Last night I went to a performance in Berkeley put on by a group called the Men’s Story Project. Like most good ideas, the MSP’s is pretty simple: Patriarchy is as harmful to men as it is to women, and, in the course of its operation squeezes out voices that don’t fit. The way these voices are silenced is part and parcel of how heterosexism, racism, gender bias etc. silence the voices of gay people, non-white people, women, etc. So a part of those liberation movements is that men liberate themselves from restrictive ideas of masculinity, and get in dialogue with each other and with others about their unspoken truths.
The MSP aims to gather these voices together and give them a place to be heard. So far they’ve made a short film, produced several public events and even put together a training manual so new groups can be started in various locales. And put together this event in Berkeley where sixteen men presented their stories in spoken work, performance art, dance and monologue on issues including overcoming a life of violence, surviving testicular cancer, struggling with how being gay or disabled fits with being a “black man”, and fear of peeing in public.
I can hardly tell you how moved I was by this.
As a child who was soft-spoken, sensitive and couldn’t catch a ball to save my life, I never felt like I belonged with the other boys. Plenty of them felt the same way and made sure I got the message through exclusion, taunting and bullying. Years of being lost in the woods of drugs, alcohol and sexual and romantic obsession were all ways of trying to bridge this gap internally, but it still never quite felt “right”. To this day I have zero interest in sports, no mechanical aptitude and otherwise frequently feel alienated from my own internalized idea of being a “real man”. Despite being straight, I prefer the company of women and gay men and am as likely as not to identify with their concerns socially and politically.
To see a group of men onstage exploring there own experiences of mismatch and struggle with the traditional idea of masculinity was tremendously affirming. It underscored for me the right and need to define what being a man is on my own terms. Making space for the creation and affirmation of one’s own identity is what freedom movements are all about after all, and men (even straight ones (even white ones)) are as in need of it as anyone else. At least I am!