When I first started doing gender work as a psychologist, which means raising awareness about the differences of gender and how those differences play out in social power, I was not listened to very much. After all, I was just another female talking about “gender.” For many reasons, as a whole, many men tune out when it comes to gender, believing that those are “women’s issues,” and they have no need to pay attention. Jackson Katz does a fabulous job of explaining this in this TED talk I strongly recommend, many men tune out when it comes to gender, believing that those are women’s issues, and they have no need to pay attention.
I especially have not been heard in some spaces as I am a Latina sexual minority female…more reasons to not attend in terms of social power. After almost 20 years as a gender specialist and diversity trainer, there are many more voices out there, including those of men with power who are beginning to challenge the dominant paradigm and redefine who needs to show up. In general, we all need to show up. Specifically, people, and most especially men, with power, who speak up, are where the leadership needs to continue in order for us all, as gendered beings, to move in this gender paradigm shift that has been occurring. It is a known fact that male/guy culture can be brutal and extremely difficult to navigate, particularly if a man is not as masculine as is desired by other men. There are different rules and more rigid boundaries around behaviors and actions. There is a pervasive small window where men feel allowed to express; especially anything emotional in nature. Thus, standing up to another boy/guy/man can come with a huge price. We also know that men, when they are vulnerable and open with others, can identify a true need for more intimacy in their lives and a desire for more connection. Yep, that’s the shrink in me talking even more now. I’ve been working college campuses since 1995 and keep up with some new lingo as it is dispersed throughout generational shifts. I especially attend to diversity and gender related topics such as trying to get rid of “that’s so gay,” “don’t be retarded,” and “that’s so lame.” The new thing we’re hearing is “no homo.” When I sit back and analyze this cultural phenomena that is taking shape, it makes sense to the psychologist side of me. The LGBTQ advocate and activist says, ‘oh, no, here we go.' However, with a deeper look, there is potential there. Anyone who knows me knows I am a silver linings kind of person with a very critical eye for potential for improvement. So the silver lining here is boys/guys/men are using “no homo” following a sincere, emotional expression to another man. That’s right! An authentic expression about how they feel toward another man. For instance, “dude, you are so awesome; no homo; lol.” Another one, “man, you are so special; no homo, haha.” And one more to see if you are getting my drift, “I swear, I am so damn glad you are my best guy; no homo.” See??!? Perhaps we are starting to see a small shift? Yes, he is still saying ‘no homo’ to qualify his emotional expression, which is inherently and completely homophobic and heterosexist. AND he is expressing.
We need to continue to create spaces and relationships for men to feel empowered to feel and express. Men need to give themselves and other men space to express. Every time I sit in therapy with a man who has been holding many unexpressed emotions and needs inside, I am amazed at their initial struggle and eventual courage to breakthrough and express. Perhaps saying ‘no homo’ helps take the sting away for now. (This is not to say I am okay with this and fully condone it). But think of what this means for the future. It means the potential for men to express without saying something to prove their level of masculinity. Without qualifying their expression and making sure you know he is not gay! That is the world they navigate every day – one where they have to prove how masculine they look and are in their daily lives. That is where we converge as one - as human beings with needs. The paradigm shift regarding the gender spectrum and seeing the benefits of masculine and feminine qualities has already begun.
Now, going back to showing up. You know the feeling of someone showing up for you. Not just physically, but emotionally? Truly just BEING with you. We all hope to have at least a few people in our lives who will show up at our most desperate time. We now need all genders to show up. To show up and use your powerful voice to stop a bully; to stop an anti-gay joke; to stop a fat joke; to stop male on male violence. For those of us who have navigated multiple oppressive identities in the world, the act of using our voice to speak up is an anxiety provoking one. There is a wonderful saying by ageism activist Maggie Kuhn that says “speak your mind, even if your voice shakes.” That is my call today. If you have to say ‘no homo’ for now, please know why you are using this and further, use this as your transition to further comfort with your personal expression and feel rooted in your masculinity, regardless of sexual orientation. You are man enough. There is no one way to be a man, just as there is no one right way to be a woman. Men can and need to step up within this oppressive box we’ve created socially for their restricted behavior. We are so sorry it is like this and it can change. Men also have been oppressed within that box and can climb out.
We know there are worse spaces for this than others such as athletics and the military. But all over the world, men use their power over others every day. I am suggesting using that power to transform the legacy of men over women & children. To speak up and see sexual assault as a human issue and not just a woman’s issue. Take the Penn State abuse, the Steubenville rape case, and the Rutgers firing of the basketball coach; all of these were occurring and others knew it. If there would not have been a cry out after many years or video, nothing would have happened. And until there is video or some kind of proof, then the silence and the secrets prevail. The choice is to show up. To show up and hold other men accountable without fearing what they will think of your level of masculinity. For men to live within their authenticity and express it if they believe something is wrong, would not be the “wussification of American men” as declared by Mr. Hannity regarding the firing of the Rutgers coach, but an act of courage and vulnerability. And he could feel really good about himself later, even if his voice shakes, versus feeling as if he failed the woman or child being abused by the man he did not feel “man enough” to confront.
So the next time you hear a guy say 'no homo' after an authentic statement, show up. Show him compassion and show him what he is doing. Tell him it’s okay. He has not heard that very often. (May 2013)
Edited OpEd version published http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2014/feb/23/gay-rights-homophobia-michael-sam