You Guys

One method of good literary criticism, I think, is where you look for the parts of the story that upon close inspection seem to not quite hold together. Then, when you find the weak spots in the manuscript, where the motivations of the characters seem not to jive with their behavior, you try to figure out what’s really going on.

I read a comment on a website on Friday and I think I must have bookmarked it at work, because I don’t have it here with me now, that said “Men are hurt by the patriarchy, women are oppressed by it.” And I laughed when I read it, but it stuck with me and I started to wonder if that was exactly true.

One of the things I’ve been mulling over this week is, frankly, just how fucked up you guys are. No offense, but as a general rule, we don’t go around beating the shit out of each other; we’re not killing each other; that’s all you guys.

We’re all caught up in this way of relating to each other that is crippling to all of us. I know some feminists really would like to just flip the tables, let y’all be under our yoke for a thousand years or two. I reject any philosophy of revenge in this vein, because I think it reaffirms a view of history I reject–you ought not to draw some line from the Old Testament to Greece and Rome into Germany and England and over to us and call it a true version of our cultural heritage. But it’s an impulse I understand, this desire for turning the tables, if only because I long to be the person at the dinner table who gets to have her stories heard.

But I’ve been thinking about how homophobic y’all are–straight men–and how weird it is, because it’s not any of your business. Gay men aren’t waiting for you to drop your guard so that they can sneak in and touch your penises. So, why are you so fucking hostile to them? Why do you beat them up and ridicule them and threaten them and, sometimes, kill them? It makes no sense.

But I’ve been watching you for a long time now, and I’m working on a theory.

Here’s what I’ve noticed. There is often something really, really fucked up between fathers and sons. I think it has to do with the competing pressures you feel to both “be your own man” and “carry on the family name.” And the complimentary pressures fathers feel to “toughen you up” or “teach to fight” or “teach you to be a man” and to keep you in a position of submission to them so that they can teach you everything you need to know about taking up your proper position in the family.

You must navigate between being your own person and being the next in line.

As I said, I’ve been watching y’all and this is what it seems like from where I’m standing, that you guys are constantly struggling with your fathers and sons over these contradictory impulses.

It’s not pretty.

But gay men, as they have become more publicly visible, have obviously escaped that problem. They aren’t going to take their place next in line. (One might suspect as more and more gay men are adopting children this might once again become a problem, but that remains to be seen, I think.) And they clearly are their own individual selves.

The problem the straight man has is balancing the two. If he is utterly subsumed into his family, he’s not an individual. If he’s too individual, he’ll lose his place in the family. Either one of these outcomes is pretty terrible.

Or seems pretty terrible. We have a lot invested in our cultural myths.

But gay men really embody an alternative to that. Many of them have been rejected by their families and, in return, have rejected their families. Many of them have moved to more gay-friendly places and created their own close communities of friends that reaffirm and support them.

In other words, they’ve found a way out of the conundrum that makes a lot of men so miserable.

And now, we can see why so many straight men react so violently to gay men. It’s that, in part, we want to believe that we’re miserable because there is no other choice. Any proof of other choices must really threaten us right to the core.

And now it becomes clear why so many homophobes* insist being gay is a choice, not because they care whether two men touch because they choose to or because they were born to, but because they’re responding to many gay men’s decision to choose not to participate in a core cultural struggle that is making a lot of men of all sexual persuasions miserable.

That, my friends, is what I suspect the real threat is.

Let’s for a second reconsider the notion of that continuum of history I just rejected, because, frankly, so many Old Testament stories are foundational myths of our culture. So, here we have this problem–this fucking Biblical foundation myth–of Jacob both striving to receive his father’s birthright at the same time he’s kicking God’s ass because he’s not going to submit to any authority.

These foundational myths, repeated over and over, and reinforced in church and in school, really shape how we see ourselves. They start to feel RIGHT, NATURAL, ORDAINED BY GOD.

Even if they make us miserable, we have to keep perpetuating those types of ways of relating to each other, because what other choice do we have? Abraham almost killed Isaac. Isaac was tricked into giving Jacob Esau’s place in the family. Jacob wrestled God. That’s just how men are–violent, lying, rebellious creatures who must be brought into line.

Rejecting that notion of manhood means, in great part, rejecting our foundational myths. To most people, obviously, that’s unacceptable.

And if some group of people–especially people that seem so much like us–find ways of escaping that, it’s both a threat that must be eliminated, and, since from our perspective we’re still accepting the cultural myth as true, rebellious creatures who must be brought into line.

At least, that’s what I’ve been thinking about lately.

* I hope it’s obvious that I’m using this word in a way that continues our discussion about how, while I believe it’s fine to hate whoever the fuck you want, I can’t understand why you have to take that next step into acting against them, and that this post is, in part, about attempting to do that.

17 thoughts on “You Guys

  1. Damn B. You need to move. I think you must be attracted to and/or surrounded by “bad boys” because most guys I know don’t demonstrate the characteristics you describe.

    While in college some of the guys I knew (1 in 20 maybe) got into drunken fights on occassion, but that was the exception.

    As far as the homophobia goes…well in my younger days I suppose I was a little homophobic, but then when I entered the real world and met real life gay men I got over it. Even now my most anti-gay male friends say it is really just the “swishing effeminate” gays that piss them off. (come on, you gotta admit that’s progress. not all, some)

    The only thing I dislike about homosexuals is the loss of my favorite slur – cocksucker. It is my first choice, because mother fucker seems crude and unrefined. Now that I know gay men, cocksucker is not as offensive as I intend it to be (or maybe more so?)

    Anyway most guys don’t fight beyond age 12 and many (I’ll concede NOT MOST)guys give a rat’s ass where another guy dips his stick.

    Cindy-I’ll second your comment, because based on it, I’m clearly doing something wrong.

  2. B., If we ever had the opportunity to sit down over cigars and whiskey, I don’t know whether we would try to keep from harming one another or embrace. Some of us (apparently very few) simply try to raise our sons to be the best people they can be. Kind, considerate, DECENT. Some of us recognize the world as a mean place, not because of atrocities perpetrated by men but because PEOPLE can quite often be cruel, selfish, self-centered, etc. Some of us want nothing more than to protect our children from these cruelties; but we recognize that our children cannot always be protected and, as such, must be prepared to fend for themselves. For me, that is necessary heartbreak. Goodness, DECENCY, willingness to learn and listen, sweetness (for lack of a better word)tempered with strength are all qualities I hope to instill in my son. This lofty goal would be identical if I were raising a daughter. Perhaps I simplify these things far too much, but I tend to think not. On the homophobia front: I’ve never understood the term. Something I refuse to do is judge someone based on sexuality. I could not give half a fuck about anyone’s sexual preference. The moment, though, that it is demanded I accept, judge, or form my opinion of someone based on their sexuality, a switch flips and I am no longer interested in entertaining a friendship or relationship with that person. Some of us treat people based on who they are, not who they prefer to sleep with. Several of my friends are gay. The milisecond I begin seeing them or referring to them as my “gay friends,” I would hope they would have enough about them to sever all ties with me. I can’t imagine that being anything but offensive. On the matter of “choice,” we could go on for days. I agree that preference is not a choice. But acting upon one’s preference or impulse is undoubtedly a choice. If I choose to womanize (because I am fond of women), it is a choice. This is not germane to the topic, I know, but worthy of pointing out. Lastly, I disagree that it “is fine to hate whoever you want.” Why should we hate anyone. I dislike the fuck out of a lot of folks, but I would be hard-pressed to name anyone I actually “hate”–it is such an ugly word. And then I am back to raising my son. There are few words that are not allowed in my home. “Hate” is one of them.

    This is all said with sincere respect. As you may have figured by now, I rarely weigh in on topics of politics or religion, etc. But you do have a knack for tapping one’s buttons.

    I hope you have a wonderful week. And truth be told, over cigars and whiskey, it might not end in an embrace, but I think perhaps a follow-up would occur.


  3. No, no, I again think–I hope–we’re actually talking about the same things. In the same ways. Somewhat.

    But I hope y’all stick around because I feel like I’m on the verge of a complete transformation of my personal philosophy.

    Wow, that looks corny just hanging out there, but I’m leaving it anyway. If you aren’t already used to the great deal of corniness here, it might be startling, but if you are, then you won’t be surprised.

    Ryan, I do hope you get that I’m being somewhat facitious when I say that I’m fine with people hating people, just don’t go hurting them. I’m really just wondering why some people don’t get that those are two separate things and not one activity.

    Plus, obviously, I only know of you what you choose to present to the world, but one of the things that keeps me reading you and delights me when I see you commenting here is that you seem to have a sense of self–a sense of manliness–that I find appealing, both strong and tender.

    Short and Fat, I’m going to think on your comment today–whether or not I’m surrounded by unusually vile people. I don’t think so, but I have to take that into consideration.

    Anyway, here’s what I’m thinking about, what’s underlying all of this. I really do believe that many of us are miserable because we are caught up in a sense of ourselves–based on class, gender, sexuality, whatever–that makes us miserable or are constantly struggling against a sense of ourselves that makes us miserable.

    I think, also, that many of us get sidetracked into figuring out who is to blame for our misery rather than how to live as unmiserably as possible.

    Y’all, no matter how corny you think Three Dog Night is, it’s clear when they sing “Joy to the World” that real joy is revolutionary, ferocious, and transformative.

    If I could wish for anything for the men I love–these (perhaps) vile, violent fuckers–it would be for them to want, to think they deserve recklessly open joy, to know that their worth is internal to them and unthreatened by anything going on around them.

    Of course I want those same things for the women I love, that’s why I’m a feminist.

  4. Watch the documentaries on Animal Planet or Discovery Channel. Our behavior isn’t that different from the males of other species. The difference between us and the silverback gorilla is that the gorilla didn’t have to sit through “The Notebook” to make his girlfriend happy.

    Recommended reading: Y: The Last Man.
    Every male creature on Earth drops dead except for Yorick Brown a slacker-amateur escape-artist and his helper monkey.

  5. Wow, these are some long comments.

    Aunt B., from this description of men it sounds like you either work in a law firm or are a roadie for Lynyrd Skynyrd.

  6. B., Just reread my comments and want to make sure you know all of that was intended to be in a purely converstaional tone. Tone is so often lost in such a forum–I certainly hope none of that came across as abrasive.

    I enjoy the site immensely and most always finish reading your posts with a smile–one way or the other.


  7. Erg, where to start. I guess I’ll just offer that even a father who’s convinced he’s instilling his children with a sense of decency, tenderness tempered with strength, etc. can still be doing incredible violence to those children at the same time, especially if said father is closed to the possibility that he isn’t doing all the things he believes he is–and sometimes even if that is what he’s doing but doesn’t get some of the unintended consequences. I don’t want this to get too autobiographical, but that’s been my experience, which is definitely not to suggest that you, ryan, are not a wonderful father. your posts fill me with familial joy when i read them.

    at any rate, i think i would probably classify as one of the men (though certainly not one of the homophobic men) that B. discusses in her post.

  8. Why is “cocksucker” no longer a viable insult only when you come to know and like gay men? I suck cock. I even like it. I imagine you like getting your cock sucked by women. So, when you used to use that as an insult was it okay that you were making fun of women and belittling our sexual pleasures?

  9. Professor, you know I hate to remind you of stuff like this, but women don’t really count.

  10. Can’t say I’ve ever heard a woman called cocksucker in a derogatory fashion. Even on Deadwood.

  11. That’s right, Sarcasto. But when you call a man a cocksucker, you are insulting him by saying he is like a woman (or a gay man). So, it’s not an insult delivered to a woman. But it is insulting to women. Just like when you call a man a pussy.

    Sorry, Taketoshi. I’ll keep reminding you of this and you keep reminding me of that.

  12. To be totally logical Professor, the precise reason it’s used as an insult to a man is because a man finds it insulting. If calling a woman a cocksucker bothered her, then it would probably be done.

    Beyond that, why should it insult you if I call some guy a cocksucker? Finding a behavior unacceptable in one person doesn’t mean a person considers it unacceptable in another. You yourself said you thought Short and Fat enjoyed getting his cock sucked. So that pretty well implies he doesn’t find it an insulting term when used in reference to a woman.

    I’d say any guy that went to the gynecologist was pretty stupid. Would that insult you too? To use a different example… if I tell my accountant he can’t even fill out a 1040A correctly, he’d be pretty insulted. If I tell the 16 yr old at the McDonalds counter that, he probably won’t care.

    BTW B…. Short and Fat is right. Either you’re hanging with the wrong crowd, or he and I both lead a very sheltered existence.


  13. W,

    If I called you a Jew because you’re being greedy, that doesn’t preclude the possibility that jewish people will find that statement insulting. We don’t get to say to people “this statement isn’t about you” when we use insults, especially if the shoe fits. If I said “I hate people who wear blue pants” and The Professor wears blue pants, I sound ridiculous when I say “but I don’t mean you, Professor.” The same way you sound ridiculous when you say that only SOME people who suck cock are the reason the term cocksucker is insulting. We’re lying to ourselves if we don’t admit that the reason the term is insulting is that it denotes a specifically humiliating power relationship in the minds of most who would use it. Go look up “cocksucker” on and see what kind of stuff you find. Then come back and say that the term is a specifically homosexually-biased insult.

    Nice try. Here’s the home game as a consolation prize.

  14. So calling gay men “cocksuckers” (in a pejorative manner) is also an insult to women? Hmmm, I have to agree with that, Professor. I reckon it’s kinda like when some of my esteemed colleagues make references to “white trash”; I don’t even think they realize that’s an insult to non-white people (especially African-Americans).

    Anyway, Aunt B., I’m really liking this post, and the comments. See, my parents split when I was 7, so I didn’t have to deal with “daddy issues” (other than the obvious lack thereof). I was raised by an authoritative woman, and she taught me to be as good a person (note the gender neutrality there) as I could. She couldn’t teach me how to be ‘a man,’ though, so I had to kinda figure that one out on my own.

    Long story short (medium?): I can’t impeach your fascinating assessment of the societal pressures that go into creating male assholery, but it is important, I think, to recognize that not every male faces (or manages) those pressures in the same way.

Comments are closed.