I know these killers, these men, intimately. This will probably be surprising to anyone who knows me. I doubt that anybody has looked into my eyes and truly seen the part of me that daydreamed of death for years on end.
The world finds itself surprised over and over again at the ways men in our world choose to express their pain, their power. Schoolyard killers.
I’m not surprised.
I know what it’s like to live a life completely void of joy. What takes its place is pain, rage, a hollow, dull numbness that permeates my being. I know intimately the tantalizing dream of release that death offers. I feel into it and notice how little a difference I find between myself and Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold, Aaron Ybarra, Elliot Rodger, Seung-Hui Cho… the list goes on and on.
Though I’ve never met them I can see their faces. Though I don’t know their stories I know how they felt. There are only two small details that explain why you haven’t seen my name on the front pages of papers across the country.
The first difference is in whom my pain sought to destroy. Mine was directed inward, back toward myself. I didn’t dream about what it would be like as the bullets from my gun tore through the chests of those who’d hurt, hated, and tormented me. I didn’t dream about what it would be like to see them dead on the ground as I stepped past.
Instead I dreamed about how deeply I’d cut my own wrists and what it would look like as my life spilled out and ran down my arms. I wondered how much it would hurt and how long the pain would last before it subsided into darkness. I wondered how long it would take my roommate to find me and how my own body would look upon blood soaked bedsheets when he finally did.
My body was shut off and numb, just as I know theirs were. I had thoroughly walled off all of my emotions. The pain of this disconnect could do no more than leak out through the few cracks it found. But there was a powerful, violent pressure behind it. It was vengeful. I know theirs was too.
The second thing that that separates me from schoolyard killers was the single thought of my mother and how she would feel. It was the one place within my blindingly painfully numb existence that I could feel remorse for what my exercise in death might mean to anyone else. It kept my pain from overflowing past the point of no return. That tipping point where what’s been stagnant begins to spill out, where the trickle becomes a torrent and lives are unalterably affected.
It was enough by a millimeter… just barely. But it was enough.
Men are human animals, ultimately just the same as any other animal. When a gazelle on the plains of Africa is attacked by a predator and is able to escape it will fall to the ground and shake violently, without apparent explanation, until it is done. It physically releases the trauma. It gets up, walks away, and goes on with its life.
Most (all?) men have been denied access to our true nature. At our cores we are emotive, expressive, passionate, angry, joyful, fearful, and curious. What baby boy was not born flowing flowing naturally from crying to yawning to raging to smiling, all the while seeking closeness and affection from those around him? When did we learn we should not be all of these things?
Emotions are powerful forces. When their flow is not permitted we become hollow shells of the bright eyed infants we came into this world as. We become pained, numb, and reactive. The dammed, rain-swollen river inside us bides its time until the moment a sidelong leak is not caught in time and it widens to that critical point.
I wish those killers had been offered the chance to rage and scream and shout and cry all those tears I KNOW were stopped up inside of them for so long.
I know viscerally that the ability to release emotion is what separates a killer from a lover.
Another man, and then another man, stricken to the core with a deep, powerful pain lets it out in the only way he knows how. We all know the stories, we’ve heard them a thousand times. We’ve been told what men are capable of. Men are pigs. Men rape. Men kill. Men are not safe. Look over your shoulder if you’re a woman. Good men are like unicorns. They’re fantasy.
Another man brought a gun to school and killed.
Men in my community who I know and love hear these stories and feel sadness, anger, fear, and sickness at the amount of pain “we” inflict upon the world. We take on these stories. We internalize them and subconsciously or consciously, feel that they apply to us as well. We learn that we are no different.
I have only one response. I have a new story to tell, one to counter so many other stories that seem to flood this world.
What happens when we offer men a wide open, expressive version of life? What happens when we overcome our collective hurt and begin to truly love men for who we are at our very core? What happens when we walk down the street, and to every single man we say “You’re a good man”?
What happens when our culture lets go of strict gender roles and replaces them with a deep commitment to personal integrity and emotional fluency? What happens when all men are finally able to let go and relax into our lives and bodies?
What will that world look like?
It looks really good to me as I type these words. I long for it. It will be my life’s work to create it.
Here’s the challenge: What hurts do YOU need to acknowledge and release in order to love men, deeply and truly?
This question holds true regardless of your sex or gender.
As I become more and more fluent in accessing my emotions it’s striking to notice the hair’s-width difference between tears and laughter and rage. I find myself carried by beautiful rolling swells of emotion, passing from one to the next and back around again as I sink into my body and express Who I Am.
This is the same place I lived from as a newborn baby boy. This is the same place I write to you from in this moment. It’s how I choose to live my life and in doing so I offer this gift to you too.
I will repeat myself because I know that it’s necessary. This is far from the last time you’ll hear me say these words.