Not Ready For The Brodeo.

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I originally wanted to write about race for my first post, but these past few days I have been reading Gender Outlaws The Next Generation and my male privilege has been showing up a lot in my reflections. So I thought that it might be best that I start with gender, and maybe even more specifically the performance of masculinity in society. As a cis-gendered male I have to admit that I have never personally struggled with gender dysphoria; reading these different accounts have helped me get a lot of perspective and how others do struggle with something that I have always taken for granted. I identify as a man and have always felt this to be true, but I have struggled immensely with the performance of my masculinity.

For those of you who know me, I am an emotional guy, I will cry at the right moment in the movie when the soft music comes on and we are led to feel sympathy or pain for one of the characters. I am the perfect target for those sappy movies, and I let the tears swell up as I progress. I have struggled for a long time with the notion of “manning up” and maleness as a whole, I was lead to believe that as a man, that showing emotions or vulnerability is a sign of weakness and I should never let others see this side of me. I sometimes think that I am so quick to get teary-eyed because I am full of backed-up tears seeing as I forced myself for a long time to keep it hidden inside of me…

This struggle made me have more friends that were girls, it seemed like a safer space for me where I could be more myself and not feel like I had to be performing a certain image that was considered “male”. I had some close male friends that did not seem to follow this societal image of maleness, but in general I felt more comfortable being around people who would not tell me to “man up” or question my sexual orientation if I was not presenting myself in a macho way. The punk scene seemed to be the only place where I felt that everyone was welcomed as they were; societal norms were more snarled at than spread in the community. I did experience some weird macho moments in the hardcore scene, the “brodeo”(combination of Bro and Rodeo, clever I know!) like a friend of mine said. But in general punk rock was safe, it was a “come as you are” kind of scene and I really felt at ease in that. Punk rock also opened my eyes to many social causes; I think that my political awakening occurred with punk rock. I was listening to bands that were talking about racism, sexism, homophobia, etc. I began reading authors like Franz Fanon, Noam Chomsky, Howard Zinn, and many other political agitators.

A big moment for me in my education about gender and gender roles occurred many years later; I was hanging out a lot with a friend where we would discuss all kind of things that were related to identity politics. We would meet for coffee or drinks and talk about different authors/philosophers/artists that contributed to alternative identities; a name that came up and would be a game changer for me was Judith Butler and her book Gender Trouble. She is credited with having started “queer theory”; she also gave me concepts and words like “heteronormative” and gender as performance and many more. I started to see examples of how heteronormative ideas were stamped in how society viewed gender and it’s role in the performance of our identity. An example that hit me was John Ralston Saul and Adrienne Clarkson; they were forced to marry when she became governor general of Canada. This was the government pushing on a couple with many happy years together a societal norm that is a couple is together for a certain period of time it was the next natural evolution. This is a small realization I know, but lets just say that it was the first in many that started to pop-up all around me and it helped me see that not everyone was living by the standards that were impose in our performance of our gender and also our orientation.

A little side note, I also now notice that after reading books like this I began to perform my own “version” of masculinity. I remember being at a cottage with some friends and one friend in particular that I deeply care about who noticed that I was reading Gender Trouble; she told me that she admired that I was willing to read a book like this so openly. I must admit that I used to love getting compliments like that from girls; I noticed that I was maybe not acting in a macho way to attract women, but more as a man that was “secure” in his vision of gender and the roles attached to it. Even if I thought that I was better than these “man-up” guys; I was just trying to manipulate women in a different way. I was trying to mask the masculine performance that society had pushed on me all my life, I thought that if I changed the flavour a little it would be more “honest” and true to me. I am sure that it worked for a while, but I eventually was not able to continue like that… I had to find a place where I could face my masculinity in a safe environment and where I could express myself without fear of judgement.

I must admit that the place that I felt the most comfortable was in the buddhist community, the sangha really felt like the first truly safe space for me… It was the first place where feelings were put out there, and I felt like there was no need for performance or masculine gender roles needing to be front and centre… I was free to express what was coming up and it was met with deep listening and acceptance; the real work would finally be able to be done in a public space and no longer in the comfort of the private settings that I had had with a few friends. I still struggle with what it means to be a man in our society and culture; and I don’t think that it will ever completely go away. I am Ok with that, I am continuously learning how to welcome what comes up without judgement and kindness. It is some of the hardest work that I have had to do; making peace with events where I clearly manipulated women and their emotions to get what I wanted at the time. I always believed that I was one of the “good” guys, but I used my power to get what I wanted sometimes and that is something that I have worked towards forgiving myself and working towards being a stronger man. I think that being true to ourselves and not falling to gender norms and performances takes a lot of strength and courage. It is easy to crumble and just fall in line with what the media and culture is telling you to be; but if my buddhist practice has taught me one thing is that we must face what comes up and to meet it with kindness and compassion. Every day I meet myself with kindness, which can be an almost impossible task somedays, but I know that it is the right thing to do…

So what has my practice given me? It’s given me some of the healthiest and most meaningful males friendships that I have ever had, and I can not thank these men enough. It has let me see my struggle with masculinity with kindness, I have given myself permission to simply sit and let whatever comes up come up so I can truly own what it means for me to be a man… It is an ongoing trip and I don’t think that it will end anytime soon; thank you for reading and I will revisit gender and what it means for me to be a man in our culture but I think that it might be enough for today…

Another blog ?

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For those of you who know me… Yes, another blog, but I hope that this one will stick and become a place for me to document what comes up in my exploration of what it is to be a cis-gendered heterosexual white man. I was encouraged recently to truly explore, deeply, what it is to be a white male. I will take a few moments to present myself and also what I am hoping to discuss on this blog; my next entries will then vary back and forth from journal style to a more academic exploration of concepts.

I don’t think that I am any wiser than anyone else, but I was wondering what I could do to help bring awareness in these unsettling times. Racism, or fighting white supremacy, has always been a cause that I have always engaged in on a personal and social level (I started an Anti Racist Action chapter almost twenty years ago, but slowly pulled away once I started struggling with some of the politics in the movement). But I have always deeply identified as an Anti-Racist; it is only in the last couple of years that I noticed that I was acting from a deeply privileged perspective. This summer I found a picture of me speaking at an Anti-Racism rally and noticed that everyone there was white; that image struck me, it really made me question how I was doing the work (on a personal and social level). I know that fighting racism and white supremacy is not just a white issue, so why was there absolutely no diversity in the group that I was attracting with my events and actions? This was a hurtful realization, but it was a necessary one to help me shift my practice and my understanding of what it is meant  to be an ally to people of colour.

Since my time in the Anti-Racist movement I have developed an important dharma practice; this practice has really changed the way that I view the world and also how I walk in it… What the buddhist communities and teachers have given me is a more inquisitive practice into what we call “white privilege” and the notion of intersectionality (I know that it was first coined by Kimberlé Crenshaw in the context of how Black women are often marginalized because they were not fitting into one category or the other, but once someone comes up with such an incredible concept it spreads quickly to other social movements). Buddhadharma practice is about liberation; often people will start meditation or dharma practice to find some comfort in their lives (which is fine if that is all that you want out of your practice), but I truly believe that the purpose of this practice is about liberating ourselves from our suffering which includes oppression rooted in our ignorance of  white supremacy and all the blind spots that we as white males maintain and navigate with in the world. I think that it is important to state here that white supremacy hurts all of us – not just the historically oppressed.

This examination is messy, and it can get really uncomfortable at times; we also have to accept that it might always be uncomfortable, but be willing to always lean into the discomfort to grow and learn. I know it was extremely difficult for me to realize that even if I believed I was a great ally; I was acting from a place of white privilege (the realization that I had huge blindspots were really unsettling at first) and that I still held deeply conditioned ideas and jugements that were racist. I started to noticed that I had certain ticks or reactions to certain people in the street that were a result of my conditioned mind. I honoured my difficult emotions – my anger towards myself, the disappointment that I was not the ally I once believed I was, the despair that washed over me; I sat with the rawness, the pain, the discomfort. It had never been so urgent for me to deepen my practice, to drop into the stillness and cultivate metta for myself. If I want to know my true  self I know that I can not look away at what I find hard or ugly; I must learn to dive into those dark areas with love and care.

I will be back soon with another post; hopefully this will be the beginning of a great record of the dialogue with myself and my conditioned mind. I hope that my realizations bring some wisdom that can help you wake up to your true identity… We are all in this together, let’s not be afraid to be vulnerable and honest, I know that I have made the pledge to be as open with all of you as I will be able to muster. It is our duty to work towards our liberation, let us not forget that it is our birthright! So let’s peel away the layers of our identity together and get to the source of who we truly are.