My Journey In Shedding My Toxic Masculinity
It has been nearly a year since I was asked to be a staff writer at Can’t Talk Media, and in that time I have changed and learned a great deal about myself. Much of it I wish I had learned years before, but at least I’ve learned it. I am a better person than I was a year ago, more self aware, more aware of my privilege, more active in trying to change things, and less ashamed of showing my emotions.
That last one is a pretty big deal for me. Sometime in my early 30s, I started to cry while reading books, playing video games, and watching television and movies. I couldn’t always hold back my emotion; things would genuinely move me, and I felt ashamed. I couldn’t hold back the tears during “The Green Mile,” for example, and the group of friends I was with actually laughed and called me a crybaby at the display. What’s worse is that I couldn’t just say there was something in my eye; these were full blown tears rolling down. There was no way to hide so I wiped my face, told them to shut up, and grabbed the loudest of them and threw them to the ground.
Yeah, my masculinity was that fragile.
I felt ashamed. I still hung out with those friends, but I almost never watched anything that could be remotely emotional with them. Even with my girlfriend at the time, I would try to shield my emotions, block out the tears, and just be the stoic, strong male that society decreed I must be or have my worth challenged over and over again. Time moved on. Relationships ended. I became more introverted and had even less control over my emotions. I cried reading books; I got attached to characters in television shows and cried at their endings. I was just a mess, and I couldn’t talk to anyone about it because I was afraid of being seen as weak.
Eventually, I managed to talk to my doctor about it. I was so confused; what had changed that I could no longer control my feelings like I had in my 20s? To her credit, my doctor didn’t laugh at me, but I could tell she wanted to when she replied quite succinctly, “Well, you spent three years in therapy; perhaps that put you in better touch with the appropriate emotions and helped you empathize better with those around you.” I was in denial, though; yes, therapy had helped with a number of issues I was having, but it wouldn’t make me cry. I was a man, and men don’t cry.
The discussion went on for a while longer; we discussed different instances when it happened, each time my doctor asking, “Would that be an appropriate response if that happened to you?” The answer was always, yes. If an injustice happened to me or someone I cared for, crying would be appropriate. If someone close to me died in a tragic fashion, crying would be appropriate. Yes, people get attached to fictional characters and feeling things for them is legitimate, too. I was unconvinced, but it was clear my doctor wasn’t going to be helping me change anything so I thanked her and left.
I struggled with my emotions for a few more years, doing my best to keep them locked down and showing only what fit that masculine label, and then a funny thing happened on the internet. It was PAX Prime 2014. “Dragon Age: Inquisition” was on the horizon, and I was excited and desperate to get into the Dragon Age: Keep beta test. I wasn’t following Can’t Talk Media at the time. I saw someone retweet that Can’t Talk had a beta key giveaway happening so I followed, turned on notifications so I would have a better chance, told someone else about Can’t Talk Media, and then claimed my key. Not wanting to have gotten the key at no cost, though, I started listening to the podcast. Having listened to the guys at Nerd Appropriate, and having followed Amelia and Bell separately before listening, I knew they were my kind of nerds: Not just BioWare fans, but ones that were moved by the story as much (if not more) than the gameplay, just like me. As I listened each week, I heard more and more about feminism and how it wasn’t just something for women’s equality, but spoke to men’s issues, too. Specifically, feminism called out those masculine labels that were so toxic and were holding me back and because they held me back, they were causing me to hold my son back, too.
It has taken some time. My first article for Can’t Talk Media A Beginner’s Guide to Comic Books last February, and I still wasn’t all the way there. When I became a staff writer with my article on the generational effects of “Star Wars”, I still wasn’t there. Even today, writing this, I am still learning more about myself, shedding the toxic elements of my masculinity, but I am not ashamed to cry anymore. I cry in front of my son, I communicate my emotions better, and I hold myself accountable when I overreact to something he’s done. I still have a long way to go; there is still a great deal of work needed to clear out the last vestiges of my toxic masculinity. I catch myself more often, and, when I don’t, I have an amazing partner that catches it for me and lets me know without shaming me. I am 38 years old and still a work in progress. I came to Can’t Talk in a very roundabout way, but I will be forever grateful and in their debt for the changes that have come into my life as a direct result of simply wanting to play a video game.