Men Who Take Baths

Kieran Low

United Kingdom, 2022
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I have to go out and be successful otherwise I’m wasting my privilege.

What does "being a man" mean to you?

Growing up, that would have meant something different than what I perceive it to mean now. I’ve been questioning it a lot lately. I think I get wrapped up in this “alpha male” role. Stories I’ve been told or films I’ve watched reinforce that. It’s everywhere. At 30-years-old, I'm now asking: how do I completely accept myself as who I am? I’m not sure if I’m even allowed to do that in society.

I’m 6’6, so I’m a big guy. I'm an ex-rugby player. People look at me and assume I’m a Chad.

A “Chad?” What’s that?

You know, the Chad-type. It’s a stereotype that I want to dispel. I have a feminine part to myself that I haven’t embraced in my life. Different sides I’ve hidden away from people because it’s not the societal norm. In hiding that, it’s me not living my truth, and that leads me down paths I don’t like.

There has been depression and bad times in my life from not living my truth. Embracing your full personality as a man, and especially now at 30-years-old, I’m aware of younger people looking up to me. I want to be a positive role model in society. Being a man, for me, is being loving, caring, compassionate, and loyal. That’s me being me and living my truth.

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You can live your truth, you can say there are aspects of yourself that you want to express, but what happens if the world doesn’t want to see that side of you? How do we reconcile the divide between people who want the multiplicity of masculinity, and those who see the value of masculinity solely in expressions of “alpha?”

You just have to trust yourself and your instincts. If you know you’re coming from a good place and you can help others, and the way you are is beneficial to people, it doesn’t matter what other people think. Psychedelics have completely changed my sense of self, in a positive way.

Is there a distinct "before" and "after"?

I had a brain injury. I was an international rugby player, deemed successful by society’s standards. On the outside, it looked like that. But on the inside was this scared kid who was out of his depth and hating life. I was an addict, I was womanizing. Stuff I know about my truth now, I look at my life then, and I see why it led me down into depression. That along with concussions, like actual blunt force trauma to the head.

Eventually, in 2015, I got some bad news in my personal life. I didn’t re-sign with my team. I was escaping into booze and painkillers. I ended up on the bottom of a set of stairs with a fractured face and a brain injury, not expecting to have woken up. That was six years ago.

Since then I’ve been trying to process not just who am I but what I have been doing for the last decade. Something changed and I knew I was different, which could have been bad or good.

For whatever reason, I was pushed into nature. I moved to Vancouver and was there for a couple of years. My ex-girlfriend was Canadian. I went into the mountains in Peru. My eyes were opened and there was stuff I had to look at.

I got into psychedelics when I knew nothing about them. But pharmaceuticals had gotten me into the mess with addiction, which negatively impacted my life to the point where I almost tried to kill myself. I was searching for something to help me outside of normal, Western medicine. That led me to psilocybin.

I did a hero-dose in 2016 in Vancouver. It was a bad trip because of a bad set and setting, but I learned a lot about myself through that. It completely dispelled my ego and everything I knew to be true.

After that trip, I started walking every day. Walking allows me to process whatever is going on in my head. I use it as a connection to nature.

For the last week, I’ve been in a pretty bad mental state. I don’t know why but I’ve been putting a lot of pressure on myself. I’ve been in a headspace of imposter syndrome. I’ve been in a terrible cycle of binge eating. Today, I woke up and felt like shit from binging last night.

I took 4 grams of mushrooms and went for a walk into the woods. I can’t explain what I got from it because it’s quite hard to verbalize, but I figured a lot of stuff out. Everything just opened.

I was walking along and humming when it started to kick in. My whole perception of reality started changing. I was going up a steep incline. Last week, I saw this cave there and I didn’t go in it because it seemed kind of scary. But today, I went in. I was tripping. I sat there for a couple of hours and it was magic. I learned a lot about myself in that cave this morning.

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Masculinity seems to be purpose-driven, and psychedelics allow the purpose to be self-exploration and the healing of oneself, which ultimately translates to how we move through the world and impact those around us. It’s like the purpose is

Hell yeah. When I was in that cave, I was on a journey to figure myself out. I had to learn how to think differently because the way I was thinking was destroying me. The allegory of the cave, I can’t explain it, but it’s basically about thinking differently by getting out of the cave, seeing the sun, and knowing it was shadows you were being shown.

Psychedelics dispel what you think you know. Thinking that, as a man, I had to be a certain way, all the shit I’ve been conditioned to think and feel, it strips that back and you see behind the veil. You see that it’s a load of bollocks.

I can be me if I allow myself to be. We get in our own way. Toxic masculinity starts with the way we’re thinking.

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What is hard about being a man?

I’m fully aware that I’m a privileged person. I’m a tall, white male who is fairly handsome and successful. I grew up with a family who loves me and parents who are together. We're not rich, we’re not poor, but we don’t need anything. I have to accept the privilege. But the hardest thing about accepting it is that I’m expected to succeed and I’m expected to be a certain person. I have to go out and be successful otherwise I’m wasting my privilege. That drives me, but it can also derail people.

Maybe rugby wasn’t the right thing for me, I don’t know. It’s the expectations, I guess. And also, I’ve been thrust into leadership positions. As the bigger man, you’re looked upon as the leader. When I joined the rugby team, communication was black and white, straightforward: pass the ball on the left, pass the ball on the right. I had a lot of anxiety around communication. Communicating my feelings and thoughts was difficult for me. If you’re expected to be a leader but you can’t express yourself, that is also very difficult. I would be pushed to be a leader, but I couldn’t do it because I was shattered by my insecurities. It’s been a journey. I’ve gladly gotten to the other end and I can talk a bit easier.

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What’s your relationship like with power?

It’s been one I’ve had to work on. More recently, I met someone who is a feminist, and that power dynamic for me, in the beginning, was difficult. Society has told me that I have to take care of her and do certain things in the bedroom. I got feelings for her; I listened to her. The power dynamic shifted and I realized that I could release the idea that I had to be a certain way. It was so liberating. As simple as being happy being on the bottom, if that makes sense.

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Through this person and your experience, what have you come to define feminism as?

I don’t think I can define it but maybe I’ll give it a try. It’s going against societal norms. We live in a world of capitalism, which is driven by "the man," who says greed is good and always win. As a society, we’re destroying the world. We need to get to a place where we nurture things. I don’t know what feminism is but I know we need more of it. Patriarchy is fucking things up – that's obvious. We’re coming into this new age and I believe we will go into a female-dominant society to change the world. We got it so wrong.

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As you’ve been on a journey of defining what being a man means to you, have you felt any shame in that process?

You come into the facts and the truths that you’ve hurt people on your journey from not living your truth, and there is shame around that. I had to address that. It was an opportunity to right a wrong. But I didn't sit in it and make it worse.

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Do you have intimate male friendships?

I do because I work on them.

I live with a guy who is still playing rugby. He supports me big time. When I was going through some shit and needed to escape my life, he gave me a room to crash in. We met through rugby and he is on a similar past. We read philosophy and do things differently. We live different lives. We are honest and vulnerable with each other. We tell each other if something might need to change.

I tell the people in my life that I love them. Expressing love to other men has been a powerful thing for me. Love was not expressed by my dad. He never told me he loved me. He is a stiff, upper-lip Englishman. His dad was in the war, he probably shut down and didn’t speak to his kids, so he didn’t say he loved us. But I say it to him and let it be awkward. He just can’t accept it. He can express his love in the fact that he worked his ass off for 50 years to support me, and whenever I need him, he’s there. But the words? No.

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What do you want the new markers of masculinity to be and how can men help each other?

Moving away from the "win at all costs" mentality. We have to nurture our more feminine sides, so being empathetic and caring. I want to talk about it and live it. I want people to say, “he’s a good man.” My dad is that. He’s a good man.

Being allowed to cry and being allowed to dance, and accepting that. We can do all of that stuff but insecurities hold us back.

I see a lot of broken men. I can see myself in them. I think there are so many broken men because they thought they had to do something, got addicted to adrenaline or whatever it was that got them through, and they come out the other side damaged. If left not talked about–they often just "shut up and get on with it"–we won’t heal the trauma.

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How can women support men?

Giving us space and allowing us to be honest. Pushing for honesty. Like, “how do you actually feel about this?” That has been the biggest thing in my life recently.

I think a lot of what has happened in my life was because I wasn’t telling the truth.

Even small things like, “how are you doing?”

Oh, I’m good.

Rather than saying, I’m depressed and I thought about suicide yesterday.

Holding space for that is huge. The relationship I'm in now is built on honesty. If I find someone attractive, I can express that. If I’m stimulated by something, I‘m stimulated. Through an honest conversation, it’s accepted, and I'm allowed to be myself. I’ve been dishonest with my life because I didn’t feel that I was allowed to be honest.

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Are you the man you want to be?

I’m getting there. I’m walking the path. I know it’s the right one, but I have a long way to go.

I have made a lot of mistakes and I’m sure I'll make a lot more. But I know how to heal and move on. I’ve gone deep into myself through psychedelics. I’m free of addictions. The battle with sugar is a hard one. I’m feeling liberated and I’ve found my voice. I’m finally ready to step up and be the leader that I should be.

And I’m sitting in the bath doing an interview and it’s so much fun.

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