity, the best way to do that is by watching people who are not masculine and just take from that, like learn and see how beautiful it is and empathize with that, that humanity that other people can have that you don’t even know how to experience because it’s been hidden from you. And see how other people communicate. Because it is so, so beautiful. And it is a disservice to your authentic self to hide that knowledge. And yeah, I mean, queer and trans people and women are just everything. And I want men to be onboard with that.

tony: Thank you so much, Alec.

Kyle: It’s another example of the whole like, reshifting narratives: the opposite of fear not being like, traditionally what people say: courage. Run into the orcs with your sword or whatever, but the opposite being curiosity, which is a kind of courage, but it’s framed completely differently. That sparked something in my head; that was really amazing.

tony: Yeah. Ok, so next, we have a sexual health and violence prevention educator at Family Tree Clinic. Sawyer Plotz! Come through, Sawyer.

Sawyer: Thank you so much for having me on the show tonight. This is my first time on a podcast. And I’m an educator and I’ve done some activism and I’ve done some advocacy in various contexts, but I’m really not used to doing like, off the cuff things like this. So I prepared some remarks that I’ll probably refer to. But yeah, when I got this question about the future of masculinity, like in 50 years or five hundred years, I was just kind of like, damn. That is such a big abstract idea that like in order to get my head around it and try to organize my thoughts, I was like, OK, I need to think about my own self and my lived experience. And so I’m also a parent and transmasculine person. And so those are two identities that I think about a lot with this question. And so when I think about masculinity in the future, it was like too far to think about 50 years from now. So I was like, OK, what about twenty three years from now? Because that’s when my son Anthony will turn 30.

Right now he’s in second grade. So it’s kind of wild to imagine him as a 30 year old adult. Just to think about like, what he’ll look like and what kind of things he might be up to in life and what kind of relationships he might have. And so I was reworking this I thought about, this morning. And when I dropped him off at school, he gave me a hug and a kiss like he always does. And then he greeted his best friend in the hallway, who was another little 7 year old boy named Hal. And they give each other a big hug every day. And today, it wasn’t even like a quick hug. It was like a genuine embrace, not like a high five or like pat on the back. It was like they, rested their heads on each other’s shoulder for a second. And like, you know, and then they went running off to play Legos or cars or whatever, because I had to drop him off pretty early like before, for a before-school program.

And they’re like this every single day. And so I smile to myself when I think about, like, how sweet and affectionate they are with each other. And then my heart often, like, aches a little bit because I know how likely it is that at some point, especially as they get older, that someone someday is going to tell them, boys don’t hug like that; that’s not how boys act. And, you know, maybe it won’t be an overt statement, but it might be like a question or a joke or even just a look that could be enough to send a message that like that that sort of affection violates some kind of masculinity code. And so thinking about the future, like, I want Anthony to be ready for that moment. I want him to know that he can show affection for his male friends and feel secure in himself in whatever his sexual orientation ends up being. And I want him to know that he can stand up for the idea that it’s normal and OK for other boys and men to do this, too, that it’s like a healthy expression of care for another person; it’s like, there’s nothing un-masculine about that. 

And so my hope is that in the year 2042, when he’s 30, that he’ll just be his authentic self. Like if he still identifies as a cisgender male, cool. If his gender identity is something else that’s cool too. Like, we’ve already had those conversations as he’s been growing up. And so if he does still identify with masculinity at that point, I just want him to know that that could mean literally whatever he wants it to mean, that there is no box to fit in or script to follow of any kind.

So then I was continuing to think about the future of masculinity. I was bringing it a little closer and thinking about 13 years from now: that is when my other son, Zachary, will turn 14. Because he’s one.

So he can’t really walk yet, but he can pull himself up into a standing position. And he’s just, he’s always reaching for everything. He’s curious about everything around him. And he always wants to get his hands on what he’s curious about. And so for his first birthday a couple of weeks ago, my partner John and I gave him a couple different gifts. You know, we’re trying to be really thoughtful and intentional about what we give to him. So we got him a toy drum that he’s had a blast like making noise with and some little like rubber balls that he can, like, roll back and forth because he kind of likes to try to play catch with things. And then we also got him a baby doll. And when we first showed it to him, he had this big smile and he reached for it. And he, like, grabbed the doll’s face with both his hands and kind of hugged it. And so it was just like, so precious. But then he kind of lunged at it like with his whole body and fell forward and ended up like where he was kind of wrestling with the doll. And just like, a totally normal thing for a toddler to do. But for a second, I had this alarm go off in my head. And like, I didn’t say this out loud at the time, but I talked to my partner about it later because what I thought was like, oh, my God, he better not ever do that to a woman, or to anyone without their consent. And it was like, kind of an intense thought to have about a 1 year old. But as a parent of two sons, it’s just… it’s something that I do think about and that I take really seriously.

So in the future, in the year 2032, Zachary is going to be 14. He’ll probably be interested in dating or at least like, developing that awareness of who he’s attracted to. What he might want to do about it. And my hope for him, and my expectation of him as a parent, is that he’s going to understand and also practice consent in all his relationships. And just like everything that goes into that. Knowing how to ask for it, how to listen for, recognize and respect the answer. Whatever the answer is. And then he’ll know, like not just what consent sounds like, but also what it looks like and feels like, even when there aren’t many words being exchanged, that he’ll still like have a sense of how to read that situation. And beyond consent, I just, I hope that Zachary will know how to show empathy and like, to know how to identify his own feelings, how to communicate about his feelings, and in terms of using his own voice and taking up space. I hope that he’ll be able to develop a self awareness around that so that he’ll like, have an instinct around- when is the right time to step up in a situation and take up space and and be vocal, and when is it time to step back? And so that is something that as a parent, I’d want to be like looking for ways to talk to him about that as he grows up.

And so finally, when I think about the future and masculinity, I think about myself. And in the much more immediate future, six days from now, next Tuesday… I mentioned in the beginning that I’m transgender. And next week I am going to be starting hormone therapy. (applause) Yeah, it’s kind of a big deal. It’s a very big deal to me. I mean, everybody, every trans person has a different experience. But I changed my name to Sawyer three years ago and I started like, speaking up about my preference for they/them pronouns around the same time. Over the last few months I’ve been saying like “they/them or he/him.” But next week is a big milestone because it’s going to mark the beginning of a process that’s going to physically transform… It’ll take some time, of course, but like, you know, my body will change into one that others will likely read as male at some point. And that’s my goal, because I need to align my body more closely with who I know myself to be. That’s something that not every trans person… is going to be part of their story or what they choose to do. But I know that it’s what I need to do. And so in a way, I’ve thought about like, you know, I could sort of… if I get to the point where I’m being read as like, a cis male, on the one hand, that’s like so cool. But also just going to be weird. And like, I don’t know, I have these, like, thoughts about, you know, I could subversively gather, you know, intel on mainstream masculine culture in certain ways. You know, like I’m undercover. I can change some things from like, behind the lines. I don’t know. But that’s really not like, obviously, why I’m doing any of this.

I’m doing this so like my future self, future Sawyer, can take little boy Sawyer’s hand and tell him like, it’s okay. It’s okay for you to, like, come out now and exist. Because for the longest time, the reason that, you know, I just didn’t imagine that it was possible to exist as the person that I am. But like, OK, this is… now is the time to be yourself, to grow up, to raise your sons and teach them how to be… or at least like, show them one way to be a strong, gentle, loving, confident man. So that’s what I got. Thanks. 

Kyle: That was Sawyer Plotz. I want to say thank you for bringing the parenthood angle into the space. Because it’s not something that we talk about a lot; I know Uyenthi had mentioned we need to an episode on father/son stuff. But it’s not necessarily part of our conversations usually.

tony: We’re not parents!

Kyle: So thank you so much for all of that. So our final guest this evening is the director of the Aurora Center for Education and Advocacy. Please welcome Katie Eichele!

Katie: Hello, world. Again. My name is Katie Eichele. I use, she/her pronouns. And thank you so much for being here, thank you to all the speakers ahead of time. I’ve been sitting there writing a lot of notes and contemplating. A little bit about myself: I was adopted when I was 4 years old. So I had a very profound understanding of a very different culture, language, people in my life, I had the experience of being both in an orphanage and a foster home before actually transitioning into my adoptive home. And one of the things I’ve always known about myself since being a little kid is that, besides being really sassy and a spitfire, is that I always had interest in many different things, both what people would define as feminine as well as masculine. 

Growing up on a farm, I wanted to be the one driving the combine and learning how to milk the cows and being up close and personal, but always being told no or being pushed back. Equally, though, I wanted to learn how to cook and do all of the other things. And I was a really skilled based person, mostly because I knew that those were things that were important in terms of maybe in the future, things that I would need to actually be able to do. 

And so as a kid, I learned that when it came to masculinity and actually being told, “Katie, you’re being too masculine…” and even as an adult today, being a leader, being a mom, folks telling me like, “hey, you’re presenting too strongly here.” I actually had a colleague one time tell me: “you’re very masculine.” I don’t even know what that meant. I was just being myself. And so for me, when I think about masculinity beyond some of what the other folks have talked about in terms of safety or fluidity and parenting and being just allowed to present in whatever way is comfortable, it’s a lot about how we occupy, and take up space.

And so I got the email from Kyle inviting me to participate in this really amazing opportunity. And what would masculinity look like in five hundred years? And immediately I thought: zombies. This is a product of being raised Catholic is I have this fascination with eating flesh drinking blood; zombies and vampires. I’d be the one raising my hand asking about those things in catechism. I didn’t quite fit in, but that’s about… that’s my imagination. I’d be the the kid sitting in the gymnasium watching a basketball game and then imagining ninjas coming down and this great big elaborate fight scene. So I was really actually excited about the fact that we might be able to imagine a different world.

And then I also notice that that’s actually sometimes really hard to do for some people, not because they don’t have the capability of imagination, but oftentimes we’re not asked. We’re not asked to think about what could be, and bounce off ideas, and then build on each other’s ideas. And so this is actually a really great exercise for all of you out there. Of what do YOU want, masculinity and femininity or whatever terms we want to use, to actually look like?

As I thought about zombies, actually, this morning, I went to my zombie bug out bag and I opened it up and it’s just chock full… And then I ask myself, what is the most important thing in this bag? And certainly there were some knives for, you know, you need those types of things. But as I’m pulling blankets out and jerky out and all sorts of things… I had two things in my hand.

And of course, this is how I am functionally. One is the life straw because I watched a video of people drinking pee through the lifestraw and was like, you could do this. Water is, of course, one of the most important things. But then the other thing that I ended up having in my hand was the medical kit. And I’m like, why am I gravitating to this medical kit? And then I remember that, you know, you’re like, it was good of actually dying of an infection is the highest thing that will kill you versus actual zombies.

And then I connected that to masculinity and the state of where we’re at and that we have to heal. We have to take some of these wounds that are gaping open, that are constantly being thrown salt on and figure out how do we fix this, how do we clean this up and how do we stitch together? How do we give it time to mend? And it won’t do it on its own.

So for me, you know, zombies are the epitome of actually the five hundred year plan where we have this equitable desire for brains and it doesn’t matter how we’re presenting. We’re all just like… and certainly one zombie alone might be vulnerable. But if you watch walking dead, the herd is actually quite powerful and very dangerous. And so I thought about, you know, masculinity and femininity in terms of what if we recaptured the healthier aspects of those. And it’s not to say that the unhealthy aspects of masculinity and femininity don’t exist, but that we come to a place where both masculinity and femininity… femininity is actually accessible to all, and not only accessible to all, but also accepted by all.

And that sometimes some of the more aggressive or toxic… or things that we would associate with some of the negative parts of masculinity, we actually might need them sometimes. Anger is an emotion. Sometimes we have to go into some of those survival techniques. But also that is not the only narrative that you can grasp, that masculinity and femininity have multiple narratives that are available to every single one of us.

And then I thought, wow, that’s 500 years. All right. What about the five or the 50? And so I kind of scaled back a little bit and I said, all right, I can think about masculinity and my vision for it in low hanging fruit as well as high potential. And when I think low hanging fruit, what immediately came to mind was just the fact that, you know, can some men and male identified, male presenting folks stop wishing that women that they find undesirable or don’t like- wishing them to get bent over and get f’ed, can that just happen?

You know, incidentally, a couple of weeks ago, I was at the thrift store with my partner and my college-age son and we’re going there to look for Halloween costumes. And my partner and my son went out of the car first and crossed the parking lot and were almost to the building. And my husband was playing a joke on me and keeping locking me in the car. And so I finally got out and I was kind of swearing at him and trying to cross the parking lot very quickly. And I had not noticed this person. But as I got up to the thrift store, this man just comes running out of the dark at me and he’s like waving this necklace in his hand. I could see it sparkling and it was really dark. He’s like, hey, hey, you and I kind of jumped and like, yeah? I just bought this necklace. I only need this one piece. You can have it. I don’t wear a lot of jewelry. And this was of a particularly chunky, ugly piece. And I just kind of sat and was like, no thanks, I’m good.

And immediately this man started yelling at me, saying why do you have to be so effing scared all the time? I’m not a effing scary person. And I was like, in my mind, I’m like, yeah, you are. But I’m a little shocked at what’s going on and trying to assess what’s happening here. And I had to like, grab myself and pull myself back because my initial instinct was two thoughts. I really didn’t have a choice in this. Did I sir? But then second, I wanted to tell him to eat a bag of dicks. And I said, no, I’m fine. I’m good. See you later. Because I really try to exercise that if you can’t say anything nice, you just avoid the situation. And I turned around and scooted very quickly about fifteen feet to my partner who had actually stopped.

And he’s like, are you OK? And like, I really had no choice in that. I almost like, took him down. And he’s like, I kind of figured you were going to do that. I thought you were going to tell him to f off. And then we’re gonna have a fight. So I just kind of hung back to make sure. If you have to tell someone that you’re not the scary person, that’s the big red flag for all of us. That’s low hanging fruit.

High hanging fruit is really about again, what I talked about, about being able to be multiple versions of yourself, given the situation, to allow yourself to be strong when you want to feel strong, to allow yourself to access vulnerability. One of my colleagues actually told me about a coffee cup that she had seen that says vulnerability is my kink. I want that coffee cup. Because in my work, I work with a lot of people around trauma- men, women, gender nonbinary folks, and whether it’s trauma around violence, trauma around childhood issues… There’s so many things that really shape who we are as adults that impact us on a long term basis that we make decisions about as adults that we don’t even think about. Why do I do this?

And to give you an example of being able to open up aspects of masculinity and femininity for all. I remember when my oldest son was 12 years old; he’s in sixth grade. He comes home from school. He’s sitting at the kitchen table. And I have empathy as one of my number one strengths. And I can tell he’s really upset by something. Now I’ve tried to raise my children to think about things from multiple perspectives and equitably and simply pro-feminist. So I sit down. I’m like, what’s going on? I’m seeing this behavior and noticing this and I’m feeling this energy from you, what’s happening? And he’s tight. He’s got his fists all balled up on the table. He’s like I can’t tell you. Well, why not? I just can’t, Mom. And I said Honey, are you in danger? Did someone say anything? I do recognize that you don’t want to talk about it, but it’s really impacting you.

He said if I tell you, I’m going to cry. And I’m like, well, what’s wrong with that? He’s like mom, men don’t cry. And at that moment, I felt myself, all the things that I taught my children, I felt like, oh, my God, I failed you. And I started making it about myself. And then I had to quickly come out of that. And I sat there like words come to me. I don’t know what to say. And somehow in that short moment, I took a breath and I reached over and I put my hand on his and I said, Honey. Twelve years ago, after 10 hours of labor. And he’s like, oh, God. Like after 10 hours of labor, you were born. And the very first words out of your mouth were you bellowing, and I fell in love. So if there’s anybody in the world that you can be vulnerable with, that you can cry in front of, it’s your mom. And at that moment, he put his forehead down on the kitchen table and just started to cry. I didn’t say anything else after that.

And to this day, I don’t know what was bothering him, but I knew in that moment that it was a shift in our relationship, that the outside world was going to influence him no matter what I taught him. And that was a reality. But when that happened, as a support person, who cares about him, who cares about the work that I do in terms of helping people understand who they are and heal and equity issues to just be there to help connect. Recently, another loved one told me that, you know, they are dealing with some childhood trauma and we had a relationship close enough where I could say, I know that that’s real for you and I know that’s painful, but you’ve got to figure it out. You’ve got to figure out how to work through that trauma. And he said to me, how? How? 

And that’s something that I do in my work every day, is try to figure out how what will work for each individual. And the answer is actually different for each person. But what I told him was, you have to at least try. You have to speak your shame, speak that really vulnerable piece of you. The things that scare you and make you nervous that you’re ashamed of or you’re embarrassed about, tell someone that you can trust, who will meet you with compassion and then also still be there for you through connection. But you can’t do those things, speak your shame, be met with compassion, and find connection, if you’re lashing out. So that’s what I think about in terms of masculinity and femininity. The accessibility of it all. And I’ll, wrap up with a quote I actually saw about Keanu Reeves, who’s on fire recently. And his quote is: “if you’ve been brutally broken, but still have the courage to be gentle to other living beings, then you’re a badass with the heart of an angel.”

Kyle: Please make some noise for Katie Eichele. So what do you think about masculinity in the future? Five, fifty, five hundred, five thousand years?

tony: Yeah. So it was interesting because I sort of played out what I was going to say before I even came tonight. But it’s interesting how many resonances I saw between what some of our guests said and things that I was already thinking about.

So like first, what Malik said about like the planet. Like, the planet is on fire. And what Katie said about the zombie apocalypse, like, there is no question at this point: we are in deep shit. As a civilization, as a people- thinking about the way that the world is going to move around the climate shifting.

But I think the thing about climate change, when people talk about it, is we don’t really know how to approach it; like it’s too big for a lot of us to process. So instead of thinking about it as just like, a force that’s going to change the way that we live, we think of it as this all encompassing… like one day, climate change is gonna happen and then all of our lives are going to end… which is not how climate works at all. 

So I think when I’m thinking about climate change and especially when I’m thinking about climate change here, like for those of you who are here with us in Minnesota today, like Minnesota is one of the places that’s best situated to ride out climate change in like the short to medium term. Just based on we have a bunch of fresh water. It’s relatively cool here. We have a lot of great natural resources, those kinds of things. But what’s very clear is we’re also going to get a lot of climate migration to here. And so because we know that that’s coming, we are a hundred percent sure that there are going to be climate migrants coming here. There are some that are already here. But we’re gonna see more and more coming over the next couple of years, over the next couple of decades.

And so when I think about masculinity in the future, right, I think about what do we need to do to prepare for that? You know, this conversation that we have around my personal masculinities and personal shifts in my community shift like that’s all short term work for me, I think. But like when I think about shifting masculinity, I think about like, well, one of the things that’s going to matter is like depending on how we move around masculinity or don’t move around masculinity, like people’s lives are going to be at risk… in larger numbers than maybe ever before in human civilization. So I think that that means that it is incumbent upon us to try to shift how we think about masculinity and shift things for our own selves, for our direct communities, but also for like the survival of our species. And the health of our species. 

So I sort of think about two tracks. I think about the Mad Max track and the Star Trek track. Those are the two options we have; there is nothing in between those! Either we are like, a patriarchal dystopia and everything is horrible and horrible men rule the world and impose gender on everyone, and I don’t get to wear sundresses… Or on the flipside, we have like a very, very open, accepting culture where people get to play with gender. And maybe that means, you know, it’s like gender becomes like dating. Where some people decide, oh, I’m gonna be with this one gender for my entire life. And I’m really excited about that. And other people are like, well, maybe I need to try out some different genders. You know, I need to grow with this gender. And then that’s not gonna work out anymore. So I need to try and grow with this other gender. There are a lot of different ways that people could approach that and play with it. And I think I’d like… and again, dystopias and utopias are such a useful device to think about the extremes of the human experience, where we could go. And we’re also in a very polarizing time where those seem to be two very clear roads in front of us. So when I think about those things, I think about like, OK. So in five hundred years, right, if I want to live in like a gender utopia where I can choose whatever my gender looks like, have any set of qualities, I get to borrow and steal some traits that are traditionally identified as masculine over here and some traits that are traditionally identified as feminine over here… How do we get there? 

And so I think about what we need to do in five years and 50 years to  end up there in five hundred years. So five years from now: Culture change is slow. It is a generational process. And so I am hopeful that the conversations that we’re having now and that lots of other folks are having now around masculinity really start to bear like a mass fruit in the next five years. That we’re not having the same conversation about masculinity that we’ve had for a while, but that like these blossoms turn into like amazing flowers of like, a really clear national conversation where we’re not anymore just talking about “toxic masculinity as a problem.” But, you know, there are different processes for how people who have issues with their masculinity can process those things. And it’s a really well understood phenomena and people can move forward to healthier ways of being. I want to feel like a really robust conversation because sometimes as a cis man, talking about masculinity and feminism can feel a little bit like fumbling in the dark and trying to find a light switch. And my hope is that, you know, five years from now, we all kind of know where the light switch is. And it’s like, okay, so we’re gonna start having this conversation. Oh, cool. Well, here are some introductory resources that you can think about, right? Here are some, here’s a good therapist that specializes in those issues that you can talk to about this stuff. Here are some conversations you can have with your dudes or with your other friends. About all these things.

So I think about that within five years: I want to have like a really clear, bad ass national conversation about masculinity that doesn’t feel like we need to start the conversation anymore, but that it’s just like a thing that is like, part of the zeitgeist. 

Fifty years from now, we are gonna be well on our way to either a utopian way of being or a dystopian way of being, or likely somewhere in between. So I think of that as being like sort of the proving ground. That’s where the road diverges. And either we’ve cultivated a healthier way of being with each other, a less dominant way of dealing with masculinity and also racism and classism and all this other shit. Able bodied ness. And we like, are so ready to receive new people who are dealing with all kinds of issues from climate migration and from whatever geopolitical chaos comes about as a result of that. And we’re like, yo, we’re so happy to have you. We figured all our shit out. Right? And we’re so jazzed about that. So like, come in. Have a seat at the table. We have a great housing situation set up for you. You need therapy? We got you. We don’t have a single cop in this whole city. You know, like that kind of work. And then I think again about like, if we continue allowing ourselves the fear and the resistance that leads to hypermasculinity, then we’re gonna see people coming and asking for help as a threat and we’re gonna treat them like a threat. And a lot of really horrible things are gonna happen as a result of that. And it doesn’t have to be that way, right?

It doesn’t have to be that way. And we have the opportunity right now to start putting things in that direction. And the best part about this shit is like… especially like, speaking to my cis men, like, we benefit from this shit, too, right? Like we’re being asked to give some stuff up, but it’s wack shit. We don’t even want that shit. So like, it’s just a really awesome opportunity for us to be like, oh, I get this thing for free and I get to make a better world in the future. So yeah. My hope is, and I honestly think it’s eminently possible, that we start these conversations now, five years from now… it’s obvious that we’re having these conversations and everybody’s on board. 50 years from now, it’s very clear that we’ve turned away from the worst path. And five hundred years from now, we’re living in some unimaginable world to me and those folks are gonna look back at me and be like, oh, he was well-intentioned, but he was really problematic and we live in a way better world. So that’s what I want to see in the future. How ‘bout you?

Kyle: I think everything I wanted to say has been covered. So I’ll keep it really short. Just observing things I heard you say. I’m a visual thinker. So when you describe the choices that we have, I see… So the climate crisis causes migration. One response to migration is fascism. And fascism is very, very much wrapped up in a masculine idea of identity, being “I am the one, I am the leader. Everyone must listen to me. I am superior.” And that connection doesn’t always get made, between climate justice and fascism, economic justice, racial justice, xenophobia, etc. And so to draw that circle, I think, is a really important first step in general. 

I also hear you talking about how gender… it’s not that we’re going to throw gender away in the future and throw it in the garbage. I think sometimes, there’s the impulse to act like “I’m the most radical person; gender is a social construct; we’re going to get rid of entirely.” Which I mean, if that’s what you believe, I think that’s valid. But I also hear something more nuanced in what you’re saying about kind of a toolbox. And one of the other guests brought this up too; you know, there’s masculine stuff, there’s feminine stuff. There’s the gender binary in general. Maybe there will still be a binary in 500 years, but it won’t be a blueprint, or a set of rules that we have to live by. It’ll just be a thing that’s there. And it’s one way of understanding, one way of being, but it isn’t as didactic or again… to connect this back to fascism, it isn’t policed in that way.

And I also hear you talking about how we’re at a point where the narrative is fracturing– around a lot of different issues, but especially around gender and especially around masculinity. And I wonder if we have a dominant narrative right now, or if we just have one really, really, really loud counter-narrative and then a bunch of other counter-narratives, too. And how the cool counter-narratives, everything that people have been talking about tonight, these stories can grow and grow and grow and become the narrative or become one of many valid, cool, healthy, life-affirming narratives. And I think it starts… Not to be too on-the-nose, but it starts with creating spaces where people can have these conversations… like this. Like, that’s one one place to start. It starts with the work of people who do you know, like the Aurora Center and the Annex Teen Clinic and the Family Tree Clinic and all the people right here in our community who are doing incredible work every day. It starts with that kind of advocacy. 

And then I’ll just end it with this idea of imagination. You know, we could talk about… have y’all ever read The Left Hand of Darkness? Or Woman on the Edge of Time? Marge Piercy? Or even like the Handmaid’s Tale; not an optimistic story, but thinking about using our imaginations. Or NK Jemisin, what Jemisin did with the Broken Earth trilogy talking about gender; there’s all these amazing models out there. And then maybe landing on Star Trek. Not that Star Trek doesn’t have its own problems. But I do like that as a guiding star. 

tony: And Star Trek, right, is a world without fascism. That’s one of the defining things about that world. And they still have like fucked up patriarchal gender, but they don’t have fascism. Like even their spaceships barely have weapons. Because they’re like, that’s not what we’re out here to do.

Kyle: So there’s a million more things we could talk about. This is the kind of topic that never really ends. I just wanted one more time to highlight, I think, the immense generosity and brilliance of our six guests. We make some noise for them please? Just again, I also want to thank the Women’s Center, who does incredible work at the University of Minnesota. APARC (have you seen these flyers, these Mulan flyers?); I’ll be co-facilitating with Kevin Yang, who’s an incredible poet and activist, in a couple weeks, something specifically on Asian-American Pacific Islander American Masculinities. We’ll be having that conversation Monday, November 18th. That’s on the flyer. APARC has been super, super supportive. Also the Aurora Center. Also the Office for Fraternity/Sorority Life. Also the MLK program. And just y’all for showing up.

tony: Just want to say thank you all. Like, we first started talking about the idea of starting this podcast almost a year ago at this point. And again, we’ve recorded seven episodes so far, so the arc of the first season is already like kind of set in place for us. And this is like, a beautiful note to end it on for us, like just being able to have all these conversations one to one and spend all this time, you know, sitting in front of two microphones in Kyle’s house or in my house. It’s wonderful to be able to share this with you and to hear so many other beautiful, radiant, interesting perspectives on masculinity. Yeah. Tweet at us, chat us up, ask us to get coffee, and we’ll try and meet up with you and chat about shit. I’m excited.

Kyle: And we’ll hang out for a while. So thanks. One more time for all our guests. One more time for tony the scribe.

tony: One more time for Guante; THANK YOU; WE ARE “WHAT’S GOOD MAN.”