I have had pretty bad luck with men. From neglectful family members to abusive professional advisors to subpar dates, I often want to throw my hands up in the air, climb a ladder onto the roof of a tall building, and scream “men are trash” at the top of my lungs. I once told the therapist I saw in my undergrad years, L, that if someone gave me a pill to swallow so I could stop feeling attracted to men, I would swallow it without a moment’s hesitation – not because I dislike my gayness, just because I dislike my attraction to a gender that is socialized to value stoicism and achievement over emotional openness and caring.
Over the past week I have spent time processing my most recent somewhat failed crush, perhaps my oddest one yet. While the support of my close friends, my therapist, and myself have helped, I still feel this tugging resentment, like a voice saying “ok, if this guy didn’t work out, I might as well declare a vow of celibacy, never try to invest in a man again, and channel all my love to the people who deserve it: Ariana Grande and BlackPink.” But, because I work as a therapist and have gone to therapy, I noticed my thought pattern (i.e., a cognitive distortion, if you want to get boring about it) and went, “wait a second, not all the men in my life have been trash, even if a large number of men do practice toxic masculinity and are subsequently trash.” I have had deep and healthy relationships with three men in particular aside from the fictional men I fanboy all the time, looking at u, Willem from A Little Life.
In my freshman year of undergrad, I joined the mental health branch of a peer health education outreach organization. There, I met K, who would proceed to mentor me throughout my sophomore to senior years of undergrad. K had the warmest presence and the most calming voice. Every time he spoke, I felt like I had been wrapped in the deepest, most comforting hug. K had worked as a therapist for 20 years before directing a counseling center, directing another counseling center, then coming back to my undergrad institution as a leader in health and wellness. He saw me through some of the darkest times of my life, like when my PTSD first erupted, to some of the happiest, after I had gone to therapy and grown into a healthier, more self-aware person. He supported me in so many ways, like finding me in a bathroom stall and talking me through a mental breakdown, to teaching me about values-based living. His mentorship provided me an example of what a compassionate, wise, unselfish man looks like.
I met L the spring of my sophomore year in undergrad. If you read my blog, you know how much I love L, the therapist I saw for two years and have written about here and here and here. L worked with me through the worst of my PTSD, and despite how hard it felt for me to trust him, he won me over with his subtle, snarky sense of humor, how he made such a safe space for me to feel shame and anger and hurt, and the uncouth yet meaningful ways he showed his caring. One day I walked into the waiting room of his office and immediately heard Ariana Grande playing; L had plugged his phone into the stereo and set it to the Ariana Grande Pandora channel in anticipation of my arrival. My relationship with L taught me so much about how to trust a man even when it feels painful, how to allow myself to experience and express anger, and how to know and understand myself.
My best male friend Sorrah and I got close around two and a half years ago at our undergrad institution and have seen each other through so much: finding places to live post-graduation, leaving old therapists and searching for new ones, grappling with the deaths of mother figures in our family and more. We bonded over shared family trauma, reading and writing, and a similar desire to look inward at ourselves and outward at society. I will dedicate a whole blog post to Sorrah soon, but I most appreciate how we have worked a lot on our relationship specifically, about how to communicate and care for each other even when we feel hurt by one another or have different needs. Aside from Sorrah’s excellent taste in friends, I most cherish his deep loyalty to the people and communities he cares about.
Throughout my life, countless men have hurt me, abandoned me, or taken advantage of my emotional labor. I want to honor the pain these men have caused me, because so many men do indeed abuse and hurt people. I know as a man I need to examine my own privilege and hold myself accountable for my actions without getting cookies for it, as checking myself is perhaps the lowest baseline possible. Men have caused me so much trauma and I do not want to perpetuate that.
But I am also trying to remember that it is very possible for men to practice compassion and empathy if they put in the work. The three men I have written about here have engaged in therapy, they think about the space they take up, and they practice self-care. Boys do not come out of the womb emotionally stilted and consistently aggressive. We as a society – especially us men – can do so much more to help prevent toxic masculinity from robbing men of their capacity for caring and love.
So many men have hurt me and have made it hard for me to trust men, whether in professional settings or personal relationships. But I feel so grateful for the few men in my life who have treated me and others with deep compassion, because now I know how to set my standards for men. I know that even if I have not found a man to form a deep romantic relationship with, that I have had men who I have loved and continue to love. I know we can work to create a world where more men act like the men I have trusted the most. Thank you, to these three men.