|Young men perform at the Oakland Youth Speak event last week.|
In our society, men are given certain benefits. Like not having their bodies objectified every time they walk out the door. Or not being considered a "slut" or a "ho" for dating multiple people. Or not being expected to cook or clean at home. Or not having to address their own privilege. And for men that fit within society's standards for men, these benefits must feel great. But for Asian men, especially young Asian men, who are seen and caricatured by society as weak, nerdy, and quiet, these benefits don't look the same. Not only do young Asian men have to shuffle through their privilege, but they have to navigate all these messed-up stereotypes that they've been assigned. And when you add the layer of being a young man growing up in Oakland, where institutional violence impacts people of all genders and backgrounds, then it can get downright confusing.
That's why I believe in the space that the Young Men's Program at Forward Together has created. A space where we've broken down systems of oppression, particularly things like male supremacy, patriarchy, and heterosexism, and examined how they've impact our everyday lives. Where we've brought in guest speakers to share their insight on topics such as critical thinking and sexuality. And most importantly, where we have envisioned (and put into practice) being allies to women and the Queer community, through self-examination, language, and advocacy.
One breakthrough was when we had a couple guests come to speak about their experiences as folks who identify as Queer. It was a time where all the theoretical things we were discussing were being manifested in these personal and real stories. And afterwards, one of the participants, who hadn't spoken too much throughout the summer, shared a thoughtful and deep appreciation to the speakers, thanking them for having the courage to share with the group. It was one of the few moments of seeing something "click" with the group, and just that little thing meant a whole lot to me.
That said, transformation doesn't happen overnight. If anything, it's a lifelong struggle. But my hope is that these beautiful young men can walk away from the program with some language and ideas of how they can be better allies. And more importantly, that they can look within themselves and unpack some of the unhealthy messages that we've been taught as men, that will hopefully allow them to be more open and loving.