Update: the first episode is out now!

photo by Martin Sheeks

“What’s Good, Man?” debuts on November 6 (with a live show the same date!), so technically we don’t yet have a lot of questions that are “frequently-asked.” But whatever. Here are our responses anyway. I’m Kyle. tony is tony.

Q: Oh you’re starting a podcast? That’s really cool and not cliche at all and even though the market is completely saturated I’m sure *yours* will succeed. What’s it about?

Kyle: It’s a podcast on men, masculinity, and culture. It’s especially for men who maybe haven’t had a ton of conversations about issues like toxic masculinity or patriarchy or whatever, and are just looking for a space to explore, to process, to grow.

tony: It seems like we’re all realizing that outdated stereotypes of masculinity are unfulfilling and wack, but haven’t quite figured out what comes next. The conversation can get stuck sometimes on where we’re at, rather than where we can go. So we decided to talk about it!

Q: I don’t actually listen to podcasts, but I assume there are already a bunch out there on that same topic. Why is yours the BEST? What makes yours special?

Kyle: My goal isn’t to be the “best” or be some magical wellspring of knowledge. I just want our show to contribute, to add something to the larger conversation. That being said, this particular piece of the conversation is being driven by two hosts who happen to both be rappers. That isn’t something we lean in to in super explicit ways, but I do think it matters, both in terms of the tone of the show and its substance– this isn’t some intellectual, academic “debate” about masculinity. We’re trying to ground these issues in everyday experiences, stories, and real life. We’re also activists, so while we want to create space to honestly talk about these ideas and just process in general, we also want to at least share some tools or ideas for action.

tony: Kyle was one of the first people I ever heard speak about the problems with stereotypical masculinity in a deep and nuanced way. He’s spent the better part of a decade leading conversations and workshops around gender, so that alone gives us a pretty deep grounding into this topic. As for me…I guess I’ve spent a lot of time in the last couple of years thinking about and trying to break down toxic masculinity, in myself and others. So I have an appreciation for how important this work is, but how messy and difficult it can be, too. And I want to keep exploring that!

Q: So it’s two guys… talking about feminist stuff… so whether I’m on the right or the left, I’ll probably hate it?

Kyle: This show exists because we listened to people (especially women) in our lives who told us that it was important for men to talk to other men about issues like toxic masculinity, gender violence, consent, and beyond. We say at the beginning of every episode: men need to speak up more about this stuff, but we also realize that “men speaking up more” isn’t always the answer. It’s often the problem. So the goal is to be super intentional with the topics we choose, and make sure that we’re speaking from our own experience and not trying to tell other people’s stories for them.

I think the audience we really want to reach is in the middle: people (especially men) who understand that there’s *something* weird or broken or dangerous about this traditional stereotype of the invincible, emotionless manly-man, but just don’t necessarily know where to start. But I hope people who don’t agree with us tune in. And I hope people who HAVE already had these conversations tune in too, since one thing we talk about is how “healthy masculinity” isn’t a destination we ever actually reach; it’s a constant process.

tony: Haters gon hate. Our show won’t be for everybody, and that’s okay. If we can contribute to a growing wave of understanding that masculinity doesn’t have to be like this, that we can do better, then it’s worth doing. That said, I do think lots of folks are hungry to hear and participate in these conversations – everyone from feminist organizers to conservative men has told me that they’re interested in hearing more men talk about their experiences of masculinity.

Q: I see you’re doing a live episode recording on November 6, the same day your first episode comes out. Isn’t that PRESUMPTUOUS?

Kyle: Even though we’re the hosts, this podcast is very much a community effort, and we’re proud to have so much support from all over our networks– from the arts scene, to the activist world, to the different offices and organizations at the University of Minnesota (where we’ll be doing this first live show) and beyond. It isn’t just that we’re cool and charming and already kind of well-known as individuals; it’s like tony said: people seem hungry for this topic. People have a lot to say, and a lot of questions too. We’re excited to build with them. The live episode is also going to feature like a half-dozen really smart, amazing surprise guests too.

tony: Plus, we’re rappers. We’re used to getting to celebrate new releases with parties, and I think it’d feel mega weird to hit the “release” button on the podcast and then just…wait for people to respond to it on Twitter. Kyle has a lyric that goes “Power is a hundred people in the same place at the same time,” and though we can make great connections and critique each other and build movements on the internet, it’s nice to be around each other in person sometimes, too. Man cannot dismantle toxic masculinity on Twitter alone, feel me? Hopefully next Wednesday is just one of many opportunities for us to get together and chat in real life about this stuff.

Q: Great. I’m definitely subscribing and am now your biggest fan! Tell me all of the in-the-weeds technical stuff that you know no one actually cares about but your fear compels you to share publicly anyway.

Kyle: We recorded this first season of episodes between July and November of 2019, so there aren’t a ton of ripped-from-the-headlines stuff, or direct responses to audience questions or feedback. We tried to keep the first season pretty DIY, but have a lot of ideas and plans for the second season to do more interactive stuff, have more guests, etc. As episodes are released, we’ll also be sharing full transcripts, plus links and resources, at www.wgmpod.com.

tony: This project is really exciting and really scary! Neither of us have done a podcast before, and we’re doing everything ourselves, so we need your help to make sure it’s as powerful as it can be. If you have questions, concerns, critiques, connections, or want to book us for a live show, you can email us at elguante@gmail.com and tonythescribemgmt@gmail.com. Podcasts spread best via word of mouth, so make sure to subscribe to the show on Spotify, Apple Podcasts, Stitcher, or wherever you get podcasts, and tell your friends about it! #WhatsGoodMan

“My earliest memory of masculinity is not a particle, it’s a wave. My earliest memory of masculinity is not a man, it’s a mask.”

**UPDATE (2/12/20): Check out some fantastic audio of this full poem as part of the #WhatsGoodMan podcast!**

I am beyond excited to release this new project. Aside from the new video, I’m collaborating with Button Poetry to release this exclusive bundle of zines featuring the new poem, plus zines I’ve worked on over the past couple years (and a blank one so you can make your own!), a signed note, and a surprise sticker or two. There are only 250 bundles available, so go get ’em.

A few more thoughts:

On Zine-Making
Check out the ZINES link on this site for more information on each individual one, plus some background on the philosophy behind zine-making in general. One other note: these are all printed on 100% post-consumer waste recycled paper, at a union shop here in MPLS called Smart Set.

On “The Art of Taking the L”
This poem/speech has gone through a ton of revisions, and may go through more. The original version of it was a commission- I was asked to share something at an event with a few hundred men in attendance, most of whom had not had a ton of conversations about “hegemonic masculinity” or whatever. So the piece is meant to be an entry point, a first step into these issues.

With that in mind, one specific impulse became clear. I knew that the piece couldn’t be judgy. It couldn’t be a “those guys over there are bad and these guys over here are good” kind of piece. It couldn’t be a commandment to act differently, because no one wants to listen to that. So instead, I tried to focus on the “commandments” that already exist, even if we don’t notice them. From that, the “narrative/counter-narrative” thread emerged. What stories do we tell about masculinity? About gender in general? What are the implications of those stories? Why do stories matter?

One could ask the same questions about race, class, nationality and citizenship, and a bunch of other identities. Maybe that’s a writing prompt. But especially today, we need to be paying attention to the stories being told to us… and the stories we’re telling.

On Connections To The “What’s Good, Man?” Podcast
Of course, all of that relates directly to my OTHER new project, the upcoming podcast, “What’s Good, Man?” with Tony the Scribe. If you’re interested in this kind of critical masculinity, narrative/counter-narrative stuff, please check it out. We debut on Wednesday, November 6, and are having a LIVE episode recording that same evening at the UMN. Get details on all of that here.

Additional Resources, Poems, and Readings
The “The Art of Taking the L” zine includes the full text of the poem, plus a bank of discussion questions, plus a bunch of cool resources. I’ll share those links here as well. Obviously, there are many more books and readings and poems that could be listed here, but part of making a zine is how you navigate the limited space. My thought is that these are a few resources that might be useful entry points. Feel free to add others in the comments!

ARTICLES AND VIDEOS AVAILABLE ONLINE:
• Relinquishing the Patriarchy: adrienne maree brown
• A Call to Men: Tony Porter
• Violence Against Women—It’s a Men’s Issue: Jackson Katz
• Don’t Blame Mental Illness for Mass Shootings; Blame Men: Laura Kiesel
• The Boys Are Not All Right: Michael Ian Black
• Queer and Trans 101 statement at www.reclaim.care
• The Mask You Live In and Tough Guise (documentaries)

BOOKS:
• Feminism Is for Everybody: Passionate Politics: bell hooks
• The Man They Wanted Me to Be: Jared Yates Sexton
• Not that Bad: Dispatches from Rape Culture: Roxane Gay
• Man Up: Reimagining Modern Manhood: Carlos Andrés Gómez
• The Will to Change: Men, Masculinity, and Love: bell hooks
• Know My Name: Chanel Miller

POEMS:
• The Heart and the Fist: Rudy Francisco
• Masculinity So Fragile: FreeQuency
• Baby Brother: Javon Johnson
• I use my poetry to confront the violence against women: Elizabeth Acevedo
• Shrinking Women: Lily Myers
• Masculinity: Alex Luu & Jessica Romoff
• Genderlect: Donte Collins
• Ten Responses to the Phrase “Man Up”: Guante
• Handshakes: Guante
• Find many more poems on this and other issues in this curated list.

FULL TRANSCRIPT BELOW

Continue reading “THE ART OF TAKING THE L: New Video and Zine Bundle Available via Button Poetry!”

New project announcement! Get all the details, including episode titles and more, here.

The first season debuts on Wednesday, November 6. On that same date, we’ll also be doing a LIVE recording that’s free and open to the public. Here’s the blurb and event page:

With episodes on men’s role in the feminist movement, how masculinity is portrayed in pop culture, healthy sexuality, and more, “What’s Good, Man?” is a soon-to-be-released podcast hosted by artist/activists Kyle “Guante” Tran Myhre and Tony the Scribe. This LIVE EPISODE RECORDING will focus on the future of masculinity: what might it look like in 10 years? Will it even exist in 100 years? What lessons can we learn from science fiction? What will it take for men to meaningfully contribute to a future free from gender violence, misogyny, and the kind of controlling, insecure masculinity that hurts so many people of all genders? Join us to discuss these topics and more.

More to come!

“How loud do you have to be to put out a house fire with just your voice?”

Yeah, the title is in scare quotes. Hopefully that comes through. As I often do with two poems, I wanted to share a few notes on process, and then some poems by other writers that tackle the topic in different ways.

A Few Notes on Process
This is a poem about a specific issue, but it’s also a poem that is exploring a couple different impulses:

  • I’m really interested in how we, as artists and writers, respond to fascism. I’ve written about this before, but I think ONE thing to think about is the importance of saying something, even when that something isn’t perfect or revelatory or magical. This isn’t a perfect poem, haha. It isn’t the most creative thing I’ve written. But it was important to me to stand up on a stage and say it, as soon as I had the opportunity. The poem might continue to get revised and people might catch a new draft at some point, but to me, the timeliness was more important than the timelessness.
  • The poem is also the product of a lot of conversations I’ve had with activists, organizers and advocates who work on issues related to gender, feminism, and reproductive justice. The refrain is always “men (especially cis men) need to speak up more.” That can seem super obvious, but it can be easy to forget when you’re “in” that world; for me, I’m around powerful voices who speak out on these issues all the time- that’s just my community. So I’ve often felt a pull to step back- which CAN be a healthy impulse! It can also, however, sometimes be an excuse to not do any work. It’s like, yes, it’s messed up that “men talking about being pro-choice” is still seen as bold or interesting- but that’s not an excuse not to do it.
  • I’m also really interested in multi-vocal responses, how no one poem has to be “definitive.” Multiple poems can present different angles of an argument, different POVs, etc. There are some examples below, but this framework has helped me as a writer: a poem doesn’t have to be all things to all people. A poem doesn’t have to be the conversation; it can be one piece of a much larger conversation (and different pieces may be able to do different “work” for different audiences, in different contexts). That realization, for me, has been freeing.

I don’t have a lot of faith in the power of poems to changes minds, especially about issues like abortion rights. That being said, poems can do so many other things. They can open up spaces for dialogue, they can provide useful frameworks or metaphors for understanding, they can contribute in ways both large and small to the ongoing push-and-pull of how the larger culture frames and understands complex issues, and they can plant seeds (while watering other seeds that have already been planted!)

More Poems and Resources on Reproductive Justice
This summer, I’ve been sharing my lists a lot: poems about white supremacy, poems about toxic masculinity, poems that have been useful to me in educational spaces. The idea is that hopefully, teachers and other educators can use these poems as entry points to dialogue.

A lot of those lists pull from this bigger list of spoken word poems organized by topic. I don’t have a specific list of poems on reproductive justice yet, but this is as good a time as any to start one. If you know of others, please share in the comments! Here are a few:

Finally, these aren’t poems, but if there’s anyone for whom this is a new issue, or you’d just like to learn more, or get involved, a few links:

Thank you! Please feel free to share. Full transcript:

Continue reading “New Poem: “Pro-Life” + Other Poems on Reproductive Justice”

For teachers, student affairs folks, social justice activists, and beyond: this is a playlist of 30 poems that have been useful to me in classrooms, facilitated discussions, and other educational spaces.

It’s not a list of the “best” poems ever, or the only poems about these various topics; but there is some really powerful work here, work that meaningfully engages with these issues and can serve as great entry points or dialogue-starters. If you’re a teacher, another kind of educator, or just a person who understands the power of art, story, and conversation, I hope you find something to use here.

Of course, be sure to review the poems yourself first, since not every poem is going to be relevant or appropriate for every audience. Aside from these 30 poems, though, I hope people can fall down rabbit holes finding more work from these poets and these channels.

Additional lists and resources:

Also wanted to share this piece that’s been on my mind a lot this summer, as I get ready to hit the road again this fall: Towards an Antifascist Pedagogy by Guy Emerson Mount. A relevant quote for educators, poets, and everyone: “Following Davis and Robeson, the first rule of an anti-fascist pedagogy then is to refuse to continue with ‘business as usual’ and recognize that the anti-fascist battleground is everywhere.”

Image via Repeal Hyde Art Project

One of my all-time favorite tweets is this one from Mariame Kaba:

Questions I regularly ask myself when I’m outraged about injustice:
1. What resources exist so I can better educate myself?
2. Who’s already doing work around this injustice?
3. Do I have the capacity to offer concrete support & help to them?
4. How can I be constructive?

It’s interesting, to me at least, how much these questions line up with questions I ask myself about my own arts practice. Especially that last one: as a poet, I don’t think my job is to write the “best” poem; it is to be constructive. To be useful. To offer something. Same with this blog: I don’t write a lot of rabblerousing thinkpieces these days; I just want to share links and resources that have been useful to me, especially ones that point to specific, concrete actions (see more here and here).

And while those questions can be applied to any issue, I find them especially helpful when it comes to issues for which there isn’t one big, obvious solution. With abortion access under attack (and for some of us, in states in which we do not live), it can feel overwhelming. I’m still trying to figure out how that poem (or poems) will work; I don’t have a dramatic personal story to share here. What I do have, in the meantime, are some thoughts, links, and resources that have helped me wrap my head around this; here’s what I shared on social media:

~~~

I’m grateful for people in my life who have taught me the importance of looking at an issue, while also looking at everything going on *around* that issue. For example:

It is not a coincidence that the loudest “pro-life” voices are also the loudest anti-sex education, anti-social safety net, anti-access to childcare, anti-access to contraception, anti-living wage, anti-environment, anti-peace, anti-democracy, anti-healthcare voices.

If you truly believe abortion is wrong (I don’t, for the record, but know that my words probably aren’t going to convince anyone who does), there are many more effective ways to lower abortion rates than outlawing it. But the “pro-life” movement actively works against things like comprehensive sex ed and universal access to birth control– and that’s a tell.

The “pro-life” movement has never been about life; it has always been about control.

It has always been about enforcing a very specific view of family, sexuality, and authority, and punishing women (and anyone who can have children; here’s a good link on why it’s so important to include trans and nonbinary people in this conversation) for daring to think differently.

It has always been about cynically using people’s deeply-held beliefs as a way to get-out-the-vote to keep the most immoral, manipulative, authoritarian politicians we have in power.

I don’t believe in reproductive justice just because of the hypocrisy of the “pro-life” movement, and I don’t believe that pointing out that hypocrisy will really do anything to change them. But if there are people out there on the fence about this, I hope this is some food for thought. It’s one thing to have a personal position on this issue; it’s something else to support the right-wing political machine that exploits those personal positions and legitimately hurts people– including children– in the process.

And for people who already agree, another thing that I’m grateful to have learned is that even when there isn’t one magic way to “fix” things, there are always things we can do:

  • DONATE to abortion funds like Yellowhammer and the NNAF, as well as local ones like Our Justice; plus Planned Parenthood, NARAL, etc. wherever you’re at. If you’re able, consider a regular/monthly donation.
  • SUPPORT grassroots organizations doing reproductive justice work (especially in states most affected by these bans) like Sister Song and Spark RJ.
  • SHOW UP to actions organized by those groups. Join organizing efforts if you are able; for example, here’s a “cheat sheet for protecting access” that may be useful for people looking for actions to take right now.
  • COMMIT to voting, but also to engaging with elections, especially local elections, in a deeper way. Make demands. Make politicians earn your vote, and volunteer/campaign for the ones who do.
  • LEARN more about reproductive justice. A few intro links here, here, and here. I’d also shout out “Handbook for a Post-Roe America” and this powerful new NYT op-ed from Michelle Alexander.
  • SHIFT the culture by sharing informative links and stories, speaking up, and having conversations with people in your life, especially if you’re not directly affected by these bans. Find ways to support this work via other issues that are linked: advocating for comprehensive sex education, for example.
  • LISTEN to the activists on the ground (not celebrities, not politicians, not me) when the time comes for direct action or other tactics. All those organizations I mentioned? Follow them on social media and/or sign up for their email lists. Find other organizations or activists to listen to; if you care about this issue, “begin with research,” as RLM says.

I hope something in there can be useful and/or mobilizing. Feel free to share; feel free to add more thoughts in the comments. Check out this fantastic Twitter thread (which starts with the tweet at the very top of this post) too.

I finally watched the Gillette ad everyone is talking about. What’s immediately striking to me is how basic it is– and I don’t mean that in a bad way. It’s just a simple, straightforward affirmation that men can do better. Bullying is bad. Harassment is bad. Holding each other accountable is good. Cool.

As a post-#MeToo battlecry, it isn’t exactly radical. But note how a certain subgroup of men respond:

“It’s saying that all men are toxic and that’s not fair!”

“It’s PC SJW propaganda trying to emasculate men; we can’t even be men anymore!”

“The feminist movement has gone TOO FAR and we need to organize a boycott!”

To reiterate: this was an ad for razors. It showed scenes like a dad breaking up a fight between two little boys, and a guy stopping his friend from shouting at a woman on the street. It featured Terry Crews saying “men need to hold other men accountable.” Again, this isn’t exactly burn-the-patriarchy-to-the-ground territory.

I’m also not convinced that the outrage directed at the ad is really representative of the population. Angry men are always loud on the internet, and counting YouTube likes and dislikes isn’t exactly scientific. Whatever the specific numbers though, we know that these responses are out there in some capacity. We know that whenever there’s a battle in the culture war (whether real or rumored), a certain subgroup of men are going to come out of the woodwork and form ranks. And yeah, their attitude is pretty emblematic of what people talk about when they talk about “toxic masculinity.”

I don’t love that term; not because it isn’t accurate (it’s super accurate), but because it’s evolved into a distraction. We don’t all have to constantly be in educator/outreach mode, but that is a mode that I often find myself in. When I work with boys and young men, we always talk about toxic masculinity, but we rarely use that specific phrase. Instead, we ask questions:

“Why do so many of us feel attacked when specific elements of masculinity get critiqued? Is it because we don’t identify with those elements (#NotAllMen)… or because we do and would rather not think about it?”

“Why are so many of us so defensive in the first place? Why do we feel like we have to “win” the conversation rather than just listen and reflect?”

“Who benefits from this outrage? Who benefits from the bigger picture, this constant pressure on men to be tough, strong, in control, dominant, and aggressive? Is it us, or someone else?”

There are a million things we could talk about with regards to these questions, the Gillette ad, and masculinity (as a lot of my work explores)– but for this piece, I want to focus on that last question. Because we can and should talk about what toxic masculinity is, the harm it can cause, and how we can move beyond it. But we don’t always get a chance to explore why that’s become the default script for men, the role to which we’re supposed to aspire.

On the last Guante & Big Cats album, I wrote a song called “Dog People.” The song looks at some of the qualities we project onto dogs (loyalty, unconditional love, obedience, etc.) and then explores how those qualities aren’t always good things when applied to humans.

That’s framed by a larger question about anger: where does the anger that so many men feel come from? At whom do we aim it? Who benefits from it? The key verse is this one:

I’ve seen anger like a loaded shotgun, a weapon 
Just pointed in the wrong direction 
Yeah we’re dog people: Chasing our own tails 
Look at who we blame when we fail: 
Scapegoats and bogeymen, always on the outside lookin’ in 
And mad about the taste of the soup that we’ve been cookin’ in 
but never mad at the cook, 
That man is a crook, who’s rich off the labor and the land that he took 
‘Cause look feminists didn’t close the factory 
that family on foodstamps didn’t eat your lunch 
Immigrants never offshored opportunity 
The pc police never shot anyone (so who’s your real enemy?) 
…and still we howl at that moon 
Whimper in a kennel hopin’ our master is back soon 
With that choke chain, shock collar love ‘til we break 
‘Til he’s trained us to hate everything that he hates, It’s a scam

That last line was important for me to include, because it points to something I’ve observed, doing this kind of critical masculinity work over the past decade: so much of male identity (especially white male identity) revolves around a profound fear of being taken advantage of. You see this in common political tropes: the mythical welfare queen, the undocumented immigrant, the affirmative action hire– speechwriters and political commentators know that these tropes are powerful because they tap into that fear. “Those people think they can game the system, steal my hard-earned tax dollars, and get something I never got? That’s not fair!”

The great irony, of course, is that men ARE being taken advantage of– just not by feminists, immigrants, or any other culture war bogeyman.

We’re scammed by advertisers that play off of our insecurities in order to sell us trucks, cologne, or beer. We’re scammed by corporations that underpay us for our labor, or lay us off, while shareholders and CEOs accumulate grotesque amounts of wealth. We’re scammed by politicians who promise that if we vote for them, they’ll get rid of all the leeches and make our country great again, while rigging the tax system to benefit those already at the top. We’re scammed by propagandists who tell us exactly what we want to hear, making growth/learning impossible. We’re scammed by YouTubers and social media snake-oil salesman making controversial statements and then monetizing our clicks. We’re scammed by a culture that says “if you work hard, you too can be a millionaire,” while systematically eliminating opportunities and resources that can lead to financial security.

These are the people who benefit from men’s outrage: the conmen, the corrupt, the rich. As long as men keep directing our anger at scapegoats like political correctness, feminism, or whatever SJWs-run-amok-of-the-day pops up on social media, we’re not seeing the real villains of this story– and those villains are very much aware of that fact.

“Dog People” ends, again, not with bold proclamations, but with questions:

How much profit is in your pain?
Who really benefits from your hate?

I don’t think a significant amount of the men who are mad at the Gillette commercial read my blog. I’m more interested in these questions as tools for those of us who do education work. We know that values-based appeals are generally more effective than statistics or big “here’s my powerpoint on toxic masculinity” presentations. Fairness, justice, a fear of being taken advantage of– all of these are values that make that “certain subgroup of men” so resistant to critical thinking about toxic/violent/hegemonic masculinity. These same values, though, can be pivot points for growth.

How can we facilitate a shift? I don’t think there’s any one strategy, but I’m thinking about how outrage about a scholarship that is only open to women students can become outrage about student loan debt and the increasing inaccessibility of higher ed in general. Outrage about gendered conscription laws can be become outrage about militarism and imperialism. Outrage about a commercial addressing toxic masculinity can become outrage about a culture that has taught us that rage is the only emotion we’re allowed to feel.

Of course, that reframing won’t always work. Some men are just misogynists, or just want to argue for their “team” on the internet. Others, sometimes because of other identities they hold, already understand this power dynamic stuff and are ready to move into more radical places. But in my experience, the much larger group is made up of those in the middle, those men who maybe just haven’t had this conversation yet, and are therefore open to toxic ideas about gender and dominance… but also open to other possibilities. We can’t expect any corporation to do that work via cools ads, but I think the fact that this ad exists points to a culture that really is shifting in a positive direction. It’s on us now– especially those of us who are men– to keep pushing.

RELATED:
A few other things I’ve written that pull together tools for anyone looking to cultivate more dialogue about these issues:

Text is below; click for a downloadable/foldable PDF

A big part of the work that I do is traveling to colleges and high schools to talk about consent and gender violence prevention. For me, though, that conversation can’t just be about prevention on an individual, “being a better person” level. Of course, that’s an important part of it. But when we talk about sexual assault, we’re not just talking about individual perpetrators, individual survivors, and individual bystanders– we’re talking about a culture. How do we shift culture?

An activity that we often do is to put up three big sheets of paper, and ask the question: HOW DO WE BUILD A CULTURE OF CONSENT? One sheet is for things we can do as individuals, on our own. One is for things we can do in community, with our friends, family, and peers. One is for things we can do to shift policy in a larger-scale, sustainable way. You may recognize this framework from my other zine.

The idea is that the activity becomes a visualization of action ideas– it’s big, messy, and includes steps that experienced organizers can take right next to steps that someone who is having this conversation for the very first time can take. It shows that we have agency. We have power.

For this new zine, I wanted to share some of the results of this activity, some of the action ideas that thousands of students, survivors, advocates, and organizers across the country shared. It’s short, of course, but can hopefully spark some conversations, and some action. Please feel free to share, or even to download and print/fold some zines yourself (here are cutting/folding directions). Full text here:

What Is Consent?

“Consent is a mutual verbal, physical, and emotional agreement that happens without manipulation, threats, or head games.” (Project Respect)

“[Affirmative consent is]” “Informed, freely and affirmatively communicated willingness to participate in sexual activity that is expressed by clear and unambiguous words or actions.” (The Aurora Center)

“The idea of enthusiastic consent is quite simple. In a nutshell, it advocates for enthusiastic agreement to sexual activity, rather than passive agreement.” (Persephone Magazine)

Consent is… (via Planned Parenthood)

  • Freely given. Consenting is a choice you make without pressure, manipulation, or under the influence of drugs or alcohol.
  • Reversible. Anyone can change their mind about what they feel like doing, anytime. Even if you’ve done it before, and even if you’re both naked in bed.
  • Informed. You can only consent to something if you have the full story. For example, if someone says they’ll use a condom and then they don’t, there isn’t full consent.
  • Enthusiastic. When it comes to sex, you should only do stuff you WANT to do, not things that you feel you’re expected to do.
  • Specific. Saying yes to one thing (like going to the bedroom to make out) doesn’t mean you’ve said yes to others (like having sex).

Practicing consent is vital, but ending sexual assault will take more than our just being better individuals. So how do we BUILD a culture of consent? This document shares a few ideas pulled from conversations with advocates, activists, students, and survivors around the US:

As Individuals, We Can Level Up

Learn more about these issues via books (check out the last section below for some recommendations), articles, podcasts, classes, and more.

Especially for men: “unlearning” some of what we’re taught about masculinity and sex can be necessary.

Get plugged in: do a quick online search to find local and/or national organizations (or individuals) doing work to support survivors and end rape culture, and join their email lists, follow them on social media, or attend their events. I list a few examples in the “resources” section below.

Practice consent in your relationships: Be present. Communicate, listen, and ask questions. This video has more.

It isn’t just about sex; practice consent in other areas of your life too: ask before giving someone a hug, taking their picture, etc. Let children know that they can always say “no” to tickling, kisses, etc.

Understand consent beyond the “dominant narrative.” Consent matters in same-sex relationships, for people outside the gender binary, and beyond. While most perpetrators of sexual assault are men, men can also be victim/survivors.

Believe survivors. Listen to survivors. Center survivors.

In Community, We Can Step Up

Dialogue. Join a book club or discussion circle where people can meet up, share their experiences, and build community with one another. If you’re a student, take classes that explore these issues.

Speak out. Post links to good articles or videos on social media. Write blog posts and letters-to-the-editor.

Challenge the myths. From the prevalence of false accusations, to the idea that “boys will be boys,” to all kinds of victim-blaming nonsense: learn to spot these myths, and how to dismantle them.

Especially for men: bring these conversations into spaces where they aren’t already happening. Refuse to laugh at sexist or violent jokes. Call people out. Support survivors. Don’t just “be” a good guy, put your values and principles into action.

Support survivors. For a great list of “dos” and “don’ts,” check out “Supporting a Survivor: The Basics” at www.knowyourix.org.

Create art. Broadcast. Plant seeds. Whatever platform you have access to, no one else has that same access. For example, here’s a list of poems about consent and healthy sexuality.

Remember that it’s not just about perpetrators and victims. We can all disrupt harmful– or potentially harmful– situations. Whether you’re at a party and you witness someone trying to take advantage of someone else, or you’re on the bus and someone is being harassed, or you’re just on the internet and someone is saying harmful things, the classic “bystander intervention” approach highlights three tactics:

  • Disrupt: Sometimes, the best move is just to step up, be direct, and call people out.
  • Distract: If you feel like the direct approach might not work, you can still disrupt the situation in a more indirect way– starting a conversation about something unrelated, spilling a drink on someone, etc.
  • Delegate: If your safety is an issue, or you just don’t feel equipped to do one of the first two points, another option is to get help– find friends or allies who can back you up, or take over themselves. Sometimes, this can involve going to authorities, but remember that not everyone feels–or is– safer when police are involved. Center the person in need.

On that last note, I’d also recommend this video, and this article, which both acknowledge the power of the bystander intervention approach while sharing some necessary critiques; a quote from the latter:

Maybe bystander intervention can be radically re-imagined, not as momentary interference in “isolated” instances of violence but as a consistent, collective effort at victim-centered justice, accountability, and support, one that extends long before and long after any particular “incident” of violence.

(source)

To Shift Policy and Culture, We Can Show Up

Show up. Find organizations doing work to support survivors and cultivate a culture of consent, and support them via donations, signal-boosting, volunteering, organizing fundraiser events, or joining them– you can become an advocate too. Of course, not everyone can “show up” in the same ways. That’s okay. No single individual has to do every thing here. But we can all do something.

Vote for candidates who share your values on these issues. Advocate for them. Volunteer for their campaigns. Get better people into positions of power. Voting alone won’t solve this problem, but it can help set the stage for future work.

If you’re a student, meet up with your advisor to find some classes that might put you on a career path to do this work for a living.

Make sure your business, school, organization, or other institution has effective protocols in place for holding those who commit sexual harassment or assault accountable.

Organize! Here are some specific policies that people around the country have fought for and won:

  • Campus affirmative consent policies.
  • K-12 consent education.
  • Comprehensive sexual education in schools.
  • More engaging, more critical, more effective consent ed content in first-year orientation programs.
  • Funding for survivor advocacy organizations and/or student groups that work on these issues.
  • Resources for holding perpetrators of sexual harassment or assault accountable outside of the criminal justice system, like community-centered transformative justice practices.

A FEW RESOURCES:
A few organizations (among many):

And a few suggested readings:

  • “Yes Means Yes!: Visions of Female Sexual Power and A World Without Rape” (Friedman and Valenti)
  • “Not That Bad: Dispatches from Rape Culture” (ed. Gay)
  • “Ask: Building Consent Culture” (ed. Stryker)
  • “Queering Sexual Violence: Radical Voices from Within the Anti-Violence Movement” (ed. Patterson)
  • “The Hunting Ground: The Inside Story of Sexual Assault on American College Campuses” (Documentary and Book)
  • “The Beginning and End of Rape: Confronting Sexual Violence in Native America” (Deer)
  • “Asking for It: The Alarming Rise of Rape Culture–and What We Can Do about It” (Harding)
  • “Not On My Watch: A Handbook for the Prevention of Sexual Violence” (Rotman)
  • “Know My Name” (Miller)

Obviously, there are many more. With the format I’m using for this, space is limited. On here, however, I’d also point people to this list of poems (plus links/readings) dealing with these issues that may be useful as conversation starters or teaching tools. Feel free to add more in the comments.

“We aren’t teaching our boys to be men; we are teaching them not to be women. And what does that say about women?”

I’ve been doing weekly write-ups of certain poems on Button Poetry’s channel, but I also wanted to highlight some older poems that are personal favorites of mine, which I’ll be doing once per month here. It’s a way to shout out some good work, and also to highlight some tools and tactics that poets use that might be useful to aspiring writers.

First, I know this is an older poem from Donte, and they have a whole book of newer poems, as well as dozens of videos online. I also know that as poets, we don’t always love drawing attention to our older work, but I wanted to highlight this poem for a couple of reasons.

First, even if Donte has grown as a writer and performer since this poem, this poem still has so much to offer. Using the Happy Meal toy imagery as a very small, concrete entry-point to a much deeper exploration of how we’re socialized to internalize the gender binary is powerful. Moving from that into Disney princess imagery, into middle school bullying and sports imagery– the poem is a waterfall of examples that support the poem’s message. I’ve talked a lot about structure in this series, and this poem demonstrates the idea of a structural impulse– not a strict, formulaic set of rules, but rather an intentionality around how an argument is constructed– beautifully.

I know educators often use my poems (like this one and this one) in conversations about how masculine identities are formed and enforced, and how that so often connects to violence; I hope that Donte’s poem (as well as others from this list I put together) can be added to the arsenal for those discussions. Because poems like these weave together personal narrative and concrete examples, they can be useful entry-points, something beyond a basic powerpoint presentation or whatever.

I also share this poem, however, because this video was taken at one of TruArtSpeaks‘ Be Heard poetry slams, and I wanted to give a shout out to TruArtSpeaks and how important that work is in the current climate. We’re actually right in the middle of a campaign to raise $10k before October 15; ALL of that money goes directly into programming that ensures young people have opportunities to not only tell their stories and express themselves, but also to access high-quality mentorship and arts-educational opportunities. We run a free, all-ages open mic every week (Thursdays, 6-8pm at Golden Thyme Cafe), engage in dozens of school residencies every year, host all kinds of workshops and writing circles, organize the Be Heard series (every January-March), and more.

Donte was actually the first person this year to put up $1k for the rest of us to match. That generosity is a testament to the power of this work. Please consider joining the cypher and helping to power this work. You can donate here.