All Of Our Pain Invisible: Men and Gender Identity | A Radical Centrist

My friend Heather wrote this amazing piece on men and gender identity. I think it’s wonderful.

Men and Gender Identity | A Radical Centrist.

In short, she examines the role of male identity as “default” and compares that with thoughts from a fantastic and brilliant Salon article which focuses on white Americans and the cultural belief that “white” is “default” and the problems and pain that belief engenders. Here are some quotes I found relevant and true:

From Heather’s piece:

“Pro-male perspectives are absolutely everywhere, but it’s less common to find pro-male perspectives defined as distinct from the mainstream perspective. Men are considered the default human, which is generally beneficial, except when men are trying to conceive of their identity as men.

The concept of toxic masculinity explains a lot of what’s wrong with modern masculinity, but what are men left with in terms of identity? What does it mean to be a man? How do we define what it means to be a man? What is a cis-man’s identity? How do we answer these questions without minimising women’s struggles?

I have no idea how to answer those questions. Well, that’s not entirely true. I think that the following from the Salon article applies to the issue of men’s identities and the gender default:”

From Kartina Richardson, of Salon, speaking of white identity:

“White liberal identity is all about NOT being something (not racist, not homophobic, not sexist), and so white liberals inevitably become desperate to be something. At some level, whites understand everything that they and their ancestors were a part of — slavery, Jim Crow, racism, Native-American genocide, Christian persecution, anti-gay, anti-women’s rights, anti-immigrant, capitalist, Vietnam, etc., etc., etc. A conscious white liberal is fighting hard to NOT be what their history implies. “

“White liberals, on the other hand, are so afraid of claiming any white identity (for terror of feeling white pride or appearing to deny their white privilege) that they also reinforce the idea that whiteness is empty, nothing — that it’s a default. They act like they have no particular identity. And if you act like you don’t have any particular identity, you are “regular.”

Last autumn I attended a race immersion conference with SJTI, the social justice training institute, and the training focused deeply on just that idea above. That all of us are trained through culture and our experiences to understand “whiteness” as the default, normal, right state of being and that whites are deeply affected by racism and the toxicity of white supremacy but often don’t know it. Even those of us who reject racism, are often unaware of how deep those roots go in out our psyche.

The conference provided space for whites to talk to whites about whiteness, and about levels of racism they believe may have affected them. And to face our own pain, shame, fears about racism and our role in it. But it also built a new kind of pride, that of fighting oppression, that of reaching for real equality, and that of being able to truly see each other as human beings, no matter the race.

This creates an invisibility of “the other” which well, makes their pain invisible, leading to a lack of empathy or compassion from them to the dominant class who then feels their own pain is being denied…well, that’s vital to take in and understand.

There is great pain out there right now, in women and in men. Men feel pain at so many things from personal loss to cultural dynamics beyond their control changing their very sense of identity. It does me no good to not see their pain, but it doesn’t help to have my own voice dismissed in the process or have the experience of privilege denied, turning the whole thing into a zero sum game.

What we wind up with is pretty much everyone invisibling each other because to stop and deal with the damage that years of cultural training has done to us hard work. It’s painful. It doesn’t feel good and involves cognitive dissonance and conflict. Much easier to sit with the original pain and blame another.

That just leads back into the same cycle, with more pain than anyone knows how to deal with.

Heather’s piece is amazing for how it lays out those dynamics (as is the Salon article). I encourage you to read both and look into ways we can work together to see each other and shift the process into one of empathy and ending, as Salon writer Kartina Richardson puts it so perfectly “the Default.”

Her words sum up what I feel perfectly and yes this goes for so many other things like gender, orientation, ability, class:

“In order for white suffering to have a voice, white people must realize the largest and most invisible way in which they benefit from their white privilege, and it’s the same thing that’s causing their frustration being The Default. If Person A is actively supporting and benefiting from a system that oppresses Person B, it is very hard for Person B to hear Person A say, “But I’m hurt too!” However, if Person A is actively working to dismantle the system they benefit from but which oppresses Person B, then Person B is finally seen — and Person A’s pain can be embraced. In order to see a person you must see the truth of their pain. If you deny their pain, you refuse to see them. This is what makes black people invisible. And black invisibility is what makes white pain invisible to black people.

And so we live our lives never seeing each other…

…The fight against inequality, the fight against The Default, is a fight for white spiritual and emotional freedom, not just the freedom of people of color, women, or gays and lesbians. It is only by seeing white specificity that we can awaken to the fallacy of the idea that humans are separate.”

I could not agree more. It’s about dominance and where we place that dominance. The dominant class is nearly never aware of how deeply those roots go, how affected by the dynamics they are, and so place their pain on anyone else.

How we stop this cycle will take time, will take radical compassion, and a radical willingness to look inward and yes, let go of shame, towards a new kind of wholeness.

As Kartina Richardson said, it’s a spiritual and emotional freedom we are after. For issues of race. For issues of gender. For issues of orientation.

We are not separate, not really. The desire for dominance and power seems to be what drives that false separateness and limits our compassion for each other. We have to find our way back to that understanding no matter how difficult.



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13 responses to “All Of Our Pain Invisible: Men and Gender Identity | A Radical Centrist

  1. Who actually wakes up and thinks, “I am white” or “I am a man/woman”. I wakeup and think I am human, that’s it, my skin colour, gender, etc do not define me. My identity is in what I do, who I hang with, who I love, not my gender nor colour nor country.

    • You make my point for me. You, as a straight white man don’t have to think about it. But there are many people who wake up and are always aware of their color or gender or orientation. Be ause to be different can mean problems. That in a nutshell is what privilege is. Not having to think about it.

      • HeatherN

        What she said. 🙂

      • No, you are projecting your interpretation of my beliefs onto me. I wake up and think that race, gender does not define us. How can it? A man and woman can do pretty much everything the other can, even give birth now (trans men). I don’t wake up thinking my identity is a fat, social anxiety ridden mess who finds it difficult to get a partner either. I actively cast off the chains of gender n race because they’re so limiting. Today I fixed my mower, I know men n women, black n white who could do it, basing my identity on that as a white person or a man would be wrong.

        I was born into a male body with white/olive skin, raised in a multicultural area of Australia where I learned about aboriginal life, had friends who were aboriginal, my cousin married an aboriginal, my genetics is a mix of Scottish and Sicilian, I went to school with so many different people of white, black, asian, from a variety of cultures, I was raised on a mix of ALL of those cultures with more emphasis on the Mediterranean side as they are the majority in this area. I don’t feel this identity though, there’s nothing special about male or female, black or white, I think the focus on race, gender, religion, belief system limits us bigtime and causes a lot of xenophobia or fear of differences. Which identity am I meant to cling on to? I speak english, I have been morbidly obese n copped hell for it, I have a mental illness that currently leaves me unable to work but those things don’t define me, they aren’t my identity, I try my damn hardest to just think of us all as human and not limit my mind to seeing people as “a black/white person”, because they are a person.

        Given that the dominant class is able bodied people who are generally healthy, are you sure I am of the dominant class? I am in poverty, have health issues and have had them since I was young, have very little attractiveness so no sexual power there, I am white, I am straight, I am male, but I am also high on social anxiety disorder which few people have, I’ve had cancer, I have a permanent mental disability (Adult ADD). Those are huge burdens to carry, and given intersection would you still assume me privileged into the dominant class of people? A healthy, white, straight, non-poverty?, male of able body + average amount of attractiveness or greater (yes sex appeal is a privilege, stats prove “beautiful” people get paid more and gain more benefits) would be the dominant class here. But still, that’s not my identity. I am someone that enjoys photography, who likes to build stuff, likes to learn, and tries to live an egalitarian life. The average healthy female who isn’t in poverty has more privilege than I do right?

        I do understand what you’re saying with the not thinking about it part, but that wasn’t what I was referring to. I simply try to look past limiting aspects of a person. Skin colour, race, gender, orientation doesn’t really tell me much about a persons identity, nor do I want it to because our identity is far more complex than colour, gender, race, orientation, you can get a basic understanding of what they MIGHT go through but it relies far too much on assumptions of who they are. You can’t tell from my looks that I enjoy talking about typically feminine subjects like fashion for instance. You can guess that I’ve been bullied over my weight but even then that’s a guess.

        What is it about genetics that people want to hold so dearly with identity? British and Irish hold very similar genetics, both white, but both generally hated each other, their cultures differed. It’s just stuff I don’t want to limit my view of humanity by, it’s painfully obvious how much us-vs-them mentality comes from seeing people based on such limiting attributes for so many people.

    • HeatherN

      Ideally, really, our individual differences wouldn’t matter so much…our identities wouldn’t be so wrapped up in those differences. “I am human,” would be enough. But the reality is much more complicated…people need to feel like they’re part of something, like they’re part of a larger group…and one way in which this manifests is in social identities.

      And for minorities, you can’t escape it. Every day I am reminded that I’m queer, for example…and I’m reminded of how the queer identity fits into larger mainstream identities. I can’t not think about it, because straightness is everywhere and straightness doesn’t reflect any of my experiences. Straight people don’t think about their straightness daily…and yet, when confronted with the fact that straight isn’t the default, that it’s just one in a myriad of sexualities…a lot of straight people freak out. I think a lot of the push-back against same-sex marriage is about straight people wanting to hold onto their identity…onto something that sets them apart and defines their sexuality.

      The luxury of being the “default” is not having to think about your social identity. But the problem with being the default is that when you do try to think about your social identity, you’re left with a bunch of negatives…and not a lot of positives.

      • Well I do get reminded everyday of being poor, mentally ill, health issues, being nearly 30 and having a handful of sexual experiences whilst nearly everyone I know is dating or married, being overweight is a huge one and the level of hate I see towards overweight people, etc. But I do my damn best to not think, those are not the default but thinking about it and letting it be your identity I find is just too limiting which is what I meant. To mentally try see past limiting factors and see us all as humans, even the idea of what makes a man and the questions people ask about where to men fit in with society start to leave a bad taste in my mouth because men should simply just be humans and not follow a guidebook of what others want. Be yourself, be different, be whatever the hell you wanna be, but don’t be “manly” because you have a penis.

        Are you defined simply by being white? Hell I find white has so many damn cultures, which is meant to be correct? Russians? Mediteraneans? Viking-descendants? Germanic? My father grew up being called a wog as an insult yet he is seen as white, I think back then “wog’s” were the minority as there were more of the British-area whites but now the “wog’s” are probably the majority here. All of them put “caucasian” on their license plate, yet there can be so much hate between them, even British and Irish get hatred yet aren’t too dissimilar in genetics afaik. I see white news anchors on the fox news channel and think they’re SOOOO far different from the people I know, in Australia white-american tv has influenced us so heavily that white-australians end up more like white-americans (or probably anyone in Australia growing up watching American TV grows up “American”). The city folk here really do think quite differently on average to the country folk I find, both are white but their cultures are different. So many identities yet to see just white skin and think of whites as monolithic to me seems so limiting n strange. And you especially can’t think of black people here as all similar, we have people from Africa and native Australians/aboriginals who’s cultures differ GREATLY, for instance the racial slur “abbo” won’t have as much of an effect on an African just as “wog” doesn’t do much to an Irish nor calling a “wog” a “mick”. Should we stop referring to people by colour alone and more to their culture n heritage to avoid this?

  2. Archly you are deceiving intersectionality and that’s great. The more we can see those identities and NOT use the against each other the more empathic an compassionate we become. Thus the point of the article. In order to do that though, it’s vital to see and understand the identities in which we have more cultural power and do what we can to keep all the playing fields level.

    • HeatherN

      I’m reminded of a Feminist Hulk Tweet that ended with: “Hulk vast, contain multitudes.” Which is to say, I am defined by many things…intersectionality, like Julie said. I am white and American. I am ethnically a European mutt, but mostly Norwegian. I am queer. I am identified as a woman, but don’t always identify myself as a woman. I am English speaking and able bodied and fat and a gamer…and…and…and…

      I am an individual, but I also belong to a bunch of different social groups…social identities. That’s the way humanity works. And even if I didn’t WANT to belong to any of these social identities, society puts me in them. I don’t always identify as a woman…but other people always (almost always) identify me as a woman. And so that shapes how I see myself.

      So every day I wake up and some of my identities play a bigger role in how I see myself and how others see me. Sometimes all people see is “queer woman,” or “woman gamer,” or “white woman,” or “queer American,” or whatever. But just because I might not think a lot about being one identity (like white) doesn’t make it any less important in understanding who I am.

  3. HeatherN

    The other thing, when Julie and I are talking about identities, we aren’t talking about monolithic identities. We’re all for having flexible identities that allow for a great deal of variation. For example, a masculine woman who still identifies as a woman…or whatever.

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