CLAYTON: “Be a man!”
TARZAN: “Not a man like you!” — Disney’s “TARZAN,” circa 1999
It’s March, the month of my birth, too many years ago. I still have my temporary (maybe to permanent) job that I gained in November. My slumlord has once again begun the process to evict both me and my handicapped mother, and the dark limbo of potential homelessness continues. But that’s actually not what I want to talk about. Instead I have another doozy, which will tie into some older postings on the column.
MAGA, of course, stands for “Make America Great Again.” Such sentiments in politics are rooted in sentiments of toxic masculinity, white supremacy, and elitism. Unfortunately, they have once again become all the rage for a segment of the population, even in a blue state like New York. Politics have become more divisive than ever, as our country creeps closer towards autocracy and oligarchy (if it isn’t there already). It seems like everyone has had to confront some relative, or friend, or associate, or even lover, in regards to some delusional ideology based on emotional prejudices rather than facts. And a few weeks ago, I had my turn. Thankfully, it wasn’t with a relative (I have to pick my battles with my mother) nor anyone I would consider a close friend. It was with an associate, someone I had written about back in December 2016 who I dubbed “Skip.” At the time, I was envious of him briefly because he was, essentially, complaining about having too much success with women, at least in terms of solicitations for casual sex he didn’t want.
To recap, we all have that pal on Facebook or social media, right? That person we “friend” who we barely remember ever meeting in real life, if at all. This guy was at best a friend of a friend I maybe met at a bar once. Another dude with a big ego with a love of t-shirts who thinks sweats go with everything. In NY that’s standard. And while he was never a champion of equality, he was on my feed and we’d share likes or jokes about wrestling or comics or Dragon Ball Z, that sort of stuff. But then a couple of years ago he went through a very nasty breakup in his long term relationship. I am fuzzy on the details (which likely involve infidelity on the woman’s part, and I am unsure if they were married or engaged) but they ultimately don’t matter, because afterwards I watched Skip in one status after the next become more and more hateful, of women in general and “liberals” in particular. I suppose many people would comment that this “change” was really no change at all; he’s just showing his true colors now. That with the advantages of being a straight, white man, I could entertain such lofty ideas that he’d “changed” or even that he was “going thru a phase.” So I didn’t call Skip out very often — the few times I did I got seething online rants so I picked my battles. I watched him wrap himself in hypocrisy — he hates “socialism”, yet he literally is a postal worker and thus benefits from one of the nation’s strongest and longest lasting unions — day in and day out and be the only part of my feed which was filled with garbage that I ignored.
I didn’t want to be that “snowflake” who ditches someone over differing political views. I mean we disagreed a lot but he wasn’t really someone I cared much about. I ignored him because I could, held my tongue (or fingers, since it is typing). Again, he was no one I ever recalled meeting in person; just a face on a screen who was friends with my REAL friends. And even worse, he symbolized a lot of “dudebro/alpha man” tropes. He works out, he’s traditionally handsome, and appears popular with women despite of, or even because of, his “manly” views. There were times I was envious of him, I am ashamed to admit. Then there were times I pitied him, since he actually wanted another long term relationship, but all he could get were dates with women who wanted short term sex — who he naturally derided as “whores” of course. He is far from a virgin and the opposite of me in many ways. I decided, perhaps stupidly, that invading his feed to do some sort of intervention or reckoning or “debate” so I felt better about myself for being one of those “good men” who is supposed to talk back about broken ones wasn’t the right place. So I put it off for months and months, even years.
Then I wrote a comic review last month about a heroine who is about to get a movie and whose politics he’s been ginned up to hate because of the right wing news cycle he is wrapped in mixed with his own issues, and he started bringing his crap to my feed directly. And then one of my elementary school friends got into a pretty personal and ugly debate with him. The writer of the comic is a woman and someone I have tagged and reviewed work of many times. It was time not to stand on the fence for one excuse or another. I considered it, but I was annoyed that he brought this on, that he was tainting my work, and above all I wondered if this was one of those critical online moments where one either shows to be an “ally” or not.
So I jumped into the debate, and at first I probably showed too much grace, trying to argue facts or even go with the idea that was just a misguided good person. But when those didn’t work and it became obvious it was going to go on and on (by now Skip was using classic MRA lingo like “beta male”), I deliberately chose to get personal and hit him with all his baggage I’d learned from his feeds. I brought up the fact that he’d been dumped, and that all of his hatred of women or feminism or “liberals” were borne out of his own very personal angst and issues, and that he was a hypocrite at best. I didn’t expect to “win”, but to drive him off. I called him out on his crap and it felt sort of wrong…but liberating. Yes, he was a guy who had his heart ripped out. But he’d had 2 years and replaced it with something ugly, at best.
He threw my own past at being dateless at me (“This is why you’ve never had a girlfriend”), literally blaming me being “beta” on being raised by a single mother. I don’t know whether Skip knew I was a virgin from our mutual pals or just the endless hints I made in the past, but he tossed that one out there. But I didn’t even care; I dismissed an insult from someone I should see as beneath me. Surely in the circumstance no one on the feed bought it. Those who know me at all should probably be in shock that someone called me a virgin somewhere as an insult and I couldn’t have cared less in the moment. He may as well have called me a “doody head”. He made his excuses for his ego and left. But the comic writer I was afraid would see me as a fence sitter if I did nothing “liked” some of my replies. And I felt more dignified by finally getting it out.
The entire experience gave me a mixture of emotions. While I had to acknowledge my envy of Skip in the past, my disgust for his political and gender viewpoints had negated much of that. It wasn’t just his embrace of “MAGA” values, or his obvious venting about women because one dared to break his heart. Skip had, at best, outdated views about transgender people, and endlessly considered underage boys who had been molested by teachers he considered “hot” to be “lucky.” It may surprise few that Skip had a profession which put him within the mechanics of authority or government — he’s a postal worker. The USPS literally has one of the biggest unions left in America, yet he railed against socialists about as often as Archie Bunker used to.
In the past I felt pity for him, but after it all blew up I felt I had no one to blame but myself. I could have confronted him and “unfriended” him from my feed months if not years ago. As I said above, I had the luxury of being able to ignore him, or the ability to make excuses for Skip to myself because he was a guy I knew, and even envied once. He symbolized what it was to be a “typical” American male, for better or worse. Skip is conventionally handsome, in good shape, fond of alcohol, and felt women were best when they was attractive and submissive. Any woman whose philosophy he objected to, he dismissed — and literally considered all feminists to be “ugly women.” I stood on the fence with him and never got into things because I didn’t want that drama from a casual associate, and because it was comfortable for me to stay on the fence. But in the end I enabled him, and I hadn’t realized that my article would “trigger” him.
It was galling that Skip chose to make his hill to die on an article about a comic book. They are my passion, my hobby, one of the only rewarding things I have in my life. My work reviewing them online has brought me meager money, but more importantly, it has brought me satisfaction. Quite a few comic creators like my articles, and I was once or twice quoted in PREVIEWS or other book blurbs. Perhaps I imagined Skip realized this unspoken “bargain” I had made with myself regarding him, and he wouldn’t have challenged my online space. Even to the end, I was probably kinder to them than I should have been, asking him twice to seek therapy and stop drinking. But in the end behind all of the bravado and boasts, Skip is just a typical little man who paints all women with the brush of one who dared wrong him. A woman who does that to men, of course, is some horrible “feminazi,” but men who do that have their opinions supported or made palpable by society. To day nothing is to condone.
I was most surprised by my shrugging off of Skip’s insults towards my romantic inexperience. Even 1-2 years ago, it might have represented a doomsday situation. An enemy “exposing” my real identity with my “Dateless-Man” one, and trying to hurt me emotionally with my own inexperience. And in 2013, I was hurt emotionally by that — from actual friends. Skip was a few degrees removed at best, and I had little emotional attachment to him. His barbs had no power over me. Thankfully, Skip had revealed himself to be such a delusional and hypocritical creep that I doubt his allegations against me were believed by the comic writer, or the grade school pal, or anyone else reading it. But even if they were, so what? It is better to be a Dateless-Man than a bad man.
But maybe there is a lesson in that. I put a lot of angst on dating, especially on my inexperience. I fear a woman finding out or at least suspecting that “something” is up with my awkwardness and unfamiliarity with such things like casual touch, kissing, and of course the “full Monty.” I have waxed and waned about revealing my inexperience to a woman at some point before intercourse, or to go with the flow and keep it to my vest. But maybe the incident with Skip shows that it only has power over me if I let it. Maybe at my age, if I did date, I should focus on quality over quantity. I may only have 1-2 lovers in my life (the average for American men in a lifetime is 5-7, but then again, the average man in America has lost his virginity by age 18), but maybe they’ll end up being really good ones. If a woman rejects me for my inexperience as if it were a cancer (or a felony record), maybe it isn’t a sign of my failings, but of her judgmental nature. Maybe I can be a sexual notice compared to a guy like Skip, but come off as more appealing anyway because of my personality. Maybe all those lame magazines and self help books were right.
Or maybe I just tore into a jerk who commented on an article about a comic book with his right wing lunacy, and said jerk had it coming. Maybe it is just a lesson to not put off important things like inevitable political fallout with casual followers, because the longer it festers the uglier it gets. And that while this was a small battle, it was still a battle where I picked a side when it mattered, and for once I feel it was the right one.
I have no hatred for women, despite all of my text about being woefully inappropriate in terms of dating them. I do hate bad men, whether they are the slumlord who plagues my mother and I, or men like Skip who tar us all with their filth. The entire reason why most women are wary of men with secrets or red flags or any sign of a personality flaw is entirely because they have been used, abused, traumatized, and irritated by slogging past endless guys like Skip (or worse). I have heaped tons of self loathing upon myself for not “fitting in” with the mainstream, for never being one of the normal people. Skip was more normal than I’ll ever be, yet he devolved into bigotry and prejudice, as well as self serving delusions, rather than deal with his pain or try to explore it beyond alcohol or shifting blame. Is this what men are “supposed” to be, all bravado and no substance? Shams who preach the virtues of strength and male harmony, yet will be shattered by one negative experience with a woman or consider any men who doesn’t agree with them as lessor life forms? Skip, ultimately, is a manifestation of the same types of people who bullied me in the past. And I am almost as tired of dealing with men like that as women are.
Spending a life never being touched by a woman, or being able to caress or hold her in return, is a life with some regrets and lamentations. But a life spent as a hateful online troll chasing after misconceived shadows of the past is worse. It wasn’t fun watching a devolution over less than 3 years, but maybe it was a case example of the slippery slope of our current body politic. That it relies on weak, vulnerable men looking for excuses like hating someone or something else as an answer to their own failings. My own pain may bring me to my knees, or even tears on occasion, but it will never bring me to the point where I raise my arm and hail a leader who promises to punish others to allow me to avoid dealing with my own failings. It will never cause me to hate an entire gender, or race, or creed, or religion. And while I may not be eager to have to fight for those beliefs, when and if I have to, I will. And I’ll even be willing to fight as dirty as they will. Hey, even Batman cheats sometimes.
Maybe men like Skip are on the way out. Maybe the social winds are finally shifting away from them, and this moment is a last, desperate gasp. And maybe men like me will endure and be seen as desirable in the near future. It may be too late for me, but I don’t mind being the last of the dinosaurs if it means witnessing a better day for others. I don’t build my value on the suffering of others. I would be fine with being the last to do so.
This is going to be an interesting birthday season. Thanks for reading.