I was out to brunch with my girlfriend on Sunday morning at Toast. I wouldn’t say it’s a regular spot for us, but it is a favorite of ours. The wait wasn’t too bad (we stood there and waited, which helped), and before long we were sitting having coffee.
And everything was great until that table of guys showed up.
There were five or six of them, being loud and obnoxious right next to us. They were telling misogynistic drinking stories. They were irritating the waiter with entitled requests. I leaned over the table and told my girlfriend that I was very uncomfortable with them so close to me. She agreed that it was really annoying. I spent the rest of the meal actively trying to keep myself from hissing at them.
We talked about it on the walk back to her car, and that was when the slight difference in our perception occurred to me. To her, it was a table of dickish guys that showed up, being assholes. To me, it was a table of men that showed up, being men.
I’ve said before that I’m not one for gender roles, but there is a sharp hypocrisy in that statement. Because I am totally prejudiced against men: I question their motives, their thoughts, and their capacity for empathy. I assume their intentions are malicious at worst, and ignorant at best. They are guilty until proven innocent, and I am swift to judge and deride. Meanwhile, women get the polar opposite presumption: I give them every benefit of the doubt, blanket trustworthiness, and I’m more than happy to be vulnerable around them at a moment’s notice.
And I’m afraid that I’m going to somehow embody my own preconceptions about men. I actually have a very hard time accepting the label of “man” because of the hostility I have toward it. I consider myself just as much of a suspect as every other man I see, and I don’t think it’s a stretch to say that this is an unhealthy attitude to have about myself.
This problem obviously comes up all over the place all the time. It taints how I interact with people everyday. It changes the way that I conduct my relationships. I diminish the connections I have with men, and amp up those with women to unrealistic heights. I go out of my way to avoid men in any context unless I know them, but then I can’t get to know them well since I’m avoiding them. Every male friendship I have becomes this arduous process that is exhausting. I am constantly questioning my motives and my beliefs, even if they are working well.
And in a poly context, all of this is downright debilitating. Every male metamour becomes an enormous threat in my mind. Either they are out to cause pain or take advantage, or they’re going to make a mess of everything with their callous unthinking ignorance. I make contingency plans for when things go sour, either for my partners or for me. In extreme cases, I start criticizing their decisions and get all pouty and frustrated about their dates, and that isn’t good for anyone at all.
Or I’m so hypervigilant about checking my behavior that I’m not really present for my partners at all. I get so far stuck in my head that I can’t enjoy the moments that we have. And I’ll get self-critical and want to process that with my partners, and I’m sure that feels like I’m running them around the same track over and over.
This problem is something I’ve known about myself for a long time, and yet it still sits there and triggers me and absorbs me. I have started working on these issues, one little chip at a time. I’ve worked on this in therapy. Everyone I’m in a relationship with has the blanket authority to call me out on this double standard. I’ve done some group work, both in the poly community and in general, trying to interact with men more and find where I’m struggling with preconceptions. This can be really hard sometimes, but I know that I’ll be better in the end for having done it.
But I know I’m not even close to square on this problem yet, because I can sit in a restaurant and have my breakfast ruined by some men showing up and triggering my fucked up expectations. I don’t want to be that way. I want to be able to handle my interactions with people based on who they are, not on what I’m projecting on to them.