Book: I’m Afraid of Men by Vivek Shraya
Dates Read: Jan 10, 2019
Overall Rating: 3.5/5
I had never read anything by this author before, but the author is actually from my hometown so this story had an interesting dynamic for me as I couldn’t say “this would never happen here where I live” cause it had, my home town, in schools and streets that I go on every day. I’m Afraid of Men has a provocative title and fun cover colours, but ultimately I’m not sure I had a good gander on what to expect from the book. The book is ultimately a biography of the author’s treatment and musings by and on men while growing up as an East Indian boy coming to term with first being gay and second with the transition to being a transwoman. Overall, the story is several short stories of the way the author rallied against and acclimated to typical masculinity as approved by society as a whole. From learning to change his walk and the way he talked to mask his feminity to modifying his behaviour in social situations and school so as not to get beat up for no reason other then existing this way and being different.
There was one story the author told where as a young man he fell in love with one of his mother’s jackets and would wear it, a fancy beaded blue number. One day, while he was waiting for the bus, a boy from his (this was when she was a boy still) class and the boy’s girlfriend came up behind him and the boy started spitting on his jacket. At this point, in order to not get beat up, the author simply ignored it and eventually made it home and choose then to never wear the jacket that he loved again. The point of that story was about how the author forced herself to modify her behaviour in order to prevent someone else from baselessly attacking her. But the point from that story that really stuck with me was that the girlfriend just laughed, laughed as her boyfriend spit on another person for no reason other then that person was not adhering to norms. It reminded me of a heartbreaking story told in the comedy special Nanette by Hannah Gadsby (if you have not watched, please do, it is remarkable) wherein she hits on a woman in a bus station only to have the womans boyfriend come up and threaten her for hitting on his girlfriend when he thought Hannah was a man and then upon realization of that she is gay and is hitting on his girlfriend proceed to beat her up badly. Both were heartbreaking stories. In both cases, while the attacker was absolutely at fault and perpetrating absolutely toxic masculinity, the female companion stood by and supported the action through inaction.
The heartbreaking conclusion of many of the stories is that the author is too feminine as a boy and is not feminine enough as a girl and therefore just not right, leading to considerable mental turmoil and depression. I can honestly say that book was uncomfortable to listen to as often they were not happy stories, but also important to hear. One thing the author mentioned that stuck with me was that when teaching colleagues at the University of Calgary about the hardships of trans people and gay people on campus and that it was only after hearing stories of suffering due to other people’s mistreatment that the colleagues actively attempt changes in their behaviour. But otherwise, they wouldn’t think it was as bad as it was. The author equates this to why reactions about #metoo were only so strong after people came out and told their stories, despite the fact that many people knew exactly what was happening all along. So while this was hard to hear, I think the more people who don’t experience these types of events in their lives, because they are not trans and not gay and not outright against the norm, need to hear these types of stories and be uncomfortable. If we ignore the experiences of others suffering we’re not really that much better then the girlfriend who stands by, laughing at someone’s else pain.
My 3.5 rating namely comes out the fact that the way the book is written is a bit hard to follow, or at least it was as an audiobook. As the book is split into a You and Me section. So each story starts out with their a “you…” or an “I…” but is referring to different people, so it just got really difficult in the You section to know when that transition was taking place and when/where the story was taking place.
Unconventional, but worth wild.