Toxic Masculinity Part I: Strips Away Gender Equity, Hurts Everyone

Toxic MasculinityFrom L-to-R (top): Devyn Nunez, Lucas Silveira (The Cliks), La Espiritista, Izaac Limon, and Freddie Francis; L-to-R (bottom): Dani Farrell, Ashton James Colby, Ryan Cassata and Laila Ireland (see individual pics for photo credits)

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By: Chris Gilmore/TRT Reporter—

Late in February at a Summit in Oakland, Calif., former president Barack Obama introduced himself as “Michelle’s husband, Barack.” In 2016, the former U.S. President wrote an essay for Glamour Magazine titled, “This Is What A Feminist Looks Like”.

Canadian Prime Minister and self-proclaimed feminist Justin Trudeau, continues to work to end gender inequality and has explained—more than once—the importance of men’s involvement to ensure equality for all.

“We shouldn’t be afraid of the word feminist. Men and women should use it to describe themselves anytime they want,” said the Canadian PM. “Men have to be a big part of this conversation. That role we have as men in supporting and demanding equality, in demanding a shift is really, really important.”

Both leaders have not conformed to gender norms when it comes to a public display of emotions, especially when impacted by tragic events or human suffering—something for which they have been criticized and mocked about by mainstream media and YouTube videos.

Enter 2019 and the Gillette commercial “We Believe” that sparked, as Time magazine wrote, “praise and criticism” for the company and much controversy over toxic masculinity and how dangerous it is for both men and women.

“Toxic masculinity is the constellation of socially regressive male traits that serve to foster domination, the devaluation of women, homophobia, and wanton violence,” wrote Dr. Terry A. Kupers in Journal of Clinical Psychology, June 2005.

And, toxic masculinity is not only present and taught to cisgender men. It is also a behavior that exists within the transgender community that equally hurts and dehumanizes other trans men, trans women and anyone on the gender spectrum. As such, in this exclusive series, The Rainbow Times interviewed various trans men, trans women, non-binary and GNC people from all walks of life about this topic. Their answers will bring light to how this “disease” is damaging to all humans, regardless of sexual orientation, assigned sex at birth, or gender identity.

 

 

Lucas Silveira

Lucas Silveira, The Cliks

45, He/him,

Canadian/Portuguese,

Singer/Songwriter (The Cliks),

Self Portrait

Q: What is toxic masculinity to you? What behaviors (attitudes, actions, etc.) fall into that category?

A: This is a very complex and lengthy answer because there are so many direct, but also insidious examples of toxic masculinity, but some of the things I can say I have experienced that I consider toxic within masculinity would be the expectation to be more “manly” and this was both an expectation of some women around me, including romantic partners, and other men. Specifically mainly, other trans men, which was quite heartbreaking. I have also been told I speak too much to my feelings, to “man up”, to “be a man”, to take charge. And these are examples directed at me. Surrounding me, I have seen other men push these attitudes on each other as a means to not allow for a state of vulnerability. Meaning, men will not talk about their feelings with each other or speak to the personal issues they are having, including depression and suicidal ideations, due to not wanting to be seen as weak.

Q: Some trans men say they’ve been bullied by other trans men who seem to support toxic masculinity. What are your thoughts on that? Has this happened to you?  

A: This has absolutely happened to me. I’ve lost friendships with other trans men over these kinds of situations. There are many trans men who see masculinity as a very binary, patriarchal performance. They have ideas of manhood in ways that I don’t. I’m a pretty soft and comfortably openly vulnerable guy and many of the trans men around me have said to me that I’m “different” than most trans men they know. I speak to my past as a woman openly and with comfort and have even been asked in a group of trans men to stop outing myself, as they fear they will be found out. That was something that truly infuriated me. I had been living in secrecy and in shame for so long and then even within groups of other trans men, they expected me to not be myself because they couldn’t separate my way of being myself with their fears.

Q: Do you think toxic masculinity hurts other trans men? Trans women? Cis women? Relationships? People of color (QTPoC)?

A: It hurts everyone. Patriarchy is a means of controlling and oppressing people just as capitalism and conservatism and colonization do. Toxic masculinity is a tool of colonized thinking and control. It is a way to perpetuate fear into others to keep silent and remain unable to speak to their feelings. Beyond that, it is immensely dangerous when men, whether cis or trans, attempt to be open and vulnerable and are then told by women that they aren’t being “strong enough”. Not only men perpetuate toxic masculinity. Women do it as well. They enable it by supporting and perpetuating what it means to be a “man.”

Q: Younger trans men seem to be taken (and try to even emulate the behaviors too) by some of the trans men (and cis men) portraying toxic masculinity tendencies. How can trans men help the younger generations fight this macho culture?

A: Just stop it. It’s that simple. Get to know yourself as a human first and then as a man. There is nothing wrong with wanting to be masculine. I love masculinity. But I don’t love the kind of masculinity that hurts people, including myself. And it’s very simple to see what kind of behaviours perpetuate toxic masculine culture if you take a moment to look inward and make a decision to come forward from a place of truth, humanity, and vulnerability. If your aim is to control anything around you or the perception of who you are with some inflated ego tapped into a false sense of control, most likely, that behaviour will be toxic.

Q: What do you do to combat toxic masculinity? 

A: I behave according to the path of self-love and loving others, I speak to my past with love and pride, I do not subscribe to ideas of what manhood means within the status quo definitions, I am still masculine and know to be soft, I call in people around me who behave in those ways.

 

Laila Ireland

She/Her, Trans Military Advocate/LGBTQ Activist

Hawaii

Laila Ireland; Photo: Gilad Cohen of JAYU Human Rights Watch TorontoTransMilitary Advocate/LGBTQ activist

Q: What is toxic masculinity to you? What behaviors (attitudes, actions, etc.) fall into that category?

A: Toxic masculinity refers to certain norms of masculine behavior that are associated with harm to men, women, and society overall. Stereotypically, toxically masculine men are socially dominant, misogynistic, homophobic, prideful, self-reliant, over competitive and promote violence (sexual assault and domestic violence). In today’s society, young boys and young men often normalize violence, because society often uses the excuse that “boys will be boys,” thus excusing their behaviors in regard to bullying and aggression. Toxic masculinity is very much a learned trait, which emphasizes the harmful effects of conformity to certain traditional masculine ideal behaviors.

Q: What do you think about toxic masculinity infiltrating in the trans men community? Do you think it exists? 

A: I do believe that toxic masculinity exists in the trans masculine community. However, I also believe that it is caused by the idea that trans masculine men should be just that—“masculine.” More often than not, trans and cis males often take to a masculine figure that they want to embody. Their mannerisms, the way they talk, the way they appear, even the way they live. In doing so, they adopt these traits in order to feel and appear more masculine during their transition, thus adopting toxically masculine traits and behaviors.

Q: Do you think toxic masculinity hurts other trans men? Trans women? Relationships?

A: I absolutely agree that toxic masculinity hurts other trans men and women, and even their relationships. Society has painted a picture of “how a man should be, act, and do.” In today’s society, there are many folks who wish to oppress the idea of gender-neutral roles or characteristics (i.e., boys can wear pink, play with dolls, dance ballet, etc.) and there are also many folks who wish to blur those hard gender-based lines and show that you can be and do whatever you want regardless of your gender. Toxic masculinity hurts and limits opportunities for growth, understanding, love, and community.

Q:  As a trans woman, how has toxic masculinity impacted you? Or has it?

A: I have lived on both sides of the very binary spectrum. As a trans woman, I have encountered toxic masculinity in many forms. Upon these encounters, I find myself having to explain and deter them from mansplaining why their behavior was such. I feel reinforcing the idea that not all men should be or act or do a specific way is extremely important as we move forward in life. It allows society to be more inclusive and diverse and opens the opportunities of life to everyone, not just a specific gender.

 

Ryan Cassata

Ryan Cassata; Photo: Maxine Bowen

25, He/Him, Singer-Songwriter/Actor/Writer

Italian/White

Q: What is toxic masculinity to you? What behaviors (attitudes, actions, etc.) fall into that category?

A: Toxic masculinity is [the] behaviors that people engage in that are harmful to society. They can be “lessons” that are taught, like saying “boys shouldn’t cry or share their feelings.” They can be behaviors that are not inclusive or even harmful in terms of violence. A lot of toxic masculine behaviors come from what society says men should and shouldn’t be like. I believe that most of them are taught and we can definitely break the chain.

Q: What do you think about toxic masculinity infiltrating in the trans men community? Does it exist? 

A: It definitely is in the trans community as well. I’m a trans guy that, for the most part, does not pass as a cisgender male, and especially not a 25-year-old cisgender male. I’m lucky if someone thinks I’m older than 18. I’m not on testosterone and have an androgynous appearance. Many other trans guys have judged me for this and even bullied me for not taking testosterone. Some trans guys have even told me that I cannot identify as a man because I’m not on T. The rules that these guys have in their heads aren’t rules, they are stereotypes and they are definitely toxic masculine ideologies.

Q: Do you think toxic masculinity hurts other trans men? Trans women? Relationships?

A: Toxic masculinity hurts everyone. Having any type of guidelines on gender expression and identity is harmful to society as a whole. People should act as they are and act with kindness. I try to remember to always lead with my heart instead of leading with ideas and stereotypes that people place on me. I have to be myself and if that’s not masculine enough for strangers to consider me “male enough” then I really don’t care. I care about being ME.

Q: How can others combat toxic masculinity?

A: We can have more discussions about it. We can have more conversations about how harmful it is to society. Toxic masculinity leads to things like assault and rape. We need to talk about these things so they stop happening. We need to protect anyone that could be a target. We need to teach young people to be who they are and not worry about what the rest of the world things of their gender expression or identity.

Q: Toxic masculinity often takes the form of emulating cis men’s attitudes and behaviors, is that partly why you created your IG page AllTransBodies?

A: Yes, the page was created because we saw that most of the other trans pages on Instagram were only focusing on trans guys that look cisgender. In fact, most of the media only focuses on trans guys that pass as cisgender. We wanted to show how diverse and beautiful the community is and what the community actually looks like. We don’t all pass as cis, and we don’t all want to either.

Q:  What do you do to combat toxic masculinity?

A: I continue to be myself. I speak out against injustice. I try to educate anyone who will listen.

 

La Espiritista

La Espiritista

Late 20s, They/Them (Shifts within spaces and context)

Latinx/Mixed, Peruvian and Cuban mixed heritages,

Performance Artist, Author, Healer

Q: What is toxic masculinity to you? What behaviors (attitudes, actions, etc.) fall into that category?

A: Toxic masculinity is huge and prevails widely across many cultures in different ways. To me, toxic masculinity is rooted in the belief that masculinity is the dominant and superior way of being. Within that belief, much harm ensues through a sense of ownership and entitlement for those who participate within toxic masculinity. Toxic masculinity affects us all regardless of where we fall on the spectrum because it is the norm in our current society and currently inflicts a tremendous amount of violence. Some behaviors of toxic masculinity that really stick out to me and that I observed in the [Gillette ad] video, was the concept “boys will be boys”—the dismissive behavior and lack of accountability that we have for folks who are masculine of centered. When folks who are men and masculine of centered let out their anger and aggression in violent and harmful ways, it can often get dismissed unless someone intervenes.

Q: Some younger trans men emulating cis behaviors, like those depicted in the Gillette commercial, say toxic masculinity doesn’t exist that they’re just “being men.” What are your thoughts on that? What would you tell them, if you could?

A: First of all, I think it is important to state that my perspective comes from someone who is a person of color, Peruvian and Cuban, with mestizx ancestries. I was assigned Female at Birth (AFAB) and chose to medically transition. I am always “read” as an Assigned Male at Birth (AMAB) person now, but can often be read as gay. When I dress “femme” I am mistaken as a trans woman often. I identify as a human who is genderfluid and two-spirit in respect to the language my indigenous ancestors used for people in their communities who embodied that gender. With that being said, when we think of anyone saying they’re “just being men” we need to think of what culture that is coming from and the history about that culture. Colonialism has done a lot of harm to our Indigenous, African, and overall PoC communities and the toxic masculinity which stems from that impacts the way masculinity is performed throughout different cultures. “Just being men” has literally caused the genocide of generations of people both on this land we call the United States of America now, and across the entire world globally. The reality is there is no one way of being a man, let alone a human being. The way manhood, womanhood, and personhood unfold come from a place of deep-seeded values and beliefs. If someone’s manhood stems from a place of refusing of taking and even simply acknowledging the accountability, we all need to take to dismantle patriarchy and these ruthless ways of being which have literally killed millions of people—I don’t f@ck with you.

Q: Do you think toxic masculinity hurts other trans men? Trans women? Relationships? People in general? How?

A: Absolutely. Toxic masculinity is an oppressive force, which ultimately attempts to restrict people’s ability to be their full selves. The worst part is it succeeds a lot. Especially for folks of trans experiences who are often made to believe that we need to prove our very existence, participating within toxic masculinity may be one of the main indicators that we are valid. I think that folks who may identify in the binary, it can be even harder and that there can be a lot of hate within the community to who is an actual man or woman. I also think that this hurts folks of trans experiences who are non-binary ’cause there is this fear that the validity of someone who is binary can be challenged, which is ridiculous! For example, someone in the community who identifies as a trans man may feel offended that I am on testosterone and I don’t identify as a man. It’s a false belief to believe that testosterone is what makes a man because people who are men have always been men. It is also really toxic to compare one’s own manhood on the basis of someone else. Toxic masculinity manifests a really horrible culture of competition and comparison when we need to foster a culture of collaboration and cooperation now more than ever.

Q: How can others combat toxic masculinity?

A: One of the biggest ways I believe we can combat toxic masculinity is by allowing others to self-identify and self-express the way they want to when it comes to gender identity and gender expression—also deconstructing the idea of what masculinity looks like. Let’s allow masculinity to be playful with the way it is expressed. Let us stop shaming boys while they are young when they have stereotyped feminine interests. Let us allow any person regardless of their gender to wear dresses and play with makeup if they want to. Let us start allowing folks who are masculine of centered to engage with their feminine sides in ways that feel good to each person ’cause every person has both femininity and masculinity within. I also believe that combating toxic masculinity involves deep and integral work of emotional management. This means giving space for people of all genders to explore, engage, and express their feelings and emotions. As we know, anger and aggression, are associated with masculinity. While anger and aggression are acceptable when it comes to masculinity, sadness and crying are not. There needs to be a normalization of all emotions for all people—also, deconstructing ideas of what strength means in our overall society. To be a “man” means to be “strong” and often times that strength means to be devoid of feeling. The repression of emotions and feelings can exacerbate harm to our communities because of toxic masculinity.

Q: Does it surprise you that some trans men have told us that they’ve felt bullied by those who are modeling toxic masculinity behaviors and attitudes? Explain. 

A: No. Not at all. Again, in a world where existence for trans identities are deemed invalid and where we are made to feel like we need to prove our authenticity, it doesn’t surprise me that people within the community will let out toxic behaviors towards our own. For many folks who are marginalized and often misrepresented, the trauma within our own communities can influence folks to engage in harmful ways.

 

Izaac Limon

Izaac Limon; Photo: Ashley Verdin

19, He/Him, College Student

Transgender male, Native American

Q: What is toxic masculinity to you? What behaviors (attitudes, actions, etc.) fall into that category?

A: Growing up, I was fully aware of toxic masculinity and the effects it has on everyone involved. For me, toxic masculinity is when the behavior becomes hurtful, projected externally through actions or statements. I witnessed men always having the need to fight and become aggressive in order to solve a solution rather than talking it out. Any signs of emotion would be considered weak and thus meaning you were not a man. Crying was not even something to consider in an upsetting situation. Teaching little boys that emotionally processing something is not an option and anger is the only emotion you may act on.

Q: Some trans men say they’ve been bullied by other trans men who seem to support toxic masculinity. What are your thoughts on that? Has this happened to you?

A: I have in the past gotten some questions thrown my way from other trans men. Usually, asking why I don’t know how to do stereotypical manly things such as start a fire or change a tire. I was raised in a single mother household without a father so things like learning how to tie a tie was something I had to teach myself. I don’t think that makes me less of a man because I either never learned or learned on my own.

Q: Do you think toxic masculinity hurts other trans men? Trans women? Relationships? People of color (QTPoC)?

A: The thing with toxic masculinity is that it does not only hurt the person who is projecting it. It has a clear domino effect within families, friends, relationships, schools, and work environments. The toxicity has the possibility of breeding abusive actions and words and normalizing it to other men that it is okay to act that way sends the message out that we don’t have to take accountability in how we behave with our friends, families, partners, and strangers.

Q: How can others combat toxic masculinity? How can trans men who seem to mirror cisgender men’s behavior help stop this?

A: Combating toxic masculinity starts at a young age with not only boys but with everyone. Toxic masculinity has been around forever so it is very generational in families. Teaching boys that aggression is not an appropriate way of starting friendships or showing affection to those they might like, normalizing we all have emotions and showing them, that is better overall, I would say it would help. I was taught to hide and bottle everything up so that I didn’t cry in front of my brothers. As trans men, I personally think the first step in that self-awareness is to realize that male privilege is real as we start to accept it slowly from society.

Q: What do you do to combat toxic masculinity?

A: As a trans man, I am always aware of my masculinity and how not to lean more on the toxic spectrum. Growing up in a heavily domestic violent household, I was shown the behavior behind what is not seen as healthy and respectful as a man in a relationship. I knew yelling terrible remarks and hitting your partner was no way of dealing with conflict. I learned the best way is talking out your emotions and processing them with those you love. Instead, more, I looked to my grandfather as a guide to what man I wanted to be. He was a stay-at-home dad to my mom and was very gentle and loving. Now that he has passed, I try every day to be as close to the man he was [as possible]. My masculinity has now been called into question since I have mellowed down and do not feel the need to prove or showcase how manly I am. I am a sensitive and reserved man and I am completely accepting that that is the type of man I became. There is no such thing as a right way to be a man but only a healthy one.

 

Devyn Nunez; Photo: Anthony Alvarez

Devyn Nunez

24, He/Him, Dominican

Photographer/Studio Production Assistant, Photo: Anthony Alvarez

Q: What is toxic masculinity to you? What behaviors (attitudes, actions, etc.) fall into that category?

A: To me, toxic masculinity is unhealthy, harmful, oppressive, and violent behavior and viewpoint perpetuated by more than just cisgender heterosexual men. Some behaviors that fall into this category include, but are not limited to, solving issues or differences they have with violence instead of talking it out and working through it, the notion that showing emotion is a sign of weakness, being homophobic/transphobic/misogynistic, etc.

Q: Some trans men say they’ve been bullied by other trans men who seem to support toxic masculinity. What are your thoughts on that? Has this happened to you?

A: Honestly, I think it’s sad. They have this engraved idea, because of what they have experienced from their own family, friends, and society, that they and others have to look and behave a certain way in order to be “trans enough” or “man enough.” While I haven’t experienced this myself, I know other trans men who get hate for not being on T (testosterone) or not wanting any or specific surgeries. There’s no prerequisite for being a man. A trans man who is pre-hormones and surgeries is just as much a man as one who is taking hormones and has had any surgery, both are just as valid as any cisgender man, even if that isn’t a specific trans person’s goal.

Instead of perpetuating toxic masculinity in our community, we should be combating and eradicating it. Especially considering the trans community is fighting a daily battle for basic human rights. We should be supportive of all the types of men we are, along with empowering our trans sisters as well. As a community, we should be uplifting and coming together instead of tearing one another apart or alienating anyone due to the pressure of fitting a societal mold.

Q: Do you think toxic masculinity hurts other trans men? Trans women? Relationships? People of color (QTPoC)? How?

A: Toxic masculinity most definitely affects other trans men and women, especially those of color and the relationships they may be in or aspire to be in. Toxic masculinity is an issue that plays a huge role in why many trans men have a hard time accepting themselves and have severe body dysphoria. It’s been instilled in many minds that a “real man” has to fit a certain mold and any deviation makes that person less of a man and less worthy of respect and honor. Being a person of color makes the pressure more intense because a lot of the times the culture is deeply embedded in toxic masculinity due to trauma experienced by our ancestors. When it comes to trans women of color, they have a higher risk of being ostracized by all communities due to transphobia, racism, and misogyny. Toxic masculinity affects both trans men and women in relationships due to society’s obsession with genitalia and what they deem is the “specific” uses for them. It’s why many cis men find themselves saying they won’t date or have sexual relationships with a trans woman because they still view them as men even though a trans woman is a woman whether or not they have had any surgeries. It is also why many cis men don’t accept trans men as men because, in their eyes, to “be a man” you need to [be “like them”].

Q: How can others combat toxic masculinity?

A: I believe the first step in combating toxic masculinity is maintaining that this is a real and dangerous societal disease that needs to be addressed and fought against. Education on how to identify and combat toxic masculinity is a great way to bring it to light. Another great way to bring the fight against this mindset is to start with the children, teaching young boys that it is ok to feel emotions and finding healthy ways to deal with emotions other than anger, as well as, teaching them boundaries when it comes to their crushes, and having serious honest discussions on what is or isn’t acceptable and respectable behavior. Also, as a community and society, calling out toxic masculinity when it’s present and making sure the person realizes it’s not okay.

Q: What do you do to combat toxic masculinity?

A: The ways in which I combat toxic masculinity are by standing up against it when it is present, whether it’s a comment or action towards me or any other person. I also teach my nephew to combat toxic masculinity as he grows up. I want him to know that he is valued and his emotions are valid, as well as to treat others with the same respect. Lastly, the other way I combat toxic masculinity is by living in my truth as I am. By being a trans man of color, and doing it proudly, I realize it is a protest against the mundane and trivial mindset of toxic masculinity and that it is a light in the darkness it wishes to create.

 

Freddie Blooms

Freddie Blooms

30, He/Him & They/Them

communications professional /caregiver/artist,

Genderqueer/Non-binary with white male privilege

Q: What is toxic masculinity to you? What behaviors (attitudes, actions, etc.) fall into that category?

A: I see toxic masculinity as attitudes and behaviors that reproduce or are complicit in the violence of patriarchy, which harms and dehumanizes all people on physical, emotional, and spiritual levels. There are obvious behaviors, like cruelty toward or objectification of women, femme, and gender non-conforming people, to more subtle, ingrained behaviors and attitudes that may play out in our workplaces, communities, and social spaces that hold women to a higher standard of behavior than men. As a trans person with white male privilege, I experience this firsthand when I receive praise and affirmation for basic decency and politeness or helping out with feminized labor like washing dishes or physical or emotional caretaking. When I was perceived as a woman, these behaviors were instead expected of me and/or taken for granted. Another way toxic masculinity plays out is thinking or trying to enforce any kinds of ways that people of any gender should or shouldn’t act.

Q: Some trans men say they’ve been bullied by other trans men who seem to support toxic masculinity. What are your thoughts on that? Has this happened to you?

A: I sometimes struggle with ideas about how my body or behavior “should” be, which limits my own potential, and in that sense, I have been a bully to myself. A Nayyirah Waheed poem from her collection “Salt” has been a mantra of mine: “Knowing your power is what creates humility. Not knowing your power is what creates insecurity.” This feels relevant because, in the U.S., we are all taught that masculine strength is connected with domination, taking charge, and gaining power over others. However, this kind of “power” is a destructive illusion that ultimately leaves those of us who fall prey to it empty and unfulfilled. I believe true power is grounded in vulnerability, softness, and connecting with our emotions and bodies and the world around us. True power transforms and heals us.

Q: Do you think toxic masculinity hurts other trans men? Trans/cis women? Relationships? People of color (QTPoC)?

A: Toxic masculinity is woven into every form of violence that exists including white supremacy, colonialism, ableism, and climate destruction, and it hurts all of us. Even though I don’t identify as a man, I move through the world with white male privilege and I feel called to use that privilege to challenge systems of violence. I commit to doing this is in part because even those of us who are privileged in systems of oppression are still dehumanized to be a part of them. Even though I do not experience the brunt of patriarchy’s violence, I suffer when I am expected to play a certain gender role and discouraged from queerer, freer forms of self-expression. Thanks to the leadership and vision of Black women and queer and trans elders in social justice movements, I try to embody the principle that no one is free until everyone is free.

Q: Younger trans men seem to be taken (and try to even emulate them too) by some of the trans men (and cis men) portraying toxic masculinity tendencies. How can trans men help the younger generations fight this macho culture?

A: Lead by example with humility, softness, and compassion for ourselves and others. Cultivate intentionally vulnerable and emotionally intimate relationships with men/transmasculine people and/or people with similar identities to yours, not just women and femme folks. Talk about the things you are struggling with, with honesty and care—sometimes things will get messy, but it’s better to earnestly grapple with the issues than to keep them inside, which is a recipe for shame and self-loathing. Be tender and curious with yourself in exploring your own desires of how to be and express yourself, and play around with your identities and expressions. In social justice conversations about patriarchy and white supremacy, if the conversation is focused on masculine and/or white feelings of anxiety, fear, or trauma, move the conversation toward centering the experiences and liberation of Black and indigenous trans women—because when we make space for and lift up the most marginalized among us, there is space for all of us to heal and thrive. To collectively heal, we have to move away from a capitalistic culture of scarcity that teaches us there is finite power/resources/space for which we must compete.

Q: What do you do to combat toxic masculinity? 

A: As someone perceived as a white man, I am constantly working on leveraging the unearned privilege I am given for a greater good. I try to walk with humility, knowing that I will never cross a threshold into being a “good” masculine person or “good” white person, but that it is a lifetime’s work. I will make many choices to engage in every day—and when I mess up or “fail,” I will be compassionate with myself and make a different choice next time. And I will mess up, because I’m only human, and am always going to be working through my own trauma and socialization.

It might seem counterintuitive, but again and again, I learn that I can only show up for others as much as I show up for myself. So, I prioritize my wellbeing in many ways, including going to therapy, journaling, exercising, making art, being in nature, and cultivating spiritual practice in my life. I read books, listen to music, and support art by Black and brown women and queer folks. Some of my favorite works that address social justice issues connected to these are Emergent Strategy by Adrienne Maree Brown, Assata Shakur’s self-titled autobiography, I’m Afraid of Men by Vivek Shraya, When They Call You a Terrorist by Patrisse Khan-Cullors, Bone by Yrsa Daley Ward, and the aforementioned Salt by Nayyirah Waheed.

 

Dani Farrell

Dani Farrell

34, He/Him, Founder of Trans In Color

Photo: @apyphaniedawn – Apyphanie

Q: What is toxic masculinity to you? What behaviors (attitudes, actions, etc.) fall into that category?

A: To me, toxic masculinity is any action or attitude that is derived based on the theory that women are inferior to men. This toxicity shows itself in everyday situations and has, unfortunately, become socially acceptable. We’ve grown accustomed to holding men to a different standard than women. Have you heard the old saying “boys will be boys?” This is a prime example of when misogynistic ideals are first ingrained into the brains of young boys and girls. If a little boy hits a little girl, instead of correcting this behavior, often little girls are told that just means the little boy likes them. Toxic masculinity has been able to rear its ugly head by teaching these children from a young age that accepting aggression from men is normal and that’s just “how men are” and their aggression has no repercussions.

It’s the same when it comes to sex. If a boy starts having sex at a young age they are considered to just be sowing their oats. If a girl does the same she is considered “fast.” Toxic masculinity is not holding both sexes to the same standards. Another example of toxic masculinity that is taught from a young age is telling young boys that boys and men don’t cry. This type of toxic masculinity makes it seem as though men are not supposed to have any type of emotional feelings. If a man cries he is considered weak or not a “real” man. What people don’t realize is this is setting men up for failure, because from a young age, he is taught to be disconnected from his emotions.

These are social norms that have been forced on men, and if not incorporated into their life they are looked upon as less than. Another example of toxic masculinity has to do with gender norms placed on women and men. For example, a “real” man is a breadwinner and a “real” woman stays at home to raise children and take care of the household.

Q: What do you think about toxic masculinity infiltrating in the trans men community? Does it exist?

A: Although I’ve been blessed to be surrounded by trans men who are very open-minded and accepting, there is no doubt that toxic masculinity is very much alive within the trans community. I personally feel that toxic masculinity is very sad. I also do not understand men with these attitudes. The majority of us, trans men, have been forced to live in the body of a woman for a good deal of our lives and have been affected first hand by the stereotypes associated with toxic masculinity. That is one reason it is so hard for me to understand why we would continue to perpetuate the same negative stereotypes once we are able to live freely as a man in the outside world.

I know that toxic masculinity exists within the trans community because I’ve seen it firsthand. Toxic masculinity shows itself by “feminizing” men and this is negative because in a toxic masculinity environment women are looked upon as less than. Therefore, saying someone is feminine is basically a slur. One way that things are feminized is by calling them gay.  I was on Instagram and one trans man complimented another trans man’s photo and called them attractive. The response from the guy who posted his photo was, “Don’t bring that gay sh*t over here.” To me, this is a prime example of toxic masculinity within the trans men community.

Q: Do you think toxic masculinity hurts other trans men? Trans women? Relationships? Trans families of color?

A: Yes, I think toxic masculinity definitely hurts other trans men. It’s almost as though we have lived our entire life in one box, and we are just stepping into another box. Let me explain. Being forced to live in the body of a woman is like being in prison. You don’t feel like yourself and you are never truly free. Maybe you are allowed to start T (testosterone), have top/bottom surgery so you can feel more masculine, so you finally feel _free_ to be yourself. Then, before you can even turn your head, you have people telling you what you should and should not do to be considered a “real” man. So, instead of being yourself, you now have an entirely new set of rules set in place for you to “prove” yourself.

There is no question that toxic masculinity affects a relationship negatively. It can cause you to invalidate whatever your partner says, therefore creating unnecessary arguments and feelings of resentment. If you are constantly holding misogynistic and toxic ideas, it is impossible for you to grow and to take others’ feelings into consideration, because in your mind, they don’t hold as much value.

I feel that toxic masculinity especially affects trans families of color. People of color in the United States already have to have thick skin because they are treated unfairly, so I believe a lot of the time, they feel they have to go above and beyond to be respected as a man. This causes them to pick up stereotypical and misogynistic ideals because they are trying to be accepted.

Q: How can others combat toxic masculinity?

A: In order to truly combat toxic masculinity, I think it’s important to start raising our children differently. A lot of habits and beliefs people hold are taught to them as children. If we can eliminate this toxic way of thinking from the beginning, then time will not have to be spent correcting the problem. Then, it will just be a trickle-down effect. Since they don’t have those toxic ideals engraved in them, they will be able to raise a non-toxic generation.

I believe others can combat toxic masculinity by being an example and by speaking up. I feel like the best example is to live the life you are preaching. Don’t practice that toxic behavior. When you see blatant examples of toxic masculinity, don’t be scared to stand up and say something.

Q: What do you do to combat toxic masculinity?

A: To combat toxic masculinity, I use my own voice, my life, and my platform Trans In Color.

“The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing,” a quote by Edmund Burke that says it all. If we know there is a better way, and we do nothing to take steps to correct it, the toxic behavior will continue, and we are just as guilty as those who are exhibiting those toxic behaviors.

I love being able to use my platform, Trans In Color, to educate men on toxic behavior and to show all types of men so that we learn how to accept everyone and treat everyone as equals.

 

Ashton Colby

Ashton James Colby; Photo: Victoria Tovar

Founder of GenderYOUphoria, Strategic Media Consultant for Transgender Narratives & Trauma Informed Yoga Teacher RYT200

Q: What is toxic masculinity to you? What behaviors (attitudes, actions, etc.) fall into that category?

A: I conceptualize it more like conscious and unconscious masculinity. I’d love to see us move to using those terms more in conversation because I see the way of saying “toxic masculinity” shuts down some men from having open-hearted conversations. I think they hear it as being said that masculinity, in general, is toxic.

Masculinity and femininity are just energies. It is how you use them that makes the difference.

Toxic masculinity to me is the result of the unconscious use of the power that comes from the way we value masculinity over femininity in Western culture.

As a trans-masculine person assigned female at birth (AFAB), I am hyper-aware of the ways femininity is equated with weakness. Society praises and equates masculinity with strength. This can easily become distorted, without you even realizing it, as an excuse to act more aggressive and abrasive.

When I first started taking testosterone, and “passing” as a cisgender man, I started to get rewarded with social cues that my masculinity was giving me that ability to get away with more things. I didn’t have to try as hard to be respected by others. I will completely admit it went to my ego a little bit.

It took a few sit-down talks with some lovely women friends of mine to point out that I was using this new found privilege as a man to act unconsciously with my masculinity and frankly, act arrogant. I could go through the list of common offenses like manspreading on public transport or speaking over women or saying sexist things but it goes deeper than that.

There is a strict set of expectations of what a “real” man is supposed to be. We equate being open-hearted with vulnerability and vulnerability with weakness and weakness with femininity. As a man, you can’t be open-hearted and vulnerable. You can’t be seen as weak.

To act consciously, it requires you to be honest with your emotions and actions from an open-hearted place. Society doesn’t give men the space to be doing both. It truly takes more strength to be honest with your emotions and actions from an open-hearted place.

Toxic masculinity isn’t just how men interact with the world. It is how the world sets expectations on the individual man that becomes insidious.

I’ve had a 16-year-old boy, when I’ve spoken at high schools, tell me that because I don’t have a penis I’m not a real man. He had to have learned that from somewhere that your value as a man is only in your physical embodiment and not in your heart. I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve heard slang for vaginas be used as an insult as if it is somehow “less than.” It hurts when I hear it in places like a barbershop because they think there is no one with that body part around because there is no one that is presenting as a woman.

You have to really work at it every day to negotiate, “Am I using my masculinity in a conscious, loving way or am I feeding my ego with the privilege that comes with moving through the world as a man?”

Q: What do you think about toxic masculinity infiltrating in the trans men community? Does it exist?

A: When you get a taste of male privilege it can go to your ego. Any newly acquired power or privileges can go to your ego. I’m still unpacking my own pain of internalizing narratives about my body from the first 20 years of my life being treated as a woman. You can easily lose touch with your compassion for a woman’s experience if you don’t give yourself space to honor your own pain. Transgender men have to allow themselves the space to integrate those painful experiences and not just let newfound male privilege become a mask to numb that pain.

There is also this intense, and I mean intense, pressure, not just from society at large but within the community, when you transition to present as masculine as possible in every sense. This can so easily be distorted to toxic masculinity because it is often not authentic and being played out because you’re afraid of not passing as a cisgender man. Anything you do when the underlying intention is fear-based, you’re going to be acting unconsciously.

I most definitely developed toxic eating and working out habits. I would eat way too much to get as big as possible, spend 2 hours in the gym at a time 5 days a week, and take more testosterone than prescribed just to get bigger. You see all these shirtless selfies of transgender guys on Instagram and you see the only representation in the media of transgender men as the ones being uplifted for their body and their muscles and their ability to look cisgender. It really starts to mess with you if you aren’t aware of it.

We have to become a lot more body positive in the transgender men community and a lot more open to doing the work of not just going on the path of least resistance with our manhood. It is easy to just go through the pre-paved path of masculinity. We are allowed to carve our own and chart a new course.

Q: Do you think toxic masculinity hurts other trans men? Trans women? Relationships?

A: It hurts not just trans men and women, it affects non-binary and all gender variant people.

In relationships, I don’t want to always fill the expectations society has placed on me as a person who moves through the world as a man. In relationships, I am a lot more queer and fluid in the dynamics and perceived roles.

I remember the first relationship a year into my transition, I wanted to be held by my girlfriend and I wanted to be able to cry in front of her and be comforted. She was transphobic in the way she negatively associated these two fundamental human needs with me acting too feminine. My current partner is a cisgender woman and is incredibly supportive. She fully embraces the value being transgender has added to my life experience. She has given me the space to express a dynamic dance of masculinity and femininity beyond expectations, even if to the rest of the world when we walk down the street we have the privilege of being seen as a cisgender straight couple. She doesn’t expect me to fill a role that isn’t true to me. When I am able to be authentic there is less fear-based pressure to act out my masculinity in an overcompensating way.

Q: How can others combat toxic masculinity?

A: When you feel safe, speak out about it. It’s been said before because it’s the foundation of moving hearts and minds. I don’t believe raising your voice and attacking and calling someone out is the most effective way to make a change. I try to stay compassionate about the limiting beliefs other men haven’t worked through yet that makes them believe they have to put women down or that women’s bodies are something to objectify.

Go to therapy. I did. I got really honest about what limiting narratives about masculinity that were clouding my healthy, conscious masculinity. It can get uncomfortable but it is worth it.

I try to keep myself open to feedback and even ask my female partner and my female roommate (who has been my friend of over a decade) to keep me accountable. I listen when they tell me that I am acting in a way that isn’t a true, healthy expression of my masculinity.

Q: Toxic masculinity often takes the form of emulating cis men’s attitudes and behaviors, is that partly why you created your website GenderYOUPhoria?

A: GenderYOUphoria is putting a name to the idea that gender transition and expression is about so much more than the body. Gender transition is about not just transitioning but thriving in all areas of your life. That takes working on the mental, emotional, physical and even spiritual aspects of what it looks like to live your best life as a transgender person.

Gender YOUphoria has two aspects. It is about reshaping the less than empowering narrative, a diagnosis of gender dysphoria and as a certified yoga teacher, with training in mindfulness-based emotional resilience, I teach integrative health tools like yoga and meditation to transgender people to get them back in their bodies and connect with their emotions in a healthy way. Yoga and meditation are powerful tools for developing a sense of presence in your body and being more emotionally resilient when people are transphobic.

I found yoga 5 years ago at the peak of my excessive powerlifting, get-as-big-as-possible, phase of my transition. Ironically, it was when I was really moving through the world in a toxic masculine way.

Yoga gave me the tools to find a balance and hold space for strength and vulnerability in my body and emotions.

To go deeper, Gender YOUphoria is about engineering the toxic narratives of a diagnosis of gender dysphoria necessary for accessing medical transition. I’m all about reclaiming the personal narratives we tell about ourselves. The stories we take on whether someone else gave it to us, like a diagnosis of gender dysphoria, or the harsh words we say to ourselves in the mirror, it shapes how we see the entire world for worse or for better.

I started to see how the narrative of gender dysphoria was negatively shaping my beliefs about my transgender experience. We’ve all heard the narrative that all transgender people feel “trapped in the wrong body” or that all transgender people “hate their body”. That wasn’t true for me. I just knew the quality of my life would improve if I was able to express more of the person I already knew I was inside.

I was excited about transitioning. Looking back, I can’t say it was accurate to say I was dysphoric. I was euphoric when I found out I could actually transition. Why then did I have to adopt a narrative like gender dysphoria?

Even within my own community, there is fear that if you tell a different story than “as soon as I get surgery and hormones my gender dysphoria is going to cured,” we are going to lose access to medical transition.

Medically transitioning is simply allowed to improve the quality of your life. It doesn’t have to be about fixing something that is broken. I know all of this now in hindsight but without a narrative alternative like Gender YOUphoria, I started to believe, really, “When I had the perfect male body that I would be happy”. I realized gender transition should not just be about the body. When we just focus on the physical aspects, you get 4 years into transition and realize, “dang, I haven’t been focusing on any skill to deal with the ups and downs of life”. I hit a wall. I had to do something different than just trying to be the biggest, buffest guy in the room. That wasn’t the key to sustainable happiness.

I hadn’t allowed myself to have a vision for my life beyond transition. My found was on dysphoria and not on a sense of being fulfilled—that takes finding peace within yourself.

Q: What do you do to combat toxic masculinity?

A: I had to sit myself down and still have to sit myself down and continually be honest about the ways I can move through the world more consciously in my masculinity.

I know now I don’t have to fight every battle. That got really exhausting as a transgender person. If I’m at the barbershop doing self-care, just trying to enjoy my haircut, out of self-preservation I don’t have to speak up every time I hear a comment that is sexist. I also have to consider, do I feel safe to speak up? Most of the time, yes, I use my cisgender passing privilege to say something funny to point out how gross they are being. I found that staying calm and keeping it light and just reflecting back to them what they have said is the best way to get people to think about it later and actually change their behavior. If you attack someone right out and raise your voice they just get defensive. It shuts down productive, open-hearted conversation.

I’ve come out, as a transgender man, when I’ve heard—especially gay cisgender men say something sexist. I am able to use my personal experience as being socialized as a woman to speak directly to how it hurts when I hear or see certain things.

Part II of this Series will appear in an upcoming issue of The Rainbow Times (Pride or post-Pride).

[This piece was originally published on the May 2, 2019 issue of The Rainbow Times].