How I Learned to Confront My CIS Male Fragility

Some tips, dude to dudes, on how to do the same.

Kyle William Durham
Jan 9 · 9 min read

Let me start by addressing a few things to the women, non-binary, trans, and other non-CIS male readers who have opened this article. Hi, I’m Kyle, and I love you. This won’t be an article about how woke I am and it’s also not an article calling out how un-woke I am, thus making me look woke.

This is also not an article that is directly addressed to you. This is to respect your voice and perspective. You all have enough straight males talking at you, and I don’t plan to join in the chorus unless it’s to cheer. I have nothing to explain to you, only a lot to learn. I welcome your feedback and participation.

This is also not an article that is meant to take up room in your sacred spaces, I have been honored to be invited to many LGBTQIA+ and women’s communities and I feel plenty of love. I want to respect you all by making it clear that I am only speaking from my perspective to those that share my identity.

I’ve seen Get Out (and loved it, obviously) but I am not trying to be the LGBTQIA+ version of the dad telling a black person that I voted for Obama. I am not the guy who says “I have plenty of gay friends, so I get it.”

I don’t get it, I never will, but I won’t stop trying to.

I am a guy who lost one of his best friends to suicide related to his sexual identity. I am a friend to many who have made it out of the closet alive, too. This means more to me than fake internet points or pats on the back, it deeper for me.

Through active listening with my friends, I have learned that there’s no real-time where it is suddenly better and easy and fair for marginalized communities. I don’t pretend to understand the incredible nuance that is navigating through a world that tells you daily that you’re not welcome. I don’t do this for the kudos, I do this because I don’t want those who mean most in my life to be apart of the following statistics:

Suicide is the 2nd leading cause of death among young people ages 10 to 24.

LGB youth seriously contemplate suicide at almost three times the rate of heterosexual youth.

LGB youth are almost five times as likely to have attempted suicide compared to heterosexual youth.

Of all the suicide attempts made by youth, LGB youth suicide attempts were almost five times as likely to require medical treatment than those of heterosexual youth.

Suicide attempts by LGB youth and questioning youth are 4 to 6 times more likely to result in injury, poisoning, or overdose that requires treatment from a doctor or nurse, compared to their straight peers.

In a national study, 40% of transgender adults reported having made a suicide attempt. 92% of these individuals reported having attempted suicide before the age of 25.

LGB youth who come from highly rejecting families are 8.4 times as likely to have attempted suicide as LGB peers who reported no or low levels of family rejection.

1 out of 6 students nationwide (grades 9–12) seriously considered suicide in the past year.

Each episode of LGBT victimization, such as physical or verbal harassment or abuse, increases the likelihood of self-harming behavior by 2.5 times on average.

- The Trevor Project

Okay, very large but important side-bar out of the way. Whenever I ask “what can I do” to my LGBTQIA+ friends, they say the same thing. “Talk to your CIS friends.” So, I am going to, for those who would like to listen. Again, thank you ladies and LGBTQIA+ community for letting me participate in my way; speaking to my fellow men.

Boys, dudes, bros, I now want to talk to you. The below isn’t meant to shame men and this isn’t meant to condone anything either, I just want to share a few things I learned.

Identity v.s. Behavior

Guys, there has been a conflation between identity and behavior. They are not the same thing.

I’ve been there and I know the feeling, and feelings aren’t right or wrong, sometimes it feels like there are places and conversations that we are not welcomed in. Sometimes, this is true. But that’s just so that women can have time to feel what we feel all day, every day: freedom and safety. Marginalized groups don’t want you to burn yourself alive just for being a man, sometimes they just need some space.

The attack isn’t on our identity, it’s an attack on behavior that many with our identity perpetuate. What matters more to marginalized groups than our change of heart, is our change in behavior.

Sure, maybe you are like me and are an easy sell on the 2020 feminist movement. Maybe you’re feeling a little more internal resistance. Either way, I think it is very important to get a few things straight for the benefit of everyone.

Identity is who you are and how you see yourself. While I began to try and take my ego (identity) out of the conversations surrounding race, sexuality, gender inequality, etc., I found that it was rarely that I disagreed, it was the implication that I was somehow defacto responsible by being a straight white male.

We need to stop saying “but I don’t do that.” and start stopping it when we see it. We need to speak up and we need to believe women.

While my identity is larger than just straight and male, it is also those things, even if I didn’t choose it. The hard truth is that CIS people have power.

“With great power, comes great responsibility.”

— Uncle Ben

10 Pounds of Effort

My best friend Hönig, who first educated me on gender-inclusive pronouns, did so in a way that was kind, profound, and urgent.

I was confiding in her that I felt bad for slipping-up with a friend that had recently transitioned. He grew up in the neighborhood with me and my friends and was when we were kids, my friend’s little sister.

He was nothing but saint-like as several female pronouns came out of my mouth a moment before I made a face similar to stubbing my toe.

I wanted to be there for him and I felt bad that I kept messing up. It didn’t matter how much he encouraged me and told me he appreciated the effort, I felt like a bonehead.

My friend Hönig, instead of lecturing me, which would have been warranted, put it very simply.

“keep trying. It’s not going to happen overnight, but he values the effort. And, I know it’s hard, but what takes 10 lbs of effort for you will move 100 lbs of problems for him.”

I know it can be difficult to transition language that we have only begun to analyze, but the effort it takes to do so has incredible returns for those who need it most.

Overcoming the slight challenge of saying one word instead of a different word, could make a person feel welcomed and seen profoundly.

Depending on who this effort is coming from, a parent, mentor, partner, this small effort could change a life… or save it. It being a new concept for us doesn’t matter, we don’t need to understand what or how much this means to a marginalized individual, we just have to do it.

They see you, they just want you to see them. If you love them and they love you, it will become second nature and in a year, maybe you’ll write an article about how easy it seems now. Also, you’ll still mess up and that will be okay, too.

Words Are Power

The hard truth is that when we (dudes) say something, more people listen to it because we are straight and male. Our privilege gives the authority to our words, even if we wish the world was different.

This power can be used for good or it could be used for harm, the results are up to you. Empowering women and our LGBTQIA+ friends and neighbors will not take any power away from you. Everyone deserves to feel as safe and respected as men in America do today.

Everyone deserves to be able to walk home from dinner in a city without feeling like they have just entered the Hunger Games. Our jobs aren’t to be White Knights swearing out unyielding protection to the innocent, our jobs are to ask what we can do better.

A lot of the time, this is simply being conscious of the words we use and the assumptions that we make. It also has to do with our ability to receive and implement feedback.

Unfortunately, inaction just perpetuates the problem. We have to do something. Sometimes, we have to do more.

Intent Matters To You, Behavior Matters to Them

“It’s not who we are underneath,

but what we do that defines us.”

― Batman Begins

This is a hard one for many men I know. I can hear it now. “What do you mean my intentions are not enough? I didn’t mean to offend them.” I want to empathize with this disposition because sometimes we want our effort and intent to be valued. This can also compound. The harder a dude tries to be conscious, the harder it hurts when they corrected.

LGBT changes to LGBTQIA+ and feminists just want us dudes to try and keep track of these new letters and terms? Yep. There are new discussions on the differences between gender and sexuality, and I am just supposed to alter my perception? Yep. I thought it was okay to say ____ but suddenly it is now offensive and I just need to adapt? Ding, ding, ding!

The information isn’t coming from random teenagers on the internet, It is coming from the people it has meaning to. It is coming from sociologists, psychologists, educators, crisis centers, LGBT community centers, and other incredible professionals to which these topics matter the most.

The reason it’s here now “all of the sudden” is because, finally, we are making an institutional change on behalf of this community. Same-sex marriage was only legalized in the United States four years ago, don’t forget.

Not only is it the least we can do but also the best and brightest of the LGBTQIA+ community are working on reversing 200 years of persecution, workplace harassment stares at the mall, and looks from parents. It is a good thing that the conversation is happening. I don’t need to be apart of it when I am not invited, but I can happily put in the effort to adapt and read up on it, and so should you.

Feminism isn’t trying to trick us, dudes. It sees the intent, oftentimes more clearly than we do. But, if a person is studying medicine and becoming a doctor. When they give someone 3 milliliters of the wrong medication by mistake, their intent doesn’t matter. The damage is done.

When we have positive intent about trying to use more inclusive language and say the wrong thing and are corrected. This is the moment to take a deep breath and realize that this is feedback to do this thing better from and for the people who need it the most.

If the person correcting you does so in a less than graceful way, try to not take it personally, they are living in a society that speaks to them this way potentially every day.

The lesson to take away here isn’t that you should give up because intent doesn’t matter, it’s to value your intent even more. So much more, that you solicit feedback on how you’re doing, you read articles on how to be a better friend or parent or brother to someone in the LGBTQIA+ community, it means that you have honest, awkward, and important conversations with those who have the perspective that you do not. Most importantly, it means listening.

Perspective Works Both Ways

Sorry guys, this isn’t the part where we get into all of the wonderful things that women can learn from a man’s perspective. They have had plenty of exposure to the male experience by simply living in society.

They know our perspective because the majority of movies, songs, writing, newscasting, etc. have been from the male perspective.

They get it.

Sharing of perspective works both ways because marginalized individuals benefit from sharing their perspective and because men’s behavior may just change for the better.

This is the goal, but we get better, as a side effect.

Mark Twain said,

“Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness, and many of our people need it sorely on these accounts.”

Travel leads to sharing and understanding other people’s perspectives. Once we do this, it becomes harder to unsee injustice.

The only difference here is that this culture doesn’t exist to distant people on a faraway land. They are our neighbors, cousins, siblings, friends, partners, doctors, and professors and they are here.

The Ascent

A community of storytellers documenting the journey to happiness and fulfillment.

Kyle William Durham

Written by

Educational Resource Consultant | Co-Host of NerdEDU Podcast | Writer | Listener | Student Success Consultant | Punk Rock Professor | M.A. Education | He, Him

The Ascent

A community of storytellers documenting the journey to happiness & fulfillment. Join 129,000+ others making the climb on one of the fastest-growing pubs on Medium.

Kyle William Durham

Written by

Educational Resource Consultant | Co-Host of NerdEDU Podcast | Writer | Listener | Student Success Consultant | Punk Rock Professor | M.A. Education | He, Him

The Ascent

A community of storytellers documenting the journey to happiness & fulfillment. Join 129,000+ others making the climb on one of the fastest-growing pubs on Medium.

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