The Man Club

The latest post on Paula Prober’s blog, Your Rainforest Mind, touches on the issue of toxic masculinity, particularly as it affects men on the gifted spectrum, and one of the commenters spoke about getting thrown out of the Man Club long ago, and feeling he can only speak about it because he has nothing left to lose.

I responded that the Man Club is like that gang of three popular guys that terrorized you in Junior High and called you names, one of whom later went on to be Prom King in High School. You go off to college, make friends, fall in love, get married, have kids. Your twentieth class reunion comes up, and you decide to fly back to your hometown and see the old crowd: and there is the Gang of Three, slouched at the bar. They never left town. The Prom King still talks about that as being the high point of his life. You suddenly realize that the Gang of Three, the thing that dominated your life through your school years and left you feeling demeaned, worthless, and alone, is … pathetic.

Every man eventually leaves the Man Club, at the moment of death if not sooner — because whatever continues after death is not a man, or a woman, or even human. But most men leave the Man Club long before that, and in my opinion, the sooner they leave it, the better: for the Man Club is actually about toxic masculinity.

Let’s start with a basic observation. Some cultures have relatively relaxed sexual mores, but obsess over what people eat. Our culture — our US American culture in particular — celebrates indiscriminate gluttony, but obsesses over a collection of very weird sexual taboos.

When we talk about men, as distinct from women, we are talking about sex, not food: seed-spreader or child-bearer, outies or innies. The Man Club is about men: ergo, it is about sex.

So I have to start this discussion with the recognition that when we talk about men, we are talking about a subject that is hopelessly tangled in a twisted thicket of sexual taboos, most of which ordinary people aren’t consciously aware, and many of which are so taboo they can’t even be mentioned in public.

I also have to bring up the subject of religion. Religion talks about “spiritual” matters, but its ecological function in the human species is to create and reinforce a common social bond among genetically unrelated individuals. We are all “children of god” — ergo, we are family, even though we clearly aren’t. As part of this, mainstream religions reinforce cultural taboos. In US American culture, the most common religion is heterodox Protestantism, followed American Catholicism: both of these religious umbrellas excel in obsessing over sexual mores.

Finally, I have to mention the politicization of sex. We have a man sitting in the White House who has boasted of serial sexual assault and predation. We have a man that many claim is a pedophile running for Congress with the full support of his party, while the other party is trying to force the resignation of a man accused of brushing his hand against a woman’s butt during a photo shoot: rape culture on the one side, versus rankly cynical Puritanism on the other. We have a big push toward actually prosecuting rapists, instead of winking and saying, “Well, boys will be boys,” combined with a dangerous trend of settling for revenge (career ruination) rather than justice, since it seems that the US legal system is increasingly incapable of rendering justice in any form.

So we are walking into the trifecta of Things Not To Talk About: sex, religion, and politics.

I’m not going to tackle the trifecta. I’m only going to talk about how to get out of the Man Club early.

First, recognize that this isn’t a simple topic: it’s all tangled up with sex, religion, and politics. Wrestling with it is going to be like remodeling a kitchen, where each simple task turns into a whole new and completely unexpected project: you replace the stove, and discover that the gas valve leaks; swapping out the sink leads to replacing the sewer lines all the way out to the street; replacing the microwave leads to tearing down walls and rewiring the house.

This isn’t intended to be scary: it’s intended to be comforting, in the sense that, yes, this is going to take a while, and that’s perfectly normal. It’s also going to challenge everything you thought you knew about sex, religion, and politics, and that is also perfectly normal. In the end, you’ll be thrilled with the result, but don’t anticipate inviting the neighbors over next weekend for dinner cooked in your new kitchen.

Second, recognize that the Man Club’s nature is exclusion: if you feel you’ve been kicked out of the Man Club — that your essential manhood is in question — this is by design. You can’t have an exclusive club without exclusionary policies. There cannot be “haves” without “have-nots.” Every social taboo needs scapegoats.

Be reassured that your “questionable manliness,” past or future, is an entirely fictional construction, created by others for their benefit, at your expense. Let go of it.

Third — and this is a big one — you can do this kitchen remodel alone, but it really helps to have the number of a good plumber on speed-dial. Maybe you won’t need him. But it’s good to have the number and the relationship.

I’m talking about a counselor, of course. But I have something very particular in mind, and I’ll get to that in a moment.

Let me describe the basic remodel.

The central issue with the Man Club is its definition of what it means to be a “man.” After the remodel, you are no longer a “man” — you are a human being with an outie.

Does that sound terrifying? Then spend a little time meditating on it. If it terrifies you, then you clearly recognize that a “man” is not the same as a “human being with an outie.” Perhaps you think a man is better than a mere human being, and that you’re going to lose something. But I’m not talking about losing anything: you get to keep your outie, and everything associated with it, like facial hair, natural muscle tone, 5:00 a.m. circadian erections, your ferocious sex-drive, your taste for sports, and everything else.

What you lose is identification with those things. It’s one reason that men naturally leave the Man Club as they get older, because all of those outie-related things that they identify with as “men” start to fail. If these things define you, then you will not make it far past forty before you start to panic.

When you shift the focus to your essential humanity — well, that will eventually fail, too, but that’s called “death.” Your humanity has a lifetime guarantee. Your outie does not.

What you gain in this remodel is compassion, and empathy. If you are a man, you cannot possibly imagine what it is to be a woman. If you are a human being with an outie, you can begin to imagine what it might be to be a human being with an innie. It’s an imperfect imagining, of course. But you start — at least a little — to see things from the woman’s point of view, and in the process, your view of what it means to be human expands. It expands to include women.

You get to be more. Not less.

I’d also like to point out that you don’t have to stop at your humanity. Compassion and empathy can expand beyond the human form, and once you recognize that, you find that your concept of spirituality has expanded as well. You start to become aware, at least, of the vast Web of Life that surrounds us all.

So that’s the broad view of what the remodel is like.

You don’t start there, of course. You start with the thing that is most in the way of any further work. And that is different for every single individual, and is usually the hardest thing in the whole process. It’s the four-ton marble reproduction of David sitting in the middle of your kitchen.

Getting that first thing out of the kitchen is, I think, one of the things your counselor is particularly good for. They’ve helped different people move all kinds of bric-a-brac out of their kitchens. Engine blocks. Ten thousand envelopes tied with pink ribbon, individually addressed to “Occupant.” Twelve hundred boxes of Girl Scout cookies. A mean-tempered iguana.

Odds are good they’ll be able to offer a lot of practical advice on your David. And it won’t surprise or shock them. Really. It won’t.

So let’s talk about bit more about this counselor.

I was once told that in early Renaissance Europe, there was a musical tradition called “the dawn song.” These were sung by a young man beneath the window of a young woman, typically a woman of more-or-less noble birth (meaning that her virginity was of some financial value to her father). These songs weren’t intended for the woman, however. They were intended for the young man sleeping with her, and the singer was his best friend, companion-at-arms, and co-conspirator, who spent the night on-watch beneath the window. The text of the songs was generally along the lines of, “Get out of bed, sleepyhead, grab your pants, and get the Hell out of there! The sun is rising!”

Your counselor is the person who sings your dawn song.

Now, they may give you a soaking in the horse trough and try to talk you out of it first. They may swear that if it goes wrong, they’ll kill you (twice!) after the wrathful father dismembers you. But then they’ll help you plan the tryst, make the arrangements, keep watch, and sing the dawn song for you. Because that’s what they do.

It’s what any shaman worth his feathers will do if you take an ayahuasca journey.

Beyond that, it is your own adventure, and I could not begin to guess what course it will take. Save that you will, in the end, be more human than when you started.

 

 

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