Yesterday, I attended an all day conference sponsored by Jane Doe, Inc.
Called "Reimagine Manhood" we discussed how our culture raises boys and conditions men to expect entitlement and exert power. We also delved into how boys and men are conditioned to block feelings and avoid identifying or collaborating with women, other genders, and with people of other races, cultures, etc.
Jane Doe, Inc. is the Massachusetts Coalition Against Sexual Assault and Domestic Violence. It offers services for survivors and supports counseling for those who suspect they may have a battering problem.
The message behind the conference is that we need to change our culture, not just our laws and enforcement, if we're going to reduce or eliminate this kind of behavior.
I was excited to be there and had numerous conversations with others during the seminars and open sessions.
I had the opportunity to present a signed copy of my book "a man wearing a dress" to Craig Norbert-Bohm, a key person in the effort to reduce domestic violence. There is a good bio and description of his work on this page of the OBOS web site.
I'm speaking of Norah Vincent. She posed as a man and went out to discover what it's really like to live in male culture here in the US. There is a wikipedia article, a story from ABC News and a video segment of the ABC Program 20/20. There is a book even a video review of the book.
I bring all this up now because I am of two minds. One is that I'm convinced that we all need to give plenty of space for women to speak out. Women who have held their silence out of fear, embarrassment, or post traumatic response for years, even for decades. All about unwanted advances, abuse, or attack by men, especially men in positions of power. There is a vast reservoir of pain among millions of women that needs to find an outlet and now seems to be the time.
On the other hand, I'm convinced that this public outcry is only the first step in a process where men can and must be included in making the changes in society that we need to make, in my opinion. And I have no doubt that we are on the road to making them. There is an entire area of abuse of power, here, and in the long run we will see how people of all genders have abused power, once they have obtained it, not just men. And likewise, people of all genders have been victimized by such abuse, including men. The same pain, shame, and post trauma response applies to everyone. That's why I think we have heard so little about this so far.
However, in order to make the progress we need, I'm convinced that we need a much better understanding of how patriarchy and the restricted roles we expect men to occupy has been a major factor all along. We need to see how much men have been seriously hurt (or have been attacked, injured, or even were killed), especially when they dare step "out of line" from the limited definitions of what it means to "be a man" in society up until now.
I implore you to either watch the video, read the interview, or read the book. Even if you don't read my book, please read this one. Then let's discuss.
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I just had a thought. I chose the "Inner Blog" to write about it. Rather than repost it here, please read all about it there. And, thank you!
In my book, I have an essay called Lost Men. Now that my book is just about ready to publish, I discovered this TED talk by Philip Zimbardo. It's too late to rewrite the essay or add to it substantially, so I'm posting this here instead.
Today, many people are upset and confused as they observe young men overdose on drugs, join white supremacy groups or urban gangs, commit suicide, or spend all day playing games or watching porn. This is not to say that society's ills don't also effect young women or young people of all genders, but there is definitely evidence that many young cis-gender men are in particularly desperate circumstances. Why is this happening? What can we do? While many people are 'stuck' trying to figure this out, this lecture provides some essential perspective.
I just read this article, written by Jen Richards. Something resonated within me as I read it. The thing is, I was brought up in a world that seemed to teach me self doubt. On the outside, perhaps it seemed that I had male and white privilege But on the inside, I experienced the world more from a victim perspective than a dominant one.
I am currently asking myself similar questions to those Jen asks. Am I genuine? Are my actions based on my true feelings, or am I somehow in denial?
Those questions have plagued me throughout my life, for decades. Fortunately, my diligence in addressing these feelings (through journaling, therapy, and other means) seems to be paying off. I trust myself more now than I have in the past. Still, it's difficult. After all, if you're in denial, how would you know?
So, it was good to read Jen's piece because she described her feelings so well, and because I saw some parallels with my own situation.
After all, I'm not identifying myself as trans, at least not for the moment. I don't seem headed for life as a woman. But, at the same time, I've been challenged on my identity by two different people lately and I have ended up in some deep self reflection.
Part of this might be my own doing. After all, I've entitled my book, "a man wearing a dress,' which might imply to some people that it's just that simple. I'm just a man wearing clothes traditionally designed for women, who doesn't happen to want to pass as a woman (or as a drag queen - kind of a different category).
But within me, I know it's a lot more than the clothes. However, trying to describe what exactly is going on inside me has been difficult. That's one reason why I wrote the book (now in editing as I write this), to help tell my back story - how I got to where I am now, as I reach my mid 60s.
Another issue is one of language. The trouble is, our terms keep changing, and the definitions of those terms differ from person to person. Am I 'gender queer?' Or perhaps 'gender fluid?' I do use male pronouns, but part of the reason for that is that the whole pronoun thing seems so awkward. The word 'they' still seems plural to me, so it grates on my ears sometimes.
Also, I have kept my male body (I don't take hormones and am not planning any surgery). And yet, inside me seems to be a distinctly feminine side. I say that with some trepidation because, after all, what is 'feminine,' exactly? I don't think many people have really tried to define that in detail, of if they have, there are disagreements between what different people have come up with.
So, there again, I am left with a bunch of feelings and an assessment of my own nature that seems very difficult to define.
I do truly seem to sit somewhere on the 'gender spectrum' in terms of how I think of myself. Part of it seems to be my strong sense of empathy with both men and women. Perhaps I was a woman (biologically) in a past life. I'm still working on the past life concept, so I can't say a lot more than that.
I have found that I love so much about the clothes, the fashion, and what and how to wear things that help me look good and feel good about myself. But I know that this is partly because I get to understand some of the fun, inner joy, and self confidence in being well dressed, as well as the challenges, and sometimes even the pain, as well. I get to have conversations where I can share experiences with women, trade stories, and offer support for each other. Somehow, I just feel included in women's culture, as best as I can perceive it, more than I have felt included in men's culture. And being included in women's culture, as much as I have, leaves me with a feeling of warmth and happiness deep inside.
I think this is why I have never 'cross dressed' in private. It just never occurred to me. I wanted to bring out my feminine side and connect with the feminine in others. And yet, at the same time, I wanted to acknowledge my masculine side, rather than try to shove it or hide it away.
So, here's where I ended up. Showing both sides when I go out. The clothing, jewelry, nail polish, hats, etc., along with my bald head (no wig), trim beard, deep voice, and tall thin stature. I guess I don't need to necessarily buy into a particular label, such as gender queer, because we're all individuals. Gender queer might mean something very different to you from what it means to me. I guess I'd rather explain that I was born male and have discovered that I have a strong feminine side, perhaps stronger than most other men, and I want to live that, show that to others, and see where it leads me.
Well, because I'm a generalist. I'm interested in many different areas of life.
I didn't want people who want to avoid politics or political analysis to get bogged down with all that if they were more interested in my thoughts and opinions regarding gender identity. After all, gender identity is the main theme of my upcoming book.
For updates on my progress in publishing my book, please see the "Product Blog."
And thank you for watching!
Recently, I’ve seen discussions on social media about people referred to as TERFs. That’s “trans exclusionary radical feminists.” To my understanding, this refers to women who don’t accept trans women as ‘real’ women and therefore won’t invite trans women to events that are scheduled for women only. This is a very controversial in some circles. I’ve read various articles and posts online and discovered that this has been going on for decades.
So, what do I think?
First, we have freedom of speech and freedom of assembly in this country. If a group of people want to gather and invite certain people and exclude others, that is their right. It is also their right to speak their opinion in public if they wish. They have a right to do this, even if what they say saddens or offends others.
At the same time, I find it impossible to define what a ‘real’ woman is, or a ‘real’ man, for that matter. Where do you draw the line? Does a woman who’s had a hysterectomy (ovaries now removed) still qualify as a ‘real’ woman? What about how someone was raised? Is a child who saw themselves as female and began transitioning at age 3 (lived as a girl from then on) more of a woman than someone who transitioned at age 33 or age 63? Does having ‘bottom surgery’ (change from male to female genitals) qualify? What of the intersex person who has Complete AIS (androgen insensitivity syndrome), who has an ‘F’ on their birth certificate, was raised as a girl, now lives as a woman, but has XY chromosomes (has no menstrual cycles, and cannot have children)? Are they invited to the conference?
As I was born male and still go by male pronouns today, how can I wrap my head around this controversy among women? In order to better understand it all, I thought about how I feel when I hear the words “Be a real man!”
How would I feel if a group of men decided to hold a conference for only ‘real’ men? Let’s say they excluded me because I didn’t play football in school, have never bench pressed over 100 pounds, and often wear skirts or dresses when I go out.
Would I have feelings about this? Sure, I would. Being excluded from anything strikes an emotional chord in me, perhaps based on my history. But let’s think this through for a moment. Would I really want to attend a conference like that? No. I wouldn’t have much in common with such a group anyway. But, more importantly, I disagree with trying to define men in such narrow terms in the first place.
Would I attempt to stop that conference? No, I wouldn’t. Perhaps such men need to talk about football injuries in a safe environment, where other people just wouldn’t understand. OK. Would I disagree with their use of the term ‘real men?’ Yes I would. But not because I need them to approve of the idea that I am also a ‘real’ man. That’s because, to me, a ‘real’ anything is irrelevant.
You see, in the long run, I get to decide who I am. I am real. Really me. What kind of man am I? Well just ask me. I’ll tell you. It may take awhile for me to describe myself, because I’m complicated. I might refer to myself as ‘gender queer’ based on some aspects of my gender identity. My body is human male, for all practical purposes, ok.
What about male privilege? Sure, I ‘enjoy’ privileges in life stemming from many things, such as the fact that I’m six feet tall, pale skin, male body, thin build, raised protestant (sort of) from a middle class family, and grew up in an almost ‘all white’ town. I’m supposedly dripping with privilege!
At the same time, I was seriously underprivileged socially. I was an underweight ‘misfit’ when it came to school, gym class, swimming lessons, college, the medical system, romance, and the Army (I was drafted). I was bullied constantly while growing up. Other kids called me a queer before I had any idea what that meant. In those ways, I was in more of an ‘underclass’ or perhaps I should call it an ‘outcast’ class.
So, it’s always complicated, from my point of view.
So let’s say you consider yourself a woman, regardless of what kind of body you started out with or what body you have now. What makes you real? I say you get to decide. I happen to know that plenty of ‘real’ women think of themselves as not fully qualified because their bodies don’t look like the ones in fashion magazines. Well, to me, you are just as ‘real’ (perhaps even more ‘real’) than the pictures of the women shown on those pages.
Here’s my invitation: If some women want to have a conference and exclude you, let them. If they want to say you’re not a ‘real’ woman, you don’t have to accept that because nobody can define what’s ‘real’ for you. If you want to hold a conference and exclude them, be my guest. Or perhaps hold a conference for all women, or even all people, and invite them, if they’re willing to attend. You have the power.