This is the Part II of a three-part series on Music, Mental Health, and Masculinity. Be sure to check back to read parts I and III.
When I was about 14 I had a conversation with my uncle, who makes a living playing music. He asked what I listened to these days, and I told him Metal and Hardcore. Quickly, my uncle asked about a few bands, to which I replied “No I don’t like those emo bands.”
Uncle: What’s wrong with Emo bands?
Me: They just complain and are annoying.
Uncle: Isn’t Emo short for emotional?
Me: Yeah I think so…?
Uncle: Isn’t Metal and hardcore emotional?
Me: Well yeah, but it’s different…
Uncle: I don’t know; it sounds like you listen to Emo music.
I was struck by this and halfheartedly admitted to myself that he had a valid point. Of course, I shrugged it off in the moment to defend my view; citing the musicianship and lyrical content of Emo music as supporting factors in my disregard for the genre.
Where did the disregard for an entire scene of music come from? It came from my view of masculinity through the lens of a teenager.
After my going to my first concert in 7th grade (Slipknot, Lamb of God, Shadows Fall, and Trivium), my friends and I became obsessed with heavier music. The energy and passion we witnessed at the show was unlike anything we had experienced. Enormous mosh pits, screaming along to songs, head banging, fans jumping fences to get into the pit, shoes being lit on fire and thrown; it was an adrenaline fueled sea of chaos and we loved it. Perhaps if it was any other concert, we would have been set down a different path, but that day our choice had been made. We wanted more.
Naturally, we turned to YouTube to watch other Metal concerts to discover new bands. I couldn’t say when, but it got to a point where what we were listening to “wasn’t heavy enough.” We were building a tolerance for Metal and needed something stronger.
Soon we were discovering bands like The Black Dahlia Murder, Animosity, Despised Icon, Carnifex, Through The Eyes of the Dead, The Red Chord, and the list goes on. It almost became some unwritten law that if the band did any clean vocals (singing) they sucked, and Emo bands being at the forefront of this “suckage.”
We could literally pull up a band’s page and write them off simply from the 3 genre descriptions that were listed. I had come to understand and buy into the idea that listening to Emo music somehow made you weaker, or a lesser fan. I would see shirts at concerts that said “Defend Metal, Kill Emo Kids”. Metal, right?
The irony was most Metal bands preached the same kind of acceptance and understanding their Emo contemporaries did, just in a different way. It was all a means to the same end. An outlet to seek refuge from life’s turmoil, and your own insecurities. I didn’t realize it, but I was using heavy music to escape from my issues while feeling safe behind a veil of masculinity.
I love Death Metal. I still listen to it every day. I’m actually listening to Whitechapel right now. My point however is that it was easier to wear the patch of Metal with confidence, because I felt protected by what I considered to be its inherit “toughness”. I knew Emo music was the butt of many jokes, simply because they were outwardly emotional and vulnerable about very real subjects, but unfortunately, I fed into that.
Believe it or not, Metal, is equally open and emotional on similar subjects, but people have this hesitation and fear of the genre, and for whatever reason, I loved being a part of that. I felt stronger, more protected and more of a man because of the music I listened to. It was a vicious cycle, fueling both my affinity for Metal and disdain for Emo music.
During my fall into the Death Metal abyss, I caught wind of bands like Stick to Your Guns, The Ghost Inside, Have Heart, and Guns Up. These groups embodied more of Hardcore style of punk mixed with some Metal motifs and an attitude reminiscent of the PMA (Positive Mental Attitude) punk bands from the 1980’s. Not only did they preach an understanding of mental and emotional issues, but they addressed a wide range of topics like drug and alcohol abuse, racism, sexism, masculinity, and family struggles.
These bands had a defining role in my life. They helped me shatter my ignorance towards music, myself, and my identity. They question the stereotype of what it meant to be a man and opened my eyes to the fact that what you wear, what you look like, who you know, and what music you listen to has nothing to do with your ability to be a good person. I found a strength in this. I found acceptance. It wasn’t just an acceptance of the music I had previously written off, but it was an acceptance of myself, my problems, and who I was. It was an acceptance of it being okay to cry, scream, and hate the world. With them, it was okay not to ALWAYS be okay and they worked to offer solutions through their music, to light a path towards getting through these problems.
Sacred Purpose does the same thing for me. Living my life through our shared sacred purpose lets me know my brothers are there, just like music, to help me through. Shattering the idea of what it means to be a man and what it means to hold myself and others accountable is something I didn’t think music could do. Re-framing masculinity and mental health, as a ton of our chapters are doing is a good thing, and is a conversation worth having. I am proud to be a member of an organization that values health and safety just as much as it values brotherhood.
“A poor man’s poor sport we’ve fallen short of reasoning/Sex does not determine capability /But we let our hostility be our guide to decide /What’s right for a girl and for a guy/Because every sex is just as able to keep this foundation stable /Enough is enough speak up its tough but don’t think that your unable/Let acceptance be our key to unlock our integrity /From there we’ll be able to see that there’s more than just she and he”— “A Poor Man’s Poor Sport” by Stick to Your Guns
Kris Taibl, Director of Communications
I sat down today to finish writing my weekly blog post but with the news of another iconic artist passing this year, I thought I would write something a bit different.
“Despite everything, no one can dictate who you are to other people.”- Prince
This is not a eulogy for Prince Rogers Nelson. I realize he is not the only person to pass away today but his life and his art touched millions. Prince’s musical catalog is vast and, up until this afternoon, seemed like it was never going to end. Fifty full albums and countless collaborations with artists from across all genres, his music gave us a way to fully escape into a world only he truly knew. Listening to the curated DJ tributes across most music streaming platforms have made this easier to write. One quipped “Look at all this music he gave us and imagine all the music he never wanted us to see. How many platinum records were waiting for the world in his “maybe later” pile?!”
His music was an experiment in human emotion, creativity and most notably, sound. He experimented with sound like no other musician at the time. “When Doves Cry” has no bass line which was completely unusual for an 80’s dance song but somehow it still pops. It did have a bass line before the final version was finished but in true Prince fashion, he removed it because it was too conventional. He was trying to transcend the establishment of music at the time and create, not duplicate.
This, for me, is a call to action for anyone who thinks they still have time. This thing that connects all of us can be taken away at any moment and it is our duty as humans to live every day to the fullest.
• Make time to shoot a text to your mom to say you’re doing alright.
• Ask that person who you’ve been catching eyes with all semester for coffee after class.
• Do something that you wouldn’t normally do.
• Be different if that is who you are or if that is who you desperately want to be.
• Stand up and lead if that is your calling.
• Write if that is who you are.
• Create if it means you will make sense of this life.
Prince was an artist, performer, dynamic producer, legendary guitar player and someone who never gave in. He was a lot of things to a lot of people but for me he was someone who lived his life with no regrets. Someone who pushed the limits and fought for his craft. He was political, creative, extraordinary, enigmatic, spirited, secretive, and above all else, authentic. Living an authentic life, I feel like is the most important thing for each and every one of us to do.
As a chapter, you cannot compare yourselves to the other groups on campus. Our Sacred Purpose already sets us apart from every fraternity on campuses across North America. Keep innovating and challenging the stereotype. Look to the other men in your chapter and challenge them to be extraordinary. Know who you are and be that person. Be that person no matter the consequences. What have you got to lose? Go out and get after it.
Be Prince; that’s what he would have wanted for you.
“It was 4 years ago this month I was sexually assaulted.”
I finally said that out loud for the first time the other day and it felt like the floor beneath me had fallen out. Typing it was almost impossible, because now that I am writing it down, it makes it real, it makes that secret of my life public.
When I first thought about writing this piece I reflected on the fact that it was this month, April, 4 years prior that I encountered a person that would change my life. How unfortunate that this incident coincided with Sexual Assault Awareness Month.
For as long as I can remember I have always struggled with mental health issues. This grew out of a place where I knew I was different; Growing up gay in Texas was not exactly a walk in the park, and everyone around me seemed to know before I did. I lived in a “glass closet.” I was constantly trying to fit into a masculine mold that just was not authentic to who I was, often at odds with the rural community where I grew up. When I went to college I wanted to put my best foot forward, so I toned down my flamboyancy, adopted a new wardrobe and image, and decided to be what I thought everyone else wanted me to be. I joined Theta Chi after the recommendation of some friends, and found a group of men that quickly saw through this front and supported me as best as they could. My first year in college was everything I needed, and helped tremendously with my self-image. My second year was probably the worst, as I fell into a depressing spiral that almost drove me to end my own life. Thankfully a number of brothers and administrators intervened and I finally got the help I needed.
I tell you all of this because I think the context of who I am, my identities, and the way I navigated my own sexual assault matter. These pieces all impact one another.
Just a few weeks prior to the incident I had just turned 21 years old. I was in my third year of undergrad and thought I was invincible. Likely harboring a few alcoholic tendencies, I was going out every chance I got. Tuesday, Thursday, Friday, Saturday, sometimes even on Sunday nights. It never negatively affected my grades, my involvement in co-curricular activities, or my friendships however, I was also drinking to nurse old wounds. After recently going through a break up with my first boyfriend, I was not in an emotional space that was healthy, and I was not willing or able to recognize it.
It was a Saturday night; I was out with my usual crowd by 9:30 p.m. (I had to take advantage of the cheap drink deals at the local college dive bar, 50 cents well drinks), and we found ourselves playing darts against a group of guys that we knew from intramural sports. Drink after drink, shot after shot, I likely had 10-15 drinks within a 3-hour period. I can remember every detail, the clothes I was wearing, the jeans, my shoes, even the way my hair was parted that night, but the last memory I have is being handed a drink by my eventual rapist.
From that point forward it is all a blur. A few images pop up every now and again of the room I was in, the apartment, things that were said, and the actual event itself. I remember saying, “No.” I remember crying. I can’t remember the whole event, just the memories of things that haunt me at the most inconvenient times (usually during a graphic scene in a movie, in the middle of a student staff training, or when I am in a particularly dark club). I woke up the next morning in my own apartment, sitting in the shower with all of my clothes still on. I did not move the rest of the day from my bed.
Feeling dirty, guilty, and helpless, I decided not to tell anyone for a while. The person who raped me was well-known on campus and I didn’t think anything would come of me reporting the information. I also felt like I had taken up a considerable amount of time from the student affairs administrators and the Greek life staff at the time, and I didn’t want to be a burden to them. Looking back, I regret not reporting the incident and wonder how things might have turned out had I decided to do so.
Additionally, I didn’t think anyone would believe me. I had internalized this message that gay men were inherently promiscuous, so this was likely my own fault. I had slept with this particular individual before and wondered whether or not I was asking for it.
“Did I consent? This is probably my fault; I was asking for it.
I shouldn’t have been so drunk and should have listened to my friends.
Some of my friends don’t believe me, why would anyone else?
What is my mom going to think? What about my dad?*
No one can know, I have things to do and don’t have time to be a victim.
It has been too long since then, I can’t report it now.”
*It should be noted that I did tell my parents this past week prior to this post becoming public, that is how long it took me to build up the courage to tell them this part of myself.
All of these thoughts ran through my head constantly (and sometimes still do). After a few months, I started to tell a few people, usually after getting drunk again and finally letting my guard down. However, it wasn’t until my senior year at my chapter’s senior night that I finally told my brothers. I was about to embark on the next journey in my life and it felt fitting to tell the group of men with whom I could be honest. I was met with compassionate reactions and hugs afterward; it was the perfect send off.
A few months later I went to graduate school in Vermont to become a higher education professional, and hopefully support students like myself that struggle with the same things. And while I thought I had finally dealt with all of my demons, we should know by now that it was just an illusion. Graduate school was difficult, and in the midst of grieving several deaths, I found it hard to survive.
It was not until my third semester in grad school that I decided to start seeing a counselor again. Here I was, an administrator referring students constantly to counseling services, constantly talking about how students should confront the deepest pieces of themselves, yet I was failing to take my own advice. If it wasn’t for my supervisor, friends in my cohort pushing me to receive counseling, and my faith in God, I’m not sure I would have finished my program. For me, going to church every Sunday, going through the sacraments, and finding peace in silence was instrumental in my recovery.
In retrospect, I think all of this means that we are never truly done dealing with our “crap.” It’s cyclical, and crops up every now and again. Even this past week as I was speaking with a student, I had to take a moment to process a traumatic piece of my past that was getting in the way of me being present. While I am in a better place of coping now, I know that I have a long road ahead of me.
But here are some things that I have learned thus far:
1. It was not my fault. No matter the circumstances, what I experienced was real, and it was not my fault.
2. It happens to men, and as a man it is my responsibility to end gender-based violence in our culture.
3. Tell somebody, when you’re ready, but please report it. Don’t let this person get away with it.
4. Take care of yourself, in whatever way is meaningful for you. If this is religion, meditation, running,
working out, Netflix-binge, whatever it is… THAT’S GREAT. Don’t let alcohol or drugs become your coping mechanism.
This is my story. It’s messy and horrible, but it is a part of my journey. It is also why I do the work that I do. If you ever need a helping hand, or a brother to talk to, I’m here.
Sean Smallwood (Delta Phi/North Texas 2013)
email@example.com | Twitter: @SeanRSmallwood
I work for an amazing organization. Every day I have the opportunity to enact positive culture changes in the lives of undergraduates on college campuses. I have a master’s degree from a Tier 1 Research Institution. I have a dream job with a wonderful and gracious support network. I am supposed to have it together, right?
I suffer from anxiety.
Sadly, it took more out of me than it should have to come up with those words. A conversation with a friend brought up the topic of anxiety for a blog post. Yet being this vulnerable with people I don’t know fills my brain with anxiety. “Break the stigma” he said, “You have to write about it”. So here I am– typing.
I cannot tell you exactly when it started but what I can tell you is that I began exhibiting symptoms as an undergraduate. They only got worse as I navigated my way through the professional world and graduate program simultaneously. Panic attacks began to happen regularly. I had an inability to fall asleep. If I ever actually fell asleep it would be for minutes at a time, rather than hours. Sometimes a wave of dread would crash over me and I would begin to question everything I had done in the last 48 hours; wondering if I was going to make it into the next hour. The strangest thing about it is I cannot think of a particular moment that set these things in motion. It would just happen.
There were moments when I felt superhuman though. That is a peculiar thing about suffering from anxiety, it isn’t omnipresent in all cases. Months could pass without feeling anxious. I knew how to hide my feelings and keep things moving.
Elected to hold office in my chapter? Of course I want to lead (internal anxiety engine starting). Promotion in an office where those are few and far between? Of course I want the opportunity and the experience (internal anxiety shifting gears). Start a graduate program at the same time and my company will pay for most of it? Of course, I would be a fool to not take advantage of it (internal anxiety going into the red). Seek help? Not a chance.
I can handle it. Pressure is what makes diamonds, right? I wanted to take in everything I could to make a difference. I wanted to help people. I wanted to give back to my Alma Mater. I wanted to grow. I wanted to lay the foundation for the rest of my life. I wanted to help people.
I wanted to help.
I wanted help.
It was in those moments, curled up on my bathroom floor because I felt like my heart was going to explode where I found myself completely overwhelmed. I needed to get help. When I finally decided to get treatment I was met with open minds and open hearts. This was a weight being lifted off my shoulders. Identifying cause and effect in my own actions and how they can lead to increasing my anxiety was eye opening. The notion that I was not superhuman didn’t come as a surprise. The surprise was I didn’t need to be. I can ask for help. I can delegate responsibilities. I can say no. Actually talking these things through with a trained professional gave me an outlet. I was able to take off my superhero cape and be honest. Not only to myself but to my family, my colleagues, and my friends.
A recent study revealed nearly one in six college students has been diagnosed with or treated for anxiety within the last 12 months.
Research conducted by the National Alliance on Mental Illness on college campuses shows that one in four students have diagnosable illnesses. The research also shows:
• 40% do not seek help
• 80% feel overwhelmed by responsibilities
• 50% are anxious because they struggled in school
“But there is a great stigma. Students don’t want to be labeled as crazy or feel ashamed because they are seeking help.” according to Dr. Karen Hofmann, Director of Counseling and Psychological Services at the University of Central Florida. She says in the past 5 years, anxiety as taken over as the number 1 problem students have.
How can you help? Acknowledging that the issue is pervasive and is affecting someone in your organization is a great place to start. Dr. Hofmann suggests “getting people in the door” is crucial to navigating what is to come. For some students, smaller group programs that target specific populations could be an avenue to start the conversation. “Students need somebody they can see…they can call a staff member and ask ‘What should I do?’ if they are struggling” she said
So here I am. Still breathing and learning how to manage my anxiety. Recognizing what sets my mind off into a tailspin and removing myself from the situation helps. Finding my place on the spin bike every morning and cycling to clear my head does too. People who support me appreciate my honesty but simply having someone lend their ear and not judge has been the best treatment.
There are a few different ways we learn how to be a man. Be it from our fathers, uncles, mothers, friends or society, people tell us what it means to be a man from a very early age. Even before we reach college, society begins to tell us what it means to be a fraternity man. The media, television, and movies paint the picture of a fraternity man and how they are the embodiment of masculinity. These outlets show us how to be masculine in our behavior, personality, and interactions with others. Perceived fraternity culture suggests we ask all the wrong questions which can lead to devastating consequences.
How much alcohol did you guys go through? Did you black out? Who threw up? Did you sleep with your date? How much money did you spend? Did you guys get the security deposit back? How bad were the damages? Did anyone go to the hospital? Are you on so-pro now?
Do these questions sound familiar?
Society’s idea of fraternity culture tells us, among other things, we should have the ability to drink large amounts of alcohol. But how can we prove to other fraternity men we can do it better? We challenge them to drinking games. Sometimes it seems as if the goal is to cause the most damage possible to our bodies, our location, and our reputation to prove how much of a “man” we really are. But what does this mean for fraternity men and the tenet of masculinity we represent?
The Delta Eta Chapter of Theta Chi holds an annual formal event in the Rocky Mountains. For the last two years, Delta Eta’s Health and Safety Advisor, Ryan Barone, PhD. facilitated a discussion with the chapter on how masculinity often impacts the way men behave at these formal events. Dr. Barone shifts the conversation to start asking the right questions.
How does excessive drinking make you more of a man? How can you make sure you and your guests are safe if they choose to drink? Is it an expectation to sleep with your date, and how does this expectation perpetuate rape culture? What if one of your brothers wants to bring his boyfriend as a date? Are you, as a man, expected to pay for everything that weekend?
In an ideal world, these questions would be the familiar ones. The men of Delta Eta discussed ways to challenge culture, expectations and the way society tells men to act. They made the decision to consume alcohol safely, and to watch out for their brothers and guests. They recognized there should be no expectation to drink. To instead ask for consent, not expect it. To respect the location and leave it as good, if not better, than when they arrived
Theta Chi at Colorado State University is challenging the way they personify masculinity. These men decided part of their Sacred Purpose was to have these conversations and challenge the influence fraternity culture has on masculinity. Their Sacred Purpose is to ask themselves what it means to be a man and how their actions represent masculinity and the brotherhood of Theta Chi Fraternity.
PJ Ricketson, Field Executive