Paul Kivel

Describe a healthy masculinity. Sounds easy at first glance. But the word “masculinity” immediately calls up feelings and thoughts—from cultural meanings and practices the word has accumulated—almost none of which seem healthy either to the bearer or those around them. A certified masculinity and its benefits were the devastating “rewards” that male socialized people were given for colluding with ruling elites and carrying out their violence. My colleagues and I have long invited men to step out of the “Act Like a Man” box that glorifies certain attributes and calls them “true” or “successful” masculinity. Do we really want to create another box that claims to describe a healthy one?

There are many masculinities, femininities, and transsexual, transgender, and gender queer identities that people claim. None are easily described. All vary widely based on class, race, culture, sexual orientation and a variety of other factors. Some people, ignoring the hierarchies of power connected to particular masculinities, want to default to a non-gender-specific concept of “humanness.” But does everyone in the world share certain qualities? Would it be “healthy” if they did? Would it be appropriate to their circumstances and their other identities? I’m inherently distrustful of any attempt to create new social expectations for people to aspire to or new boxes for people to put themselves into. For me the relevant questions are:

• What gender identity do you feel, experience, and live?

• What attitudes, circumstances, and practices are healing, healthy, and sustainable for you and your family, friends, communities, and the natural environment you are immersed within?

• What can you do to subvert the gender identity and other hierarchies that so many people are forced to live inside of?