The recommendation of that grumpy genius Walter Burns in The Front Page still applies: “Marry an undertaker or an executioner. Anybody but a journalist.” You only realize that journalism is still a risky profession when you go through one of those extreme experiences that editors usually entrust to interns, who have nine lives. You know: “Go a week without smoking and write an article about it,” “Pen a chronicle about spending 24 hours with the firefighters,” or “Draft a 15-day diary while you follow the Carrot Diet.” I have voluntarily submitted myself to the genre, for the first time, by spending a week under strict observance of the Rules of New Masculinity. I think I’m alive to tell the tale, but I’m not sure.
I start the day with a quote from feminist Judith Butler, a big Kamala Harris donor: “The category of sex is neither invariant nor natural, but is a specifically political use of the category of nature that serves the purposes of reproductive sexuality.” Okay, I need coffee even more than I need a coronavirus vaccine.
My feminists have been kind enough to send me a series of learning materials to work on these days. Notes, conferences, and online workshops, plus some calls from the Women’s Institute. The director of this public institution in Spain (and from what I have seen, in the rest of the world it is no different) debuted in office saying that the time had come to end “the patriarchal culture of the penetration of women,” that true “egalitarian redistribution of sexual practices” requires popularizing “anal penetration of men by women.” Nothing new. I’m starting to suspect that all that these new feminists have discovered is the socialist fiscal policy.
Bar habits: Ana, the waitress, serves me coffee at my table. When I finish, before leaving, I always take the empty cup back to the bar — a small gesture of kindness. Today I was starting to do so when suddenly the ghost of my new masculinity appeared to me: isn’t there gender conditioning in this? If instead of the beautiful — my apologies — Ana that fatso James, who tends the bar in the afternoons, were on duty, I would not be so considerate. I retrace my steps, leave the coffee on my table, and walk away. First victory against my machismo. Ana looks at me as if she were seeing a hippopotamus playing the cello.
I go to the supermarket to buy the lotions GQ magazine recommends. I read the labels and apply them with some mistrust, some on my face and others all over my body. So fresh on the skin. Strange sensation — now my arms smell like my first girlfriend’s hair.
A talk at the Ministry of Equality on the social construction of the male begins. It is given by a woman in her 50s with very short lilac hair. “To be a man, in the patriarchal society, is to be important,” she denounces. First crisis: if this is so, then I have serious doubts about my masculinity. And about Nancy Pelosi’s femininity.
During a break we have a cigarette in the street. I need it. My pulse is throbbing and my head feels like a nuclear power plant. I’ve learned so many new things: the offensive nature of masculine reproductive organs, how horrible it is to give toy guns to little boys, and much more. I need a light and ask a fellow attendee for it. I try to put my new masculinity into practice and refer to him as “he/she/it/ze” as the canons dictate. I notice a strange complicity in his smile, as if we share much more than I would ever want to share with him. I see my reflection in the glass of the door and I’m giving him a Corpse Bride face. A quote from Houellebecq resounds in my head: “Unhappiness isn’t at its most acute point until a realistic chance of happiness, sufficiently close, has been envisioned.”
I reach the end of my first day of more or less gender fluidity. I doze off while listening to a Spanish podcast on the theme of the crisis of masculinity. The program has conducted some very profound research on men’s personalities. At work? In families? In schools? No, they infiltrated prostitution rings to ask the prostitutes what guys are really like. I wouldn’t like to cast doubt on such fine work, but I’m just not sure that the way pimps treat their prostitutes is representative of the average man. If the podcast’s host had simply asked her father, she would have had a more reliable source. I hope.
In the lobby. A young woman approaches the door from the outside, while I, going out, approach from the inside. Psycho-sexual tension. Our gazes meet for an instant, and behind her subtle smile I see the trap: she thinks I’m going to behave like a male chauvinist pig and politely step aside to let her through first. I won’t. I will never again fall to the clutches of the patriarchy. I storm through, steadfast. It would come as no surprise if someone were to tell me that the consequent collision of heads had displaced the Earth’s poles several kilometers. Flat on my back, still dizzy, I hear the woman spewing expletives, cursing my paternal genealogy all the way back to the 12th century. Either she is very angry, or she is incredibly chauvinist.
I spend the morning reading Gender Trouble, by Judith Butler, mother (or father) of queer theory. The gist of it is this: no one is by nature male or female; gender is assigned at birth in an act of symbolic violence; gender is nothing more than a role that can be changed at will, as many times as you want, breaking the binary masculine and feminine scheme, depending on how you feel. Thanks to Butler’s epiphany, by the time I’ve finished reading I’m meowing, scratching my ear with a foot, and eating Friskies dry cat food. Hello, I am officially a cat. That’s how I feel. And a gender-fluid cat. A steamy cross between Garfield and Hello Kitty.
I meet up with friends for a few beers. Juan comments on the irresistible beauty of the girl at the next table. I interject decisively: “Careful, my friend. You are one step away from intellectual rape.” Juan slaps my face, suspecting I’ve been possessed. “Typical caveman response,” I scold him. He slaps me again. I try empathy, recommended by the progressive weekend magazine as the key to conflict resolution for the new masculinity: “Juan, put yourself in my place. Would you like to be slapped?” The rest of my friends wrinkle their noses, get up, and leave without finishing their beer. Juan obviously controls the urge to slap me goodbye. The new masculinity is fine, I guess, but it’s not compatible with having straight friends. The girl at the next table looks at me. Poetic justice.
In the evening, the news. In Europe, a radical leftist law that seeks to allow children under 16 to change their sex without parental consent is being debated. I listen to the opinions of a well-read androgen. Xe speaks matter-of-factly about how xe knows hundreds of cases (I translate: one, at most) of eight-year-old boys who feel they are girls and are in a living hell because their parents won’t allow them to wear miniskirts and makeup. I think that eight-year-old girls are often not allowed by their parents to wear makeup and miniskirts either. I try to empathize with the androgynous communist, but, honestly, I fail. I think the worst of him, but if I tweet about it, they would shut me down on Twitter.
In the evening, I go to a bar with my friend Sophie. Something intolerable happens. We order, and the waiter brings us a Coke Zero and a beer. He pours the beer for me and the Coke for her. I detect the act of micro-chauvinism and spring to my feet: “You’re a chauvinist pig! Why should the beer be for me and the Coke for her? Huh? This is a clear case of symbolic violence, as defined by sociologist Pierre Bourdieu.” My screams are so loud and the content of my grievance so dense that I fear the waiter’s head will explode. It’s Sophie who responds to my rhetorical question: “Because you asked for the beer and I asked for the Coke Zero.” I, puffed up like a peacock full of new masculinity, shrink instantly to the size of a flea. A young, anorexic, mute, malaria-infected flea.
I’m beginning to suspect that the new masculinity bothers women more than men.
Quote of the day: “Women are the largest untapped reservoir of talent in the world.” It’s from Hillary Clinton. Monica Lewinsky likes this.
At a workshop on new masculinities, they tell me about the American anthropologist Katrina Karkazis. She has done a lot of research on testosterone and claims that it is just an excuse for male impunity. She says there is no relationship between testosterone and aggressiveness. Karzakis concludes her reasoning by saying that if biology is not an explanation for male behavior, then we have a big job ahead of us to address the social causes.
The problem is that there are a lot of recent studies linking violence and testosterone. Specifically, I have here over 60 studies proving that the release of testosterone in men influences serotonin and dopamine in the brain, inducing aggressive and suicidal behaviors.
I get a call from a feminist friend of mine who owns a beauty clinic. To deepen my new masculinity, she recommends that I go to her clinic to have my whole body waxed. In the end we come to an agreement: I go as an observer, but she can’t touch me. This is called a close shave.
On the way home I get pulled over by the police for speeding. Damn testosterone. I go over the ticket and see that I have to mark my gender, male or female. I exercise my rights: “Why do I have to choose between male and female as if we were in the 16th century?” The officer, not at all sympathetic to queer theory, answers, “Because whether you are male or female, I’m going to fine you the same because you were driving like a psychopath.” Damn patriarchy!
Morning coffee with Rachel, an old friend, in one of those trendy coffee shops where the guys look like ballerinas and the girls look like truck drivers. She tells me that she’s had an argument with her boyfriend. I strongly recommend getting away from him and, in fact, from all men. I explain to her that, according to French writer Pauline Harmange, author of I Hate Men, single, childless women are the happiest people. Rachel looks at me silently, in a very long, tired silence, with a glint of hopelessness in her eyes. I think it’s disbelief.
I attend a university conference on micro-chauvinism. The presenter of the event plays “Run for Your Life.” Suddenly, she turns off the music and says, “The Beatles are sexist apologetics.” I burst out laughing with a loud guffaw. I’m the only one laughing. Everyone turns to me with a straight face. My God, I promise I thought it was a joke. I grin like an idiot. The woman continues her spiel by assuring me that next we will focus on homosexuality in the animal world, specifically penguins. I bite my tongue to avoid telling her that I think these are very serious accusations since there are no penguins in the room. I look at the faces of those around me and I begin to doubt.
Quote of the day: “The ‘real’ and the ‘sexyally factic’ are phantasmatic constructions —illusions of substance — that bodies are compelled to approximate, but never can.” Butler again. Big news. If the real is a phantasmagorical construct, I see no reason to recognize Biden as president of the United States. As for the sexually factual, Butler tries again and again to blur male and female and replace it with that queer fluidity with which she has made a living. I don’t hold it against her. Others rob banks.
Time to eat. For the first time in my life I try a vegan restaurant. I read in a magazine that the man-meat relationship is a deviation from patriarchal fascism. First, millet salad. Second, tofu sausages. I want to die. I end my lunch early and go to McDonald’s for lunch.
It’s the last day of the online workshop on new masculinities. A lady uglier than an octopus says that “compliments” are violence. Inevitably I think to myself: in your case, yes. I am only alive today because Dorsey and Zuckerberg can’t read my mind yet.
I spend the day reading Peggy Orenstein’s stuff. She wrote her book Boys & Sex: Young Men on Hookups, Love, Porn, Consent, and Navigating the New Masculinity after interviewing over 100 young men between the ages of 16 and 22. The author is very angry about how, when she asked the interviewees to describe the ideal boy, they all responded, she says, “like they were channelling some version of 1955.” So youngsters are outdated, according to Orenstein. I guess it’s just really inconceivable that girls, when it comes to sharing their life with a bear, still prefer James Stewart to Pharrell Williams.
Now I’m drinking at a bar with a markedly gay atmosphere. Everything is ’80s revival. I hate Queen (I had to say it), and I think Freddie Mercury is an idiot (I had to say that too). A rather vaporous gender friend of mine helps me get acquainted with the scene and introduces me to a bunch of suits who greet each other with two kisses as if they were Soviet comrades. I engage in purely journalistic and probing conversations with one and all. In the end, my conclusion leads me to the deepest melancholy: I have never been in such a chauvinistic and misogynistic environment. And I get the impression that these guys are not exactly paleo-conservatives. Oh, and another thing I don’t understand is why in these places, when I order a gin and tonic, they take two hours to prepare it, and then they bring me a glass full of flowers. They start by liquefying genders and end up turning the drinks into salads.
I wrap up this queer experience. As I tidy my notes, I can feel the testosterone slowly coursing through my body again. There are still traces of millet salad in my blood. What I’ve been through is deeply unhealthy and desperately unnatural. It’s a fairy tale, however dense its sociological theories may be. If any of this stands the test of time it will be only for one terrible reason: there are a lot of people living off of it.
As far as I’m concerned, I’m free again. I celebrate by spending Sunday afternoon reading the Art of Manliness and drinking beer like Prohibition’s about to come back in. I definitely like being a man almost as much as I like girls. I thank God for re-solidifying my gender. As for my sex, I think it remained pretty solid throughout the experience, but perhaps that subject is beyond the purposes of this story, however much it may satisfy the unhealthy curiosity of some readers.