Your Problems Aren’t Real Problems.

When Trauma Masks as Toxic Masculinity



Photo by Jeremy McKnight on Unsplash

“Not another sad white boy” she lobbed this across the table when I said I’d made a friend at the museum. Two of the women I had joined for lunch chuckled with her.

It’s true, babes. I collect sad white boys because I collect sad humans. (Mostly other creatives.) Sentimental and sensitive with suitcases full of whimsy.

One such friend, D, was a delightful, short, red-headed theatre geek. In university, we’d sneak popcorn into the basement of the library and watch old episodes of Buffy. He fireman-carried me across campus to get hot chocolate when I was feeling low. I’d read books in the back of the theatre among the costumes while waiting for his practices to end.

I went to the play he produced and acted in a year after graduation. Then, we gradually lost touch. No hard feelings. No big blowouts. Just faded out of each other’s orbit.

We weren’t what people imagined when they thought of mental illness, but both of us wrestled with depression . One conversation we had is ingrained in my brain when we realized that we had both been told “You’re not supposed to be depressed.” I’ve heard his response, “my problems aren’t real problems” echoed from multiple male chests over the years.

A few years back, I was mulling it over in my mind. I realized how many of the white men I’ve formed deep friendships with had been knocked out of the proto-typical, All-American, red-blooded box either by their own doing or by life itself.

One was a jock and queer. One was conventionally handsome and grew up in poverty. One was Sherlock-lite in his cleverness and an adorable theatre geek. One was rich and also my existentialist buddy. I started counting.

Out of 33, all but four had disabilities or had mental health struggles or were considered “sissies” as a child or queer or grew up dangerously poor. Some were more than a few in one.

Without those life experiences or identity markers, I fear we wouldn’t have had much common ground to form friendships.

They had to be outsiders, in some way, to understand my story. To recognize the language. To even want to read it.