By: Benji Marton
June is Men’s Health Awareness Month; as a therapist, and someone who identifies as a cisgender man, I value looping mental health into that awareness. Because let’s face it. The state of men’s mental health is bad. Or rather, it continues to be bad. For me, amongst the most troubling aspects of the rise of Trumpism was society’s acceptance and embrace of a narcissistic leader; one who is so detached from his own trauma and pain that he lacks any awareness, empathy and compassion. This is fundamentally attached to the ways we tend to understand men’s mental health: the message continues to be held, “you are not man enough if you seek help. Get through it yourself. Recognition, awareness and subsequent support towards pain is for women. Man up. Boys don’t cry. Sickness and suffering is weak.”
I don’t think we can talk about mens’ mental health and Trumpism without talking about the violence of white supremacy and queerphobia. As Resmaa Menakem so eloquently named in his book, My Grandmother’s Hands, “This culture (white supremacy) was designed to blow centuries of trauma through millions of Black bodies and to attempt to colonize the minds of people of all colors.” (P65). What I interpret this to mean is that white folx, but particularly white cisgender men, in their inability and unwillingnes to process their own trauma(s), turn that outward in violence towards others. This includes other white men (e.g., “man up!”), but often, most violently, turns towards those who are different: queer folx, BIPOC folx and women. Growing up a queer man, I was consistently reminded of the ways men’s projections landed on me, and how that was a reflection of their own relationship to masculinity. This was often displayed in consistent and intense bullying that included calling me gay, fag, pussy, femme, girly, etc.
I recognize that, at this point, some folx may be having the reaction of, “I’m so sick of mental health being blamed for violence!” While I hear and feel that frustration, let me be clear here. I’m not saying perpetrators of violence deserve forgiveness; I’m not saying that the state of men’s mental health is an excuse for perpetrating violence. Quite the contrary. Our trauma isn’t our fault; but it is our responsibility. Men across the world, but particularly men in the USA, need to wake up to the damage they are doing by repressing their pain and trauma and get the support they need. They also need to stop relying on women to hold and take the brunt of their emotional pain. Again, nobody is responsible for your healing but you.
I have been involved in an organization called The ManKind Project for a few years now (see https://mankindproject.org/), whose mission is: We are a passionate and purpose-driven brotherhood building and supporting the emotionally mature, accountable, and compassionate male role models that our communities so desperately need.
One of my mentors at this organization said to me once, “men need to learn how to be powerful without being abusive; and how to be vulnerable without being abused.” To me, this really sums up everything I’m talking about here. As men, we are often not given the choice. We are told that vulnerability is weak, and power means power over (abuse).
Men-particularly cisgender men-it’s time to wake up.