Nov 29, 2021 • Avik Das
I spend a lot of time talking about men’s mental health because it’s what I, as a man, know about. And like with everything, the truth is complicated. We live in a patriarchal society that privileges men in certain ways, but also hurts them in other ways. The harmful effects on our heavily gendered society especially show themselves when racial or class oppression enter the picture. But ultimately, I have to listen to the experiences of others to piece together this complicated web of good and bad. So, when I came across Crossing the Divide, four accounts of transgender men who have experienced life being treated as women and now living as men, I was fascinated.
You should read the article to see how gender in our society isn’t clear cut. But, I do want to expand on some areas where we can support men better.
(The title of this post is a quote from Trystan Cotten in the article.)
One of the contributors, Trystan Cotten talks about how being African America affected his life experiences pre- and post-transition. Cotten says it beautifully: “Life doesn’t get easier as an African American male. The way that police officers deal with me, the way that racism undermines my ability to feel safe in the world, affects my mobility, affects where I go.” This lack of safety is gendered too, as he mentions how he did not get pulled over or was let off pre-transition, but post-transition, his increased interactions with the police start with him being asked if he has any weapons.
Alex Poon talked about his genetics as a Chinese man not setting him up to have a “lumberjack-style” beard, underlying a fear that his stereotypically feminine facial features will impede his masculine presentation.
Both these stories make it clear why racial equality is needed. Whether it’s Black Lives Matter, or representation of Asian men in media, gender equality can’t be achieved without racial equality. Regardless of your gender identity or your race, if you want to create a society that supports men, support racial justice reform in all its forms.
Cotten also points out how there aren’t spaces for men to share their mental struggles. Contrasting his experience in gay, feminist and women’s circles, “there was a space and place you could talk about your feelings. In the last, you know, 10 years or so [post-transition] I can’t find those spaces necessarily for men, and I don’t know if men necessarily make those spaces for each other.”
And it’s not just a responsibility for those of us who are struggling, because we can’t share if no one is listening. Both of the other contributors, Zander Keig and Chris Edwards, talk about how society became less friendly toward them once they transitioned. Keig sums it up well: “What continues to strike me is the significant reduction in friendliness and kindness now extended to me in public spaces. It now feels as though I am on my own: No one, outside of family and close friends, is paying any attention to my well-being.”
Once again, we can create a better society for all by creating safe and inclusive environments for men:
Some of that is on men who are already creating communities, for example by adopting the right community rules to ban toxicity and allowing (respectful) discussion of topics like mental health. Often, communities for men are taken over by trolls shifting the conversation to blaming women, instead of focusing on the problems men face in an overly gendered society. Community builders need to keep the conversation on a productive discussion of men’s issues.
Some of the responsibility falls on everyone who is trying to create social safety nets. As Keig points out from his experience in social work, “when I would suggest that patient behavioral issues like anger or violence may be a symptom of trauma or depression, it would often get dismissed or outright challenged. The overarching theme was ‘men are violent’ and there was ‘no excuse’ for their actions.” Men who behave violently do need to be held accountable for their actions, but we also need to provide better mental health services that understand how those men end up acting violently in the first place.
The stories make it clear there are societal advantages for men, so I don’t want to suggest women have “made it” in our society. But for many men, especially but not limited to those in marginalized groups, the picture isn’t rosy. We need to create a society that treats everyone as valuable, regardless of other factors like race. We need to create support systems to elevate all those in need, at times taking into account the specific needs men have. Only then can we create a society that supports men.
For what it’s worth, I raise awareness for a men’s health charity called Movember because mental health is really important to me, and men experience mental health struggles in a specific way that’s deep rooted in our culture of tough masculinity. If you want to help, please reach out to a friend, participate in a Movember event to keep the conversations going, or donate to Movember. Let’s save some lives!