The ‘Honour’ in being an Elephant Hunter: The dialogue we really need to have regarding ‘honour killings’.

 

I am a Elephant Hunter.

Yes, I hunt Elephants.
Growing up, my mom had little wooden elephants and carvings of elephant tusks all over the house and I was fascinated with them. I was not born in Sri Lanka, but born here in Toronto, Canada. I imagined walking through forests looking for them. Years later, today I hunt Elephants.

Everywhere I go, whatever I do…I am hunting them. When I am at a meeting, out shopping, at an event, on campus, or sitting down with you…I am hunting Elephants.

…oh, I mean the Elephants in the Room.

You know, the conversations we don’t have. The ones we are afraid to have. The conversations we avoid. The conversations we NEED to have.

Now, in another lifetime I was dating and engaged to a woman born in Pakistan. I spent seven years with her and around her very large family here in Toronto. Being of Sri Lankan decent, and living in the very culturally diverse Jane & Finch community: I have also known many people from the so-called East Indian region of the world. I got to see, first hand, how status, respect and reputation amongst the neighborhood, community and within the extended family were an overwhelming influence and factor in all things.

I have also dated ‘white’ women and had many friends who were white, born in Canada and of various decent (French, Italian, Russian, European etc.) I got to see, first hand, how status, respect and reputation amongst the neighborhood, community and within the extended family were an overwhelming influence and factor in all things.

A conversation, an internal and self-reflective honest conversation is needed amongst every cultural group, space and community around violence against women, embedded and engrained sexism, as well as societal attitudes towards women and girls.

Today, I had a great recorded chat with superstar reporter Kelsey Wingerak of the Ryersonian about these internal & reflective conversations every community (from Irish to Russian to Pakistani to you name it) needs to have about violence & the everyday realities women face. We also talked about how so-called ‘honour killings’ have nothing to do with Islam or religion, that we all, as allies and friends, must speak out against the shameful way the media and people have dragged these murders into being ‘Islamic’ or a ‘Muslim issue’.

We also need to have conversations within cultural spaces (again, every cultural space, you name it) about attitudes towards women and girls. This is about the global pandemic of devaluing women and girls, the societal & cultural norms and attitudes that foster all forms of violence in every community. This is not about a group like the White Ribbon Campaign or any organization parachuting into a community and telling them what to do, this is about people in their own communities rising up and saying we need to talk…

We need to talk about this elephant in the room.

For too long, folks have worried that ‘if we discuss it, we bring spotlight on these stereotypes and prove the stereotypes to be true’. What we need to do is address the pillars, the legs of these stereotypes and myths, and topple the table one leg at a time.

We all must do our part, we must do this together.

In October 2011, Muslim groups and leaders took steps to take out one of the legs of the stereotype, and have the conversations we need to have. A statement was issued, called the  “Call to Action to Eradicate Domestic Violence”.

Canadian Imams, leaders and organizations took a pledge to help eradicate the violence. It ends by stating “As Muslims and as Canadians, we stand with all Canadians and pledge to combat domestic violence in all its manifestations, wherever and whenever they arise.”

On December 9th 2011, Imams across Canada gave sermons condemning domestic violence. The next day the Toronto Muslim community launched a campaign asking men and boys to take the White Ribbon pledge to ‘never commit, condone or remain silent on violence against women.’  This message was also taken to the large annual ‘Reviving the Islamic Spirit’ convention in Toronto this past December.“ As Muslims and as Canadians, we stand with all Canadians and pledge to combat domestic violence in all its manifestations, wherever and whenever they arise.”

Afaun Mandol, a spokesperson for Muslim Presence Toronto has been working to spread the conversation. In an article in Iqra.ca Mandol says “We are hoping to raise awareness about domestic violence in Canada with the White Ribbon Days…the White Ribbon Campaign is a means to start the conversation in our community to challenge everyone to speak out, and think about their own personal beliefs, language and actions”.

It is time every space, community and neighborhood had these internal reflections and dialogue.  There is a hunger to have these conversations. There is a hunger, to create safe spaces to have the discussions.

Afaun Mandol will speak at the upcoming ‘What Makes A Man. Higher Unlearning: The 2012 White Ribbon Conference; at Ryerson University in Toronto, Canada about the White Ribbon pledge being taken up by Muslim leaders as a sign of leadership and taking ownership.

 

What we all must do is step up and follow this example. Shatter stereotypes that this is an ‘Islamic issue’ and acknowledge that it is about conversations of societal influences and oppressive structures of patriarchy and sexism.

 

It is a conversation we must all have, every space and place must do its part. The issue of gender inequity affects us all.

 

To paraphrase the Canadian Muslim Imams & leaders call to action: As Canadians, let’s stand with all Canadians and pledge to combat domestic violence in all its manifestations, wherever and whenever they arise.

 

It’s time to start hunting those elephants.

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Click here to learn more about Afaun Mandol speaking at What Makes A Man. Higher Unlearning: The 2012 White Ribbon Conference on Saturday February 11th

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Come out to What Makes A Man. Higher Unlearning: The 2012 White Ribbon Conference on Saturday February 11th . Join Afaun and many other speakers at a discussion-focused event looking at the spectrum of identities, experiences and realities that determine ‘What Makes a Man’.

What Makes A Man. Higher Unlearning:
The 2012 White Ribbon Conference

Saturday February 11th

ENG 103 in the George Vari Engineering and Computing Centre.
245 Church St. (South/East corner of Church St and Gould St.)
Ryerson University
 

REGISTRATION 10:30am
11:00am – Morning Session begins
12:20pm – Lunch Break
1:20pm – Afternoon session begins
4:30pm – Dinner Break
5:45pm – Evening session with SHIHAN

ADMISSION $10 (or pay what you can)
Lunch provided by Salad King.
*All proceeds go to the White Ribbon Campaign*

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Fist-of-Cuffs: A response to ‘Toronto, City of Sissies’

There was a huge response to a recent article in ‘The National Post’ by writer Christie Blatchford regarding the men of Toronto. It was a call for Toronto to stop being a ‘City of Sissies’.

In response, I am going to share two things with you: a moment and a secret.

First, I am going to share a moment.

This is a moment in my everyday life that I personally dread. Not a moment like fearing my safety when walking down a strange, moonlit street, facing a boss and his sexual harassment-laced advances, a trip to the dentist or a strange man following me into the elevator.

I dread when my car acts up or needs attention. Some light goes on, or there is a rattling sound or grinding noise, which means walking into the auto shop.

There isn’t a moment where I feel more insufficient or I am made to feel more pathetic than when I need to do something car-related.  Growing up I didn’t have the kind of father that was forever under the hood, asking me to pass the wrench and explain how the engine works. I literally could write on one sheet of paper the entire conversations I ever had with my father. The Strong and Silent type: My father, my example of a man.

Admittedly, I should take on my deficiency of automotive knowledge and learn more about the vehicle I use everyday (I just know how to drive, change the oil and gas up). Whenever I walk into any auto shop, however, is my moment of dread.

The moment the man behind the counter raises his eyes up from typing on the computer with hands adorned in grease and calluses…

Hands toughened from years of working with them
Hands manually manly
Hands hardened and thickened
Hands that don’t feel a thing

…the moment he quickly realizes my depth of automotive know-how is thinner than the worn out treads on my tires, I see a smirk. I see eyes rolling, or a subtle shake of the head.  The soft groan under his breath is a mighty roar questioning my manhood, echoing in the empty cavity where my esteem once stood. This pressure, this feeling may seem trivial, but it is real, it is potent and it needs to be discussed.

…urgently.

 

Secondly, I am going to break the man code of silence and share a secret.

There is an invisible gun held to the head of every man and boy you know.
At any given moment, at every moment of everyday, familiar cold steel presses against the head of every man’s soul. Unseen hands take turns cocking it, pressing it against the temple. The hands belong to people you know and never knew, those you despise and those you will always love.

It is a loaded gun that we as men don’t point out, don’t signal for help with, certainly don’t discuss and don’t internally acknowledge even exists. It has been pushed into our temple since birth.

The gun is society’s impossible, elusive state of manhood.
The bullets are Vulnerability, Inadequacy and Emotion.

The fact it is invisible should not lead to us dismiss its reality. The imprint from the muzzle of this cold steel is permanently pressed into the soul and is everywhere you look. The pressure to act and be a real man is there in the school hallway, your place of worship, along the grocery aisle, next to the water cooler at work, in the jokes from the guys at the gym, sitting at the dinner table, in the music you listen to and the clothes on you back.

I am not trying to compare this everyday external and internal pressure to the realties women face in everyday scenarios. This isn’t about establishing a hierarchy of pain, but acknowledging that this issue affects us all.

What I am suggesting is that we can no longer ignore or minimize the searing impact that taunting and reinforcing ‘Man Up’ philosophy has on men.

Every one of us was meant to embrace our whole, full humanity. Yet, enforced ideas of what being a man is leaves every boy and man wrestling to supress themselves. We are raised to value an unattainable standard, and devalue anything ‘less than’, which is any aspect of our humanity labelled ‘feminine’. Men are left feeling they are not given permission (from others or from our own self) to discover our handcuffed array of emotions. Denying or forced to deny sides of our self, we are the walking dead, numb and emotionally illiterate. This leaves us numb to the very fact of the gun pressing on our soul. The sound of the resulting trauma inflected on the world is muted by a silencer, but the impact resonates like an endless echo of gunfire on women and men worldwide.

The result is fathers who have been home everyday of their children’s lives yet could not be more distant. The result is men who would rather die than go see the doctor, and so they die. The result is boys being called ‘faggots’ or Christie Blatchford’s preferred term: ‘Sissies’.The result is heterosexual boys face homophobic bullying because they don’t fit the narrow mold. The result is men and young men trapped in endless cycles of substance addition to suppress what they aren’t emotionally able to deal with. The result is young men who won’t back down, no matter what. The result is men who are ready to die over a pair of shoes which they value more than their very own lives. The result is men with disabilities made to feel a heightened level of inadequacy. The result is guys who rather approach women with aggression and violent bravado because they cannot compute vulnerability. The result is severe impacts and financial costs to our Healthcare systems. The result is LBGT communities facing a denial of their right to existence, nevermind equity. The result is women in Canada and across the world subject to devaluation, discrimination and subsequently all forms of violence.

Many men are raised to be the wrong kind of strong and don’t seek or ask for help. If we are not raising men to value their health, and in turn value themselves, how then can we expect men to extend respect to the earth, to fellow sisters and ever fellow brothers?

The gun is pressed so tightly against the souls of men, yet we are in denial as a society. People like Christie Blatchford continue to cock the hammer & would have you believe a return to this idea of manhood is the cure. It is simply the reinforcement of the poison that is destroying our existence.

The day Blatchford’s article spread across Toronto was the same day Ultimate Fighting Championship landed in town. UFC is a display of brute force and ‘manliness’ within a cage. Sports can be a space where brute dominance, physical ability and unyielding aggression are wed in an unhallowed trinity. The world of sport can also give way to joyous scenes of men in unconcealed celebration. There is always that ironic moment where the steel arena gives way to overwhelming human emotion….men fashioned as modern-day warriors in full embrace or wash in pure exposed sorrow, hugging one another, standing in tears of joy or defeat. You will even see UFC fighters hug trainers and even opponents after a bout. Apparently even UFC fighters aren’t manly enough for Blatchford’s ideal state of manliness.

Masculinity has more sides than the Octagon.

When I think of mixed martial arts fighters, I think of the discipline and how they train. The Makiwara is a padded post used as a tool for striking endlessly in martial arts training. Using the Makiwara allows you to find your way around addressing resistance to your energy & your force. You learn to train your body to generate power and be most effective when facing resistance. The misconception is that the goal is to make your fist numb and hardened therefore, powerful weapons.

I think of hands like those at the auto shop, hands that are trained to be tough but left numb. I have soft hands and a soft heart, I decided to stop apologizing for it and regretting it.

I am a man.

It is time to stand up and provoke the freedom to be a full, whole complete human being. Find the Freedom to Be Who You Are. I give hugs, Christie, full all out hugs. I am a man.

They say the size of your actual heart is the size of your clenched fist. To open your heart is to open the clenched fist.

Open up.

Let go.

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Join us at ‘What Makes A Man 2012. Higher Unlearning: The White Ribbon Conference’ happening February 10th-11th at Ryerson University. Info coming soon! Follow @WhatMakesAMan_ for details! 


About Jeff Perera

Jeff is a volunteer workshop facilitator for the White Ribbon Campaign, the world’s largest effort to engage men in ending violence against women, and founded a chapter at Ryerson University in Toronto, Canada working to further a gender-inclusive environment. Jeff’s awareness-raising initiatives to create inclusive spaces for people of all walks of life have earned him numerous human rights & equity awards. Jeff was the event director of TEDxRyersonUWomen, the only TEDxWomen event in Toronto,  and is co-director and curator of the annual discussion-focused ‘What Makes a Man’ White Ribbon Conference at Ryerson. He has organized & spoken at numerous events across Toronto and facilitated many sessions and workshops with the National Film Board of Canada, University of Toronto, the annual ‘YWCA Common Ground’ Conference and across Taiwan including at the ‘Garden of Hope Empower Women’ Conference in Taipei, Taiwan. At the 2010 TEDxRyersonU conference at Jeff delivered the TEDx talk ‘Words Speak Louder Than Actions’  discussing gender equity & gender roles, the impact you make as well as the impact words have on our everyday lives.

Watch Jeff’s TEDxtalk Here

Follow @jeffperera

email Jeff at whiteribbon@ryerson.ca

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His Last Fight. Our Continued Work: thank you Jack

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My mom didn’t like the moustache.“Don’t like it” she’d say, “…he should shave it”.

Upon his arrival across television sets and the national political stage, there were folks who felt Jack Layton needed to shave off that moustache to be taken as a serious candidate. Rather than hear the message, they felt it would be lost with some voters, distracted by trivial characteristics. He had wore that look since his days as a bicycle-riding city counsellor in jeans decades ago in Toronto.

Rather than shave and bend to the politics of appearance
Rather than trim down his believes
Rather than downplay his convictions for larger mainstream appeal
Rather than avoid saying what was unpopular at the time
Rather than compromise

 

I am a fighter.

 

He didn’t bend, didn’t settle, He had the vision, the belief in the vision and the fight in him to push through. And the message indeed pushed through. He became a bicycle-riding Official Leader of the Opposition. With a moustache.

With that same vision.
With that endless energy and passion for the nation.
With a passion for life in a political arena full of lifeless, hollow cardboard characters. He never watered down his fiery drive and purpose. I learned so much from that moustache.

The week before cancer took Jack’s life, I optimistically wrote his name down as a possible keynote speaker for our upcoming 2nd annual ‘What Makes a Man’ White Ribbon Conference at Ryerson in February 2012. Our conference explores how narrow concepts of gender affect both men and women in every aspect of life. Jack was also one of the co-founders of the White Ribbon Campaign 20 years ago. He would be a tremendous keynote speaker and could touch on so many intersecting issues, as he had throughout the work of his entire political career. So he was on the wishlist. Optimistic.

In my mind, it wasn’t a question of if he had that much more time with us,  it was more a question of if he’d have the time to attend.

I know…

I saw the press conference in July.

I saw him walk out with his cane, bravely wade through a room flooded in silence. I saw him ‘matter of fact’ to the press that he was simply taking a temporary leave for The fight, and then get back to the Fight.  My eyes welled as I watched. I commented to friends how this horrid sickness rapidly reduced the man on the outside, yet never weakened the resolve of the man inside.

And, like many of us, I expected him to beat it. You could cash that cheque. We couldn’t imagine it any other way.  He always defied appearance and perception.

 

I am a fighter. And I will beat this.

 

This was our attitude with the news in July, regardless of political stripe most of the nation said “ok, go rest up Jack, we’ll see ya soon…”

We were unaware of how serious his last fight had become.

Even when we saw his frail appearance.
Even when we saw he really needed that cane more than before.
Even though the sound of his voice seemed like a weakened whisper…

 

I am a fighter. And I will beat this.

 

His words still leapt from his mouth with unshakable resolve and intention. They resounded and pounded like fists upon the doors of your heart to get up…to stand up.

 

I am a fighter. And I will beat this.

 

So I envisioned him at our conference, envisioned him speaking on being a man who wasn’t afraid to display all sides of his humanity in the public eye. Jack constantly did not allow narrow ideas of masculinity to limit his expression of his self, his emotion and humanity,  and his vision for all Canadians.

Before this press conference, he had just run a miracle mile. He had a run across this country that defied the odds and ignited a people numb to politics, a people starved for inspiration.

Did he know what he was facing? Did he sense that death had regrouped to launch a stronger, final campaign inside?  Did he take that moment, not only to spread inspiration, but to say goodbye.

After my dad’s fatal heart attack in 2003, I went to his home office to discover he had laid out all the documents for the house and other things we’d need. As if he knew he wouldn’t live to see them through. He laid out a map, a blueprint.

So too did Jack lay a blueprint. Many blueprints. Blueprints for Change.

One of those blueprints was an effort 20 years ago, sometimes coordinated in available spaces like his son’s bedroom, to co-found what is now the world’s largest effort to end violence against women and inspire men to embrace the best of what they could truly be. The freedom to Live Your Life, the freedom to Be Who We Are.

Todd Minerson, the Executive Director of the White Ribbon Campaign shared that Jack told him to “have a dream that would last beyond your lifetime”.

Truly the work of ending violence against women, homophobia, transphobia and re-defining manhood is as daunting as it gets, and that all the more reason we need to pursue and persevere with more passion than ever. Jack felt so strongly about what he believed in. He spoke for those who, because of appearance, social structures or place in life, didn’t have a voice. The people one couldn’t imagine seeing as a political leader…people like Jack.

 

I am a fighter. And I will beat this.

 

If you have a moustache or a full beard, a turban, skin of colour or a partner of the same sex, a different religion or life experience…Whatever battle you face, whatever dream you struggle and persevere to realize…

 

You are a fighter. And you will beat this.

 

Whether it’s a better life for your kids, protecting the environment, beating cancer, ending violence against women, prejudice because you are different, helping the homeless, battling depression, eradicating poverty, escaping violence, overcoming racism in your town…

 

You are a fighter. We will beat this.

Optimism is the infection that truly spread through Jack’s body.

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I was one of the hundreds of people to leave a message on the sidewalk Jack walked, the grounds of a city hall where he laboured towards change with love and endless passion. One of my favourite chalk messages to Jack at Toronto City Hall says it best:
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‘You can rest now Jack, we’ll take it from here’
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.…because I am a fighter…and We will finish this.
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Optimism is contagious.
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Walk With Me: One mile in her (and his) shoes

As we get ready for the White Ribbon Campaign‘s third annual ‘Walk A Mile In Her Shoes‘ event Thurs Sept 29th 2011: Jeff Perera, co-chair of the Ryerson White Ribbon Campaign reflects on last year’s walk, and why we walk.

Photo by Char Loro/Lovehard (www.lovehard.ca)

I don’t know how you do it.

I don’t know how I did it.

Last summer I slightly tore my Achilles heel horsing around in the park. I love life but I don’t love my body, a deep secret that many men share. Oh, I’m not talking about loving the look or shape of my body, that’s a whole other conversation. I’m referring to actual ‘taking care of the vessel that is my body’ conversation.

How many of us can relate to the frustration of trying to convince a father, brother, friend or lover to go see a doctor, or maybe you are that man who refuses to go. I have been on both sides of that situation. We all know men who needed medical attention, whether its for a potential heart attack, to determine if it is cancer in their testicles, a sharp pain or a bad cold, and won’t go.

From childhood, young men are taught and told to ‘walk it off’, get up and show no pain, show no emotion, show them your cold steel. Sad over a break-up? Battling low self-esteem? Need to deal with having been abused or issues with depression? Walk it off.

The costume of manhood leaves many men feeling they don’t have permission to ask for help. Instead they stubbornly refuse any help, not showing weakness, staying stoic, strong.

Whether it is for directions, advice or support, many men don’t ask.

We can handle this…
We got this…
…and many times, we don’t.

A synonym for stoic is ‘resigned’…as in resigned to deny ourselves our own humanity.

Many men are raised to be the wrong kind of strong and don’t seek or ask for help,  If we are not raising men to value their health, and in turn value themselves, how then can we expect men to extend respect to the earth, to fellow sisters and ever fellow brothers?

Even someone like me who is consciously trying to role model a healthier concept of masculinity struggles with it. When I got hurt that day in the park, I went to a walk-in clinic the next day, got my tendon wrapped up and was told to start physiotherapy in a few weeks. I bought a cane and did nothing else about it.

I walked it off.

I’m fine
Its no big deal
Got lots to do

Despite my physical neglect, my Achilles ‘healed’ up and I participated in the 2nd annual Walk A Mile In Her Shoes event in Toronto hosted by the White Ribbon Campaign in 2010. The fundraising and awareness-raising event asks men to reflect on the everyday realities for women and literally walk a mile in her shoes. This event does not seek to suggest that all women wear high heels or that wearing heels for a moment provides a full understanding of what it’s like to be a woman, nor equates an understanding of the experience of all women here in Toronto, or worldwide.

…but its a step. A declaration to take a step…

We are in an era where a number of women do wear heels, either causally or to work everyday.
Whether it is the executive in the boardroom or the server about to work a grueling double-shift, I think of women who willingly or begrudgingly wear a pair.

I think of the many varied experiences and realities for women of all cultures, spaces and socio-economic status. There are not many universal forms of expression that exclusively define what it is to be a woman. One thing all women worldwide do have in common is the reality that they face potential discrimination, harassment and violence everyday. Half of women in Canada will face a form of violence, 600 Aboriginal women are missing, and 1 out of every 3 women will face violence worldwide.

It’s a reality women have to face, learn to live with, ‘accept’ or ‘get used to’. Walk A Mile in Her Shoes calls on men, calls on society, to take a moment and reflect. We hope to inspire and provoke people to reflect by wearing an element of gender costume. High heels evokes many of the gender roles and constructs we hope to de-construct. We need to engage folks in discussing the cost of imposed ‘gender’ limitations and the performance of gender including defining elements of costume.

So we wear a pair and walk a mile across the face of patriarchy.

We walk a circle. The circular mile starts from the busiest intersection in Canada, past the financial heart of the country and across Ryerson University, to cause folks to stop, look, point, ask…and reflect.

We cannot force others to change their perception of things, but we can provoke them to reflect in a way that grabs their attention. These issues are urgent and we need to shake men (and women) into personal reflection, awareness and action: internally, their inner circles and then within their larger everyday circles.

I want to role model to other men to be an ally: be an example in my everyday behaviour and inspire other men. The fear for some men to participate and put on a pair is real. It takes courage to be an ally, it takes a ‘real man’ to forsake that unearned privilege which we carry for a moment, and face jokes, comments, maybe ridicule and even face the de-valuation women face for doing things labelled ‘feminine’.

So I put on those 3 inch heels, ignoring a potential risk of further injuring my leg. Ironically here is the macho bravado at play again. Here is that disconnect, that fantasy of the ‘cloak of immortality’ many men wear. In time of need, we believe we can ‘will’ ourselves as men to be impervious to pain and danger, and sometimes that disconnect extends to the everyday. it’s a face off with our own health and reality, it is a disconnect from ourselves, to reality, to our humanity and to learning to truly love ourselves.  Many men love, but we are not taught to truly Love or express Love, or allow ourselves to experience and give Love. A raw, real kind of Love, not a possessive, but a nurturing Love. A Love for ourselves, for women, and for men.

That day many friends joined us at the walk representing as allies from different communities at Ryerson University ranging from the Ryerson Muslim Students AssociationWomen in ITMWomen’s CentrePositive SpaceUnited Black Students at Ryerson, RyePride to members of the Ryerson Commerce SocietyRyerson Engineering Student Society and Ryerson Students’ Union.

As we cross to walk south on the west-side of Yonge st, a Spanish brother crossed the other way staring at the spectacle in shock and disgust. The young brother is shaking his head as he looks at me with ‘yo, what are you doing?’ written all over his face. The Masculine headshake of disapproval. He looked at me especially, seeing that I was a racialized male.

The pressure on many racialized men is double, due to the imbalance of power and privilege, to act tough, be seen as tough. For some, it seems to be the only way, or at least the only way they know. I think of young brothers who squirm at the idea of being seen in public wearing costume associated with the feminine…some laugh it off and quickly assert their masculinity to preserve that fragile paper-mache armour of manhood. So much work to do with men of all racialized communities, any culture or community. Men feel a feverish pressure to maintain the image and perception they are Men, certainly not soft and weak,  and definitely not remotely ‘gay’.

I don’t just walk for the everyday reality my heterosexual sisters face, and the pressures patriarchy places on heterosexual men. I also for all the suffering that LGBT2S folks endure because of the searing shackles of binary concepts of gender that reach into every corner of the globe. They dig deep into the lives of our Gay. Lesbian, Trans and Two-Spirit people and communities. The narrow notions of how women and men ‘should walk, talk and act like’ force those who don’t fit in to face resentment, rejection, anger and even aggression.

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Halfway through the walk I joined, stride for stride, my good friend Shanna, A beautiful, dear soul who ‘traded in’ her heels, weekends & make up for raising her beautiful baby boy. She brought little Sebastien to the Walk & wore a pair of yellow stiletto heels as she pushed their stroller. We walked past so-called blue collar and executive women, mothers and daughters, younger and older.  I acknowledged their laughter, calls of “now you know what it’s like!’ and supportive nods. When I walked past a woman wearing heels, I’d exclaim “I don’t know how you do it”

The heels suffocated and engulfed my swollen feet. We were among the very last of many hundreds to cross the finish line along with a group of 5 huge cops in tall stilettos who stumbled and staggered to the end. Even Shanna was feeling the pain too. It’s not something you truly get ‘used to’, being subject to pain, facing discomfort, swallowing suffering. You can ignore it, brace for the pain or say you are ‘numb’ to it, but it always hurts.

I still don’t know how you do it.

I don’t know how we all do it.

So I say to men: ‘Walk It Off’. Let’s re-examine and re-define, truly embrace real strength, courage, respect and honour. Walk towards healing for all of us, women and men. We must walk toward change, one step at a time. It is time to walk it off.

As I look forward to the 3rd Walk A Mile In Her Shoes event, happening in downtown Toronto, Canada: my toes dread this moment every year, but the rest of me looks forward to it with purpose.The problems are widespread, embedded and deeply ingrained. There are a lot of steps to take. So, until the violence stops, we will do it every year, as we work towards change.

…cause we can’t just wait for change to happen.

 

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The Art of Letting Go: A Portrait of the Surrendered Activist as a Young Man

Sometimes letting things go is an act of far greater power than defending or hanging on” ~Eckhart Tolle

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I remember watching cartoons as a kid and seeing that classic image of a makeshift white flag timidly rising up from behind a rock. It was a source of humour, the act of surrender.

I grew up in the Jane and Finch community with young boys from different countries, spaces and places worldwide. Despite numerous differences we usually had two things in common: some sort of disconnect from our father and a love for aggressive TV or Film heroes. No retreat, no surrender, no backing down, not ending up the loser in a conflict or test of strength, that was our bombs-bursting-in-air and tough-as-nails idea of manhood.

Fast forward to 2011, I wear a white ribbon pin everyday and everywhere I go. With dozens of ribbons out there to represent a variety of issues these days, people ask me “why the colour White?” in addition to the usual question “what does a White Ribbon mean?” Many people greet it as heroic, but some people see it as cowardly. For some men, once they initially hear the group’s focus is ending men’s violence against women, they get upset, or feel ‘left out’. “What about violence men face?” they ask.

To them I explain how this is part of a greater conversation on how violence has wrapped its hands around the throats and minds of men and we need to find role models of healthy masculinity to encourage men to be themselves. Some men don’t let me get that far in the conversation, or allow themselves to hear it. They feel threatened by it all, as if under attack and an internal hyper-masculinity-survival mode kicks in.

They see the white flag. They see surrender.

Weakness, soft, cowardly…this is not what a man is, and why is it always our fault?

For them, they see the White Ribbon as surrender

The white flag is an internationally recognized as a symbol asking for a truce or ceasefire, and to request negotiation. It is a symbol of surrender, signifying to all that there is an intention and a desire to communicate.

Speaking of communication, one of those things many guys love to do is read in the bathroom (great segue) and I have a few magazines sitting there for that purpose. I was oddly moved to pick up a yoga magazine I have glanced over many many times and meant to replace with a new issue. Sometimes the greatest gift is to see that which you have already seen. My fingers open the magazine right to an article explaining the term ‘surrendered activist’.

A surrendered activist: a person who does their best to help create a better reality while knowing that they are not in charge of outcomes.

I then recalled being at the United Black Students of Ryerson’s fall 2010 edition of their highly-successful ‘Ladies and Gents’ event. Young men and women separate into 2 rooms to discuss their gender and subsequent experiences then everyone gathers afterwards to share. One topic the men covered was coming across a white woman showing discomfort being in a closed space like an elevator. The conversation looked at the balance between creating a safe space for the women, while dealing with possible reactions of stereotypes and assumptions due to race.

One brother spoke on how he would go out of his way to smile and defuse any fears by breaking any stereotype she might have of a man, a black man. Another voice came from a recognized leader in the space. He said how he is tired of having to bear the burden of breaking racist stereotypes “my shoulders aren’t big enough” he said. Instead he said he know focuses on “being the best me I can be”. Both these responses resonated deeply within me, along with the anger of someone assuming things about me that are not me. I can control that which I can control.

Agitate, educate, enlighten, respond, create, guide, inspire or show someone, yes, all these things we can do and be…but then we have to let go.

Many of our sisters will tell you, whether its heterosexual women dealing with the challenges of dating men, or our LGBT2S sisters who strive for relationships with fathers, brothers and other loved ones and friends, that you alone cannot change a man. The individual themselves must first be ready for change, real change.

Author bell hooks speaks of how men are afraid of change, but they are many who are willing. They “must be able to let go of the will to dominate. They must be able to choose life over death. They must be willing to change”. It is not as simple as just saying and doing it, and it requires more bravery than words can express, but it starts with you. We can only do so much, and it starts with just being a role model with your words and actions.  We have a voice and we have a choice, so choose change…and then let go.

Surrender to the fact that you alone cannot change the world and all outcomes of life, just change you.

Surrender to who You really are, to the freedom to be who You want to be and who You were meant to be.

Sweet surrender.

(This blog entry previously appeared in Shameless Magazine online and the Ryerson White Ribbon Campaign blog.)

Elevators.

When I was little I watched a fire sweep across and consume a lifeless field from the window in our 6th floor apartment at Jane and Finch. What ultimately followed was the greenest and healthiest state I’d ever seen that field in. A lesson learned.

I have a tattoo of a phoenix on my left arm to remind me of the ever-present ability to rise up from the ashes. When you’re down you are just a step away from being up…and vice versa.

The journey that is Our Life finds us maneuvering a series of highs and lows, ups and downs. Sometimes the public highs are secretly accompanied by private lows, and sometimes low points set the table for a triumphant rise.  A highlight for most people is the opportunity to meet a person who has made a profound impact on their own journey.

One thing I have always said about having heroes or idols is that when you put someone on a pedestal, you put them in a perfect position to crush you when they fall. The fall can be a public fall from grace, or a private fall from the heights of a mirage you envisioned them within.

There are elements or aspects of a person you can admire and aspire to be like, mimic or learn from. It is important, however, to realize that any person and every person is just a person. They are still learning, evolving and making mistakes just as you have, are and will be. Sometimes, when you meet your hero, you are disillusioned and discover a flawed, average person, maybe even someone you actually don’t like.

Last night I met a hero of mine.  It was in an elevator.

Going up.

Michael Kaufman is a rock god in the field of working with men around gender equality. He co-founded the White Ribbon Campaign over 20 years ago, and he has personally taken his message to almost 50 countries. I was going to a White Ribbon educational campaign launch this particular evening, and one could expect that Michael might be in attendance. Despite this, when I heard his voice in the lobby, it didn’t sink in until I stood next to him and looked up.

Going up.

Inside, my brain elbowed myself exclaiming “DUDE!!”

I asked him if he was Him, which he was, and quickly dragged Miranda (my Ryerson White Ribbon co-chair) into conversational interrogation. I apologized for cornering and outing him like that, but he was humbled and very eager to talk about our work. He asked us questions and was excited by what we were doing at Ryerson.

Going up.

The elevator reaches our floor. We get out and ironically have to walk downstairs to get to the venue holding the campaign launch. Miranda, Michael and I are discussing the conference we held at Ryerson University, and the work of creating spaces for dialogue at events. As we talk, we descend the stairs into the event that brought us together.

Going down.

We are in a fancy space donated for the launch. The work of the White Ribbon Campaign breathes entirely due to donations and support of all kinds. The room is full of partners, executives, government officials and members of the White Ribbon team. I suggest to Michael we should let him go to do his rounds, and so he does.

During the event I notice a flyer for his latest book ‘ A Guy’s Guide to Feminism’ and envision someday releasing a book. The presentation is now over, and the schmoozing and mingling with bank executives and government types begins. Drained from a long day, I elect to skip the networking and head back up the stairs for the elevator to go back down.

Going up.

I decide to quietly make an exit, as the White Ribbon executive are busy connecting with key contacts to further establish their projects towards real change. I hoped to say bye to Michael but I didn’t see him in the crowd. With each step up the stairs I reflect on the work I have done up to this point. I reflect on the hard work of the amazing people I am leaving downstairs. I reflect on the steps ahead still left to climb.

Going up.

I reach the top of the stairs just in time for an arriving elevator, but fate’s soft whisper asks me to slow down and just wait for the next one. A moment later, who else bounces up the stairs headed for the elevator but Michael Kaufman. He says hello and stops in mid-sentence, recalling he has forgot something, and asks for me to wait for him while he runs back downstairs.

He wants Me to wait for Him so that We can chat. Wow.

Going up.

He quickly ascends back up the stairs and we descent back down the elevator, descending back in our original conversation. The conversation is now about conversations. Now we are walking together in the same direction down King St.

Going down.

I explain to him how our ‘What Makes a Man’ Conference at Ryerson University was discussion-focused. Rather than coming to listen to experts drone on, the speakers sparked a conversation with a 5 minute talk that the audience then spend 20 minutes directing, guiding and finishing as we moved onto the next speaker. We drilled down, deeper, hunted the elephants in the room and faced them together.

We discussed what makes a man a better partner, a good father, neglect their health, feminize healthy eating and so on. The speakers reflected Aboriginal and First Nations, East Indian, Queer, Black, Trans, Latin and other communities. Themes coming full circle, intersections, release, opening up… it was a communal dialogue. The direction went according to the map of people’s needs. We created an inviting space where people could have the conversations they hungered to have.

Going down.

As we walked down the street, Michael talked about traveling the world and humbly participating in conversations, but invited as a lecturer or a speaker. Michael said he wasn’t the sole expert and said how we all have a voice to share and we can sometimes be more effective in reaching one another than an ‘authority’ on a subject like gender equity.

Going down.

We dived deeper into the need to create spaces for real, honest, raw discussions. Peer to peer, as equals, striving to establish we are all equals.

Now I am not flabbergasted, or speaking in awe, we are conversing as friends, as equals. His vast experience, experiences and wisdom does not tower over me, but invites me to an equal level of communing, dining on thoughts, reflecting and speaking words of action, words to take action.

We head separate ways and look to stay in touch until the ups and downs ahead lead us to cross paths once again.

Quite the elevator ride this life is indeed.

.

The Heart of the Hunt (the hunt of the heart)

A curious thing happened in the Heart of a vibrant and decaying forest

 

The bird and The wolf cornered one another

 

Both were wounded

Both were being hunted

 

Both knew if they made a sound they would alert the hunter of their location. Into this maze they wandered, and into locked eyes they stared

And then, they talked

 

The bird was covered in many a brilliant colour. Everytime she flew by, it was with a thunderous whisper and a soaring melody above the forest, those staring up as she flew by felt they could climb just as high

The wolf was covered in armour of ravenous trickery, a soft inviting fur coat blanketing a fierce heart

 

The bird looked at how the hunters attack pierced the wolf’s leg

The wolf looked at how the hunters attack pierced the bird’s wing

 

“the forest looks at you in awe” said the wolf

“the forest looks at you in awe” said the bird

 

The sound of a twig breaking sparks a silence

Followed by the sound of an exhale breaking the silence

 

“are you going to devour me as I cannot take to the air and escape?”

“are you going to sing a stirring note and alert the hunters of my presence?”

 

They looked at one another, the first time either was still long enough to look at

 

“you are a vase of imaginings”

“you are the shadow of impulse”

 

“you are grand and free”

“you enchant and rise above”

 

“so what are you looking for?” asked the wolf

“I’m hunting” said the bird

 

“and what are you hunting for” asked the bird

“I’m looking” said the wolf

 

Then there was a sound

and the conversation ended.