“Can I tell you all something?” I blurted out in the middle of our conversation. Everyone in the car went quiet, patiently waiting for what I had to say. Maybe it was the alcohol or maybe it was my Pisces stellium talking but the urgency to say what had to be said was palpable. “I feel safe around you guys.”
It was around one in the morning and I found myself in the back of a car with some strangers that I had just met at a party — a typical Saturday night. But what made this car ride different was that everyone in it was a straight boy and I was the odd gay boy out. Sure, they were CrossFit dudebros that blasted unrecognizable rap to my pop Top 40 ears, but they also knew how to process their emotions and talk without mansplaining. And more importantly, they didn’t seem uncomfortable with my presence. They even insisted on dropping me off at my stop. Instead of awkward silence following my display of emotion, these boys acknowledged me and thanked me for the compliment. As I sat there leaning on their gym bags, I realized that my fight or flight responses weren’t being triggered. For the first time in my life, I felt safe around straight men.
In the Philippines today, the words “safe space” and “straight men” rarely intersect. With an administration that actively subjugates women and deprives the LGBTQIA+ of their basic human rights, the patriarchy is more blatant and empowered than ever before.
Author and activist bell hooks defines the patriarchy as “a political-social system that insists that males are inherently dominating… and endowed with the right to dominate and rule over the weak and to maintain that dominance through various forms of psychological terrorism and violence.”
Masculinity mutates and turns toxic under a patriarchal society. And while women are the prime targets of the patriarchy, queer men are no strangers to this gendered violence as well.
Masculinity mutates and turns toxic under a patriarchal society. And while women are the prime targets of the patriarchy, queer men are no strangers to this gendered violence as well. We become targets of harassment and physical violence for living our alternative masculinities. We even deny ourselves of our authentic selves as an act of self-preservation. But just like everything that is constructed, this system can also be dismantled.
You can put as many flowers as you want on your beard but if you’re going to let your bros harass women and the LGBTQIA+ community, the streets still won’t be safe for us.
We see these attempts time and time again. A hot guy puts on some makeup and wears something other than a black suit, and all of a sudden, the patriarchy is found dead in a ditch. While, yes, having cisgender heterosexual men venture outside of traditional gender norms is a refreshing and progressive step away from toxic masculinity; performance does little to subvert. You can put as many flowers as you want on your beard but if you’re going to let your bros harass women and the LGBTQIA+ community, the streets still won’t be safe for us.
An actual good place to start is for straight men to stop objectifying women. The same applies to your bros. You can put an end to the perpetuation of this culture when you call them out.
Another way is for straight men to acknowledge the need for more rights for the people that don’t have the same privileges that they do. As of the moment, we are still lobbying for the passing of the SOGIE Equality Bill, and we could always use more voices to join the cause.
Finally, straight men can also learn to develop their emotional literacy and be kind to themselves. A little tenderness and vulnerability can flush away the toxicity in your masculinity.
The friendship that came out of that car ride is a testament to the fact that different masculinities can coexist without having to oppress one another.
Whenever I see those straight boys from that night again, we give each other a long hearty hug. It’s more than just proof of how comfortable we are with each other. They also know that I can’t do the handshake-transitioning-to-one-arm-manhug even if my life depended on it. And they understand that. The friendship that came out of that car ride is a testament to the fact that different masculinities can coexist without having to oppress one another. I’m not saying that straight boys have to drive home their gay friends in order to end the patriarchy. But letting them feel safe around you is a pretty damn good place to start.