On October 21, 2018, Rev. Peter Graham addressed those attending the Community Miracles Center's Sunday Gathering in San Francisco, California. Below is a lightly edited transcription of this talk.
The title for my talk today is "Masculinity, Miracles, and the End of Dreams." The impetus for this talk was two-fold. It's always several levels deep I would say. I think the first thing we have to say is that gender roles and masculinity are certainly up right now in our consciousness. It's certainly happening. It's showing up in the world right now. I think for all of us it's important we look at that and see how it is in our minds. We need to look and see how we are relating to these various different changes in gender roles and gender itself.
As we know, we have a transgender movement that is really taking off here in San Francisco. There is more consideration about what gender means and the fluidity of gender – meaning the willingness to look at gender beyond the roles society has given us and see what the impact is. Today in the reading it says this, "Dreams show you that you have the power to make a world as you would have it be, and that because you want it you see it. And while you see it you do not doubt that it is real." (FIP:T-18.II.5.1-2)
So the Course is very practical in the sense that it does say for us to not deny our reality. Don't deny we are bodies. It is not particularly helpful for us to say "Oh this world is an illusion so I can just be enlightened." That's not really how it works. I think right now what we are seeing a little bit of is the expression of the masculine as what I think of as the shadow self. It's the dark side of the masculine tendencies out in the world that we are seeing. I will give you some examples that I've seen lately.
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In our political rhetoric we've seen some really touchy things happening. There was the U.S. Supreme Court Justice Kavanaugh that was recently accused of sexual harassment. He appeared before Congress and his appearance, especially during his second appearance, seemed aggressive, and hostile to questions that were made by males and females towards him.
That kind of situation got focused on. We have a president now, President Trump, who gets a lot of support from a group of people that statistics say are more predominantly white, working-class males. His rhetoric is often what we might consider aggressive and alpha-male like. There seems to be a response to that as people are doing it. We do not see this to judge it, but let's look at it and see what it has to say to us.
Now the other level that I want to talk about is my own personal journey with masculinity. I want to start with that first. It's not something I've talked about that much but it is interesting enough. My own experience with masculinity of course was formed, like everyone else, when I was a child. I grew up in a white, European, working-class, conservative envivronment. My family culturally was mostly Irish and German. I was raised Catholic, conservative Catholic I would say. In my town, when you were young and in my family, that is where you got your conditioning. That is where I was conditioned.
The masculine role was the strong stoic type. The masculine models I had in my family were my stepfather, my older uncle, and my grandfather who in particular was very stoic. I can honestly say my grandfather was probably the most present in my life. He showed up the most. Yet I don't think I really ever had a conversation with him, I mean a real in-depth, involved conversation with him. He definitely left an imprint. He was a smart guy. He was an athlete. He played football back in the 1930s. He had a big imprint on me.
As I was growing up, I adopted a lot of these similar roles I thought that were "masculine." I played sports. That was a big thing to do. I think about doing that, playing in the athletic arena. I played all types of sports, and I was pretty good at them. I eventually played high school and college football. In those realms, being kind, being sensitive, being vulnerable, were not necessarily the traits that got you to be successful. (laughter) What got you to be successful was performing – being aggressive, being assertive, on the field. Now that was on the field. I'm not saying I was unkind. I wasn't a jerk all the time. Certainly I don't think that at all, but playing sports was certainly a training ground for me on how to be with men. That definitely influenced my development as a young man.
I remember that as a teenager, and as a young adult, while I was doing these things, I did possess certain talents which enabled me to be successful at sports, and talents which helped me be to be successful in the classroom (Rev. Peter is a public school teacher) and so on and so forth. I want to talk about my emotional intelligence. Though I was a sensitive man, I didn't have great communication skills. I didn't express myself well. The permission one had in my family, as a male, was that you could get angry. It was okay to get angry, but you couldn't be vulnerable. You couldn't be sensitive. You couldn't have gentle feelings and things like that. It just wasn't done. This is interesting for me.
I also want to take a look at the societal male. We will come back to me in a little bit. Here is the definition of masculinity. "Masculinity (also called manhood or manliness) is a set of attributes, behaviors, and roles associated with boys and men … Traits … include strength, courage, independence, violence, and assertiveness."
Now I also looked up "machismo" which is kind of the alpha male. Get this. Think of someone you know who is like this. "Machismo is a form of masculinity that emphasizes power and is often associated with a disregard for consequences and responsibility." Look at these definitions. I'm sure there are many definitions out there. We could come up with many definitions.
It is my hope that what is really happening now with the discussion around gender is like the #metoo campaign. It is trying to advance the cause for treating women with respect in the workplace and at home without feeling they are being harassed or intimidated, physically, sexually or verbally. We are going to move toward that kind of era.
I did some research on masculinity. What is the version of masculinity that causes problems in society? I also did research about the men who have these traits. They actually did a study both in an American university and a university in Singapore. It's not just in the Western culture. They found these traits problematic when emphasized. Now remember no matter what, these traits aren't necessarily bad in themselves but when they are overemphasized. So here they are. There are seven of them:
• Winning: When you have a strong desire to be admired and respected for winning, this can or does cause problems.
• Emotional Control: You keep your feelings in check and you do not express vulnerable feelings – sadness, and disappointment, but of course again anger is okay.
• Violence: The willingness to be tough, to throw a punch, fighting at the bars after a few beers.
• (Here is a difficult one) Power Over Women: You have this need to handle women, to be in control of women. You feel threatened by women who may have control over you.
• The Playboy Mystique: That your self-esteem is based on the pursuit of power over the other sex or conquering the other sex sexually.
• Primacy of Work: (Now this is really interesting isn't it?) The prioritization of financial support over family emotional support. This is a really tough one because I think it works both ways. In today's modern society many men struggle because women are now going out to the workforce. In a lot of families, women are making more money than men. Men who have these masculine attributes that they have been raised with can feel inferior, or it leads them to feel inferior. So there is that situation. If I'm not the breadwinner, then who am I? I am supposed to embrace a role that I haven't really been conditioned for. Imagine that. It's really, really hard.
• (The last one) Disdain for Gay Men: That is also something that has been a big part of masculinity problems. They say sometimes that hyper masculinity is over-compensation. We also know that some people, some men, repress their same sex attraction, and that can come out as a form of homophobia. It sometimes results in physical and emotional violence towards gay men as well. This is a really difficult trait.
I mentioned all those things are problematic for society, but there are some of them that are particularly difficult for the men themselves. Three of them and I will list them here: Power Over Women, The Playboy Mystique, and Disdain for Gay Men are oftentimes precursors for those men who will have mental illness. There is a direct correlation to mental illness for men who have these traits.
If you think about it and turn on the T.V., we see a lot of this happening nowadays. It is easy to judge these folks. We see the alpha male out there but in reality they are at high risk for mental illness: depression, anxiety disorders, and other conditions. I did research on this too through the Center of Disease Control and Prevention. There is a large increase in men committing suicide between the ages of 15-34, and in general there is an increase for men of all ages. Men are also more successful in their attempts at suicide compared to women.
So this warped view of masculinity is really disturbing. This is not to put blame on men. It is just to look at the conditioning that happens in this ego world. Now, I work as an educator for special needs students.I have interestingly enough noticed from working as a special ed teacher, that most students with disabilities are male. Most, almost 89%, of people incarcerated, in jail, have some sort of a disability or a learning disability. Something to think about.
The research in brain development says this. Boys brains ... while boys are developing their brains in the mother's womb and in the first couple of years, their actual brain development is more fragile than girls. We wouldn't think that, right? We stereotype boys as being more tough and you know, more rough and all that kind of stuff. This is what the research shows. The boys are more sensitive to the mother's emotional state. If the mother has a trauma, that impacts the brain development of boys more adversely than for girls.
Boys have a higher risk of Attention-Deficit / Hyperactivity Disorder and they are shown to have higher cortisol levels. Most know that cortisol is a hormone. It's what we think of as the bad stress hormone. Some of it is necessary, but excess amounts of it are not good. A little bit of stress gets us to do things, but too much stress is not good. In young boys it causes cognitive impairment, impairment in their thinking skills. Then that affects social and emotional function as well, their ability to process emotional intelligence and all of that. We have to look at this as well in terms of processing what is going on with the masculine stereotype. We need to keep all this in mind.
Now coming back a little to my story. I think we all go through our ego development, we form who we are, at a certain point. I would say most people are fully formed by 18-22. I started deconditioning myself from the negative aspects of masculinity during college, when I started to become more honest with myself about my sexuality and I started coming out in therapy. (Rev. Peter is an out gay man.)
I experienced depression for mental illness, because I was having a very hard time reconciling myself with who I had appeared to be as a ball player – I was captain of my college football team. I had all these obviously stereotypical masculine traits and a conservative Catholic upbringing – though that was changing in my mind. I realized, "Oh my God!" I've had this attraction to men, and how am I going to reconcile these things. It seemed that my masculinity was really in conflict.
As I went to therapy and I began reading books about being gay and coming out, I also discovered progressive theology. I went to Dignity which was a gay Catholic organization. I started to discover all these things about sexuality in the early church that were marred, and that gay marriages were actually sanctified by the early church. I learned that the attack on sexuality did not come until much later on in church history. So gradually I came out as gay. I did that.
Another significant thing was when I was 35, I moved to San Francisco. Part of the motivation for the move was to be free, to live in a big city. I lived in Philadelphia before that, but San Francisco was where you could be LGBTQ (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer) and beyond, or whatever, and be accepted. That was really important. It became more important as I began to study A Course in Miracles which I think is a very non-judgmental, loving, forgiving spirituality. So it really really helped.
Now is the time to bring things current for myself. I still have had issues with the expression of feelings in my relationships. It is very difficult for me even though I've gotten better. One of the things I've noticed lately is that I tend to cry a little bit easier now. That is a great relief actually. I will give you one example.
Recently I went to see this movie called Crazy, Rich Asians. It's a romantic comedy, right? However, there are some really poignant scenes in the movie between mothers and their daughters. A daughter and a possible future mother-in-law were together and a really hard scene took place. I started crying. I was tearing up. I really wanted to start bawling, but my conditioning is very strong so I held back. I was thinking, "Oh, this is a sign of healing."
Even though A Course in Miracles talks about when we are in our right mind we aren't crying, I do think it is part of the healing process. We have to in our minds, have these experiences, because we have ego conditioning that we do have to let go. Our past traumas, past conditioning, where they said, "You got to be tough. Stick it out, and don't cry." I truly think that has stunted our emotional development, so I was really happy to have that emotional experience at the movies.
Another experience wasn't so happy, but my emotional response was different. A few weeks ago I was at work. I'm working at a new place. I'm a San Francisco Unified School District employee, but I am now working in a hospital setting. The hospital has its own rules. One of them is that we have to get cleared to work there. We have to go through the hospital's Human Resources (HR) process. I was like "Whatever. I am already hired by the School District so you are not my boss."
Anyway, a female supervisor pulled the newly hired into a room. There were about five of us that were newly hired. She said (which I thought was very crude), "Do you want to eat? Do you want a roof over your head? Then you better sign up and go through this process." I thought "Oh my god! That's terrible! What a horrible thing to say." What was interesting to me was my emotional response. I was sad and hurt by this. That was my initial response. Here I am working really hard at this new job and I felt not appreciated.
I got a little angry and my old ego self was wanting to call the teacher's union, to stand up for myself. As a gay man I've been to protests, and I've done a lot of different things. This time my guidance was "Hey. Don't do that." I had a more integral experience. This wasn't the time to fight. My guidance was that I should simply start doing the HR process. So I did that, and the real gift of that was that I had a greater experience of what my emotional experience was. That was it.
What does all this mean about masculinity, myself and society? This is what the Course says. "The Holy Spirit needs a happy learner, in whom His mission can be happily accomplished. You who are steadfastly devoted to misery must first recognize that you are miserable and not happy. (FIP:T-14.II.1:1-2) I think for all of us what we need to do is look at these general rules, whether it's masculinity, femininity, or fluidity, and compare what aspects are healthy of each What are the right-minded aspects?
It's important to be self-reliant sometimes. It's important to be strong in character sometimes. However we also need to take on the feminine and we need to sometimes be vulnerable. We need help; we need support. If I am depressed, I can't fix that on my own. That is my experience. I needed to go talk about it with someone. I need to share with close friends. Right? There are things we need to do.
We need to embrace the healthy traits of the feminine and of the masculine. That to me is a lot of what this gender fluidity movement is about. We are coming around as a right-minded people. We all need these blended traits. The LGBTQ community has helped us see this and what it brings up. Although there might be a backlash from what we are seeing right now with the alpha males and the hypermasculine that is coming out, we are taught by A Course in Miracles that you have to bring the darkness to the light so that it can be healed.
I want to see all people as innocent. I want to see them as healed. I want to believe we are all healing these various aspects of ourselves while we are still here and making our life here a happy dream. The idea I want to express for all of us today is that I believe we need to bless the masculine, even that dark masculine side, that appears sometimes in us and in our world. Then let's hope this blending of masculine and feminine traits will lead us to the happy dream and a more peaceful, purposeful life.
That's my talk for today. (applause) ♥
Rev. Peter Graham is CMC's 40th minister. He is also the Secretary of the CMC Board of Directors. He was ordained by the CMC on Feb. 23, 2002.
c/o Community Miracles Center
San Francisco, CA 94147
This article appeared in the January 2019 (Vol. 32 No. 11) issue of Miracles Monthly. Miracles Monthly is published by Community Miracles Center in San Francisco, CA. CMC is supported solely by people just like you who: become CMC Supporting Members, Give Donations and Purchase Books and Products through us.