Author: Vivek Shraya Series: Standalone Genre: Nonfiction Release Date: August 28, 2018 Book Length: 96 pages Publisher: Penguin Books Canada Review: 4/5
A trans artist explores how masculinity was imposed on her as a boy and continues to haunt her as a girl–and how we might reimagine gender for the twenty-first century.
Vivek Shraya has reason to be afraid. Throughout her life she’s endured acts of cruelty and aggression for being too feminine as a boy and not feminine enough as a girl. In order to survive childhood, she had to learn to convincingly perform masculinity. As an adult, she makes daily compromises to steel herself against everything from verbal attacks to heartbreak.
Now, with raw honesty, Shraya delivers an important record of the cumulative damage caused by misogyny, homophobia, and transphobia, releasing trauma from a body that has always refused to assimilate. I’m Afraid of Men is a journey from camouflage to a riot of colour and a blueprint for how we might cherish all that makes us different and conquer all that makes us afraid.
I would be lying if I said that the title didn’t have a huge influence on my intrigue in this initially, however, this book ended up giving me way more insight than I could have ever guessed. Exploring masculinity from the perspective of a trans woman through her experiences both pre and post transition, Vivek Shraya delivers a very raw take on how misogyny, homophobia, and transphobia has impacted her life.
A particularly insightful part in this for me was Shraya’s take on the ‘good man’:
In spite of my negative experiences, I’ve maintained a robust attachment to the idea of the “good man.” A common theme in my encounters and relationships is my certainty that the men I have admired were “good”, a synonym for “different from the rest.” The attachment to the promise of goodness is what left me bereft when, in various ways, I discovered that each of these men wasn’t “one of the good guys.”
She goes on to talk about how instead of categorizing men (or anyone, really) as ‘good’, that we value specific characteristics one possesses such as communication, dependability, and the like. If we are to focus on specific characteristics as opposed to categorizing people as generally ‘good’, it not only eliminates the elevated image we’ve created of them, but unlike how being ‘good’ cancels out when one does something ‘bad’, these character attributes can coexist alongside one another.
Although I can’t speak to experiences one faces in the LGBTQ+ community, I can relate to the experiences and scenarios presented that affect women on a daily basis. What I liked about this was also that it didn’t skip past the fact that women who defend or feed into misogyny, homophobia, and transphobia are equally to blame. Overall, I thought this was very well written, and at 96 pages, the only thing I wish is that it was longer.