I’ve never been a “man’s man.” I’ve always been a dancer and a musician. I grew up doing theater. I’ve always been more interested in collaboration that competition. My differences made me aware of my masculinity, and conscious of how I wanted to define it for myself. Long before I knew about the concept of “Toxic Masculinity,” I was aware of and impacted by it. When I first went to college, I had a bad roommate experience that led to someone writing “faggot” on my door. Later in college, I was walking to a concert in my tux, and a guy shoulder checked me and called me “faggot.” Even now, at work, many of the guys who work there were convinced I was gay because I wear colorful pants and have a sense of style. I am fortunate that I have only had to deal with such minor annoyances. So many other minorities of gender and sexual orientation have had to deal with much more existential threats.
In 2018, I found myself thinking again about masculinity, and how to engage in a positive way. I keep coming back to a Zen Buddhist concept that the oppressor and the oppressed are equally bound to their roles. It’s easy to see how women have been oppressed. It’s much harder to see the roles that men have been locked into, expected to be strong, stoic, self-reliant, providers. The American Psychological Association has finally acknowledged this in guidelines for treating men and boys that recognize the social isolation, increased risk of suicide, and other psychological issues that come from being a man in the context of what they refer to as “traditional masculinity.” For my part, I have created the following self-portraits in an attempt to generate awareness, foster conversation, and challenge the existing narratives of what it is to be a man in our world.