Last year I was in the locker room changing into my running clothes for cross country practice when some boys started commenting on the length of the shorts my teammates and I were wearing. In cross country a lot of the boys prefer wearing shorter shorts as they are cooler and more comfortable to run in. One of the boys said that our shorts looked “gay” and that a girl should be wearing them, not a guy.

The use of the word “gay” as an insult towards other boys is unacceptable. The notion that the way you dress or act makes you “gay” and being “gay” means being weak is wrong and needs to stop.

“Guidelines for the Psychological Practice with Boys and Men” defines “masculinity ideology” as “a particular constellation of standards that have held sway over large segments of the population, including: anti-femininity, achievement, eschewal of the appearance of weakness, and adventure, risk, and violence.” This ideology is sometimes called “toxic masculinity”. Toxic masculinity promotes a culture where men are encouraged to hide their traits associated with weaknesses and compete with one another to be the best man. Therefore, toxic masculinity discourages participation in choirs, orchestras, bands, plays, musicals, non-sport clubs, art, literary clubs and much more. 

What bothers me more is how homophobic toxic men are and how brutal the affects of that hate is on LGBT youth. The 2017 Vermont High School Youth Risk Behavior Survey concluded that LGBT youth are four times more likely to self harm and four and a half times more likely to attempt suicide than heterosexual youth. This toxic culture excludes those who do not conform and self-loathing is one of its consequences. At BHS we are taught to celebrate the diversity and embrace our differences. We clearly need to stop promoting toxic masculinity and start embracing the idea of manhood as diverse in and of itself.  

We need to stop using “gay” to insult men who tend to act more feminine. We need to stop using “gay” to scorn pervieved “weakness”. We need to stop using “gay” to discourage empathy and kindness. We need to stop believing there is only one way to “be a man”.

What if being a “man” meant something different in our society? If we showed benevolence and welcomed the diversity every person has within them, then what… Being a man should mean confronting our own shortcomings, striving to be the best people we can be rather than fighting against one another for power. The human connections that can arise out of being more caring, loving and accepting can build support systems where fewer people are left out, and more people feel whole.


  1. First, shame on the silence that accompanies this piece. Where are the male teachers’ voices standing up for this young man and decrying what he witnessed in that locker room?

    Second, as a community member, I am saddened to read that this kind of destructive behavior persists in our school system (and, I have to assume, in other school systems as well). While I am sad, however, I am not surprised. After all, I am a product of the same kind of insidious indoctrination that produces this kind of conduct. I have stood by silently more times than I can count when behavior like this has taken place. And, if I am being perfectly honest, I have acted out some of the negative behaviors born of these internalized messages. I have hurt those dearest to me and, in doing so, I have hurt myself.

    The worst part of the kind of behavior that the writer describes, what is commonly referred to as a manifestation of toxic masculinity, is how it denies men and boys entire facets of their emotional being. We are so much more than this! But, thanks to a culture which limits our humanity and boxes us in to narrow roles, we aren’t given much choice. Saddest of all, when we participate in this kind of destructive culture (and participation can appear to be mandatory), we condone violence and exploitation and we open the door for cruelty and abuse. That we haven’t done more as a people to stamp it out – by teaching males and females about the full breadth of human emotion and the extraordinary diversity inside each one of us – points to how little we value not only women and girls (the most noticeable and, at the same time, least noticeable victims of this culture) but also how accepting we are of the ongoing damage that this thinking does to boys and men (the majority of whom go on to unconsciously and/or consciously perpetrate behaviors that harm themselves and those around them).

    Let me challenge teachers, administrators and parents: where are the teachings in this school system and at home of positive male role models like Jackson Katz, Jacques Verduin, Eldra Jackson III, Lundy Bancroft, Tony Porter, Jayson Gaddis, Justin Baldoni, Gus Worland, etc.? How many people who are in a position to influence our children even know who these game-changing men are? [see below]

    So, kudos to this brave young man for standing up to his peers and to this dehumanizing culture and demanding better. If only his teachers, all parents and society at large (where this learned behavior comes from) were so brave.


    Jackson Katz -

    Jaques Verduin –

    Eldra Jackson III –

    Lundy Bancroft –

    Tony Porter –

    Jayson Gaddis –

    Justin Baldoni –

    Gus Worland (and the amazing men he showcases) –


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