20 thoughts on being a man during these dark times.

Memories. Unbidden.

#1) I am being held upside down by my feet by two boys over a toilet. They repeatedly shove me underwater. Part of me thought I might die. Part of me knew I was just getting a swirlie. (See, there was a cute name for it and everything).

#2) I am writing a choose your own adventure story at recess and am suddenly surrounded by 5 boys. I know they are here to cause pain. Behind them are some boys who are sometimes my friends and sometimes mock me. I meet one of them in the eyes and he says i’m sorry i have to choose them, but you understand. I nod, since we occupy the exact same space on the hierarchy. I also, sometimes, get to choose. The wedgie is so high and so hard I bleed out of my anus for a half hour and return to class late with brown paper towels shoved inside my underwear.

#3) The malevolent awful laughter of boys who have just hurt someone together. How it is that something so ugly could pull at all the beautiful heartstrings of my chest.

#4) My dad, teaching me to go for the balls or the eye at the earliest opportunity. That this is a thing that loving dads teach their sons if they are low on status points, this expression of violent love, given with a barely perceptible trace of disgust, this is such beautiful male bonding. I still fight incredibly dirty when cornered.

#5) How I made an art of it. How to figure out how to hurt people that were hurting you. You know what the funny thing is? Sometimes the way you fuck people up is making them hurt you more than they intended. You find their insecurities, you wrap them around one of your fingers, and you yank and they go blind with red rage and they hurt you, sure, but ahhhh, why are they hurting you? They are hurting you because you are right. They are just as scared in there as you are. They are just as alone. They do hurt just as much and you just proved it. They may be standing over you, but you fucking see them and they know it.

#6) 7th grade. Trying to play basketball in my neighborhood. Thrown into the bushes after getting scored on, covered in scratches and blood and pine needles. I snarl at the boy, who happened to be one of the truly poor kids in my neighborhood, raised by a single alcoholic dad, often covered in bruises, probably beaten at home. “You can throw me in the bushes now, but someday you’re gonna work for me because I’m smarter than you, you’re gonna work for me motherfucker. And I’m gonna do whatever I want.” The way, in retrospect, the weaponization of my intelligence as a sword to destroy other people, capitalist power rising up as a defense mechanism all the sicknesses of hierarchy rising to the surface of my bruises someday i can hurt you too and here’s the reason why. here’s the reason why it will be okay when i have the power…and him, throwing me in the bushes, because he has the power, and it’s such a good thing to have power when you are under threat.

(By this time I had learned how to never ever cry from physical pain. Luckily, I still cried a lot while reading books. Thank god for fucking books. Thank god that someone understood. Someone, somewhere, understands.)

#7) Even now. Here. Writing this. You think I’m smart right? It’s very important that you think I am smart because it is literally the only way that people see that I’m worth anything in this world. It’s very dangerous not to be worth anything, please tell me that I’m smart so that I know I’m out of danger.

#8) Finding my way into a group of misfits in high school, from many different high schools, that all really wanted to try to love each other. That were so hurt by the brutality of the status games of humans that all of us, the punks, and the hippies, and all the kids that would become queer but didn’t have words for it yet, and the shy bookish kids, and the loud chain smoking metal blaring fuck it man rebels. Making a big ass family together. The immense collective fierce power that emerges from taking care of each other and trying to love each other better. How we literally saved each others lives by loving each other.

#9) The trusted adult figure that took me aside on a group trip when I was 15 (it mostly stopped in high school, but never entirely, still never entirely) and said, I want you to know I see what’s happening here. It is awful, and you do not deserve it, and it is as bad as you think it is. If you need me to make it stop for this trip, I can make it stop. He growled this sentence, letting me know that if he had to hold someone down himself he absolutely would. But I know I cannot make it stop for you all the time, and if I stop it now it may be worse for you in the future. And you decide what choice you want. I’m incredibly sorry the world is this way, but it is this way. And it’s not much of a choice, but it’s your choice. (I told him not to stop anything, but thank you for seeing.)

#10) The unique and precious way that I have felt love, when it was deep love that came from another man.

The unique and precious way that I have felt pain, when it was deep fear that came from another man.

#11) Junior high. I remember his exact name. I remember his house, the dirty whiteness of the siding. I remember when he transferred. And I remember him getting the shit kicked out of him at least 20 different days while I tried not to watch, glad it wasn’t me. I remember the smell of the locker room. I remember being shoved inside a locker. I remember being let out 5 minutes later. I remember seeing a ring of benches set up and 5 boys carrying the boy whose exact name I remember to this day to the center of the ring. I remember boy after boy stepping into the ring and kicking him or spitting on him. I remember the beautiful malevolent laughter. I remember when the boy whose name I remember suddenly pulled a pocketknife out of his pocket and started screaming that he was going to kill them all. I remember him instead starting to cut his arms over and over. I remember everyone horrified. I remember running into the circle and trying to hold him down, get the knife. I keep saying stop it, you’re just hurting yourself. I remember screaming at everyone else to get the fuck out of the room and they all left. I remember holding this giant overweight smelly dumb stupid fucking retarded man in my arms while he cried and I felt nothing but contempt for his weakness. I remember trying to explain all of this to the principal while being aware that no adult could stop my contempt for his weakness.

#12) The absolute powerlessness of the adults in your life to fix it. Coming to know this. Coming to accept this. Knowing that some of this is because they cannot see, some of this is because they do not want to see, some of this is that they cannot act, some of it is that they won’t, but accepting all of it. No one can fix this. This is the way the world is. How hard it is to uproot that certainty 10 years later when you are mired in depression. No one can fix this. This is how the world is.

#13) All the women that took me in. The ones in grade school that didn’t care if I was cool or not, they just knew that I was a good listener and really nice and I could hang out in their bedrooms on their beds while they tried on make up for hours and we made fun of the boys that thought they were so cool and there was no threat of violence on the horizon.

#13-side thought) And once I could actually really hear the deep life experiences of women as an adult, once I could hear them, they said we already know this. We know that masculinity is violence on the horizon. We have been scanning that horizon line knowing exactly what it is for so many years. Let us teach you, because we love you, and we see how the violence on the horizon is within you and outside of you. We understand this violence, and we know it’s not all bad, but it has gone horribly wrong. Let us lead for awhile.

#13, continued) And then, as an adult to all the women that said we do love you, but this part of you needs to be healed and fixed cause it is fucked up, so do the work, cause you not doing the work sucks for all of us. All the women who held me accountable, all of them with love, one of them by leaving.

#14) And then, finding a life partner to do all the shadow work with. How much came up. How much pain a fragile male ego holds and the ways in which the world tells you it is okay for it to come out. After all, strong against the weak right? Someday you’ll work for me. We’ll see what happens on that day. Hearing myself say things I didn’t believe, watching myself attack someone at their weakest for no reason but to prove a point, and the point is this. The strong stay strong by killing the weak. It sucks for the weak, but it’s better for the future.

(And, shit, isn’t that just evolution? The strong survive, the weak die.) ((Ah my beloved, the strong survive and the weak die until the strong and weak remember that duality is an illusion…spiral out, keep going…and for god’s sake just be nice to each other. it goes a long way in this world.)

#15) It’s always about crying isn’t it? Can any person socialized male reading this tell me that part of them doesn’t try to hold them back, and part of them thinks they are weak? Be strong, man. Face that pain and hold tight against it, don’t even breathe. Why tears? Is there no more precious emotion than that which brings tears to your eyes? Haven’t you held back tears at every moment where you realized this was so beautiful and you would die and you didn’t even know why? Don’t you remember the peace that comes after sobbing in grief for 40 nights? Acknowledging that it hurts so much. It hurts so much, and the only thing I can do is bear witness to it with my very real tears.

#16) Such a rare thing for men to cry together. I’ve cried with my dad twice. I cried with him the day he left me at college and I cried with him while sitting with him holding his hand for an hour while we watched his mom die together. (Such precious moments with my dad came through her dying). But you know, the truth is, I couldn’t see my dad cry without crying myself.

#17) Celebrate it when you see it. Literally. If you see two men crying together while touching each other tell them that it is really beautiful to see them crying with each other. This is revolutionary work.

#18) The vast majority of all interactions I have with men still contain many moments of working out the status game. The closest I’ve ever become with men is men that do it a lot, but also see that they are doing it. Even this usually involves taking the piss out of each other. One of you climbs a little too high on your status horse and the other one deflates it with a well placed shot that hurts, but leaves you both laughing. I wonder how other men do it, I think there’s a lot of ways, but the men I do it with well, there’s some aggression and darkness there. Let’s call it. Teasing for good.

#19) If I had to sum up all of what feminism taught me in one sentence it’s this. Women saying — We’ve seen men. We know men. And we love men. We see that after they hurt they weep for the ways in which they’ve hurt people. And we see your responsibility. Help us fix it. Within yourself. And outside yourself. Listen to us, because we see you and we love you.

#20) I cannot escape the masculinity that contains both the beautiful malevolent laughter of boys as they kill something together and the father and the son holding each other and crying together. But I try to stay with the tears instead of the anger or the stiff upper lip as much as I can. I cannot protect you from those boys all the time. I cannot protect myself from the boys inside of me all the time. Their laughter is so sweet. Sometimes it’s so sad that it’s so sweet.



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Eric Stiens

Coder for good. I value compassionate communication, concise code, and lots of tests. He/him. I write about non-code stuff at @mutualarising23