Edited by Zeb Treloar-Reid
Contributors: Dick Douglass, Scott Young, Zeb Treloar-Reid, Jim Hayes, Mark Minear
We all have our own unique perspectives on masculinity, manhood, boys, and men. It’s sometimes hard to piece together whether there are any significant or meaningful differences when it comes to gender. We all come to gender from different places, recognizing that every person is unique and yet there are commonalities between all people. This blog post will share some of the unique perspectives of some of the contributors of this blog, trusting that our unique and communal perspectives will enhance our conversation about men and boys.
Our first conversation partner is Dick Douglass, L.I.S.W., a long-time counselor at Des Moines Pastoral Counseling Center. “Last year when Mark walked across the state of Iowa to raise awareness about the mental health needs of men and boys, I was inspired by his passion and his compassion. The committee formed at the Des Moines Pastoral Counseling Center to further explore this mission is a wonderfully diverse group in terms of the gender spectrum. In our discussions, we’ve been able to raise concerns and challenge assumptions, all with a commitment to understand alternative perspectives with an abiding mutual respect. These are values I hope we can nurture as we expand our community dialogue through the blog. Now, late in my career, I witness each day the courage male clients have to explore their inner experience, to move beyond the masculine, protective shield of silence, withdrawal, and anger into an awareness of their full emotional range. Out of this embracing of vulnerability and genuine sharing of self with others comes a strength and resilience that frees them to live more fully in a challenging world. My hope is our blog will open rich discussions, expand our thinking, and help us all be more effective in serving this population.”
Secondly, we turn to Scott P. Young, Ph.D., a staff psychologist who works with both men and boys at the Center, “Because of my interest working with guys across the lifespan, I’m looking forward to this blog focusing on boys, men, masculinity, maleness, and mental health. I’m particularly interested in conversations around feelings, and spend a fair amount of time in my therapy work talking with boys, adolescents, men, and older men about their feelings. For that matter, I also have to admit to spending a fair amount of time in therapy talking with girls and women about the feelings of the boys and men in their lives too! In jest and with some seriousness, I often talk about “the 4 feelings” we guys are “allowed” to have. So having some conversation about how we understand feelings in guys is a topic to which I hope to offer some contribution. I’m excited to share these conversations, and thank Dr. Mark Minear and the Des Moines Pastoral Counseling Center for engaging this topic.”
Next, is Zeb Treloar-Reid, M.Div., a member of the support staff at the Center, “I guess I’m still working out what it means to be masculine or be a man. I was socialized female and embraced my own manhood in my senior year of college. I’ve learned a lot since coming out as transgender, but sometimes manhood feels more confining than the feminist experience I had growing up. Men are harassed for wearing certain clothes, for painting their nails, for expressing a full range of emotions. I’ve learned that this constraint especially affects my heterosexual friends. I’m interested in exploring our society’s ideals of what it means to be a man, especially what it means to be a cis-gender heterosexual man, looking at their experiences through the lens of my own transgender, gay experience. I want to explore all of what people mean when they say ‘man up’.”
Our executive director, Jim Hayes, D.Min., who began his work at the Center in January of 2017. “I have been amazed at the variety of ways we live out our mission of encouraging hope and healing through counseling and education. This certainly includes our work with boys and men. I have been impressed with the candid conversations we have had about how to best serve all on the gender spectrum—and of some of the unique issues for dealing with the varieties of the masculine experience. I grew up in a blue collar, for the most part, Caucasian environment. Homophobia was a norm through most of my adolescence. It was only when my cultural horizons expanded in college and beyond that I realized how many of my male friends struggled with where they fit in on the spectrum and responded to the question of “what does it mean to be a man?” These friends caused me to ask similar questions of myself. I spent much of my adult life surrounded by other celibate men in ministry, then married late and had kids. Now I’m surrounded by women at home—a spouse and two daughters—and live in a professional world (human services) that is seemingly more attractive to women than men, given the numbers of those entering these professions. I am excited that our blog will help us all to explore these questions a bit. I’m not sure how many answers we’ll provide, but hope that the questions help us all to explore what it means to be human and fully alive.”
And finally, Mark Minear, Ph.D., a staff psychologist who began this conversation, has some thoughts and reflections for all of us to ponder. “While growing up in my family of nine in small town Iowa, I had parents, siblings, friends, a church family, school teachers, and a community show me what it means to be a human being; and, at the same time, a father, two older brothers, school teachers, and church members show me what it means to be a man. Unfortunately, my father was the angriest person I have ever known in my life (of course, it was upfront and personal); in fact, I don’t know if I hardly ever observed any other emotion in him other than, perhaps, neutral situations and occasional moments of enjoyment when he played his music. And, with him as my example, I grew up with that typical stereotype about men and their rage. Since then, I have often wondered: What is with this notion that the only emotion that men in our culture have permission to fully express is that of anger?
Our lives are so full of a broad and variety of emotional experiences—joy, fear, excitement, sadness, curiosity, grief, gladness, frustration, peace, courage, disgust, surprise, irritability, anticipation… and, yes, even anger! (Google and check out Plutchik’s “Wheel of Emotions” sometime—an interesting structure to understanding feelings and their levels of intensity.) I often gently remind my clients that, while emotions may be pleasant or painful, they are certainly not positive or negative, good or bad, right or wrong; they are simply all teachers trying to get our attention and tell us something important about what is going on inside of us.
So… men and boys, I would invite you to embrace the full range of feelings! Life is inviting you to experience it in all of its entirety! Don’t miss out on the complete adventure… for when you welcome the painful, you are more fully able to experience the bliss as well. All emotions then become gifts in our lives – and life becomes as meaningful as it possible can across these brief years of our earthly pilgrimages.”
In sharing our experiences, our reflections, and our hopes, we hope that both our uniqueness and our commonality shine through. As we each share our own posts in the coming months, we hope you will reflect on the uniqueness and commonality of your own experience, whether you are a man, boy, loved one, or friend of men and boys. Together we can learn much about this experience of gender.
Boys’ and men’s blog homepage: www.dmpcc.org/men