Some more musings on brotherhood and man-only organisations

The “Downsides to being seen as a man” post has received quite a bit more attention than I was expecting, most of it good.  However, I feel like I may have failed to explain a few areas as well as I could have.  One of the big ones has to do with male/man-only organisations.  More than a few people have said that all non-women-only organisations are for men by default, something that I think needs to be looked at.

Yes, most organisations are run by men.  However, there is a distinct difference between something be run by a man and something being for men.  Just as there is sisterhood, there is brotherhood.  Unfortunately, there are very few areas for men to experience brotherhood, particularly straight men.  If you’re not big into frats and/or can’t get into a Masons lodge you’re left with religious organisations and maybe recreational sports teams (depending on whether or not your area has progressed to mixed-gender teams).  What’s a straight, atheist, geek guy to do?  Women have social organisations devoted solely to the experience of being a woman and how that brings them together.  Men don’t.

What’s more, there’s often a certain amount of anger at the idea that men might need men-only groups.  It’s as if people believe that the simple act of men getting together is going to cause a return to the 1950s.  I first noticed this a few years ago when I was converting to Judaism, the (cis-woman, as far as I know) rabbi was openly hostile to the men who had been to an orthodox shul and said they enjoyed the male bonding experience.  This same woman hosted women-only Torah studies and organised the yearly women-specific Shabbat service, but was less than thrilled when my synagogue at the time started up a men’s group.  It makes absolutely no sense.

Now, I’m not saying there should be only men’s and women’s groups.  I love my woman friends, I’m much closer to them than I am most of my guy friends (particularly the straight guys).  However, there are times that it’s just nice to be with only guys.  Trans, cis, gay, straight, bi, whatever.  There’s just something a little different about not having women around.  It can’t really be all that surprising to anyone, particularly women who love their women’s groups.

Even when there are groups of only gay guys, not having women around brings the stress levels down a bit.  For all we try to act like men are insensitive animals who don’t care about anyone, most guys do change their behaviour around women.  Sometimes it’s subconscious, often it’s an attempt to make sure the women in question are comfortable.  Either way, having women around changes the dynamic.

Hell, let’s say none of that was true.  Would it matter?  Why can’t guys just want to hang out with guys?  There’s nothing wrong with men and women having their separate spaces.  There’s not even any reason we have to limit it to men and women, let’s also have bigender, agender, genderqueer, and whatever other gender variation we can come up with groups (along with the ‘everyone’ ones, obviously).  As long as we all recognise that no group is inherently better than the other there’s nothing wrong with splitting up every now and then.

7 Replies to “Some more musings on brotherhood and man-only organisations”

  1. What’s been your experience with trans men only spaces? I’m curious because I find that in *general* there’s a lot more posturing, homophobia, sexism and other bullshit in transmen only spaces than there is in other spaces. Why is that? Are we all just trying so hard to prove our worth to each other? A friend and I have speculated that it’s some kind of essential role-playing that is practice for interacting with other guys outside of trans circles…but it’s all so proscriptive and narrow and I hate it.

    I’m personally not a huge fan of identity based spaces on a formal level, I create them in my life, informally, of course, but for me, something changes once it becomes a semi-public affair. I’m not sure I can explain why. I will have boy’s nights with my friends but I don’t do formal identity based stuff very often. I do see the value of it, though. I’d probably like them a lot better if I were post-medical transition and could blend in. As it is, they are fraught awful spaces where nothing makes much sense but I suppose all of that is a much more personal objection than an ideological one.

    • I’ve found trans men only spaces to be very similar to spaces for teenage boys. Everyone acts like a child, there’s no room for gender expression or sexuality differentiation, and the two or three guys who have moved onto behaving like adults end up getting the most shit. It makes sense when you think about it, regardless of how old we are when we transition, we’re still essentially teenagers when it comes to interacting with the world as men. Problem is, some guys never move on to interacting with men who are past the adolescent phase so they think acting like a macho, sexist asshole is perfectly acceptable. Happens with cis guys too, but that doesn’t make it any less irritating.

      I actually didn’t start liking men-only spaces until the past year or so. Rather, I didn’t start liking men-only spaces that weren’t gay specific until the past year or so. Before that I liked gay male spaces because it meant I didn’t have to worry about people thinking I’m a lesbian, but that’s another issue entirely. Now I have a few areas where being with a group of guys and talking about things that affect guys are nice. The men’s group at my synagogue is a good example, we spend more time talking about things like circumcision and how to make Hebrew classes more interesting for the boys than we do doing the stereotypical “drink, look at women, talk about sports” stuff everyone expects.

  2. I am a mason and gay. The organization is fairly tolerant of most things, but you also list that you’re an atheist, which would cause a problem with membership. I do know our lodge does have social nights 2 nights a month and we welcome non-masons. Its still a mens only night, and we sit around drinking coffee and tea, with no set discussion topic.. its quite relaxing.

    its one way to get somewhat involved with a mens club.

    • YOUR organisation is fairly tolerant. Not all of them are. That’s one of the things with the Masons, because it’s all so local different chapters have different tolerance levels.

      It should also be noted that being accepted for being gay is fundamentally different from being accepted for being trans. Trans people are a good 10-20 years behind gay people in terms of understanding. Most people have a gay uncle or cousin or friend, very few are aware of knowing a trans person.

      And I’m not an atheist. …Sort of. I’m atheist-agnostic-humanist and Jewish. Not straight either. I was just pointing out that finding men’s spaces when you’re neither gay nor religious is virtually impossible.

      • yeah.. I know it varies alot from lodge to lodge. If you do have an interest in masonry, check out acouple of lodges. We have acouple of lodges in our metro area in the gay districts of town that have trans members. Or, find a trans friendly lodge, get initiated there, then transfer into another one. Noone will see you without being fully clothed, except during part of the initiation that I won’t get into, so its not an issue after that. 🙂

  3. I am not even sure why I am typing this, but I need to say this. I am the person who submitted it to Hacker News. I just loved it so much that I thought others had to see it. So, I tried to make it as public as I could.

    Please, don’t change the way you write in the future for something trivial. That post was a breath of fresh air and I just love everything on your blog.

    • Haha, don’t worry, I don’t think I could change the way I write if I tried. Actually, I have a few times and failed pretty miserably. Tact is not one of my strong points.

      Thanks for the submission, btw. It’s always pretty awesome to have a piece get attention from unexpected areas. Helps keep my ego fed 😛

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