Man oh man

I don’t remember when I first realized I wanted to be a boy.

Not that I *was* a boy, mind you. But acutely aware that I was lacking something, and that I had to try to fake it. That there was some shield against the world that came naturally to these boys and, not knowing what it was, I would have to emulate all their ways to try to get at it.

However long it took, I’ve stopped wanting that.

“Toxic masculinity” sounds so alarmist, and yet it’s fitting.

Even in small doses it corrodes from the inside, men and women alike. Thrown into their faces, it’s hot acid.

Then again, anything is toxic if the dose is large enough.

Spend too much time around any one man (and most women) and eventually it will reveal itself.

“I’d (rather) kill myself.”

I look up at the TV; I hadn’t been paying attention. “Is he sick?”

“He’s crying.”

HE’S CRYING.

“Why was it OK the other night, when I cried, then?” I don’t really want to know.

A pause.

“I hold myself to a higher standard.”

***

“Microaggressions,” they call them. Some say the very existence of this word is all that’s wrong with our society.

How to explain to them the loss of hope when a thoughtful, caring person falters?

How it’s Not A Big Deal when your coworkers want to make the case for women’s beach volleyball uniforms but also you’re too tired to tell them that their word choices are doing their arguments no favours.

How you’re always too tired to tell them it’s wrong, lately?

***

Like those sandy thongs, some parts of this will never go away, not ever.

Sexual dimorphism is real. Most people are straight. The most enlightened society in the world cannot undo those biases.

So should we instead Lean In?

Should I objectify men Just Like A Man Would?

Despite my visceral reaction (NO) there’s just an impracticality to attempting such.

Should I deride “man-sluts” or should I be sex-positive to the point where fidelity is basically meaningless to me?

(I’ve done both btw.)

Should I push for Full Partnership Equality or should I accept that I’ve been socialized to make sure people are fed and take on that role (in exchange for not, say, cutting the grass, which I hate, hate, HATE to do)?

These dialectics defy resolution. Balance is the only answer.

And by its very nature toxic masculinity won’t admit such.

***

I have a limited supply of assertiveness that I need to ration very carefully.

When it runs out, I can only cower and avoid or domineer — “napoleoning,” in the lexicon of my life — until my batteries recharge.

My batteries only recharge with assertive actions.

This fixing a problem from nothing, I can’t figure out which archetype it fits: MacGuyver or my grandma? Adam’s rib or the miracle of birth?

I do know that I know few straight men who grapple with assertiveness.

I lift weights to get strong and my therapist tells me instead to jog away my stress.

I run from assertiveness and my therapist tells me it’s a muscle that must be flexed.

Then again, what does he know about it?

***

I’ve always been the one who sets the pace.

I’ve always been the one who needs space.

My depression hollowed this out of me and for the first time I felt the acute pain of femininity.

My recovery feels fragile. I’ve never been vulnerable like this before.

I don’t know how to be the woman.

I learned, in “the program,” to find mindful peace in cleaning.

I find solace in cooking and joy in feeding.

I don’t know how not to be the woman.

My only hope is to find someone who too considers these things so carefully.

Or is it?

***

“You interrupted me, again.”

I try to hide the hurt in my voice.

“I’m sorry,” he says. “I’ll try to pay attention to that.”

“No,” quickly. “No, that’s not the answer at all. I need to interrupt you, to get my point in edgewise, to insist upon being heard. It’s up to me.”

I want to believe that this is the way forward for those who’ve lost or never found their voices, for everyone to rise out of subjugation.

I want to believe I can learn to do this again while I’m somewhere safe.

I want to believe, because insisting is the only way to get back to my position of relative power.

***

I’m a man.

I’m the strong and silent type.

I skew logical and have a distaste for talking about feelings.

I hate when people know my business.

I want things to be done, my way, and then to move along.

I’m the big spoon, because cuddling isn’t my thing and because I need to be able to scratch myself, or take a drink, or leave forever without a moment’s notice or a goodbye. Whatever the situation calls for, really.

I’m toxic masculinity, too.

I’m working hard to try to soften these hard parts of me.

***

“You really are a dude,” my married friend says to me, as we do another shot of Irish whiskey and prepare to leave the party together. We were talking about my relationship with a boyfriend when he said that.

It was a compliment.

So I succeeded, I guess.

Who am I, then, to dissuade others from such a safe position?

How can I tell these men, who have no reason to have to think about it, what it means to me to have gender politics glossed over in the name of getting along?

How do I explain to them the complex math behind that volleyball player putting on a thong?

Maybe I don’t.

Feminism isn’t just for me, I want to scream. It’s so it’s OK for you to cry. It’s so you can get under the anger and understand what’s really bothering you. It’s so the standards you hold yourself to can come from within, so they can make logical sense.

I say nothing.

Because … maybe it’s not my place.

Maybe only my journey was below the surface.

Maybe the toxins of toxic masculinity won’t be removed by more yelling, but by a million micro-acts of compassion.

A million microassertions. Displays of how to do the right thing.

Maybe it will take so much more strength to do it, silently, persistently, logically — like a woman would do.

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