The following letter I recently wrote to a mentor and friend of mine. He leads an animal tracking course which I am currently a student in. For a number of years I have been very close with the community of friends connected through the nature school in western Washington state that offers this course. For the school year of 2012-13, I was a student in an immersive program for adults offered by this school, lasting nine months, which was largely a beautiful, meaningful, yet complexly emotionally-charged experience for me, as it is for many students. This experience gives context to this and other writings of mine.
This friend and mentor to which I write has been someone I have loved greatly, in the sense of a brotherly platonic love of friends. He has been a great mentor, inspiration and comfort at difficult points in my life, and I care for him greatly. However, I found the need to write this letter to him not only in response to his asking me a certain question, but because I am getting a strong sense of the need to speak up more about alarmingly far-leftist political and cultural trends I am witnessing in this community of which we are a part.
His question to me was this: why, when a fellow female student of mine spoke of her gratitude for women being in our tracking course (a field of study which has been traditionally predominately male), I added my own outspoken gratitude that several men were there with us, too. She is grateful for having women around, I am grateful for having men around. Our teacher, to whom I write, wanted to know if I truly felt such gratitude for the company of male peers, or if my expression of gratitude was merely reflexive, to “balance” the previous gratitude expressed for women.
This letter, along with others posted here on my website, serve as a catalogue of the profound political paradigm shift which I am currently undergoing. It is an experience of both relief and anxiety. Relief, because I see now what I was blind to before. Anxiety, because I know, with heartache, I am risking all my friendships in these left-wing communities. But I will not remain silent.
Names have been removed to protect the privacy of all.
Thank you for checking in, Friend. Always great to hear from you!
To get straight to the point – yes, I do feel really authentically happy to be around men in [our tracking course]. Men are inspiring, resilient, warm, inventive, self-sacrificing, affectionate, adaptive, brilliantly more funny than women on average (gasp! she said it!) and absolutely just as completely human as me. Women are also all of these good and beautiful things (I should know, I am one), but right now I feel a particular resonance with maleness that has given me a lot of fresh thinking and perspective. The example of men has actively helped me overcome old ways of thinking that no longer suit me. I am learning from men’s undervalued wisdom, as I have previously for so long and so thoroughly and so one-sidedly learned from women’s wisdom. I am learning to focus on the beauty and primary importance of the physical external world that is not constantly swayed by my inner watery emotions or navel-gazing depression. I am inspired by men’s example to see my own place in the world, as many men do, not as one of a victim who is oppressed by society, but an agent of free will and creative self-determination who makes her own choices with an upright mind. Yes, it is lately men who have overwhelmingly modeled these things to me; for several years now, in fact. So may it be my female privilege to speak of it freely and without censoring.
This moment you refer to, where both [my peer] and I expressed our gratitude, is actually a great case study for further conversation about “social justice”. The Dunes would be an excellent place to talk in person about it. I do always like talking with you, Friend.
I love men and maleness, and men’s friendship, and lately my spirit thrives on their presence. My second reason for coming to [our tracking course], after enjoying animal tracking, is to further reflect on and find within myself this sacred masculine that I value. The traditional presence of men in animal tracking is a happy thing to me. It is to be celebrated, as women’s traditional gifts in hand-crafts are to be celebrated.
So, too, should be celebrated women’s involvement in tracking. I hope you trust me when I say that I also celebrate female involvement in traditional male skills; obviously, or I myself wouldn’t be here. But now, I have some questions for you:
Do you feel free to be outspokenly proud of your natural maleness, as I am unquestionably free to be outspokenly proud of my natural femaleness? I have an endless supply of women-only social gatherings I may choose to be a part of. How many men-only gatherings are available to you? Who is advocating for the love of men? Who has the freedom to cry in public? Who among me and you, Friend, generally feels the freedom to cry in the company of the other? Who dies in wars? Who fills the prisons? Who cares for the hearts of men? Who commits the most suicide? If men are damaged, if men are wayward, if men are so lately despised and resented, if they are such oppressors, if something is so wrong with them, why do we not immediately arise to save them in love? Are they not our lost relatives? Are not men to be loved, too, as I love them, my brothers and lovers and mentors and fathers? Do men not crave this love of tribe and fellowship and women’s affection? Do men not sacrifice all for the hope of belonging, as women also do? Can a society be whole without women and men together in affection? Can men be complete if they resent women? Can women be complete if they resent men? Are women capable of malice? Are all women the same? Are all men the same? Where is the line between women and men –at a feminist rally, in anger? Is there an “us”? Is there a “them”? Where is the line that runs through every heart? When will anger finally end? When will men beat their swords into plough-shares? When will women learn from their example? When will we humans no longer accuse each other? Where do women and men finally lay down their pain, the whole world’s pain, and prefer to lean upon each other in tender fondness of kinship and partnership? Shall it be restrained to sexual matrimony? Shall love be restrained? Shall it not be so many kinds of love, disguised in the many forms of the scout? Shall it not be extended to the happiness of the greater society? Shall I not see in my sworn enemy my worthy opponent? Whose language is this? Who gives us life? Can a woman alone give life? Can a man? If I love men, is it assumed I hate women? If I want to thank men, are women resentful? Why would love engender resent? Is it assumed I am not happy with my own sex? If I were not (though I am), and if I wanted to be a man, would that make me a traitor –would it even make me a man– or would it make me more happy than I already am? Can I celebrate my love of men absolutely and freely and without accusation of misogyny against my own life? Can I celebrate men so that I might better lift up these men that I love? Can I call them out of darkness? Can I give them the forgiveness they cannot? Can I remind men that we need them here, alive, and whole, and afraid no longer? Will men finally come back from war? The old, ancient war that separated one from another, sister from brother, endlessly dividing, endlessly losing. Are women now going to war? How easily a war is waged.
When, I ask, will women and men find each other again?
Is it not originally, bravely, daringly feminist of me to so boldly pronounce this love, any love, my love for both women and men? And what of this insistence that men finally allow themselves to be loved by us women? I do not hold back, I encircle you men. Ah, let me initiate, brothers: I make the first move. I offer reconciliation. I advocate for my own heart’s pleasure, this troubadour’s happiness, full of song, fulfilled only by the otherness of who I am not, when the other is fulfilled in the same. I call you men home from a long war. I believe in the best of you.
Obviously, with a smile, you can see that these questions are rhetorical and meant to invoke contemplation. Now, compare this perspective to that of such bitterness seeping into our time, such a sorrowful resentment and mistrust of each other, divided into squabbling factions of identity politics –with you, my beloved brother, friend and teacher, placed squarely in the zone of the resented. So many would make you their enemy, though they don’t even know you. But I know you well enough to know, I think, that you would have no one be your enemy. I, too, have chosen to live by this. There are some now who would make me their enemies, but I have no enemies. It really lightens the heart, loosens the throat. But now I know what I am getting into.
The last time I went to a bookstore in Seattle, I looked at the women’s studies section. It had many books, diverse of topic and variety. Some were serious, some intellectual, some angry, some wistful, some lighthearted fun, most complaining about something-or-other, and surely some were truly soulful and well-rounded. There was an entire bookshelf filled, from the floor to the ceiling, with books by, for, and about women.
Then I looked at the men’s section, searching for the other part of my being.
Do you know what was there?
There were nine books. Nine. And every one of them could’ve been titled, Men are Problematic and Something is Wrong With Them.
Well, my goodness. This wasn’t exactly the world of feminism I was bargaining for as a Queer’N’Questioning teenager with a shaved head and punk in my earphones. The other half of my beloved humanity, the other half of my own complete self –shamed.
Of course, you are not intending to invoke any of this when you ask me my intentions in giving gratitude to the presence of men at [our tracking course]. I understand that. And it’s a fair question, given a certain frame of reference –wouldn’t I just be trying to undermine women? No– “balance” things out a bit? Couldn’t possibly be real love and gratitude for men, now could it? I wink and smile in slyness– I mean, women are so oppressed, right? Like, we can’t even vote or escape getting our genitals mutilated and there’s totally no laws or enforcement protecting us from rape or spousal abuse and we can’t even work outside the home. Oh, wait. That’s not the Western society we live in. Oops. I almost got the reality of our time and place –the heretofore unprecedented equality and humanism of the West– mixed up with the cultures who didn’t have those terrible colonial white men writing the Constitution or the Emancipation Proclamation or the Universal Declaration of Human Rights that absolutely set the foundational framework for the possibility of feminism and the civil rights movements.
I challenge the status quo, Friend. My existence demands it. You know me, I’ve never been one to blend in. I try! Truly, I’ve gotten better it the way of the scout. And, in all seriousness, blending is a normal human need, of course. I challenge things carefully. And I do so because I love you, Brother, and I love other men and maleness and the freedom of my own unchained femaleness to love freely and bravely and in many ways. And I have spent plenty of time already being mad at men, and being upset at the world, and demanding justice and reparations and counseling, and screaming on street corners for gay marriage rights, and volunteering at Planned Parenthood, and rebuking stupid rape jokes, and buying lunches for homeless people, and talking back to big powerful men and absentmindedly walking straight through a talking circle (haha, remember that one? What a dork I was! Hopefully, just a lovable dork) and otherwise being a card-carrying system-fighter (these are enough credentials to prove I’m a real Liberal, right?). And I can tell you that these ways are exhausting. And while the motivations to do some of these things are certainly understandable and I continue to have empathy for it in others, it is really no way to carry on in the long term. Anger isn’t sustainable. It’s tends to backfire on the user. You could say I’ve grown up a bit.
So, we stand at a crossroads in our time.
Whatever engenders affections between groups of people, I am in support of. Whatever engenders enmity between groups of people, I stand in opposition to.
Think, very seriously, my friend whom I would never wish to lose or alienate: which attitudes or movements or ideologies engender affection, and which engender enmity. In this moment I will mentor you, and invite you to critically contemplate this. And this is what I have to say to the extreme leftist movements of militant, speech-policing “social justice” cultural Marxism, and to the equally reactionary far-right supremacist fascists alike:
We know there is no one right side, and there is only one great human heart, and the ancient instinct to anger and bloodshed cuts through every heart, and how quickly do we forget and turn against one another, how quickly do we make an enemy of our brother and sister, and how terrible was our own civil war, and the way to all terrible wars are strewn with the perceptions of victimhood, and the accusations of wrongdoing, and we know we must make peace before sundown, and we know we must catch the peace tree when it falls, and we know there is no “us” and no “them”.
With affection and confidence,