Richie Reseda Writes for Playboy

On Nontoxic Masculinity

Formerly incarcerated feminist Richie Reseda examines manhood

Art by Favianna Rodriguez

By the time most of us are 12, we’ve punched someone for pride, lied about sex for cool cred and called another boy “gay” for not being “man enough.” This is what toxic masculinity teaches us—that we’re measured by our physical prowess, by how much money we make and how many womxn we “have.” (Womxn is a spelling many feminists use instead of women, to recognize the independence of womxn from men.) But what do we do when we’re ready to ditch these chains?

Consent doesn’t start in the bedroom—it starts with the first glance. Feeling attracted to someone doesn’t entitle me to stare, linger or look them up and down. Contrary to what music videos and middle school taught me, it’s not sexy—it’s creepy. Just like it’s not okay to express sexuality with my body to people who aren’t down, it’s not okay to express it with my face either.

The same goes for my mouth. Toxic masculinity dictates that I verbally express sexualized appraisal at all times, that these are “compliments.” But they’re not. Rather than assume people want to talk at all, I’ve found it’s best to ask for permission and start with regular conversation. “Hi, can I talk to you?” works great. And if they say no, well, that means no.

I sometimes struggle with the idea that my manhood, and therefore my value, doesn’t originate in my wallet. I drive a 1992 Acura Integra that looks like it once decorated a telephone pole. It gets me where I need to go without problems, but I feel embarrassed.
I instead seek resolution and prioritize safety. This doesn’t guarantee I’ll be safe, but neither does violence.
The toxic devil on my shoulder tells me that I should be in a Model S, that driving a more expensive car would make me bigger, more powerful, more “manly.” To escape this mythology, I remember that I’m not valued by what I make but by what I give. Driving a sensible car gives me the freedom to support friends and family financially when need be, and to donate to causes I believe in. This reminds me that my purpose is to help, not to ball out.

Getting man points for physically dominating others with athleticism or violence is another tough one to shake. It’s insidious, because I know choosing not to play this domination game can get me hurt, or at least ridiculed with insults that liken me to “weak” people like womxn and queer folks.

Combating this takes courage, dedication and tolerance for discomfort. When someone “disrespects” me or the people I’m with, I must have the confidence to resist the urge to bark back, get revenge or “come out on top.” I instead seek resolution and prioritize safety. This doesn’t guarantee I’ll be safe, but neither does violence.

Today, this is revolutionary—to pursue solutions instead of domination. But it’s vital. Violence escalates when I fight fire with fire rather than with water. Fighting with water doesn’t mean allowing myself to be victimized; it means the opposite. The nontoxic way to deal with conflict is to solve problems rather than to “prove myself.”

This is why toxic masculinity is easy. It means going with the flow and being cool with it when the river cascades off a mountain. Nontoxic masculinity is hard. It means swimming upstream…but it beats falling off a cliff.