Speaking against a man

Thinking Outside the Binary

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Once in a while, a man manages to surprise me by doing the bare minimum required of a decent person: calling out their sexist male peers.

This time, it happened in a video clip featuring the infamous YouTuber Logan Paul. In the video, Logan Paul and his guests on his YouTube channel, Impaulsive, were dissecting Harry Styles’ recent Vogue photoshoot. One guest contradicted himself, saying that it’s “great for people not to judge other people” immediately after calling Styles “not manly” because he was pictured wearing a dress on the Vogue cover.

To my surprise, Paul called him out on this blatant contradiction. The guest immediately got defensive, calling Logan Paul angry and continuing to interrupt as Paul was trying to explain why it was wrong for the guest to say Styles wasn’t manly because of his attire.

In a way, it was a brave stance to take because men who acknowledge toxic masculinity may call their own masculinity into question. 

To clarify: I am no fan of Logan Paul, even after he stood up to those bullies. But his action does make me wish more men spoke out against the blatant sexism and genderism that other men uphold in their day-to-day conversations. Too many men in my life have caved to peer pressure when in the presence of other men, either by remaining silent or by participating in demeaning humor and language.

My stepdad loves to strike up “political” conversations with me in an attempt to “debate.” Once he asked me, “Don’t you think it’s obnoxious that gay people always have to make a big deal about their sexuality when coming out?” I could’ve been mean. I could’ve insulted his intelligence or called him derogatory names. Instead, I stood quiet for a moment, trying to carefully piece together my argument.

“If gay people weren’t made out to be different and abnormal in our society they wouldn’t be forced to —” He cut me off before I could finish and slowly began raising his voice at me — as if because he was talking louder and faster than me, he was winning the “debate.” 

It is infuriating when my stepdad barks at me, but it’s even more embarrassing when he does so with other men in the room, making a spectacle of our conversation. While I attempt to hold my tongue, as any word that slips out tends to make him yell even louder, my male family members usually either egg him on or ignore what’s going on altogether. 

Every so often, one of my relatives will attempt to have a “heart-to-heart” conversation with me about the way I am treated by my stepdad. But honestly, his words are meaningless. He doesn’t defend me when my stepdad is belittling me; he doesn’t even attempt to tell my stepdad he is wrong. He just sits there awkwardly, likely praying the conversation will soon come to a halt. His belated words of comfort aren’t of any use to me.

He also often begins our conversations by saying, “You know how he is,” in reference to my stepdad. But that is no excuse. It rings similar to the “boys will be boys” narrative, completely releasing my stepdad of any accountability. If I am hurt by what he says to me, it is my own fault, and I am the irrational one because I “should’ve expected this.” 

When my cousin says these things, he also absolves himself of accountability. It’s easier to support my stepdad or ignore him because by doing so, my cousin can avoid being yelled at or having his masculinity called into question.

It seems a bit ridiculous that defending queer people and women could be considered emasculating, but that seems to be my cousin’s case against defending me. Defending women and queer people does not make someone unmanly, just as Harry Styles’ choice to wear a dress does not make him unmanly. Logan Paul suggested to his guests that what makes someone manly is being comfortable in their skin and comfortable in who they are, and I agree. 

Maybe it’s unfair of me to expect my cousin to call my stepdad out. I know it must be difficult to have to constantly prove your masculinity to other men and he does face the risk of being outed as a queer person.

Regardless, it feels selfish that my cousin chooses to say nothing, especially because as a man, he simply has more of a chance to be heard. And he doesn’t use that privilege to speak out against my stepdad. 

I am a closeted nonbinary lesbian, and every time I am forced to speak alone against my stepdad’s queerphobic comments, I am ridiculed for my sexuality. Still, I speak out against the men in my family because if I don’t, who will? 

While I don’t want to equate my cousin’s struggles to mine, I do want him, and other men, to defend me and fellow gender-oppressed folks.

Men have privilege just by being men, and although they can’t necessarily rid themselves of that privilege, they could at least put it to good use.

Elaina Guerrero writes the Wednesday column on the confines of the gender binary. Contact them at [email protected]