I dare say that writing this letter was thought labor intensive. There is a whole day dedicated to us improving multiple aspects of our lives. When I first began to put down my thoughts on paper, I was torn about what to explore in this piece or lift up to personify all of the love, compassion, pain, joy, and challenges that men go through, because we don’t experience these ups and downs of life in isolation.
Of course, my first reflection was the impact that men had upon my life. My father, mentors, and other men, whether they knew or not, that impacted my life. In my work as a therapist, I feel that a lot of my male clients try to draw an inference of what manhood looks like from an example that was shown to them. I also find that men want to work through the distortions of how we feel about our insecurities around masculinity in the world to define what we believe to be toxic or non-toxic. A challenge that is not often discussed in the conversation about toxic masculinity is how to honor the negative and positives of how tokenism and pride within the context of manhood often are aligned with how society wishes to self-determine the characteristics and traits that men should have throughout our lifespan. In addition, if we add onto to this discussion the exploration of gender norms and how we can challenge traditional gender stereotypes within hierarchical power dynamics in society, there is a lot to process. However, I could not discuss masculinity without reflecting upon equality, and I can’t write about this also without thinking about how a male’s self-esteem is often measured by the societal expectations of what we see in the media about our sexuality and how this influences our own internalized schema of what it means to be masculine or feminine.
I often say to my male clients when they begin therapy with me that I like having conversations with men that deepen our understanding of ourselves and provides support and hopefully another perspective to our lived experience. However, doing this work with men as a male is rewarding and challenging. As I build rapport with my male clients and eventually have space to challenge them in session, I am also consistently challenging myself and my own preconceived notions about me how I view my identity. In addition, the level of countertransference in session between us can be intense, because there are so many levels of intersectionality of masculinity that are in life to explore (ie. gender, race, class, sexual orientation, religion, non-binary identities, and generational cycles of trauma that have never been addressed with men in their family). As the men I work with begin to become awakened to seeing manhood or gender norms in a different way, I implore them to be kind with themselves as we work through un-processing and re-wiring years of systematic thinking to address toxic masculinity.
To the men who continue to challenge themselves to grow despite how society may continue to label us or put is in a box (ie. noncommunicative, not emotional, cheaters, not being trustworthy, etc.), I want you to know that you don’t walk this journey alone. To all my brothers and non-binary people of color and indigenous individuals, your strength and resiliency is so precious. Treasure it and take care of these personal traits within your self-care. We are all “brothers”, despite our differences and our views, and I hope we can find some commonality with our brotherhood to lay a foundation for growth for young men to thrive and not just survive. I encourage you to find support to find a friend or confident that you can speak with openly about issues that cause you from being open and vulnerable in the world. More importantly, I hope that you know that we have a responsibility to those we love and our future to work on having a healthy sense of self so that future generations of men will not have to repeat our mistakes.