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:

1. Psychologists strive to recognize that masculinities are constructed based on social, cultural, and    contextual norms.

2. Psychologists strive to recognize that boys and men integrate multiple aspects to their social identities across the lifespan.

3. Psychologists understand the impact of power, privilege and sexism on the development of boys and men and on their relationships with others.

4. Psychologists strive to develop a comprehensive understanding of the factors that influence the interpersonal relationships of boys and men.

5. Psychologists strive to encourage positive father involvement and healthy family relationships.

6. Psychologists strive to support educational efforts that are responsive to the needs of boys and men.

7. Psychologists strive to reduce the high rates of problems boys and men face and act out in their lives such as aggression, violence, substance abuse and suicide.

8. Psychologists strive to help boys and men engage in health-related behaviors.

9. Psychologists strive to build and promote gender-sensitive psychological services.

10. Psychologists understand and strive to change institutional, cultural and systemic problems that affect men and boys through advocacy, prevention and education.


 What's Next? Homos Acting All Entitled?

     The homosexualist may (or may not) well understand the impact of psychological warfare against him - including his often hateful and violent exclusion from the boys-and-men club, as we knew it. What's becoming patently obvious is that that club as defined by toxic masculinity isn't any club the self-respecting homosexualist - or GBTIQ person for that matter - would want membership of. It's our birthright however to be front and center of a revised society which dignifies boys and men by their humanity rather than by the problems we create...knowingly, or otherwise.

It remains to be seen how much more blowback the APA Guidelines will attract, or whether they'll be lumped in with generalized howling and braying about "social engineering"...with no acknowledgment whatsoever of how damaging the social engineering of "traditional" masculinity is to most men. Lives matter, and the APA is to be commended for an overview which is both well-targeted and nuanced enough to be of great benefit to our ragtag bunch known as men and boys...for  want of a better descriptor. We certainly have form when it comes to seizing "entitlements", with good mental health a paradoxical exception which is costing us dearly.

All in all it's a no-brainer: good psychology underpins good mental health, which saves both physical and emotional lives regardless of whatever kind of man or boy you are.



  1. Hi Rick
    What a timely essay! Just yesterday Twitter was all-atwitter over the release of that Gillette razor ad that had the audacity to suggest that perhaps men could be a little more empathetic and caring in a world that insists on changing no matter how deeply terrified factions try to turn back the clock. My hackles were raised due to the amount of men responding defensively and in denial, feeling attacked even. Yet in light of all that's been going on, say, the last two clusterfuck years, who could deny that a wind of change is set to blow?
    Independent of heterosexual toxic masculinity, I find myself equally worn out by what I encounter amongst my gay brethren. I work in the fitness industry, and the level of embracing of a modified toxic masculinity among the gym-rat set (which seems to bring with it high levels of misogyny and racism masked as "identity bonding") is sobering to say the least.
    Your piece offered some refreshing clarity (especially the admiring masculinity for masculinity sake comments, and the "desire for men we neither like nor respect" is precisely the chief tract of conversation I hear from guys my age talking about guys half my age.
    You write beautifully, but more importantly, throughtfully. I don't explore other blogs as much as I'd like, but whenever I stop here, I always find myself having lots to ruminate about. Interesting ideas, all. Thanks

    1. Thanks Ken! "The Aberrant Homosexualist" in 2019 will hopefully mine our culture with enough empathy to make Queers ruminate about many, many things!

      I've actually done battle online with MRAs & "incels" for as long as they've been around. The media loves to give them oxygen but they're reactionary fools. I usually end up dismissing them as flat-earthers who can't get laid. But, like all reactionaries, they need to be closely watched. The winds of change are indeed a'blowin, and the blowback evidences that. Ultimately the men who can't accept change will be left behind and that's the bitter truth of it.

      Working with the gym-rats is an ideal place to witness gay / straight crossover when it comes to toxic masculinity lite and undertones of misogyny et al! What a place to nurture the deluded vanity that young flesh half your age is your entitlement! Are we perhaps looking at Kevin Spacey Syndrome? ��

      Gay men could all use a history lesson: when we were first seriously studied in the 1950s, the data clearly showed we were significantly less racist and ageist than the general population. Dunno what happened, but that nauseating suburban middle-class group which emerged from the 70s as Gay Men haven't exactly defined themselves as leaders of men or anything like it haha. As with our non-gay brothers, we're wise to not ignore change and instead see opportunities to right the wrongs which need to be righted. As always, cleaning up yer own back yard is the place to begin I'd say.

      Thanks again for a great and encouraging comment!