Men Who Take Baths
Men Who Take Baths: Vancouver
Highlights from Vancouver (2017/2019)
What do you see as a barrier to gender equity?
The biggest challenge is that we’re becoming separated again, and splitting beliefs causes civil unrest. We don't need to sit around and say who's doing what wrong. We’re lacking respect for each other. Why not have a conversation and build some respect. It makes me unnerved when we’re split. Based on lessons I learned from my parents, my mom loves when my dad goes out and works on stuff, and my dad loves when my mom gets in the boxing ring and punches the shit out of another lady who is also willing to get in there. We have to love people for who they want to be. If that was done, we would solve a lot of issues.
There are issues within the workplace too. As employers and people in leadership positions, you have to take ownership of that and make sure your spaces are safe. You cant have a situation where you create more divide and distrust.
I think about the unintended consequences of feminism where older men in positions of power are unwilling to mentor younger women because they are afraid of some of the things that might be said, and right now reputations are trial by social media.
In today’s climate...I mean, even doing this interview, I'm more nervous to do this than talk in front of 500 people.
Why is that?
I think there is a lot riding on this conversation in society. As a 32-year-old straight, white man, if I was asked by a younger woman to mentor her, in a perfect world, I would jump on that as the perfect opportunity to teach her something—and I still would because I’m comfortable with myself. But I could see why some people might hesitate, and that’s scary. Unfortunately, we have done it to ourselves as men where we have abused that right and that power, there have been too many awkward situations and too many women have been put in an uncomfortable place. It’s bullshit. You want to be a man? Be respectful. It goes both ways. Women need to be respectful of the position they are in too.
What is toxic masculinity?
It can be confusing to some. I see the apprehension on Twitter or Reddit that now we don't even have a chance for boys to be boys and other soft counterpoints. If you're not engaging in toxic behavior then toxic masculinity doesn’t affect you.
I’ve been through tough times but women close to me have been victims of violent rape. The first understanding of thIs happened in high school. Rape is a male problem. Men perpetrate most rapes, usually on women and sometimes on other men. I don't know what's broken in these individuals, in their parents, their lives, or society that is perpetuating truly toxic behavior. You can extrapolate and say it's not just about acts of violence, there are a lot of things that some men do to just let it slide. Do you participate, do you ignore, do you intervene? Anything but that last option, we are starting to realize, is what we need to do to be the change.
Toxic masculinity in its most extreme is horrific acts that all cultures frown upon and persecute, toxic masculinity in its mildest form is negligent actions that prevent intervention. I don't think any men I know are threatened by that because I surround myself with powerful men.
How do we now learn and recalibrate in a post-#MeToo era?
I think we need to renovate. That’s a big thing. It’s time to, instead of obliterating everything, it’s also realizing that you have to start renovating from within or from outside too. I think that there's definitely a lot of momentum to #MeToo, and it needed to happen, but now we need to take a look at what we are actually trying to do instead of just making noise.
The world we live in, we’re really focused on noise but what are you really doing for causes long-term? I keep going back to that self-awareness aspect. The more that I realize my own privilege, the more that I start understanding. The more you know yourself the more you’ll be able to know what to advocate for, instead of just running around like a chicken.
What do you see as a challenge as we advocate for gender equity?
There is a fear mentality. To move forward, you have to acknowledge the past and make a commitment to a better future. If you hold someone to the past though, we will get stuck there.
Equality comes in many forms. I’m a person of color so my whole life I’ve battled what it means to be Indian. I’ve faced racism my entire life. People look at you as if you’re not equal because of the color of your skin. I might not understand the inequality between men and women as much, but I do understand racism. To change these things, it’s hard because where do you start? I think we need to know that it’s OK to fail. There is so much talk and so little action though. That’s one thing I like about vegans. They actually do it! They believe in something and they do something about it.
My sister is a chemical engineer and my mom is in a medical profession, they are both in male-dominated industries and they are brown. They get stigmatized for being a female and a person of color. It's challenging. It gets me emotional thinking about it. Sometimes it feels like you get nowhere because there are so many battles to fight.
I know men who have self-harmed because of depression but you ask them about their feelings and they will tell you that they're fine.
What do you think when you hear the term toxic masculinity?
It’s being that guy. He’s the guy that says things without thinking. The guy who has preconceived ideas built into their code, maybe passed down through their family history or experiences that have caused them to think the way they do. That’s not something we should ever take away from people because it’s their story and people sometimes don’t know what they don’t know. That’s where the education process comes in. How do you talk to a woman? How do you talk to your teammates? I’ll sit around a bonfire with young people and we’ll go through that. I’ll ask: if you wanted to go up to a girl, what would you say? These are teenagers and they are interested in how a woman should be treated. We create a platform for discussion. We make it fun.
So you think by saying what kinds of behaviors aren’t tolerated, it will eventually change the environment altogether?
You set the tone, as a leader. There is zero tolerance, whether it’s racial, gendered, or about someone’s sexual orientation. All of those things are big talking points in sports. As captains and leaders of locker rooms, when you create the right messaging, it can be powerful. You have the masses wanting to listen to you because they support you or your club. We need to create platforms or partnerships to teach young people about ideas like inclusion, or that a gay person on a soccer team is cool and they might be really good. Treating people equally and fairly, and that messaging from a teamwork perspective, is highly important and should be more important.
Right now, young people are committing suicide because they feel like they are wearing a mask and can’t express who they are or they are trying to be something they’re not. That’s a big problem and it’s something that needs to be changed.
How do we raise boys into men who view women as equal?
It’s seeing women in positions of leadership and equal partnerships. Conversations between people having children should be happening calmly, with critical thinking introduced at a young age. My mom made us really understand that if we got upset about something we needed to break it down so she could understand. My dad would be gone. He wasn’t around very much. She was in an alpha position until he got back. I was introduced to a very strong woman very early in my life.
What happened when your dad came home?
He worked hard. He didn’t have a lot of energy and he would go to the couch. Love the guy but he just broke himself. He worked way too hard and did some silly things while out there. Drank a little too much, maybe. The typical man’s-man, but sensitive, and the youngest of seven. The best things I got from him was the sensitivity and respect for life. As to how we get young boys to view women as equal? Don’t corner them into how to feel. Introduce them to things that require a softer touch. It will normalize it. Do you want to wear a dress? Sure! It’s airy. You’ll love it.
The blue or pink baby showers have to go. Where is that coming from? Is pink love— a soft, approachable thing? Women aren’t always pink and soft. I know women who are deep red. They’re strong. They will fuck shit up. Set that free! Own that! Put them in positions—no, enable them to put themselves in positions of power. Did you hear that patriarchal bullshit that just came out of my mouth?
You caught yourself.
I caught myself. That’s all part of it. The way we speak, “let’s put them in positions.” We’re not better than you. We don’t think things through as much as we should. We’re reactionary. That’s a pretty big realization. When you pull yourself back and really get to it, it starts when the kids are born. Let’s go androgynous all the way. Be respectful. Don’t freak out. In the end, we’re stardust.
Why did you say yes to this?
When I had people call in and try to have a conversation with me about my problematic behavior, it was a huge gift and it’s not lost on me the emotional resources and courage it takes to tell someone that you care about that they’ve done something that crossed boundaries. I am so grateful that it happened and I’m not sure where I would be if it hadn’t.
I think as we’re all on this journey together and we’re trying to change the way we treat each other, then the most important thing you can do is be open to feedback. I think that in our culture, it’s hard fo us to admit when we’ve done something wrong.
One of my co-workers taught me that there is a difference between an accident, which is something you didn’t intend to do that might have hurt somebody, and a mistake, which is something you intentionally decided to do but that you later regret. If we’re open to the fact that sometimes we both make mistakes and have accidents, and are open to the gift of other people telling us that we’ve done something wrong, that’s how we actually move forward.
What’s the point of us having this conversation?
It’s talking to men. Maybe some aren’t as into it as others. When we talk about feminism, it’s always a feminist talking with their pointed finger debating someone who is usually an asshole. You see the extremes. Here, you’re just talking with men. Women and men who listen and watch this will learn more.
There are people out there who are not going to respect my daughter for whatever reason. Wait, no. I don’t know why I’m assuming that.
They should respect her right away because she is going to be a bright, sharp, street smart, book smart lady. I always think of the worst-case scenario. As a parent, you should always be prepared. I want to be a great father until I die. If I do a good job, my daughter will be there at that time. I want to give her the opportunities I never had. I’m super happy I have a daughter.
- Theo Kim
What are we advocating for with Men Who Take Baths?
Individual rights and freedoms. And the right for people to be respected as individuals regardless of gender identity. Respected based on nothing besides the fact that you’re human.
What in your life has had a profound impact on who you are today?
I think my dad invented drinking whiskey in the bathtub and I don’t know if it’s true but I would like to believe it. People have had epiphanies in bathtubs. And maybe you’re washing the dudes up too. They come in dirty and you wash them up clean! That’s an interpretation. You’re asking powerful questions. People are more relaxed, they might slip up or say something profound.
I feel like everything you say has a double meaning to it.
Everything everyone says does. All the time. We’re living in a whole world like that.
What’s the truth?
The truth is that I’m sitting in a bathtub.
For those who want to reconcile the harmful things they’ve done, how do we move through this together?
I think we need to self-examine. Cancel culture is a hot button to get away from consequences. Louis C.K just hid for a few months and now he’s fine again. I don’t think cancel culture is a long-term strategy. You can’t get 100% of people to stop caring about a person. If they crossed a boundary for you, it’s up to you to analyze and do something in your own life and choose if you want to engage further or not.
I feel like people use it too frequently in that every criticism is someone trying to cancel them. We have to love the things we consume, and the art we take in, in the same way, we love our partner or family member. If something is going wrong, someone you love will tell you. It doesn’t mean you love each other less, it just means you can do something better. Especially with comedians, they complain that they can’t tell jokes anymore. My view is that you can tell jokes, but make new and better ones. We’re not saying you can’t do standup, but be better.
I don’t know why this is, but I think we see people as finished products. No one is ever a finished product. If we examine what it means to be canceled versus constructive criticism, we will see that our growth is never done and so it takes time. The purpose of your life is to finish the chapter in the book that your parents started to write. When your parents die, when they pass on, it’s up to you to reconcile what you have inherited through your family tree. The work is never done.
How can women include men in the feminist movement?
The #MeToo movement is great but there are some things that have bothered me about it. Like, I’ve heard that it’s wrong to hug someone because you’re the opposite sex. You can feel that suddenly you can’t hug someone who you have before.
How do we make sure that something like the #MeToo movement doesn’t separate people?
I’m so open about everything. I get that there are a lot of men who have taken advantage of the system and created these problems but we really need to communicate with one another. We need to have talks that don’t blame or that alienate the man. Some feminists have taken it in that direction.
Do you feel comfortable calling yourself a feminist?
I haven’t explored the word feminist too much because I’m into accepting everything. To me, the word feels harsh. It’s a harsher way to say equality and that everyone deserves equal rights. Men and women should be given the same opportunities. I don’t use the word a lot. I just flow and I let things be. I’m a hugger!
How can women include men in the feminist movement?
Honor and uplift the men who are exemplary of what you want in the world. There are lots of good men. I know there is a faction of feminists who will say to my last comment: no, we won’t applaud men for doing what they should do. But what I’m speaking about is beyond basics. I want to talk about what a conscious warrior looks like? What is the ideal? What is the code of the samurai? What does it mean to be an honorable man?
The feminist movement can empower those men to duplicate themselves and make other men like them. We need to look at each other and evolve together. In my men’s group, we’re constantly pushing each other up. We have to stop demonizing men, in general. If you demonize men or masculinity, you can’t lead any men into your movement unless they’re super subservient. A guy who just says yes to everything, to me, isn’t a man.
What is a moment that has had a profound impact on your life?
The most significant part of my life that brought me to where I am today is my sobriety and the people who have supported that. I thought I was a lesser man because I couldn’t manage my drinking. I wanted to be working hard and partying hard. Instead, I felt ashamed. I thought drinking was part of my identity and was needed in order to be a successful man in our culture. My biggest fear was losing the sense of belonging that I had developed while drinking. It’s really awakening.
Sobriety brought me to who I am today. I remember being intoxicated once. I had misbehaved and made a neighbor uncomfortable. I woke up and felt guilt and shame but I couldn’t remember why so when I reached out to him he said, I never want you to ask me these questions again. Then he asked: are you being the man you want to be? That gave me goosebumps. It stuck. The answer was no.
Are you being the man you want to be now?
Yes. And I hope more men ask themselves that.
Sobriety brought me to who I am today.
What does being a man mean to you versus what you’re told being a man is?
I lived as a female for 22 years so I’ve never gone around and said, "I’m a man!" I recognize that I’m transgender so I would say I am a new kind of man. I will never be a biological male. I don’t really have an answer to what being a man needs to be. As I said, the societal things are the biggest changes I’ve dealt with. For my definition, it’s about being a good human being. The feminism part comes in with my friendships with both men and women. I’m so aware of the things that go on.
If I’m hanging out with a group of buddies, especially if they don’t know that I’m trans, I hear a lot of objectifying conversation. I once heard a group say that feminism is bullshit, and I was like, woah-woah-woah. I don’t think I outed myself but I just gave stats and said we’re not currently living in a state of equality and feminism is about reaching that balance. Nobody wants to “overpower” you.
The look they gave me was like...traitor! At the same time, they didn’t know what to argue against me. They were baffled that a guy had spoken up because it’s not a conversation that would generally happen amongst cis-gender straight males. That was a big eye-opener for me, that guys actually think feminism is bullshit and women are out to take over.
I think many women are just as confused as men when it comes to feminism...
The one thing nobody seems to be talking about is women in business and the fact that “business” was built from a man’s perspective. The corporate business world was built on the idea that men are predominantly better at long-term, strategic, linear thinking. If we’re not having conversations about how to support women in business, she’ll forever be trying to go into a "man’s world" and compete in a man’s arena.
I think women are phenomenally better caregivers than men. Most humans just want to be cared for, and if we built a business model with female-characteristics at the forefront, it’s probably going to be a more loving and nurturing place which means it’s probably going to have better people working there. How do you build a secondary world for commerce that’s built from and for the feminine? If women band together and do that, and men embrace it, we can have an incredible intersection between commerce and caring to shape a better future.
How can women include men in the feminist movement?
They’re inherently involved. They’re fathers, brothers, and husbands. They’re teaching, rearing children, and coaching. I think it’s important to have the conversation in a way that doesn’t make it feel like all men are bad. We need to work together, as opposed to some conversations that are like, ‘you did wrong so you can’t be involved in this.’
The world of elite sports that I came from was very competitive. I did whatever I could on the football field to make everyone else aware that I was there, I was going to do my job, and I wasn’t to be messed around with. I could use my explicit language on the field, but that needs to stay within the lines of the arena. When you’re in the locker room, you’re a human being. When you’re on social media or talking with reporters, you’re a human being. The father in me is like, you gotta be a good dude. You have to call people on their bullshit. That takes courage and I’m not perfect. What it really comes down to is treating everyone as equals. It’s about the human experience and how we’re all in this together.
Where does masculinity fit in a “future is female” world?
The truth is, and this is an unpopular thing to say, this is not a female issue. This is a male issue. There are a myriad of factors that create a space for men like Harvey Weinstein to survive and thrive. It’s hard to explain to people what our brains are like and to have it not dismissed. Harvey Weinstein, sexual predators, president Trump - I can’t believe those two words go together - but when he said “locker room talk,” well, I’ve been in a lot of locker rooms and you certainly have graphic conversations about sex lives, but never once in my entire life have I heard anything borderline sexual predatory. Ever. I’ve been in shitty old men hockey rinks that I play in, all the way up to NHL and NFL locker rooms. Never has something like that been said. So that version of masculinity isn’t real. But men need to talk to other men about this. That’s the conversation.
In terms of feminism, who really cares what we think? If men feel left out of the conversation, that’s their own problem. Men need to listen and ask what you guys want. The other complicated part is that not all women want the same thing. I’ve been in many conversations with smart, educated women who don’t describe themselves as feminists. It blows my fucking mind. But then they tell me why and they have some legitimate points. But I wouldn’t worry too much about involving men in the conversation. You set the bar for what’s acceptable and we have to follow that.
How do we raise boys into men who view women as equal?
I’m a strong believer in doing your individual work, and one of the best things that a man can do as a father is actively encouraging women in his life to be strong-willed by giving her space and freedom and encouragement and validation and never subtly trying to dim her light or keep her power down. Love her hard. Be a present, loving, attentive father and partner, and in doing that, boys will model that behavior. If you want to model how to treat women well, be a person who treats women well.
Past that, proactively teach boundaries and body consent. Regardless of gender, if your son or daughter is leaving a family dinner and doesn’t want to hug their aunt or uncle goodbye, not forcing them to, and going OK, your no is enough. That’s fine. That’s just a micro example. Be encouraging of who the child expresses they are, not who you think they should be, like be a doctor or a lawyer even though you’re clearly finger painting and want to be an artist. They don’t want to play football? Don’t force them into it.
How do you speak about women to men in your life?
There are two key things. When I’m speaking about women, it’s always with love and respect. The same way I would speak about any human.
The second and more important thing is, I don’t shame the men in my life when they slip up or say something derogatory that maybe they haven’t thought through, and are actually just speaking their father’s words or their grandfather’s words. Rather than shaming them, I’ll ask them some questions to actually tease out where that’s really coming from, what they really mean by it: was she really being slutty with that behavior? What about the situation led you to think that?
It comes back to the bubbles of reality. Rather than assuming that everyone should see the world the way that I do, it’s a case of, this man is experiencing his version of reality so let me get curious about why, and through asking questions and causing him to inquire about the opinion he’s made up in his mind, maybe I can actually shine a light on something that doesn’t quite add up, a thought that might not be authentically his. Telling him, dude don’t be a fucking douche, don’t say that again, might cause him to back-peddle in the moment but a week later he’s going to find himself in the same conversation.
And then he’s just going to talk shit about you now, and maybe even push you away?
I don’t want that because I don’t want to destroy relationships. What’s that quote? We’re spiritual beings having a human existence. We’re doing ourselves and each other a disservice if we just shut down when we hear something objectionable. What is it when we hear something objectionable? It’s the fact that we’re hearing something that challenges our version of reality. Naturally, we feel defensive around that. It’s like our sense of self is challenged because our sense of self is comprised of our interpretation of the world. We’re not helping people learn and grow if we shut down and shut them out. We’re only helping people learn and grow if we ask them questions and get curious, and maybe give them an access point to see the world in a different way.
How do you raise boys into men who view women as equal?
I think as a father figure, raising boys to understand that being in touch with your emotions is an important part of being a human being, and emotions are not associated with something “feminine.” A lot of men block out their own humanity. They become what society tells them they’re supposed to be. I think from a father's perspective, being able to teach both your son and your daughter that being in touch with their emotions is important. But how often do you listen to what your parents say? You also need other people in your life that champion that same message. So for me, when I look at kids joining sports, you need to see true leadership. If it’s basketball, it can’t just be about basketball. It needs to be about learning to be a better person through that sport.
I remember being in karate and the instructor was always saying “man up.” I hated being there. I would always complain and say that I didn’t want to be there because it was either you had to be tough enough or you’re not cut out for it. I wasn’t cut out for it. What better time in my life to give me a different perspective?
I also think having women step in and be in leadership roles for boys will start to change things. But that barrier comes down to society thinking that a woman can’t teach the boys basketball team. The San Antonio Spurs have a female assistant coach, and that’s the first woman coach in the league. At least that's a step in the right direction and I think more sports need to take that stance. What better way to teach young boys about life than through sports? I think it starts with that leadership and how that leadership expresses equality.
Where does masculinity fit in a "future is female" world?
I see the power in these kinds of things that are so in your face because I see why it’s happening, I just don’t know what I can do without offending or overstepping my bounds or accidentally avoiding one side of the story.
I meet a lot of men who feel the same way. They’re not sure how to fit in because they feel kind of like they are the bad guys. I think that’s an easy, uneducated opinion to make, especially when you’re not invested in it. Even if I was very involved in female rights on an activism level throughout my life, it’s all fairly new to me and I’m trying to figure it out the best way I can and be supportive in the best way I can. I still don’t have a clear definition of what that is or what that will become. I know that was long and sidetracked, but what I’m saying is that we’re all just trying to figure it out.
How can women involve men in the feminist movement?
I’ve never felt not involved or included, but when you ask this question, I wonder if there have been past opportunities and experiences where I missed a chance? I think that’s a point of privilege to think that you’re always involved. I’ve never had to ask to be included, which is maybe an arrogant response and an honest one. I’m also really fortunate that I grew up in an environment with a single mom and four kids where I was the eldest. Mom and I were best friends and I took care of my siblings. I cooked, I got them ready for school, and if there was a problem I got the call. I feel blessed for that.
Many things have to change, but this project is part of it. It’s innovation, it’s momentum, it’s rebellion. To have the invite to this conversation be participatory, that I really appreciate. To answer the question specifically: never say no to an invitation to something that might be uncomfortable or make you feel vulnerable. You need to trust because I bet fear instigated a lot of the problems we have today with any kind of gender bias. And isn’t that funny? What the fuck do you have to be afraid of? Equal opportunity? What are you protecting? It’s power. Ego is power. Money is power. Strength is power. Decision-making is power.
Sometimes you just need to get the fuck out of the way because you’re holding things back. When you’re protecting what you have or trying to hold onto it, you’re actually creating barriers and roadblocks, and not allowing others to be better for you and with you.
What the fuck do you have to be afraid of? Equal opportunity? What are you protecting?
How can we teach our children our equality?
I think it starts with teaching them basic respect and honoring their mother. Teaching them how to treat their mother and their siblings well, and teaching them about equality before they go off to school. It’s not that men aren’t emotional. When you teach your kids to understand and own their more feminine aspects, they’ll better understand and appreciate that when they go out into the world. They’ll see the diversity of characteristics that are needed in every walk of life. Teach them more about themselves, teach them to respect and honor their mother, and I think it stems from there.
What was your dad like growing up?
My dad was always encouraging us to explore our emotions. I’ve seen my dad cry just as many times as I’ve seen my mom cry, which is why I’m not afraid to cry. Why wouldn't you want more of that in the world?
Why did you say yes to doing this?
It sounded fun. I thought it would be funny.
And is it?
It’s less funny than I thought it would be.