Silence or Violence: Logan, Suicide, and the Culture of Masculine Silence

Our friend Logan killed himself today. I wish we had known how badly he was hurting. We just spent most of this past weekend with him, and had no idea things were nearly this bad. If we had known, maybe we could have helped. But maybe not. These things don’t come from nowhere.

Logan Masterson
Logan Masterson, author, friend, R.I.P.

It’s kind of a no-shit thing to say in hindsight that Logan had struggled with depression. Thing is, many people do, and never take their pain as far as this. It’s also kind of a no-shit statement to say that I wish I had known he was hurting so badly. And the problem is, he did what so many people – men especially – do: He played the Strong Silent Type until it killed him.

And when he finally did reach out, hours before the end, he got smacked in the face for doing so. Repeatedly. In public, on his Facebook. By his so-called “friends.”

Maybe this is just because I am so goddamned hurt and angry and sad right now, but that’s the part we really need to talk about.

Bullshit, read the first comment on his final cry for help. That is so defeatist. You don’t always have a choice in what happens, but you get to decide how you react.

Work through it, said the next one. Things always gets better!

I’m sorry it feels that way, said another. I feels that way for a lot of us. I get that this was supposed to be commiseration, not criticism, but it doesn’t take much to read it otherwise. And if you’re so depressed that suicide looks like a viable option, then you’re reading things that way to begin with.

Other comments suggested that he go for a walk in Nature – you’ll get a better perspective. More crudely, one told him been there got over that. This was the second-to-last comment he saw before he decided that enough was enough. The very last (I imagine – I don’t know his exact time of death or the final post that Logan brought himself to read) was more sympathetic, but ultimately futile in nature.

No wonder he figured he was better off dead.

When I got the news a few hours ago, I was cleaning house for a friend of mine who’s a retired therapist. When I told him how I wished I had known what was going on in Logan’s head this past weekend, and that I wished I could have helped, my friend got angry. “Statistically,” he said, “far more women talk about suicide, and attempt suicide, then men. But four times as many men than women actually DO kill themselves.” I checked his statement as I’ve written this down, and he was right.

AFSP Infographic
It is absolutely not an accident that so many military vets commit suicide. The bigger wonder is that even more of them do not.

I’ve written before about how the toxic culture of masculinity demands that men “man up” and “don’t be a pussy/ whiner/ little bitch” when we are hurting. I’ve also noted how “invisible” illnesses and conditions like depression are stigmatized, blamed upon the person who suffers from them, and considered one more failing on the part of a person who’s already considered “weak.” And I’ve written about how perceived “weakness” is the cardinal sin in the masculine creed, a sin so awful that it turns a man into prey – into someone not worthy of being considered a man at all. As a man who has struggled with my own anger, identity, and masculinity issues, I know that it is way past time for a new mode of thinking about our selves, our genders, and the massive case of cultural PTSD we collectively suffer from as human beings. This culture, these ideas, our PTSD – they are literally killing us, and killing the world around us.

Today, it killed my friend. And I didn’t even know that was a problem because he didn’t feel he could fucking speak about it until it was too late… at which point, he got slapped for doing so. Because really, how dare he, right? What bullshit. He should have just gotten over it.

In conversations over just these last few days, before I had any idea how relevant the subject would be right now, I’ve been pointing out that culturally, men are not only not taught healthy ways of dealing with our emotions, we are actively taught UNHEALTHY ways of dealing with them. We are expected to be stoic and brave and “strong” even when we are hurting at soul-deep levels. We’re told to be “commanding,” “dominant,” “assertive,” not “wishy-washy,” “wussy” or “limp,” no matter how we feel inside. Women, too, are told to “keep it in and be strong for us,” but men are socially emasculated for being otherwise,  with no acceptable outlet for our emotions save violence, sex, intoxication, or sports… which kinda combine all three. And yeah – the sexual connotations (and implied misogyny) of all of those impressions are absolutely part of the equation, too.

Shhhh
“Be quiet – big boys don’t cry.”

It’s not my place to write here about why Logan took his life, but I know that it had to do with him being made to feel as though he’d failed as a man. Failed so badly that he had no choice but to stop being anyone at all.

Now, it’s easy to say, I guess, that we should just smash the patriarchy. That men expect ourselves to be superhuman, and that men need to change what’s in our heads before we can be healthy. And those statements are not incorrect.

But here’s the kicker: All those comments about “getting over it,” and Logan being full of “bullshit” for expressing his pain?

They came from women.

It was men (and one woman) who expressed support for Logan when he finally called for help.

It was women who told him he was being weak.

On our way home after I picked my partner Sandi up after work, a few hours after we had learned about Logan’s death, we were talking about how men are not socially allowed to express pain and weakness. Women are, indisputably, treated poorly for “being too emotional” (translation: weak), but women are still allowed to feel something other than anger, joy or victory without having their identity shredded for expressing emotions. When I pointed out that men have very few safe spaces to be raw about anything but rage, Sandi said something along the lines of “But men can be vulnerable with women.”

No, I told her, not always. We really can’t. Because here’s the thing: We may or may not be safe expressing our feelings to women… and if we’re not, then we usually find out the hard way after it’s too late.

As I told her, I had one now-ex-lover tell me how I was being “needy and bleedy” the last time we got together, and so she didn’t find me attractive anymore. (A friend of mine had died a few days earlier, but I was supposed to be cheerful and strong and sexy, I guess.) Another told me how “your energy was totally inappropriate”after I’d hugged her a little too long… two weeks after I had been raped and did not yet understand quite what had happened to me; when I told her I had been hurting that night and needed contact, she snapped “That’s not my problem. You should have had a handle on it.” One now-former wife got angry at me for getting on Prozac during a hard bout with depression… because I had not done it sooner, and so had been ” a burden” on her. From one side, I absolutely see how those women felt uneasy with my expressions of vulnerability… and yet, like most men, I’d never been taught HOW to be fucking vulnerable in anything resembling a healthy fashion, and so it’s not exactly rocket science to figure out why I kinda fucked it up.

It’s a nice little social illusion that women provide safe space for men to be vulnerable. The reality is, that’s often not the case. A man – and this is true of gay men as well as “straight” men (yet more pervasive toxic social messaging there!) – has no idea where, or if, he has safe space to be vulnerable about emotions. We are taught to suppress our feelings until we die inside or explode. And so, all too often, silence or violence (to one’s self or to others) is the only expression that feels safely “masculine” and “strong.”

Do I even need to point out how utterly fucked that is? And how much harm it inflicts upon everyone involved?

We need better than this. All of us need it.

We need to speak, and to hear, and to act, more carefully with one another, regardless of gender.

We need to be more compassionate, and more aware that we don’t know what’s going on in one another’s heads and hearts.

We seriously need to STOP MAKING A FUCKING SPORT out of shredding one another in public for fun.

We must stop holding each other to, and stop teaching our children to expect, impossible standards with unhealthy results.

And when someone cries out – regardless of their gender and our thoughts of how they “should” be acting in that time of crisis – we goddamned well should fucking LISTEN. And not make it about ourselves.

It’s too late for our friend Logan. Rest well, my friend, and I hope whatever’s waiting for you over the next hill is better than what you endured on this one.

Now, maybe next time, we could all pay a bit more attention, have a bit more compassion, and stop expecting men to be strong and silent if they want to remain among the company of men.
Weeping

 

 

29 thoughts on “Silence or Violence: Logan, Suicide, and the Culture of Masculine Silence

  1. Talk about it.it hurts.it’s awkward. It makes people uncomfortable.but talking about it is the only thing that will help us deal with it.the only thing keeping some of us alive.

  2. I’m so sorry. This is very important and well written. and true. For all we women deal with in the world, the pressures and expectations of being a man are something I can’t imagine.

  3. I’m posting this anonymously because the person doesn’t want to talk about it, but I still feel that it’s an important thing to talk about, so some details will be obfuscated. I’m dating a guy who tried to kill himself before we got together (the gun malfunctioned, thank goodness), and he never really told anyone out of shame. He still struggles with the events that made him attempt suicide, and it took forever for him to open up to me because so many people have berated him for his problems. He’s dropping out of society, and no longer goes to social events, because he feels like he has to wear a mask to be accepted.

    He’s an abuse survivor who sees himself as a monster because other people refuse to listen. And the sad thing is, most of the negative voices are coming from people who identify as “liberal”, and they twist the rhetoric into a bludgeon to hit him with. I try to be supportive, but I’m only one voice out of hundreds.

    1. I am so sorry – I wish I could talk to you and/or him face to face. I do think there can be help but without knowing his situation it’s hard to know what to suggest.

  4. Thank you for helping us out. As women, we too have been brought up to believe in the strength of men and our minds are wrapped around the understanding that they are the protectors. we came to believe that they are almost invincible emotionally. I was born in the 50’s. We were taught to virtually “venerate” and “tend to” our man. He got served the largest and best portion at dinner, he was to eat first, we were to honor his wishes both in decision making and in love making,…etc. He, in turn, was to financially and emotionally protect us. It was an unspoken contract. the movies taught us that when a woman cried, she was tender and vulnerable and our “protector” found that appealing because then, he could come down and sweep us up into his arms and ride out on a beautiful black horse. But we were also taught that if a man cried, it was a sign of weakness and to be looked down on. I have no idea where the future will take us, but i pray that all this change will bring about an enlightenment that will free our souls from burdens so heavy that we feel our sole recourse is to take our lives in order to escape the one we have.

  5. I am so sorry for your loss.
    I am also deeply sorry for what you have experienced yourself when you have been hurting. It is tragic and terrible to have lived the experiences you have, but it is compounded by the receptions you have met with when you have reached out.
    I am also very thankful for your article.
    You have managed to say things that are so difficult to find words for.
    This will be in my heart and mind today as I consider how I can be more supportive to the men in my circles.
    I don’t know you and you don’t know me, but today I feel for you. And for Logan and for all who have reached out and been rebuffed when they most needed embraced.

  6. You’re clearly correct about what we ought to not do but I’d appreciate it if you (or someone) could provide some guidance about what we should do or say that could be useful or helpful for someone who needs it. An acquaintance on Facebook posted something in December about finding himself at the bottom of a chasm of depression. Almost all of the comments were supportive but he took his own life a few months later. My comment was “This too shall pass, my friend.” He “Liked” it but could it possibly have felt dismissive in a way that I didn’t intend? I’ve thought about it consistently ever since. Was there something more that could have been said, something else that could have been done? And how can we know when someone’s experiencing something more than a garden variety bad day? In any event, thanks for writing a great and obviously heartfelt post.

  7. Showing weakness tends to get you crushed from all sides. In my experience, with most of the women who have been in my life, when they say they like vulnerability and sensitivity, it’s when you’re watching a sappy TV show or a show about animals and you get a little blurry eyed and they can hug you and feel close to you. But when it comes to the big things, the life things, such as sickness or death, a little goes a long way and then you get told to suck it up, or you just feel them withdraw from you because you’ve shown that you’re not quite the rock they expected.

  8. ” A man – and this is true of gay men as well as cis men – has no idea where, or if he, has safe space to be vulnerable about emotions. ”

    just to clean up a point here: het and gay men ARE cis men. trans/and gender non conforming men are NOT cis men. gender identity and sexuality are two very different things. het/gay refers to sexuality, not gender identity.

    i think you meant to say this: ” A man – and this is true of gay men as well as het men – has no idea where, or if he, has safe space to be vulnerable about emotions. “

  9. I’m truly sorry you lost a good friend to suicide today. This is a great post. It’s disheartening that women support the unhealthy ideals of manhood that also create misogynists out of some of them. It’s disheartening that all genders are complicit in shaming people for speaking out and reaching out for help, for being vulnerable, and for being honest. Depression and suicide are subjects very close to my heart as a person with Major Depression and who’s struggled with suicidal ideation many times in my life. I’m glad that you are speaking up about all of these issues!

    Angelina Williamson

  10. From Jack Donovan: “Women have a habit of throwing men’s exposed emotional vulnerabilities back at them in heated arguments, and many men have been burned for baring their souls. Even in the context of a private relationship, many men have good reasons to avoid showing women or men the things that really get to them.”

  11. The only thing I disagree with in this article is your assertion, at the end of the paragraph about how women in your past have reacted to your expressions of vulnerability, that you, “fucked it up.” You didn’t fuck anything up … they did. There is no right or wrong way to be vulnerable, almost by definition. There is a right and wrong way to be supportive of someones vulnerability. Being completely self-absorbed and closed-hearted, which is how I feel every one of the woman you mentioned behaved, is certainly the worst way. Shame on them!

  12. I just met Logan at Norwescon and then he friended me on FB so I had no idea he was hurting. (I completely missed the Facebook Post to which you refer.) I am saddened I will not know him better. However mostly, I wanted to say, I am so sorry for your loss.

  13. A powerful, honest, and much-needed essay. And I am always hear to listen to you, whether you need to vent, to laugh, to cry, etc. Because you can, you should, and one day you may very well need to do so.

  14. Wow the amount of truth in this post/essay is just overwhelming. You know ifi you have mental health issues, people act like it’s your fault but if you had cancer they wouldn’t blame you. It’s funny how that works huh? No it’s not funny its freaking pathetic and pisses me off. Thank you for calling out the hypocrisy!! And I am sorry for the loss of your friend, he sounds like he was a pretty cool guy. Rest Well Logan.

  15. Your points on how men are raised to deal with emotional issues are well made and valid, but you also appear to be making some assumptions about the relationships that some people had with Logan based on a single exchange. There are better, more productive targets for the anger and pain. Thank you, and I wish you well, sir.

  16. First, let me say my heart äches for Logan. To reach that ‘one point’, and then step over the line… Just… I can’t.
    Facebook can be both a blessing and a curse, especially when dealing with those black places. You want to say so much, and yet… *sighs*

    All I CAN really say is I hope your thoughtful, moving words reach the right people (which is anyone who needs to hear them) and I hope you can find peace.

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