“I try to laugh about it, cover it all up with lies. I try and laugh about it, hiding the tears in my eyes. ‘Cause boys don’t cry. Boys don’t cry.” – The Cure
*This post deals exclusively with gender binaries. I acknowledge that gender is not binary. However I am looking specifically at toxic masculinity in the stigmatization of mental illness. There is also more information that is broken down into gender binaries than that isn’t. Given this I have elected to exclusively use gender binaries. My apologies to those who are left out.*
As a straight white cis man I don’t experience tone policing much, but I did experience it in an incredibly frustrating way right before I left my former church and employer.
I am quite vocal about battling stigma. Not only do I write about it on this site but I am vocal on social media and in person. On international bipolar day, after losing two friends to suicide in the previous month, I created an image that I posted as my Facebook profile pic. The text of the image read “fuck stigma”.
Apparently there was much pearl clutching from people in the congregation. Screenshots were taken (as though I was going to pull it down) and hell was raised. The senior pastor was inundated with complaints. A meeting was called, which ended up being the last thing I did at that church. I was chastised for my “lack of judgement”. Then it was explained to me, rather condescendingly, that the inclusion of the word “fuck” detracted from my message.
No. The word fuck was my message. Fuck stigma. It kills. There is no other way to phrase it. And to insist otherwise is to make “manners” more important than lives. Tone policing is disingenuous and condescending. When you tone police you don’t give a shit about the message. You just don’t want to be offended by the language. If language is more offensive than avoidable deaths there is something seriously wrong with your priorities.
Tone policing does not work to improve the conversation about mental illness, or any other issue. Tone policing only serves to shut that conversation down. It makes “manners” more important than lives.
Here’s what’s at stake: The intersection between toxic masculinity and mental illness is a deadly one. That is a big part of why I created this blog. Men, at least “manly” men, are taught at an early age that they should not be vulnerable. Men are stoic. Men are strong. Men do not cry. Men do not show weakness. Men suck it up. Real men do, anyway.
In an environment in which men very likely experience bipolar symptoms at nearly the same rate as women do (women are diagnosed more often, which is another reason this is such a big deal); when they experience anxiety, depression, psychological pain, and hopelessness, but try to “suck it up” or “tough it out”, toxic masculinity literally kills. Stigma kills.
This is why I am open with everyone I encounter. That is why I write and that is why I advocate. It is not because I want attention. It is not because I want people to feel sorry for me. It isn’t even that I want people to admire me.
I am open and I advocate in the hope that other people, particularly other men, can see me and know that they are not alone. They can know that you can be a man and be vulnerable. And that vulnerability is not a weakness. Mental illness is not a weakness. Waking up each day and battling the darkness, battling the voices in your head that tell you how awful you are, battling the regret and shame that accompany whatever you did during your last episode, does not make you weak. It makes you strong. Just surviving makes you stronger than anyone can possibly imagine.
And never let anyone, not even yourself, not even stigma, tell you otherwise.