Sometimes you have to say things that may annoy folk because it’s the only way into discussing a painful truth. My painful truth is that I fear working class men.
I don’t like being around them, especially when they are drunk. I fear their capabilities, their loose tongues, banter, unpredictability, fast tempers and their appetite for violence.
I don’t like being on a train or bus, or waiting in public when groups of working class blokes are present, I fear encountering football supporters, stag do’s and lads on a night out - I worry what they might do to me, what they might say, what might happen - I fear their potential.
I hate talking to working class men, being in changing rooms or public toilets with them, going into boozers, greasy spoons or DIY shops. Any space working class blokes dominate creates a recognisable response of sweaty palms, my eyes darting around the room pre-empting danger and an umbrella of worry.
However, this fear isn’t one sided, it's a mutual exchange of fear. They fear me and my effeminacy and they find it hard to hide it. They stare, they point, they laugh and nudge each other. Sometimes they take photos of me, sometime they chant insults or point me out of a crowd.
I pose a threat - I look like a man but I’ve abandoned the rules of so-called normative masculinities. To use the thinking of Nando Messias, I “misalign masculinity” and in doing so I wonderfully fail at traditional maleness; men are competitive and so this failure, this weakness cannot go unnoticed. It’s exposed because, in their eyes - why or how could someone get it wrong? This exposure is a veiled misogyny - why would you devalue yourself from maleness? Why would you “choose” effeminacy?
To complicate matters, I also love working class men, I am working class and some people might call me a man (an identifier I refuse). I’m married to a working class man and I’m sexually attracted to working class men. For the record, I refute this to be fesitsisation - I’m not a middle class tourist seeking some rough trade in adidas tracksuit bottoms. I am rough, I am common, they are me, I am them - perhaps that's where the biggest threat exists, that I represent the fragility of their commandments.
I equally loathe and love working class men - I live with a complex version of Stockholm syndrome or ‘trauma bond’ because of my violent, dominant encounters with blokes. These thoughts are often only truly understood by working class femmes who sleep with men - an unspoken contract of love and hatred we share but cannot shake, leaving us in a complex head space of feeling loved and used simultaneously.
In 2016, sat in a pub in Yorkshire, I opened my laptop and decided I would attempt to cleanse myself of this unearthed fear, dread and worry. I purged all of my early, formative experiences with working class masculinity into a document, the result is my first text for stage.
BRAVADO includes four very graphic accounts of what happens when a child is subjected to working class maleness in a cultural climate of aggressive and sensitive masculinity. Its explores sexual and domestic violence, post traumatic stress disorder, abuse and revenge.
I’ve began to wonder if the legacy of these encounters replays in the heads of those who enforced them upon me - do they lie awake at night rewinding the past? Does masculinity have the capability of remorse? Perhaps this reveals that my veiled truth is that I want them to be subjected to the humiliation that I have felt by their hands.
Increasingly, when I’m in an arts space or part of panel conversations the topic of oppression emerges very quickly - its at the front of many of our minds. Many of us refer with short hand to the privileges that white-het-cis-males carry with them. It doesn’t take long before the often only white-het-cis-male puts his hand up to say he feel like he is being attacked or bullied.
I’ve developed a stock response that isn’t the eye roll I once gave the first bloke who said this in my presence. I remind them that in this very small room, for this very short period of time we’re critiquing maleness, but when they step outside of that room the world goes back to normal and we are the ones left feeling attacked and bullied, dealing with trauma enforced on us. I also tell them it’s OK for them just to sit there and listen, that if they feel attacked perhaps they need to reframe their masculinity or learn from our experiences.
If I’m being completely honest what I’d love to do is tell them to fuck off, get out and leave us alone - the truth is my hatred for men runs far deeper than even I’m aware off. However, to eradicate them, to rid them from my space and ignore them only enacts their actions towards me. For me, this is the most revealing side affect of trauma - the experience of oppression often leaves us with the capability to oppress. For me, the gut punch is being left oppressed, angry and with the expectation of democracy - sometimes you want to be just as angry and violent as they have been.
I often fantasise about joining a femme space in which we were able to start fires, scream at the wall and throw shoes at cardboard cut-outs of Alan Sugar. I dream of feminist circles I can exist in, be welcomed into and share my experience of male oppression. Unfortunately, I have a hairy face and have been apparently socialised as a so-called man so I’m often actively, rightly or wrongly excluded from these circles. If being socialised male means being beat up, left out, excluded, spat on, sexually assaulted and humiliated then exclusionary feminists sign me up and shut that heavy, second generation door firmly in my face.
I and others like me exist in the metaphorical no-man-or-wimmins land - a lonely place where our femmeness is discounted on one side, the same femmeness that violently alienates us from the other.
Perhaps BRAVADO isn’t about working class masculinity, perhaps it’s about outing my experience in the hope I might find a gang, a gang who hear what I say and think “me too”
To quote a wise femme I once had the pleasure of sitting next to on the 214 bus “...it doesn’t get any better, no matter how much you try”
Bravado UK tour kick starts 28th September - check out when its in a place near you!
Bravado Book - my first published stage text is available to pre order!