Thursday, May 22, 2008

Beyond Masculinity - Essays by Queer Men on Gender and Politics

Perhaps no other group of men has more to say about how we construct masculinity than gay men. Because they are born with a biological preference for same-gender love, they have often been excluded from traditional definitions of being masculine, either willingly (the femme gay or the butch gay) or by the culture that fears them (calling them faggot, queer, etc.).

Because they have been marginalized, gay men (and women) have been much more aware of gender politics than the rest of us. We can learn a lot from them about what it means (or doesn't mean) to be identified as a specific gender.

Here is the home page information for Beyond Masculinity - Essays by Queer Men on Gender and Politics, an online anthology of articles.

Welcome to the NEW!
Beyond Masculinity is a groundbreaking collection of 22 provocative essays on sexuality, gender, and politics -- all written by gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer men. Part audiobook, part-blog, and part-anthology, brings together a smart, diverse group of queer male writers all critically examining maleness and the construction of masculinity and gender norms for men. Contributions focus on five key areas: Desire, Sex and Sexuality; Negotiating Identities; Queer Feminist Politics; Beyond Binary Gender; and Transforming Masculinity.

Did we mention that it's free?
That's right - you don't need to pay a dime. With the click of a button, you have at your fingertips not only the 22 essays included in this project, but also audio recordings of most authors reading their essays! And, on top of all that, we've provided PDF versions that more closely resemble traditional book publications for educators to use in the classroom. You're welcome! And, yea, we accept donations.

Putting the Internet to work.
Beyond Masculinity was originally conceived in 2005 as a traditional published anthology featuring essays from queer male writers, activists, and scholars. But we realized that by publishing online, we could reach a much wider audience at a lower cost - all without knocking down any trees! Even better, new technology allows users to interact with online material like never before. You like that essay? Comment on it! Built on the back of MovableType's powerful blogging software, this site makes space for your voice as readers, too. It's called Web 2.0 - make the most of it!

Some of these essays are quite interesting, for example this one, On Being a Queer Man: Feminism and the Need to be an Ally, by Michael Faris. Here is a bit from the introduction.
Now, at 27 and as a queer-identified teacher, writer, and academic living 2000 miles from my parents’ Iowan farm, I am someone that third-grade me wouldn’t recognize himself in. In particular, it is my ambivalence towards identifying as a man that may be hardest for the younger me to identify with.

This ambivalence arises every time I am asked to mark my sex or gender on a form. This ambivalence quickly turns to frustration when I am asked for my "gender" but must mark either "male" or "female." Too often, questionnaires and surveys conflate sex and gender, and even when they don't, they limit us to binaries: male or female, man or woman. This may not seem like that big of a deal. After all, I’m perceived as male-bodied and I identify as a man. However, I am struggling with identifying as a man, largely because of my politics and the influences of feminist scholars whom I’ve read – such as Andrea Dworkin, John Stoltenberg, and Catharine MacKinnon. I’d like to chronicle here my growth from someone who saw the world in strict categories of man and woman into the queer man allied with feminism that I am today.

I believe that as a culture we are often confused about what it means to be a man or to be a woman. In short, we’re generally unsure what gender means. Growing up as a man in our culture, I think, is about struggling with what it means to be a man: how tough to be, how to relate to women, how to bond with other men, how men are supposed to express emotion — and this list is just a start. Gender, it has long been understood, is a social construction, based on the values we have ascribed to sex. It has been these values that we’ve ascribed to manhood that I’ve constantly wrestled with.[1]

It wasn't until I started studying gender as a social system, as a codified set of rules and expectations embedded with domination, that I began to understand what it means to be a man. Or, rather, it wasn't until I started applying what I was learning in classes and in my reading to my own life that I began to understand what it meant to be a man. I owe much of my understanding of myself to feminist scholarship and to gender theory. Gender activist Riki Wilchins writes that "gender is primarily a system of symbols and meanings—and the rules, privileges, and punishments pertaining to their use—for power and sexuality: masculinity and femininity, strength and vulnerability, action and passivity, dominance and weakness" (14, emphasis original). As Wilchins stresses here, gender in our society is enforced through rules and punishments; these rules and punishments not only limit us to rigid definitions of who we can be, but also privilege men (as active, strong, and dominant) over women (as vulnerable, passive, and weak).

I think that straight and/or bisexual men also need to be thinking about these same issues in defining for ourselves what it means to be a man. We are born into the male sex, but we grow into the masculine gender, however that is defined by our families of origin, our community, our culture, and our society.

While there are distinct biological differences between male and female brains, there are even more culturally-based differences that define our gender roles. How we relate to these roles (do we accept them without question, or do we look beneath them to see what we really feel in our own hearts) can be an important part of our spiritual growth as men.

In Jungian psychology, we have a both a masculine self and feminine self, (the anima is feminine in men, and the animus is masculine in women). How these opposite-gender parts of ourselves develop is still being worked out (origins vary depending on which school of psychology one adheres to), but their existence has been widely agreed upon in the field of therapy.

When we work to transcend these gendered elements of our psyches, the union is sometimes referred to as the Hieros Gamos (literally, sacred union), or the alchemical wedding (conjunctio). In performing this work, we can move beyond the binary definitions of masculine and feminine. But what this looks like, in any integral sense, remains to be seen since so few people have done the work in an authentic way.

Anyway, go check out the anthology of articles -- many of them are quite enlightening, representing a level of thinking and questioning few straight men ever undertake.

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