Men Aren't Monsters
For most of my life, I was afraid of men. I was born with it. My fear of male-bodied humans was just as irrational and inexplicable as my friend Jolene's fear of spiders: I simply didn't like them. I didn't want to be around them. Anyone who appeared to own a penis made me deeply uncomfortable.
The sad part is, the few times during my childhood that I was able to nervously voice my fears to fellow women, they usually responded one of two ways:
1. "It's good that you're cautious. Men are animals."
2. "Why on earth would you be scared of men? That's so weird and I don't relate to your fear at all! Were you assaulted or something?"
Neither of these responses were helpful. My world was already confusing, and these mixed messages from fellow females made it worse. In the case of Response Number One, I didn't like hearing men were animals because I knew it wasn't true: my brother, father, and adopted uncle were all wonderful people who I trusted and adored. Meanwhile, Response Number Two seemed to imply that I was only allowed to feel afraid of men after I was assaulted by one. Which is bizarre.
It's taken me decades to untangle my feelings about gender and sexuality, and I'm happy to report that I no longer live in the grip of fear. Being introduced to a male stranger is now no different than being introduced to a female: I shake their hand, look into their eyes, and wait for a vibe. Most of the time, I find myself wanting to know more about them. I lean in, asking questions, curious. But every once in a while, I feel repulsion. In those instances, I've learned to trust my instincts completely. I walk away, undeterred by social norms or what people will think of me. When someone makes me uncomfortable, I vanish. It's my favorite magic trick, honed over many years of travelling alone as a young woman in a world that's equal parts menacing and welcoming.
Growing up is painful. No matter what gender, ethnicity, shape or income level you were born into, maturing into an adult is as torturous as it is wonderful. The ecstasy of a backyard barbeque is cut short by the horror of having your dog run over by a car. A blissful family vacation to the tropics is marred by a drunken argument at dinner. The elation of boogieing with your friends all night at a high school dance ends in confusion when your date wants more than you're offering.
But here we are: male, female, transgender, and anything else you can dream of. We're all here, trying to make sense of it, make the best of it. Our gender doesn't determine our character: our actions do.
I grew up in a culture that dehumanized men, that pitted the genders against each other. "Men can't be trusted," people would tell me. "They all want the same thing." And it's kinda stupid, but I actually believed them. I believed that half of the human race didn't deserve my trust, simply because of the body they were born with.
It's taken me 28 years, but I finally get it: men aren't monsters. They aren't animals, or chauvinistic pigs, or selfish bastards. Men are people. They're human: capable of immense love and horrific destruction, like all of us.