men


I am piloting a new project this year at Not Back to School Camp called “On Becoming a Man.” I thought it would be a salient topic for many of the 13-18 year old males at camp. This is how I described it for campers looking for a project at camp:

“This project is for campers who are interested in becoming a man. It will include exploring the issues of what it means to be a man, the difference between manhood and boyhood, and the freedoms and responsibilities of manhood. Each participant will be supported in coming to a personal definition of manhood and, if they so decide, design a ritual entry into manhood.”

I’ve been thinking about the meaning of manhood a lot for many years, so I feel prepared for that part of the project. I am least prepared for the part where we design a coming of age ritual for each camper who chooses to have one. I’m doing some reading on it (Imber-Black and Roberts Rituals For Our Times) but not having had a coming of age ritual myself, I have next to no concrete examples. The gom jabbar ritual from Dune springs to mind, but I don’t have a poison needle or a pain box. (Plus I don’t think the NBTSC consent forms cover the possibility of death by poison needle!)

Did you have or have you witnessed a great coming of age ritual? Why was it great? Any horror stories? Thanks!

I’ve been working with the University of Oregon Men’s Center since last spring, helping out with their research projects. During one of our last meetings, a couple MBA students pitched us the idea of growing mustaches for “Movember” (Mustache + November) as a way to increase awareness of prostate cancer. We went for it, so I’m six days into a mustache. (If you want to see the final product, read at least the last paragraph in this post.)

Here are the “Rules for Participants” from the Movember website:

1) On Shadowe’en (October 31st), the complete moustache region, including the entire upper lip and the handlebar zones, must be completely shaved.

2) For the entire duration of Movember (Movember 1st – 35th inclusive), no hair shall be allowed to grow in the goatee zone – being any facial area below the bottom lip.

3) There is to be no joining of the moustache to sideburns.

4) Failure to conform to all of these rules may, at the discretion of the official Movember Committee, result in instant blacklisting and may void invitation to the end of MOnth festivities (this year lip-marked for Movember 35th!)

5) Movember Committee accepts no responsibility for lost jobs, rashes, food/beer encrustments or any other such mishaps caused to the wearer (or his partner) of a Movember Moustache. You grew it yourself.

So I’m growing a mustache and it’s a little terrifying. I think I look silly. I wonder if my clients will be able to take me seriously. And this is the first time that I’ve resented my therapist costume. In my street clothes I can (maybe) pass as a moderately hip guy who’s growing a mustache because it’s silly. In my therapist costume–khakis, button-up shirt–I look like nothing but an overly earnest businessman who is clueless about the fashion implications of a mustache. I squirm about it.

It’s also poking me in the homophobia, much like taking ballet did last year. My mustache reminds me a lot more of Freddy Mercury than one of the Beatles. I’m getting over that, though, by watching footage of Queen on Youtube. Freddy Mercury was an incredible rocker.

And anyways I like to push myself in these ways, bust my ego a little, uncover and deal with lingering homophobia, and support a good cause.

Prostate cancer has an amazingly low profile, considering that it’s more common in men than breast cancer is in women. One in six men in the US get it and it kills 30,000 of us a year–more than every other kind except lung cancer. The prostate cancer rates are so high in the elderly that it looks like pretty much every man would get it if they lived long enough. It doesn’t tend to produce symptoms for a long time after it starts growing, so it’s important to get checked after you hit 40. Yes, unfortunately this involves a “digital rectal examination”–a finger in the butt that could save your life. I’ve had one and it’s no fun but it’s not that bad.

Here are the major symptoms according to the Google Health:

  • Urinary hesitancy (delayed or slowed start of urinary stream)
  • Urinary dribbling, especially immediately after urinating
  • Urinary retention
  • Pain with urination
  • Pain with ejaculation
  • Lower back pain
  • Pain with bowel movement

I’m also registered with Movember, so you can donate a few dollars to the cause in my name. The proceeds go to the Prostate Cancer Foundation and LIVESTRONG Young Adult Alliance. Just click here and follow the directions. If my donations add up to $100 or more, I’ll post a photo of the final result in December.

I’m learning a lot about child abuse this term. It is no fun. It’s got me feeling sad–depressed, even–pissed off, and creeped out. Did you know that 1 in 20 American men sexually assaults a child? That’s 15,000,000 men! I’m having trouble with that.

I saw a documentary last night called Playground, about child sex traffic in the US. I’m still feeling heavy about it. One of the points it made: If someone broke into a woman’s room and raped her, a video of the crime would not be called “pornography.” It would be called “footage of a crime” or “evidence of sexual assault” or something like that. Footage of a child being raped shouldn’t be called “pornography,” either. That gives it too much legitimacy, like it’s just one of the more repulsive niches of that booming industry, pornography. How about we call it “footage of a child being raped”?

I was learning about and being shocked by the prevalence of rape of women in college for my crisis line training when an essay by Eli Lehrer caught my eye, “Ending Prison Rape.” It’s about the apparent controversy and reluctance to implement the Prison Rape Elimination Act of 2003. I looked into the numbers a bit, and it looks like there is a good chance that there are as many rapes of men in prison as of free women in the US.

(Here are some Bureau of Justice Statistics links, if you want to look into it: http://bjs.ojp.usdoj.gov/index.cfm?ty=pbdetail&iid=1743, http://bjs.ojp.usdoj.gov/index.cfm?ty=pbdetail&iid=840, http://www.ojp.usdoj.gov/nij/topics/corrections/institutional/prison-rape/welcome.htm)

No one deserves to be raped. Why do we have this weird double standard? Not even the most outrageous comedian would joke about women being raped, but it’s a very common joke about prisoners. Hilarious! It’s like that’s just part of the deal–part of your punishment. If you break the law, you get raped. You gave up your right to not get raped when you did such-and-such.

Most of these men will be getting out, someday. I know very few people really think that there is any rehabilitation going on in prisons, but getting raped is the opposite of rehabilitation. Does anyone seriously think a man can be raped into being a good citizen? That they will treat others better for having been raped? The evidence on trauma does not support this view. Or perhaps we think it’s a way of keeping people from breaking the law. Better not do that, they rape you in there… Lehrer’s essay says that some are saying this is a state’s rights issue, as if states should be able to decide which American men are suitable for raping. That would be fine with me, I suppose, if they unanimously decided that no rape was acceptable, period.

Still, for some perspective, the Prison Rape Elimination Act’s estimated 13% of men in prison raped gives better odds than the 20% of women raped in college. Perhaps there should be a College Rape Elimination Act of 2010.