[ICYMI] The Man Mask: Uncovering True Masculinity
July 24, 2019 | Mac Scotty McGregor
We are living in a new day, openly talking about things like consent, rape culture, and toxic masculinity like never before. Women, mostly, are sharing their experiences dealing with a world that has been run by the patriarchy. There is no doubt that this male-dominant societal model has taken its toll on all who identify as female or fem.
Our current model teaches boys at a very young age to begin stuffing down their feelings—putting on the "man mask" of being tough (because showing tenderness shows weakness), having all the answers, being in charge all the time, never needing help, always being strong and self-sufficient. The layers of man masks are deep, and one has to get very sick to get a break from holding up these facades.
As a trans-masculine person who was born female, I have a unique experience in this arena. I lived the first 42 years of my life (yes, that's the "meaning of life") walking in this world being viewed as female and living those experiences. I was at the top of my field as an athlete and was a small business owner, so I dealt with a great deal of sexism and the patriarchy. As a female-born athlete, I had a few bigwig male referees offer me favors if I would visit their hotel room later. This is the norm for what women deal with in this hyper-masculine-led world. It did not matter that inside I knew I was masculine.
Then one day recently I had a vivid "universal download," a vision—whatever terminology you'd like to use. When these things happen to me, I see them like a movie playing in my head. It began with What if we assembled the many forms of masculinity together in a group with the sole goal of creating a healthier model of masculinity for all people? What if we got cisgender guys, transgender guys, gender-queer people who feel more on the masculine side of things, straight guys, gay guys, bisexual guys, young guys, older guys, and masculine folks from various cultures and ethnicities together to work on this creating a healthier model of masculinity for all people
What if all of them were willing to look at and talk about how our current model of masculinity has hurt us? That would be revolutionary!
Could this actually happen? I mulled this for a few days, and all the while, the movie would not stop playing the "what ifs." I could see the room filled with all of the forms of masculinity, sharing together, actively listening and being supportive of one another. It was a beautiful story.
This universal message would not leave me alone, so I called one of my best male friends, Drew Griffin and asked if he would be willing to work on developing this with me. Then Drew shared some of his own experiences growing up with a father who defines "toxic masculinity." Imagine having a father who is constantly belittling you and pointing out the ways he thinks you are less than a man. This experience had a huge impact on his life, as it would for anyone.
I am aware that it is an unconventional idea that a trans guy and a gay guy could facilitate work and discussions on creating a healthy form of masculinities. Neither of us has ever worried about fitting into the norms. We were both excited about the possibilities of this revolutionary idea. We began to map out a plan and do research on the subject, and started a private Facebook page to invite male-minded people to a safe place to chat about masculinity.
Now, a few months later, we have had two amazing face-to-face discussions, which have been amazing, and Drew and I have taught a class at a conference on the subject.
We have found it incredible how masculine folks are willing to open up, when they are given a safe place to talk about how the current, unhealthy forms of masculinity have affected them. This is how healing begins, which I believe is the first step toward creating a more healthy form of masculinity.
In our discussions we found that each story of how the current form of masculinity has affected someone opens a gate for others to feel comfortable sharing. Maybe those stories even bring to light that this construct has had a negative effect on them because some people just move along and don't think much about it until someone else points it out. For example, the constant work of holding up these "man masks" is exhausting, and even more damaging because the majority of masculine people have no safe space to talk about this struggle. That is part of our mission—to create that safe space.
One of our discussions involved having masculine folks describe what makes a man a man—without talking about specific body parts. In other words, what are the characteristics of a masculine person? It has been really amazing to watch them struggle to come up with how to describe something that people work so hard to hold up. For everything that someone came up with, someone else would say something like, "I know women who have that trait." One person would say masculine people are more mechanically minded—and it only took a minute before someone brought up their Aunt Betty who could fix anything. After a while we began to kind of chuckle at our lack of ability to define masculinity.
Exercises like this continue to demonstrate that our current binary gender system is, in fact, a construct, and not reality. In other words, people are individual in their gender expression. There are some commonalities in subgroups of people, of course, but they are never concrete, or even found in an overwhelming majority of people in that group.
We have to get masculine people to realize that the current model of masculinity is not working well for most people, then see the impact it has had on their lives and those close to them. It is only then that we'll get their buy-in to work together to create a new, healthy form of masculinity. When people don't yet see how something has had a negative effect on their own lives, most are not motivated to work to change it.
The possibilities of what can happen with this type of revolutionary discussion are endless. Healing and a freeing of expression are just the start. Tearing down ancient, outdated constructs that cause much more damage than good is another phase of this meaningful work. Then we can begin to rebuild a healthy model of masculinities, where all forms of expression are celebrated.
If you are in the Seattle area, we meet the second Tuesday of each month at Squirrel Chops Café in the Central District at 6:30 p.m. You can also find us on Facebook: