Gun Violence: Blame Toxic Masculinity

Also published here at Medium. 

It’s not a “mental health” issue. It’s toxic masculinity. 

Friday, May 18, 2018, another school shooting happened – this time in Santa Fe, Texas, just three months after the Parkland, FL massacre at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School. The death toll at Santa Fe High School in Texas was 10, with 10 others wounded. One of the most compelling moments in the wake of this tragedy was, for me at least, a statement made by this student at the 1:13 mark that was captured during interview:

The interviewer asks Paige Curry, a student at Santa Fe High School, “Was there a part of you that was like, this isn’t real; this would not happen in my school?” Without hesitation, she replies, “no, there wasn’t.” When asked “why so?” Paige simply answers, “its been happening everywhere. I’ve always kind of felt like eventually it was going to happen here, too… so, I don’t know. I wasn’t surprised, I was just scared.” 

I wasn’t surprised.

Let that sink in.

I find it unfathomable, and yet, unfortunately accurate that our children inhabit a world where, on any day, it’s a reasonable assumption that their schools could be occupied with someone carrying assault type weapons, with the intent to terrorize and massacre as many others as possible. It’s a daily reality. Our precious children go into these school buildings every day knowing  that the lives of their classmates, teachers, friends (and odds are fair, maybe even their own lives) could be taken at any moment by guns. 

Then, when it happens (again), we all know the drill. First comes the endless stream of shock accompanied by “thoughts and prayers” across social media. Then the “breaking” news updates, first or secondhand accounts, and interviews. Helicopter footage of frightened students filing one by one out of the building, maybe with hands in the air. We begin to hear of plans for vigils, protests, and ceremonies. Sooner rather than later, we expect the American President to issue a statement of comfort and solidarity for the horrified and grieving nation. Congress wrings their hands. Nothing changes.

Often, before the details of the deceased and wounded are released, we see a photograph of the perpetrator, along with his name, age, and a verifiable rap sheet of minor or major past offenses. Sometimes there’s a violent past with many red flags. Sometimes, there’s not. Sometimes we hear from those who know him. “He was a bit odd,” they might say. Or maybe, “he was really introverted. Kept to himself; didn’t have many friends.” And yet, sometimes we hear, “we never saw this coming; he was always such a nice kid; we never would’ve expected something like this from him.”

But the one constant remaining the same almost every time? The perp is a white male.

Nonetheless, pundits argue over possible motives. Then the debates begin – the type that tear families apart – between the NRA and the anti-NRA, the Second Amendment folks and the anti-gun folks. And regardless of how many ideas are thrown out suggesting reasonable gun control measures, it just seems that in this country, the Second Amendment is sacrosanct. And since Americans can’t seem to agree that one’s right to own a gun doesn’t trump the innocent life of a kid just going to school to try and get an education, we go the next route: assigning blame.

Blame gets placed on everything from the already stigmatized issue of “mental health,” to music and rap, to violent video games and electronic devices in general, to extremist conspiracy theories, and to poor parenting skills. And everything in between. The whole process of gun debate has sickeningly become a spectator sport. Blame is placed everywhere except on the obvious culprit: white males. However, it’s not just white males. Also playing heavily into the phenomenon of mass murder is our current culture of toxic masculinity. That, I believe, even more importantly than being born with a penis, is what’s to blame, even though almost all mass murderers happen to be men. 

What is toxic masculinity?

Toxic masculinity refers to a set of widely accepted norms of stereotypical “masculine” behavior that have the unfortunate affect of harming society, and even men themselves. Words and phrases used to illustrate this concept would be what you’d expect – words like “dominance,” “aggression,” “homophobia” (feeling a sense of rage over seeing two men kissing in public, for example), needing to have “control,” feeling constantly under some presumed “pressure,” and having an insatiable need to prove one’s “manhood,” out of fear of emasculation. The worst thing for a “masculine” man to be is accused of anything remotely resembling femininity. Which is what misogyny is all about. It’s not about hating women – it’s about fearing them. I wrote a piece that explores the theme of misogyny more in depth, here. 

Toxic masculinity is also that thing that accounts for “gunsplaining,” i.e., arguing – to the point of bullying or harassment – over definitions, semantics, and technical details of weapons (including semiautomatic weapons) and interpretations of the Second Amendment. One doesn’t have to be a man to engage in behavior like gunsplaining, either. Plenty of women take part as well. These folks become masters of this diversion tactic, and they love to use gunsplaining as a means to silence “liberals,” “leftists,” or other people who call for reasonable gun control measures.

Sort of like the pretentious brand of beer snobs – not beer lovers, but beer snobs (there’s a difference) – who believe drinking anything less than micros is beneath their dignity, Second Amendment enthusiasts condescend with a familiar fervor. They look down upon anyone who dares to speak on sensible gun control if they are not completely knowledgeable about guns, gun attachments, ammunition, and external ballistics. Basically their argument is that you are not qualified to have an opinion about guns if you display even the slightest hint of inferior knowledge. Which ultimately is a very effective way of avoiding questions about why civilians have their hands on these military weapons in the first place. Gunsplaining is nothing more than a condescending ploy aimed at stopping productive discussion dead in its tracks. 

In the wake of all these military-style assaults on unsuspecting concert goers and innocent school kids, Second Amendment enthusiasts have only hunkered down harder. They’ve managed to somehow turn their love of guns (which they are fond of correcting to “love of protecting their home and family”) into a sort of extremist religious cult, or like some misguided form of ammosexual fetishism. 

So how does toxic masculinity play a role in all this? Because of American cultural standards, and how men are expected to react to everything, from perceived threats to perceived victimization. Men are raised to believe they must be the sole protector of their families, and many believe they need a gun to do so. Even if raised in a more gender neutral environment, we have a culture and society that is absolutely permeated with messages, images, photos, symbols, and more, that continue to perpetuate a very one-sided, very distorted view of what it means to be masculine, which in no uncertain terms glorifies aggression over softness. Fighters over romantics. Hyper-masculine superheroes over soft-spoken, tender guys. Certainly, there are men who possess both, but it’s the “machismo” that gets amplified.  

Harper’s Bazaar, published this piece by Jennifer Wright which astutely points out:

Rejection of all things feminine isn’t born into boys. We teach them to reject traits traditionally associated with femininity, like gentleness, empathy and sensitivity. And we teach them to do so early. We teach it every time we tell them to toughen up when they’re hurt. We teach it when we tell them that big boys don’t cry. We teach it when we tell them that girl stuff is never for them. We seemingly teach it to them through kicking their asses until they’re ashamed of ever having liked something “girly.”

How do we begin to change this? Wright states simply: “The easiest approach would probably be to stop saying that anything associated with women is shitty and beneath men. Stop treating the pleasures marketed to women as such.”

We also change it one person at a time. We do this by raising our boys with the notion that being soft and compassionate is not only acceptable, but it’s expected. We teach them to embrace and be proud of femininity, the same way we high-five our girls for being tomboys, or for being “strong.” And we begin to amplify the voices of women, of trans women – especially black trans women. We amplify the voices of trans men, queer folks, and gender nonconforming people – anyone, really, who bucks the status quo, toxic masculine stereotype that conjures images like Fred Flintstone, or even the Beast, from Beauty and the Beast (I know we all fell for that tender side, but he was a kidnapper who held a young girl captive against her will. Enough said.)

We change toxic masculinity by increasing the visibility of, and giving the spotlight and glory over to the trans non-binary folks, especially the ones who may have been assigned male at birth but identify as “they/them,” or a third gender altogether. Those who have the unwavering ability to rock the hell out of some lipstick and heels like Jacob Tobia, Jeffrey Marsh, and of course, my own trans non-binary, almost-teen, Charlie, who inspired me to take up writing and advocacy for marginalized groups. 

People may not think of it this way, but there’s actually nothing braver in this hyper-masculine culture of ours than to be a queer, non binary person sporting a penis, facial hair, and a gorgeous dress. I’d challenge any toxic masculine, stereotypical, pumped-up, ammosexual male to go out in public like that – and be taken seriously – for one week. Or even one day. That, my friends, takes some real balls. 

pexels-photo-757056.jpeg

That Time Trump Scared The Children And An Easter Bunny Mirrored All Of America

Image result for white house bunny 2018 with trump

Today, in a very bizarre speech before invited guests and media, Trump opened the FLOTUS’ annual White House Easter Egg Roll event by – once again – going rogue with his thoughts. Snarky commentary served up by yours truly… the effect of not having had coffee yet, and it being too early in the morning for my first day of spring break. Bonus: that White House Easter Bunny was a mirror, reflecting back the majority of Americans over the past 1 year, 72 days, 5 hours, 37 minutes, and  34 seconds…

The Torture Of College Application Season: Is It Worth It??

The college application process ain’t what it used to be. At least, it’s not what it was when I was first applying back in 1991. I knew this going in to the process with my oldest child applying last fall, but I didn’t realize exactly how competitive and how much of a cheating game it had become. I’ve been paying enough attention to know that colleges had been getting more and more competitive over the past five to eight years. But I quickly found out that even more recently, as more research has been released and more books on the subject published, many colleges have buckled down even more harshly with regard to admissions, to almost ridiculous proportions, prompting many current college and high school students to ask, “is it even worth it?”  Continue reading

Changing Our Social Landscape: The “New” Faces Of Trans & Genderqueer People

Also published at Medium

No, they’re not new per se. What’s new is how we’re seeing their faces more broadly, as symbolic sledgehammers of society, breaking down walls that have for decades stood in the way of authenticity.

Jacob TobiaJeffrey MarshHarry James HansonHunter SchaferCJCharlie. Get to know these (and hundreds more like them) as the lovely human beings they are. These gifted souls are Continue reading

Mr. Trump, Please Don’t Arm Our Teachers

Feb. 22, 2018 

As a proposed solution to the most recent mass shooting with an assault weapon obtained by a high school student, Trump has proposed that our teachers carry guns in school, and also thinks teachers should get a “bit of a bonus” to carry them. 

Mr. President. You think arming our teachers with guns is the solution. This is the most asinine argument ever. Have you actually spoken with any public school teachers about this? I don’t have a single teacher friend, ex-military/experienced shooter or not, who thinks this is even remotely close to being a good idea. 

Where I live, in my county alone, as of last year there were Continue reading

If I Hear The Circular Argument “Guns Don’t Kill People; People Kill People” One More Time, I’m Going To Get Sick

Originally published at Medium

Y - Calligraphy letter Y

 

all. Please stop debating whether guns kill people, or people kill people. The two are not mutually exclusive. Here’s the reality: People with guns kill people. We can’t just simply separate the two. The fact that this debate is still going on is like banging your head against the wall. Will common sense ever filter into this discussion? Your fellow Americans are grieving in overwhelming proportions of unimaginable pain, which most of us — God willing — may never know. Do we really need to argue semantics and philosophy here?  Continue reading

DeVos, Severino, And The “Religious Freedom” That Will Harm Our Most Vulnerable

A later version of this story published on Medium

Meet Mimi Lemay, an amazing Mom, trans youth advocate, and someone I’m proud to know through the wonders of technology. Mimi did this MSNBC interview in May, 2016, after the Obama era guidance was issued regarding transgender students in public schools. That guidance clarified how to best support transgender students in schools across the nation, in light of more trans students being “out.” Under Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972, schools receiving federal money may not discriminate based on a student’s sex, including a student’s transgender status. The U.S. Departments of Education and Justice released in 2016, under President Obama, joint guidance to help provide educators with the information they needed to ensure that all students could attend school in an environment free from sex discrimination, and that in no uncertain terms included transgender students.  Continue reading

There’s No ‘Right’ Way To Be Trans: 5 Things Parents Need To Know

“Insistent, persistent, and consistent.”

Parents of trans kids are typically familiar with this trinity of words; they’ve been considered the guiding principals in determining whether a child is actually transgender, or just going through some sort of phase. When parents rush to the internet, often frantically, searching for resources because their child is showing or telling them that they are different from their sex assigned at birth, the “insistent, persistent, and consistent” mantra shows up more often than not. Those words are the foremost, foundational concept that research regarding trans youth has built upon (considering not much research on trans youth – specifically, the Gender Affirmative Model – really became more available until around 2013). Continue reading

Holiday Letter 2017

Another Christmas has come and gone – this one so quick I’m left dizzy in its aftermath. Didn’t finish the Christmas baking. Didn’t finish the cleaning and reorganizing I’d hoped to accomplish. Didn’t do any writing, as planned, with a solid week off from work. But now, I’m taking a moment to sit down and attempt to catch up at least a little, before I take my daughter to the threshold of hell the mall to spend her Christmas gift cards. Continue reading

#MeToo: A “Very Special Time?”

Sad depressed woman from backIn the midst of the #MeToo movement (which Trump bizarrely dubbed “a very special time” for women), we are seeing two types of men emerge: “guilty,” or “innocent.” (The quotations are there because I have a tiny amount of skepticism with a few people on each side, as much as I hate to admit that). I can’t wrap my head around why the movement finally sprouted wings when Hollywood superstar Alyssa Milano took it to Twitter. Though most people had no idea, #MeToo was originally started over ten years ago by black social activist, Tarana Burke. Regardless, it is now like nothing our generation has ever seen before. Milano had merely hoped to give a sense of the magnitude of the problem, if only every woman who’d ever been sexually harassed or assaulted wrote #MeToo as their status. Burke wanted something more than a viral trend, but was happy to see the cause finally getting the attention it deserved. Continue reading