This month will have been eight years since I arrived at the same college where I now teach. Like some of my queer students, I was freshly out of the closet, away from the suburbs of Long Island and living in downtown Manhattan for the first time.
I say now that I arrived late on the gay scene. For years I had been dancing around the edges of the queer community in Manhattan.
I was out of the closet, but in many ways, my head was still enveloped in "straight logic." I held onto the misconception that other gay men were either the object of my desire or, in the case of a girlfriend’s other gay best friend, naturally, my competition. There was no middle ground. Many of the gay men at my college, I quickly realized, had learned a similar strategy. It seemed many of us were in the business of projecting our insecurities onto one another. Whether or not we were conscious of it, we were competing in a typical "mean girls" fashion.
It wouldn’t be until years later that I would meet my now boyfriend, Carlos, who would inspire me to question my own notions of what it is to be a part of the queer community.
At a time when masculinity is being re-examined, it seems America has never been more divided on the definition of "real masculinity" – a definition I've grappled with myself. I’ve found clarity in two places we seem to be looking last: the next generation and the queer men who blazed their trail.
Starbucks gave trans employees lifeline. Then they put our health care at risk.
Gen Z is setting their own rules for 'real masculinity'
At the end of last semester, I asked my freshman critical writing class at Pace University in Manhattan whether they believed that our culture was witnessing a "crisis of masculinity."
Most argued that men were notin crisis, citing the economic and socioeconomic privileges that come with being a white man. They defended their case by citing how other groups, like people of color and LGBTQ+ communities, have seen their rights taken away in real time.
But what we’re seeing from the behavior of straight men doesn’t exactly tell us they are thriving, either. From elementary education to overdose rates, men are seemingly in trouble:
Girls outperform boys in reading by more than 40% of a grade level in every state.
Men die of overdoses at two to three times greater a rate than women.
The list goes on.
And look at the examples of Andrew Tate (the social media influencer arrested in December on charges of human trafficking and rape), Kanye West, Elon Musk, Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin. All of them are in a wrestling match with their egos – and undoubtedly working out their daddy issues by taking it out on the rest of humanity.
“I think straight men are mad that masculinity is being remodeled,” a student answered.
Getting sober saved my life. And helped me understand my identity as a transgender woman.
The 'crisis of masculinity' is men’s own misery
Of course, this brand of the eccentric man predates the biblical age, I told them. What we’re seeing today is that it is more widely mainstream than ever, citing artists like Harry Styles and Shawn Mendes who have, in a sense, cultivated this new wave of masculinity-sans-stereotypes. But it isn't new.
From Mercury, Bowie, Prince and Elton to the ball culture of the 1980s, our definitions and expressions of gender have ebbed and flowed.
So why now, then, is the backlash seemingly so much stronger? Why are so many men stuck in their own misery?
“It’s community,” a students said toward the end of class one day. “That’s the thing straight men are really missing.”
I know that’s certainly the thing I was missing before I began to accept myself.
Opinion alerts: Get columns from your favorite columnists + expert analysis on top issues, delivered straight to your device through the USA TODAY app. Don't have the app? Download it for free from your app store.
What straight men could learn from queer men – aside from a host of stylistic, hygienic and sex tips – is to have a greater zeal and lust for life. What we’re seeing from the misery of men is the product of patriarchal conditioning. While we know straight white men are the beneficiaries of our capitalist patriarchy, they are also unknowingly victims of it.
My students understand this. I’d like to believe the young men who step into my classroom have seen the mistakes the men before them have made.
I often get asked by friends older than me if I’m pessimistic about Generation Z, born between 1997 to 2012. They often forget that I am actually considered Gen Z. I tell them how teaching has made me more optimistic than ever.
My students have made me see the state of things with a bit more hope. For all their (our) stereotypical faults – including a general lack of stamina and an impulse to cancel too quickly – the next generation is throwing out the old script and writing a new one. For that, they have my respect.
They have changed my view on this crisis of masculinity. This violent pushback we’re witnessing from men is a mere projection of their own self-hatred. The outburst we see from men is but a symptom of their grief. They are slowly realizing they are on their way out.
Andrew Sciallo is an adjunct professor of critical and creative writing at Pace University and New York City College of Technology. His writing has appeared in The Nation, Queerty, The Advocate, Literary Hub and Out Traveler. He is working on a queer fantasy series as well as a collection of essays about contemporary gay life in America.
You can read diverse opinions from our Board of Contributors and other writers on the Opinion front page, on Twitter @usatodayopinion and in our daily Opinion newsletter. To respond to a column, submit a comment to email@example.com.
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Are men OK? Amid 'masculinity crisis,' Gen Z sets their own rules