Men Who Take Baths
Chris Muszka & Phil Van Martin
The ‘Men Who Take Baths’ party in Toronto included an interview in a bubble bath in front of an audience. This is the transcription of that conversation.
Nicolle: I’m just going to vocalize what’s happening right now in case an alien species ever comes across this recording. It’s June 7th in the year 2019 and we’re at a party at The Darling Mansion in Toronto where two men are having a bath in front of a room full of people.
And the two men having a bath are about to answer some questions about modern masculinity and what that means for feminism. They have willingly decided to be here after a panel discussion on the same topic. As far as I know, they’ve been a couple for five years?
Chris: Almost five years.
Nicolle: Gentlemen, are you relaxed?
Chris: It’s hot.
Nicolle: You can adjust the heat.
Chris: No, no. It’s good.
Nicolle: So I can trust that henceforth you will no longer complain?
Chris: I will henceforth no longer complain!
Nicolle: I’ve never actually interviewed two men at the same time before so this is a great challenge!
What does "being a man" mean to you?
Phil: Holding the responsibility to understand the power that this world has given us and what ways that power has hurt people. Then trying our best within whatever ability we have to change that.
Chris: I think we’re told as boys that we have to become the provider, and then we’re also told why it’s wrong to break down and be vulnerable or show emotions because of it. I think that’s why this question, “what does being a man mean to you” brings up thoughts of, ‘oh, head of the family’ and all of the other typical pillars or milestones that come with eventual fatherhood.
In my experience, it’s realizing that you actually have a social responsibility in 2019 to pay attention and realize there is this birthright because you have a penis. That thinking is centuries old. It’s not your fault. You grew up in a world that says, ‘you have a penis so you’re powerful.’ I learned from a young age with a female-dominated family and a passive, sensitive father that “the future is female.” Until there is actual equality for all genders and colors, only then will there be true power. Men are responsible for raising that equality, especially cis white men. But that’s actually a lot to bear because they were never told how to do it. They have this power bestowed upon them telling them to behave a certain way as “men,” but the truth is they can’t bear the weight of changing the world alone.
You have to act strong or else the other boys will think you’re weak.
What do you think when you hear the term “toxic masculinity?”
Chris: It’s a phrase that was a truth that we didn’t know how to put into words until someone finally did. It was a big problem. I feel a lot of my identity actually came from my mother who saw a sensitive boy. I never heard the words “man up” from my dad but I did hear it from my mom. That and “you have to act strong or else the other boys will think you’re weak.” I got my green belt in Kung Fu because my mom wanted me to defend myself so I would be less afraid. But the only reason I had to protect myself was because of toxic masculinity, and at that time, it was coming from eight-year-old boys. Meanwhile, my dad would tell me that if I needed to cry, I could cry and that I needed to tell people how I was feeling. It was all about feeling. I guess that’s the benefit of having a Cancer as a father.
What about you, Phil? Where does toxic masculinity fit in your form of identity?
Phil: Toxic masculinity is my life. I feel like the line of men in my life are the embodiment of it and it’s a very slow, painful breaking of that. My dad is gay but wasn’t out until he was 42, and when he came out, he and my mom kept the relationship going and were still sexually active as far as I know, which is a weird thing to talk about your parent’s sex lives.
Half of the way I was raised was incredibly loving and the other half was incredibly violent. My mom was complicit in the violence and I guess that came from fear. I don’t blame her. I can’t. I don’t think I ever will. There’s an onus on her at this juncture in her life to look at the part she played, but back then, I think she was a victim along with her kids. That said, the violence that my father brought to the family was taught to him by his father and mother’s pain—god bless their souls—and his hate for himself as a closeted gay man.
As the eldest of three boys—one of my brothers is gender non-conforming and one is as straight as it gets—we all hate him. And yet, we were celebrating his 60th birthday the other day. I think it’s because we also love him. Toxic masculinity is in my blood because it’s the only thing I know. I’m trying to love a man and have sex with a man, and live with a man and go to therapy with a man, and be a man.
I have an enormous amount of hate inside of me and that rage is at myself and not at the world and what has been given to me. I hesitate to say this as a cis white man but it’s a burden to dismantle this. I think there is a really valid point from someone on the outside who might be thinking, ‘what the fuck do you know about burdens?’ and that’s a necessary response, and yet, I feel it too. I don’t know if I would say all of this unless it was in this context where I was given the liberty to say it. I think the more I’m told that I should feel shame for being a man, the more toxic masculinity will prevail.
Chris, how do we raise boys into men who view women as equal?
Chris: When I was a young boy, I noticed how men looked at my sister. My dad taught me that it’s okay to look at something that’s pretty but you do not gawk, you do not stare, you do not drop your mouth or make a comment. It starts at a young age. My mom told my sister that she would have a harder life because she is female. My mom was a businesswoman in the 80’s so just walking in a room she knew people were against her. Right from the start, we need to talk about the ancestral divide between males and females.
It was in Grade 7, and I remember hanging out with boys and they started humping a tetherball pole. At that moment, I started to sever relationships with men. In high school, when I was straight, I would always wonder how to express like for a girl without expressing male dominance. I saw the engrained male issue of thinking that when you like something it’s yours. That isn’t true. Possession is an illusion. For a boy to understand that, it’s important for him to hear it from a woman. We need to be listening.
How do women include men in the feminist movement?
Chris: I think women have a capacity that is more innate than men when it comes to compassion, but because they’ve experienced so much anger towards men, it’s hard to turn that anger into compassion. For male or female, talking to your abusive parents about the abuse is a start.
When you’re a woman who wants equality, it’s a skill you have to use that compassion to teach. I’ve had to turn a lot of my anger towards white people into compassion because they’re the ones who are always reminding me that I’m slightly different than them. I get picked apart just like women. So how do we turn that into an opportunity to teach and share? I think spirituality helps, and all of us doing our own inner work.
Nicolle: Phil, what about you?
Phil: I feel like two questions went by and I’m completely lost right now.
Nicolle: And the bubbles are slowing disappearing!
Nicolle: I think this question is perfect for you to answer because it sounds like a lot of your pain, given what you’ve shared, is entrenched in your family history. How do we raise boys into men who view women as equal?
Phil: You learn. You look to your father, grandfather, and their father, your mentors, and you say, ‘I see your pain. That doesn’t mean what you did was okay or that I forgive you but I see you.’ One day, I can turn to my son and say: ‘be better than me.’ I think that’s what my dad was trying to say to me. He never heard that from his father. Love those men. Love them because they are a person. Not as a man or as a woman.
It’s funny because my life is quite male-centered. I lived with trauma from my dad; I have brothers; I date men; I sleep with men. I feel like my opinions are worthwhile but it’s something I want to look into as a point of curiosity, expansion, and responsibility so if I have a son, let alone a straight son, I can be there for him. When they are dealing with manipulation, rejection, heartbreak, and pain by women, which is sadly some of the same ways women are being treated by men, then it’s about trying to hold space in a tender way and say, ‘please cry with me,’ as opposed to ‘please punch the wall with me.’ Punching the wall might feel sexy for a second but it sucks forever.
Nicolle: I hope the aliens find this recording just so that your laugh echoes across all of space and time!
Nicolle: The intention of this was to allow for a living piece of art and for every person who chose to join us in this bathroom tonight to witness this conversation. I’m so glad that you both so bravely offered to be part of this. Chris, you raised your hand after the panel to participate, and Phil, you stopped me in the hallway on my way up here to ask if you could join too. Why?
Phil: We met a week ago, which is hilarious.
...There was this woman in a silver fucking onesie and I was like, who is she? And you came over and we started talking about movies but by the end of the night, you said: why don’t you come to my event next week? And you mentioned that this bathtub interview would be happening and I felt like it was something I might want to contribute to, especially with my trauma around masculinity that I’ve been trying to heal from.
Nicolle: The chasm between us talking about stupid movies and you having trauma about masculinity is quite vast...
Phil: ...it is vast but—
Nicolle: What demons did you have to slay to end up in this bath?
Phil: Starting with going to see a therapist two-and-a-half years ago, dating someone who triggers my worst instincts, trying to fucking heal and love and embrace and move forward and persevere and have courage. Then you meet some weird woman in a jumpsuit and you end up in a bath.
Phil: I feel like it’s a culmination of so many things that lead to vulnerable moments that are rooted in love. As I said in the hallway, I wanted to raise my hand when you asked for a volunteer for the live bathtub interview but I didn’t think it was appropriate for some other tall, cis white dude to contribute to the conversation. And then when my boyfriend raised his hand, I was like, ‘oh cool, we hadn’t talked about this.’ In no way is that surprising considering what I know of this person but I went to him and asked if he would be okay with us doing it together, and he said to ask you, and I asked you and you said: is this even a question?
...So here I am. And I hope that’s not too casual of an answer because I feel like sometimes intense questions are seeking intense answers, but—
Nicolle: —but every single thing you’ve ever done in your life has led you to this exact moment of having a bath with your boyfriend in front of a bunch of strangers so there’s nothing you could possibly say that wouldn’t feel intense just by the very nature of this circumstance.
Phil: I feel that. I just wasn’t sure if me being me, and looking like I do in this setting—
Nicolle: —you look beautiful.
Phil: Thank you, girl.
Phil: I feel like, and this is the last thing I’ll say, but there is something to be said about people who look like me, at this juncture in history. I get it and I appreciate the reasons why that’s happening because people who look like me have always had power. There has got to be part of this that’s rooted in me trying to escape the pain of accepting responsibility, and yet, there is another part too.
I never heard the words “man up” from my dad but I did hear it from my mom.
To your point earlier during the panel discussion, the pendulum will swing so violently one way, that it will suck to be, in your words, “a cis-presenting white man for some time.” As an actor, I had a conversation with my black female agent today about how being a white cis man is the worst category you can be right now in Toronto because no one wants to hire you. And part of me goes, that’s great! For the longest time, the only people hired were cis white dudes. And subjectively, part of me is going: wait, what about my whole life?! FUCK.
For me, it’s about patience. It’s about coming into a bath and talking. It’s a tiny little drop in the bucket but my experiences are all I’ve got. And again to your point, where is the line between divisiveness and empowerment for the folks who haven’t had power for a long time? I forgot exactly how you phrased it, but it was something along the lines of, are we eventually going to create more problems than healing them? That’s a big cliffhanger. Chris, what do you have to say about that?
Nicolle: Also! Be aware of the bubbles. Keep your answer short.
Chris: For me, it’s clear that everything in my life brought me into this bathtub. The last two years have been about self-empowerment. People should be able to walk through this world without being judged. I felt the beat of the room downstairs during the panel when I asked how many men have sisters and how many of them have listened to their stories about being female. I was less afraid to share my story. I was like, ‘cool, get me naked and let’s talk!’
Phil: And he wasn’t even going to come to this because he had to work! But the rest is history.