BY BRANDON MINIA
Growing up as a Phillipino boy in my hometown of Scarborough, I was exposed to a lot of homophobic slurs despite identifying as a heterosexual cisgender male. On top of that, for a brief period of time, I went through a phase of wanting to be “white”, which I later learned was a body issue as much as it was a racial issue. It was a struggle of being not masculine or Caucasian enough.
My struggles weren’t nearly of the same magnitude as the queer, transgender, non-binary folk of my hometown, but they still played a large role in my realization of the kind of culture I grew up in. In much of the late 90s and early 2000s, Scarborough was — and in some ways still is — dominated by an incredibly conservative masculine ideology. Boys grew up believing that the key to success was aggression, a lack of emotions, and worst of all, being incredibly rude to women.
Despite growing up and realizing how problematic this culture was, I still notice remnants of these values coming out in my conversations from time to time, although thankfully very rarely.
Teenage boys need to be taught at a young age that this hypermasculine culture they are pushed into is toxic in many ways to both themselves and the women around them. Not all boys identify entirely with the ‘male’ gender role that society has defined over time, and while my experience growing up in this culture wasn’t as bad as those who were physically and emotionally abused for their gender identity and sexuality, it goes to show that toxic masculinity is much more dangerous than we may realize.
Boys are taught to take on incredibly negative traits and attitudes (especially at the expense of women) but what about boys with depression and anxiety? Boys who are homosexual, bisexual, or maybe even asexual spectrum boys who might not even care for dating or sex? Boys who wonder if they are boyish enough, or don’t even want to be a boy? Do they have to adhere to traditional masculine values even if they don’t align at all to their identity?
The new-age, masculine-driven ‘egalitarianism’ that denounces feminism so us straight men can still keep up our bullish masculinity, while still presenting ourselves as compassionate to women, is an absolute disgrace. You are far from a compassionate individual who cares about your fellow human beings if you still insist on a status-quo that is so obviously flawed against any individual who isn’t cismale or heterosexual.
The reason why I’m afraid of this form of masculine thought is because it’s adopted by well-educated (but privileged) men. And because many of these men are such brilliant thinkers, they are often incredibly skilled at making you feel as if your arguments against their ideologies are incorrect.
But you can still like philosophy, enjoy sex (‘the human aesthetic’ or whatever), and not be completely ignorant of the issues that people who aren’t like you face throughout their daily lives. You can be scholarly and critical of social justice issues without debating the existence and well-being of a whole group of people. It’s not simply a matter of being open-minded. It’s just being a good global citizen.
I haven’t kept up too well with my old high school, but the last time I checked, it recently became the first school in the Toronto Catholic District School Board to have a club specifically dedicated to spreading the awareness of LGTBQIA issues.
I’d like to assume that since then, more Catholic schools in Toronto are starting to form these awesome clubs. The Catholic community has always been quite aggressive about its values, so it’s possible the club was suppressed by some angry parents, although hopefully I’m wrong about that. But it’s clear that we’re finally beginning to teach our boys to be aware of the masculine culture that we’ve created for them at a much younger age.
Thankfully, I found some role models to look up to as a teenager who challenged these oppressive gender norms. Gerard Way, who was inspired the late David Bowie, was the first male-figure I looked up to who proudly identified as a feminist (no sticker should ever be given to a man who identifies as a feminist, but here it’s important to note since ‘feminism’ was still an ‘f-word’ at this point in time). He also identified as non-binary. Josh Ramsay of the Canadian band Marianas Trench constantly preaches the beauty of androgyny, while Brendon Urie of Panic! at the Disco fronted a band that, at the time, was incredibly outlandish for modern day music and helped pave the way for the ’emo’ subculture which, despite its cringeworthiness, was an important movement for boys like me who could never fit in with hypermasculine culture.
It’s ridiculous to think about some of the things that us straight boys said, believed, and did about a decade ago. A quick list to end this article:
- Pink was very much a girlish colour, and if you wore pink, you were seen as a very eccentric rebel. Or gay.
- Singing was gay.
- Fitted jeans were gay.
- You only used the adjective ‘cute’ to describe a very cute girl. ‘Cute’ is just too frilly a word. Otherwise you were probably gay.
- For the moments you wanted to compliment a fellow straight boy’s appearance, you made sure to end your compliment with ‘no homo.’ If not, you’re gay.
- Girls were not best friends. If you openly called a girl your best friend and had zero intention of dating them (read: having sex with them), not only were you gay, you were the least manly person on the planet.
All of these beliefs, especially that last one, thankfully don’t carry as much weight on our gender identity anymore — if at all — but there’s still a lot of work to do. I don’t want to end off on a note that implies we’re in some sort of paradise now. We’re far from it.
I also don’t want to imply that I’ve suddenly came to grips with the world and have perfected my own feminism. I’m far from that too. I still have my sexist tendencies, but just like any good human being, I try my best to work through them and learn. And because I identify as a straight male whose only real ‘deviation’ is that I identify somewhere on the asexual spectrum (but still very much heteroromantic), I don’t have a vast catalogue of experiences with oppression. I can only learn by listening.
And I’ll be frank: thankfully I haven’t experienced that oppression on a extreme level. It’s a privilege I make sure to embrace.
But because I don’t have access to those experiences, I do try very hard to be aware and learn. And that’s what we all, boys and men, need to do. It’s not just because our fellow non-males go through difficulties that we need to appreciate, it’s the fact that almost no man is immune from the toxic cloud of hypermasculinity, no matter how much you think you align with it.
I look at my experiences with masculinity as a young boy being very minor in magnitude compared to some of the shit that some of my queer male friends have gone through, which should say a lot considering that some of my struggles with gender roles were still fairly pronounced.
But whether you start learning at 15 or 25, it’s important that you strive to truly understand and critically evaluate the society you’re living in. You’re living in a world with imaginary values that dictate how you’re supposed to live. As toxic as hypermasculinity is, you have the power to turn it from a cloud into a ghost.
24OurMusic – http://www.24ourmusic.net/author/brandon/