Well, I’ll be goddamned. I’m a social justice warrior.
I had no idea this was the case until a guy posted an SJW meme on one of my blog posts. The fact is, until I saw the meme, titled “Anatomy of an SJW,” I didn’t know what the hell it stood for. I want to thank the fellow who took the time to clarify my identity for me. I feel so liberated.
There was another helpful meme posted there, as well: a gif of a drag queen (I think) in full makeup, mugging into the camera. The new me, it turns out. I just need my wife to teach me some eyeliner tricks.
The post that elicited those responses was harmless enough: an exploration of why it is that men so seldom talk candidly with each other about feeling banged up by life. It’s a theme I’ve explored a fair amount since my diagnosis with stage-three prostate cancer two years ago—on my blog and in my book. I was struck at the time—and continue to be—by how pathetic men are at talking about things that freak them out, particularly male health concerns. We’re so bad at it, in fact, that marketers have given us code language to use in place of real words: Low-T, ED, etc. It would be pretty funny if it weren’t just another example of our caveman sensibilities at work.
I really witnessed this avoidance dynamic when my book Midpoint came out this summer. Women would buy it—and read it—for their husbands. When I gave away copies to members of a prostate cancer support group on Facebook, I had several wives and daughters request copies because the afflicted male in question was too spooked to face his problem, or in denial. To be clear, these are women reading a book about prostate cancer, male midlife, and masculinity, and all the unappetizing details involved with that trifecta. First of all, props to the women for reading that stuff. But, really, guys, man up.
Opening Up to a Roomful of Strangers
Speaking of that Facebook support group, it’s a remarkable phenomenon, and no small thing. Last I checked, there were over 12,000 members, men and women. It’s the only place I’ve found where men unload their worst prostate cancer anxieties to a virtual convention hall filled with absolute strangers. They talk so casually about erectile dysfunction, urinary incontinence, and PSA-test anxiety, you’d think they’d all had a bong hit or a shot of Jack Daniels before they logged on. When someone in the group admits to being apprehensive about radiation or remarks with horror how his dick is an inch shorter after a prostatectomy, you’ll see dozens of other men (and women) chime in to share their experiences and to offer support. It’s kind of amazing.
What strikes me about that support group is the variety of people who post there. You’ll see rough-and-tumble Trump supporters with MAGA hats and wrap-around sunglasses; gay democrats from Rhode Island; elderly fellows; guys in their forties; men dying from metastatic disease; others with mild diagnoses just exploring their treatment options. And then, of course, you see wives and daughters. One guy recently posted that he was obese and had been diagnosed with a Gleason-7 prostate cancer, usually an intermediate-risk malignancy. He had read online that his life expectancy was very poor. You could tell the guy was devastated. Immediately, other members, many with similar profiles, replied that his information was incorrect and that he had an excellent likelihood of survival. One comment advised him to “pull it together,” and another urged him to lose weight before heading into treatment; but everyone addressed his anxiety with a uniquely male compassion: You can beat this, but there’s work to do. We’re here for you, brother. It’s pretty cool, actually. Tough love, brotherly love. But, true to American manhood, it’s affection offered from a safe distance to people we might not otherwise know, much less like. We men prefer to show support anonymously and at arm’s length. At least it’s support, though.
Which brings me back to the social justice warrior subject. When I dug into the SJW mania, I found that much of it is a reaction to #MeToo and the belief that masculinity has unfairly been labeled as toxic, like a mold infestation. It’s further inflected by the cultural concept of “snowflakes” and how people take offense at pretty much anything these days. So a lot of guys feel besieged and are lashing out at anyone who suggests that traditional masculinity (or whatever you want to call it) isn’t fine as it is, even when it prevents us from seeking support. Fair enough, fellas. You’re entitled to your views, of course.
For the record, I’m proud to be a man. I don’t spend my evenings flagellating myself for my male privilege, nor do I think masculinity is inherently toxic. But I also try to recognize when my gender role isn’t serving my best interests, which was the case when I went looking for candid information on prostate cancer. We need places where men—at least those who want to—can talk openly about a nasty disease while maintaining a sense of masculine dignity. It would be nice if we could create that space in person, man-to-man, so to speak, but Facebook works, too.
I do find myself wondering if the John Wayne wannabes who post drag-queen gifs and SJW memes (and who are offended pretty easily, too, I noticed), won’t end up on that support group someday. It kind of sucks, after all, to be told you have a disease that could run your cherished male ego through a wood chipper. If they get the diagnosis that one in nine American men will face, I suspect they’ll undertake their own re-evaluation of manhood—one that makes their lives a little more tolerable.