Sunday, January 27, 2019

On Holocaust Remembrance Day...

Because if we don't know better and do better it will happen again. Curb your antisemitism.

Monday, January 14, 2019

Toxic Masculinity: Are We In Or Out?


Are we not men?

     "L" precedes "G" in LGBTIQ for good reasons, not the least of which is to remind gay men that pre-Queer tendencies to exclusion of all but the overtly masculine weren't quite as cool as we thought. A community like that isn't a viable or effective movement, nor is it acceptable to a socio-political alliance committed to broad change. Gay Liberation, as determined by gay men, hadn't lived up to the early-70s promises demonstrated by significant actions like forcing the American Psychiatric Association to de-pathologize homosexuality. For close to twenty years gay men accepted limited rights while establishing an elitist culture which often embraced the rise of Neo-liberalism and its attendant pitfalls. Homosexuality - as practiced - took a sharp turn from freewheeling counter-cultural liberation towards the fetishism of hyper-masculinity. A slightly cleaner psychiatric bill of health doesn't necessarily mean that a gay man will automatically question the psychology of masculinity.

For the homosexual to pursue and desire masculinity for the sake of masculinity means alighting upon a psychological minefield - best explored and navigated only with good psychology. As projection, we often indulge in desire for men we neither like nor respect - to much the same degree that our non-gay brothers cause exemplary shipwrecks in their pursuit of women. And since we're talking about male psychology, it's immaterial whether or not women do it, or the degree to which they might. While good psychology (and the life-skills acquired from it) are of prime importance to all, functioning as a man who wishes to experience positive outcomes from sex and intimacy with other men as well as negotiating life in general requires supportive psychology. That is, one which supports a unique, integrated self in being the best man he can be. Nothing "special" per se - just something which doesn't bulldoze the specifics.

I've complained for years that the field of studies we call Masculinities is a neglected and scattered pursuit which tends to retread time-worn tropes - especially notable when offset with related and component studies around feminism and gender. Ergo male homosexuality presents as a psychological dead-end street without some solid framing within masculinity as understood, and understood well. The likelihood of death for a man who desires other men at the hands of toxic masculinity is reflected in suicide and murder statistics, which aren't adequately or entirely explained by catch-alls like "homophobia". We can look at simple cause and effect only up to a certain point.
When it comes to masculinity, homosexualists certainly have skin in the game. And we owe it first to ourselves to sort out what masculinity is inherently good and healthy, and what is just plain toxic. Ruminating about men and masculinity is a pointless exercise if our discrimination isn't focused on concepts like "real men versus toxic masculinity". We're probably on a winning trajectory if our daydreams about real men turn to equating sexy masculinity with characteristics like the easy-going kindness which only comes from real masculine security. Toxic masculinity is very much at home in a binary narrative about tops and bottoms - less so if the narrative shifts to life's givers and takers.

The paradoxes of toxic masculinity are many, but the central paradox, i.e. that toxic masculinity seeks to both reward and punish its adherents goes a long way towards meaningful definition/s. And it's only recently been fingered as a belief system more akin to religion than good psychology. The appeal of toxic masculinity is both obvious and covert, with the dual promises of superiority and domination ahead of simple survival. Not unlike bad religion and bad psychiatry, its dark obverse is rooted in "curing" perceived threats to its ideological self by whatever means it takes.

Toxic Masculinity isn't an interchangeable term for  "patriarchal society", and while the latter nurtures the former, toxic masculinity opposes any real tolerance which may emanate from within patriarchy. Its toxicity lies within its archly reactionary but changeable characteristics, as well as its punitive practices. The tentacles of toxic masculinity aren't restricted to derision ("He throws like a girl!"), hurt feelings ("Just man up!") and exclusion ("Not man enough"). Coupled with social tendencies veering towards nationalism in a climate of to-be-desired hyper-masculinity, the syndrome manifests as distrust and extreme competition between men, to the degree that personal and deep love between men of all sexual preferences becomes less attainable.

Good Psychology Often Offends

   Though long overdue, good psychology flew in under the radar in August of 2018 when the American Psychological Association quietly dropped its APA Guidelines For The Psychological Practice With Boys And Men. Empiric inasmuch as they incorporate most responsible research and academia around masculinities from the last thirty years, when applied as psychotherapy there's every reason to be optimistic. A vacuous "Wikipedia On Masculinity" it's thankfully not, and a shit-storm of reactionary outrage has recently erupted from the usual suspects a.k.a. those who call themselves conservatives and traditionalists. That's the American experience so far.  It remains to be seen whether incels and "men's rights advocates" will follow U.S. Fox News in condemning the APA, if indeed any of the above give a rat's ass about the science and art of psychology, as scholastically researched and presented.

What's researched and presented however must be able to tick boxes like philosophy and ethics to pass muster before its work-ability can be evaluated. Otherwise it's just pop psychology, and may or may not be even appropriate to the times...although any good psychology is eminently appropriate to its times. While a psychology might do no harm, it's relative worth hinges on whether or not it actually works for individuals in ways that ideology and identity don't, and can't.

The APA Guidelines don't seek to entrench treatment (they're up for review in ten years), but are justified as holistically needs-based in response to what they rightfully claim: that boys and men have historically been the focus of psychological research and practice as a normative referent for behavior rather than as gendered human beings. That's an expansive brief to say the least, and certainly invokes the need for a disciplined approach to psychotherapy from practitioners. Queer consumers of same who desire productive outcomes are entitled to know what to expect in terms of practice and consistent common-sense service delivery. Any form of counseling which doesn't signal adherence to the guidelines should be approached with extreme caution.

The Ten Guidelines (minus rationale / treatment) are as follows: