To All the Three Men Who Taught Me to Trust Men Sometimes

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.

iconic tweet calling out men for their abuse of emotional labor from women

Tweet Exhibit A: a masterful callout of men who use women and femmes as emotional labor sources instead of practicing reciprocal caring. Queer men do this too.

rihanna iconic tweet about men making people feel guilty for their mistakes

Tweet Exhibit B: this tweet spoke to me more than any of the 7+ Hemingway books I’ve read tbh.

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.

ariana grande iconic tweet about never talking to men again

Tweet Exhibit C: Ariana Grande articulates a truth we all need to hear. Thank u, next indeed.

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.

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10 Comments

Filed under Personal, Society

10 responses to “To All the Three Men Who Taught Me to Trust Men Sometimes

  1. My goodness your therapist plugging in Ariana Grande for your appointment might just be one of the best things I’ve read today, that’s adorable and really sweet! I’m glad to hear that you’ve had a few good men in your life, if I think hard about mine I can think of a handful also, but I’m right there with you that there are so many more that have treated me poorly. The number of men I can think of that haven’t hurt me in some capacity is very few and far between and it’s kind of depressing to think about honestly. It really is a tragedy the way that society socializes men and women to be.

    Goodness there are a few times that I could not be attracted to well, anyone (hah) so that I can just not deal with the drama of being cheated on time and time again. For some reason I’ve always been attracted to white dudes and women that turn out to hate bi women, figures. ^^;;

    • Aw I’m glad L doing that was one of the best things you read that day. (: Ugh, I’m sorry to hear about all the men who’ve hurt you, it’s so tragic how society socializes people based on toxic gender norms. Hope you’re able to further unpack the being attracted to white dudes and women who turn out to hate bi women process, that sounds tough!

  2. What a lovely post, drawing a positive out of a negative (not that you always have to do that; that’s something people get socialised to do, but here I think it’s useful and meaningful). I have some good, kind, gentle men around me in my life now, including a good few from running club, which might seem slightly odd. I have at times wished I wasn’t angled towards men, too. But I tend to end up with non-traditionally-manly men, so not so awful with the emotions etc but also I have to be the practical one and none of the main men in my life have ever been able to do DIY or even drive. So there’s no middle way?? (this is partly a joke, I don’t expect a man to do DIY just because he’s a man and I’m very capable but hate cooking so …).

    Did I really notice you talking about PTSD before? Arising from your childhood trauma, I presume? I only just found out that it can evidence itself in obsessive thoughts and catastrophising just as much as in flashbacks and triggers: I had no idea about that and I read an article in the paper and suddenly a load of stuff made sense. My friend Jenny started me off with the helpful “It’s just a thought” mantra and then I started saying to myself “It’s just a PTSD thought” and it has helped me so much. So much so that when I went to my GP (for something else, but the time before, I’d been in tears over nothing and everything and she’d told me to come back and talk to her about mental health issues if I needed to), I announced I’d discovered this about PTSD and I’d had success with telling myself as above, could I please be referred on to the online CBT programme and she said, “But what you’ll learn there is to tell yourself it’s just a PTSD thought and stop the spiralling catastrophising thoughts, so you’ve already done that”. Bingo. It sounds so easy, too, I almost find myself trite saying it. But it has changed my life. Anyway.

    • Aw thank you so much for this thoughtful comment Liz! Glad to hear that you’ve been able to find men worth your time who are more comfortable with emotions and have other worthwhile characteristics. Yep, the PTSD stems from my childhood stuff, and also, I appreciate you sharing your experience with it and how you’ve learned to cope. So relatable and wise at the same time. Hope you’re well!

  3. x.w.

    It’s wonderful to read about those three men you trusted ! I believe that someday we will want to yell “not all the men are trash” at the top of a tall building 😀

    • Thank you so much for stopping by and reading and commenting! Haha I don’t know if I’ll ever get to that point, because I think yelling “not all men” may diffuse the responsibility men do have to get better, but I appreciate the sentiment behind it 🙂 Hope you’re well!

  4. The 3 men are wonderful examples of what we should all strive to be.

    I’ve read some of your past entries to get an idea of what you experienced and endured. I hope you continue to heal and to shine.

    There was a line in your entry that confused me. What did you mean by “I want to honor the pain these men have caused me, because so many men do indeed abuse and hurt people.”

    I also want to add that it was courageous to seek therapist(s) that can help you. Sometimes reaching out for help is not easy and we can be paralyzed with fear and indecisiveness.

    • Yes, I agree that they are! Thank you for the warm wishes re: healing and shining, I appreciate them a lot. ❤ And with that line I wanted to articulate how it's important to acknowledge and make space for the pain I've experienced at the hands of men (as opposed to just saying something like "it's OK" or "not all men are bad" which may invalidate the emotions surrounding that experience). And yes, I also agree with you that it's courageous to seek help – it can be scary and while it can be scary it's also empowering and self-compassionate and more.

  5. Are you familiar with the book Crystal Boys? It’s a Taiwanese LGBT novel that’s very famous in the country. It’ll definitely be worth your time to check it out.

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