“I can’t see em comin down my eyes/so I gotta make this post cry”: Or, How Our Toxic Indigenous Masculinity is Stopping the Revolution

In Uncategorized by Adrienne K.13 Comments

Christi Belcourt

Aabaakawad Anishinaabewin (Reviving Everything Anishinaabe)| Image Source: www.christibelcourt.com

AK note: Since my Native Harvey Weinsteins post went up last week, I’ve been heartened and heartbroken by the support and solidarity filling my inbox. The stories are hard to hear, and there truly is no indigenous womyn/femme untouched by these experiences. Kyle reached out and wanted to share his response, which is below. I’m grateful for him and other men who have made an effort to check in, take responsibility, and speak to each other. I hope these conversations are just the beginning. 

Guest Post: Kyle T. Mays

I read my colleague and friend Adrienne Keene’s blog post titled, “The Native Harvey Weinsteins,” published on October 12, 2017, and it was the truth; the gospel truth. Over the past few days, I’ve also read the many stories based on the #MeToo hashtag going around social media. These have hit home for me and surely (I hope) other men. I sincerely apologize. While not trying to decenter particular experiences, I do want to talk with my Indigenous cis-hetero brothers. But first, let me explain what I, well, what we need to apologize for. I/we don’t deserve your forgiveness, and it’s not even something we should assume you’ll be willing to offer, given the enormous damage we have caused. Indigenous cis-hetero men, our triflin ass, patriarchal ass behavior, is stopping the revolution.

To Indigenous womyn, relatives, to anyone and all of my kin that I have personally hurt, I apologize for being an emotionless, stone-faced asshole, who acted inhumanely; I will do better. Will my Indigenous brothers join me?

I wanna apologize to all of the womyn I’ve hurt, known and unknown, for my behaviors, or more precisely MY toxic masculinity. I won’t offer any excuses. I was wrong, and I apologize. I want to apologize specifically for the emotional abuse that I’ve/we’ve caused. I/we will never truly understand the gravity of the pain we have caused. But still, I apologize. Here’s a list of the things for, all of which cis-hetero Indigenous men are complicit in, that Indigenous womyn know all too well.

  • Sexual assault
  • Sexual harassment
  • Domestic violence
  • Emotional abuse
  • Groping
  • Actively celebrating and listening to sexual conquering narratives
  • Street harassment
  • Being cold-hearted
  • Ignoring womyn’s emotions
  • Fucking/harassing/manipulating students
  • Ruining the career prospects of Indigenous womyn, trans, non-gender conforming, queer, and two-spirit folx
  • Threatening behavior towards Indigenous womyn
  • Womanizing
  • Locker room talk
  • Body shaming

I wrote this list in about 2 minutes, right off the top of my head. That means that there are numerous things I am blind to that I/we need to apologize for and to proactively stop doing. Shit, the whole list affirms a painful realization for me: that us, Indigenous men, are a major reason our communities continue to suffer. I know, some will say colonialism is the problem; notice my audience. I’m not talking to colonialism, I’m talking to you, brother. More on that below. Our behavior indicates that we don’t actually believe in decolonization, at least not how Indigenous womyn imagine it.

There are those who will say “not all men” and Indigenous womyn who speak out against this behavior are being divisive. Some will also say that we should focus on settler colonialism. Yes, settler colonialism is a problem, and we are products of it. But that is not an excuse for our continued serial abuse—the habitual line-stepping—that so many of us continue to do. Yes, all cis-hetero Indigenous men, by virtue of being in a settler patriarchal society, are implicated. We need to do better.

I apologize because of my/our womanizing, that you now have trust issues in every new relationship. You can’t trust men, our motives, and that’s our fault.

I apologize for your attempted suicide and depression because of my/our emotional abuse. We should know that our toxic behavior can cause these issues.

I apologize for not expressing my feelings. I thought for years that as long as I never told someone how I felt, then the relationship would fizzle; it never fizzled, and I only caused more damage. That sort of emotional abuse leads to conclusions about our relationship that I was not even considering or prepared to offer.

I apologize for actively listening to men describe their conquering of womyn’s bodies. That listening made me complicit in the behavior.

We commit emotional abuse all of the time. We are often emotionless, stone-faced assholes. Even if our sexual relationships are consensual, shortly after sharing an intimate moment, we ignore the person and then act like they don’t exist, which is terrible. Even before getting to this point, have a conversation with them about what we are looking or not looking for. Find closure. It doesn’t mean that feelings won’t be hurt, but at least there is clarity about where you both stand. And when we don’t do this, and the person wants clarity, we flip it and describe that person as crazy. They are not crazy; our asses are just triflin.

Indigenous Men, Here Are Things That We Need To Stop Doing

Fellas, why do we even mention the fact of having a sister or auntie or niece or daughter when offering a reason as to why we are appalled about sexual assault or harassment? That’s the same logic that wypipo use when they say they have an Indigenous friend and therefore aren’t racist. Men, when we do womyn wrong, we weren’t thinking about our sister or niece, so we need to stop bringing them up. We don’t have the right to mention the womyn in our lives when discussing our treatment of womyn. And when we get caught up, we don’t need to apologize first to our mothers and our family; apologize to the person we hurt. Our mothers did their best to raise us, and we failed them, and we actively did the opposite of what they taught us. Don’t make our mothers complicit in our toxic behaviors.

Don’t ask Indigenous womyn to educate our triflin asses about shit. If you need to be educated on a topic, come holla at me. If I need to be educated, I should be able to pull on your coat.

Here is a retort that Indigenous men often use: “we need to go back to our traditional ways.” What does that mean? Who will it benefit? Because when some Indigenous womyn hear that, they think about their abuser, who is a “traditional” person in their community. That “traditional” man caused harm to them, and was not held accountable. If our idea of “traditional” shames Indigenous womyn, it’s not a good idea. At. All, and is prolly pseudo-traditional.

Fellas, we don’t need womyn to call out, well, us. We need to do it ourselves in personal and public realms. We don’t need to gather all of the facts, sounding like a member of Forty-Five’s cabinet. We be sounding like him when he said there are “very fine people on both sides” in Charlottesville. We need to believe victims. And no, we should not receive nor do we deserve any praise for simply doing what’s right. We will not get a badge for becoming better people.

Normally, I don’t put limits on love and intimacy, but how we be actin, we might need to do it. Here is another thing we need to stop doing: fucking students, graduate and undergraduate. In all seriousness, this is flagrant and foul. I know, there are those who will say that they got together consensually, and therefore the power dynamics are irrelevant; maybe. I’m not rollin with that logic. There is a clear and definitive power dynamic. We have seen numerous articles over the last few years (and through the Black, Indigenous, and Latinx grapevines) about male professors harassing and sexually assaulting female students. That needs to stop. With all of the apps available to us, we should be able to find someone that will appreciate our/your old wack ass, and within your age group. We need to stop being emotionally immature. We can’t be damn near 50-years-old and still hitting on every womyn we see at a conference; that’s not a good look.

Let’s stop referring to ourselves as feminists. We don’t deserve the label. We have barely been good accomplices, perhaps slightly better than white liberals, and that slightly is debatable. Our patriarchal, ain-shit-ass bullshit continues to subjugate Indigenous womyn, and we need to admit that.

Finally, we need to be better relatives. Using colonialism, as I stated above, as a justification for why we are trash, is no longer an excuse. We can’t talk about building Indigenous futures, nationhood, or decolonization while also creating hurt among all of our relatives (I mean relative broadly, here, including those we are literally related to and those we are not), which festers and destroys an possibility for change. That shit don’t make sense.

If we are serious about decolonization, then we need to decolonize our behavior, ourselves, and imagine new ways of being Indigenous men. Being an Indigenous man is not about how many women we can fuck, but rather about how we can build a future where Indigenous womyn don’t have to fear simply living as the bad-ass people they are.

Indigenous men, how we’ve been living is wack, and the way we’ve treated Indigenous womyn, we need to mourn forever, and deal with the fact that we did our Indigenous relatives wrong, forever.

To Indigenous womyn, relatives, to anyone and all of my kin that I have personally hurt, I apologize for being an emotionless, stone-faced asshole, who acted inhumanely; I will do better. Will my Indigenous brothers join me?

Kyle T. Mays (Saginaw Anishnaabe/Black) is an Assistant Professor of African American Studies and American Indian Studies at UCLA. He is on twitter, @mays_kyle

  • Lynn

    I have no words except, Thank You. 💗

  • megwetch

  • Abaki Beck

    Beautiful essay, THANK YOU!

  • Kenton Dryburgh

    Very good man Kyle. Soundly put. Perhaps we together might impact our hard assed brothers , a bit , sir. Thank you for putting it on the line out here.

  • Wow. Just wow. I have goosebumps. Word!

  • diana schroeder

    I have listened to the men who want to steal the thunder and paint themselves as the good guys and I have wept. Thank you for the honesty of this article and for choosing a way forward for all of us. This time my tears are joyful. I have always known that until women are respected and honoured, nothing we do will provide the necessary change. Women will stand together to make a better future for their children. Thanks to all of the men who will help us carry the load. We love you.

  • Debra Churchill

    Wow. Thank you.

  • Cecelia Rose LaPointe

    As an Ojibway/Metis Two-Spirit I have a story in the queue that will be availble on my website soon… http://www.anishinaabekwe.com

    There are a lot of Anishnaabe men who are abusive and hog the motherfucking microphone. Get off the stage. It is also how Anishinaabe men and women treat Two-Spirits. Seriously I have had enough of your “water protector royal show,” to appease white liberals in Northern Michigan and elsewhere.

  • The weight of the misogyny can rest comfortably on all of us men. At the same time modern and western society (Christian society) have set the pathway for women blaming and women bashing: original sin of Eve the temptress who seduced and had man kicked out of Eden. Forever putting women at the base of all things bad and evil in humanity. Our brother’s and to some extent our sister’s have bought into that way of living/thinking as well. I grew up in a household where the grandfather sent his daughter back home to abuse while saying “you made your choice and have to go home”. My deceased Mom told my wife, (My Wife) that she was not stuck. In her day they were stuck but not anymore, women can leave. My Mom was aware of my ugly side. The truth must be told that is for sure, but let’s make sure to hold those accountable without turning everyone with a penis into a monster. Miigwech.

  • Melanie Abreu

    While I appreciate your blanket my/we apology, I am wondering if you would (or have) take ownership and say all that to someone you you have personally ghosted on? Imagine the significant impact you could have on one person who may read your writing here and feel like it’s not an apology at all, it instead self serving.

  • mikekasprow

    Wow. Just Wow!!! I read this with a mix of interest and a sense of disgust. It’s amazing what academics will do to up their word count, isn’t it? Let me ask you a simple question…at any point during the writing of this dense self congratulating “sensitive” piece lensing your studies and your dick, did you pick up the phone, write a letter or email to any of the women you have done this to recently? If the answer is no, you have hopped on a serious and important movement to get your back slapped and accept praise for, well, your academic response. Disgusting.

  • Beth LaPensée

    Within a matter of days after Dr. Adrienne Keene’s reflection on the toxicity of Indigenous men, especially in academia and media, space was given to Dr. Kyle Mays who has since co-opted the conversation towards accolades for himself.

    Just as Dr. Keene expressed that she was angry when she reflected on the fact that there are men who take advantage of people, I am now frustrated with the diversion and lack of genuinely meaningful discussion in Indigenous academia and media regarding this tactic.

    It could be that I’ve hit my limit with posturing because my Auntie who I miss terribly just passed on and she wouldn’t have put up with this. She would see every generalization coming from Indigenous scholars and she would tear that up. Then she would laugh in a way where you’re not sure if you should hang around for tea or excuse yourself before her fire comes your way.

    One argument to be made for generalizations is that it protects identities. Fair enough. But generalizations can also be dangerous. I’m especially concerned about the mention of someone being suicidal. Was that just hyperbole? If not, who is that person or people and are they okay? Has anything been done to rectify the damage and are they getting the help they need? Generalizations lead to an inability to take action.

    So instead of generalizing, let’s be real.

    Really, the response letter from Dr. Kyle Mays is for his own sake. If he was actually serious about apologizing, he would have apologized directly to my friends. He could be doing the real work but instead his writing has resulted in further silencing those he has hurt and promoting his ego.

    Instead, Mays continues to proliferate toxic masculinity in his own letter denouncing toxic masculinity. The way he positions students is disturbingly problematic. In relation to both students and with peers, he reinforces toxicity by using the term “fucking” when talking about the act of intimacy. Sure, fucking is all good, but that’s not the way an interaction should be written about or interpreted if all autonomous bodies involved were not on the same page about what was going on until after they got ghosted. Giiwenh.

    My own interaction with him in an academic context was subtly indicative of toxicity. He was in town and it was my own mom who connected us because she appreciates his work. I dig that, and I dig some of his work too, so I figured we’d meet in a professional context. He suggested going out for drinks, which I just don’t do with anyone I’ve never met before. When I redirected to tea, the conversation dropped off and we never connected. That’s fine in and of itself, but his responsiveness to me was based on whether or not I’d play along with his power dynamic rather than being based on respecting me as a peer in the academic scene.

    Hey, you know what. Indigenous scholars should be supporting one another by listening to one another for the sake of sharing our work and doing better for the next generations.

    Instead of praising a man for covering himself and knowing how to spin rhetoric, please praise the women who have endured his choices for their strength. Hopefully, together, we can turn the conversation back to non-toxic voices.

  • herthoughts

    I have always said that sexism is more rampant than racism, after all, gender is everyone’s first identity. Half the world’s population is female, often seen as not more than sexual targets and baby makers. You’ll try to do better? How about a 100% analysis of your and your buddies’ selves, and a 100% turnaround of how you walk this earth. The culture’s difficult history was not caused by you, but you are completely responsible for the history you’re making today.