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I'm Afraid of Men

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"Emotional and painful but also layered with humour, I'm Afraid of Men will widen your lens on gender and challenge you to do better. This challenge is a necessary one—one we must all take up. It is a gift to dive into Vivek's heart and mind." —Rupi Kaur, bestselling author of The Sun and Her Flowers and Milk and Honey A trans artist explores how masculinity was imposed on "Emotional and painful but also layered with humour, I'm Afraid of Men will widen your lens on gender and challenge you to do better. This challenge is a necessary one—one we must all take up. It is a gift to dive into Vivek's heart and mind." —Rupi Kaur, bestselling author of The Sun and Her Flowers and Milk and Honey A trans artist explores how masculinity was imposed on her as a boy and continues to haunt her as a girl--and how we might reimagine gender for the twenty-first century Vivek Shraya has reason to be afraid. Throughout her life she's endured acts of cruelty and aggression for being too feminine as a boy and not feminine enough as a girl. In order to survive childhood, she had to learn to convincingly perform masculinity. As an adult, she makes daily compromises to steel herself against everything from verbal attacks to heartbreak. Now, with raw honesty, Shraya delivers an important record of the cumulative damage caused by misogyny, homophobia, and transphobia, releasing trauma from a body that has always refused to assimilate. I'm Afraid of Men is a journey from camouflage to a riot of colour and a blueprint for how we might cherish all that makes us different and conquer all that makes us afraid.


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"Emotional and painful but also layered with humour, I'm Afraid of Men will widen your lens on gender and challenge you to do better. This challenge is a necessary one—one we must all take up. It is a gift to dive into Vivek's heart and mind." —Rupi Kaur, bestselling author of The Sun and Her Flowers and Milk and Honey A trans artist explores how masculinity was imposed on "Emotional and painful but also layered with humour, I'm Afraid of Men will widen your lens on gender and challenge you to do better. This challenge is a necessary one—one we must all take up. It is a gift to dive into Vivek's heart and mind." —Rupi Kaur, bestselling author of The Sun and Her Flowers and Milk and Honey A trans artist explores how masculinity was imposed on her as a boy and continues to haunt her as a girl--and how we might reimagine gender for the twenty-first century Vivek Shraya has reason to be afraid. Throughout her life she's endured acts of cruelty and aggression for being too feminine as a boy and not feminine enough as a girl. In order to survive childhood, she had to learn to convincingly perform masculinity. As an adult, she makes daily compromises to steel herself against everything from verbal attacks to heartbreak. Now, with raw honesty, Shraya delivers an important record of the cumulative damage caused by misogyny, homophobia, and transphobia, releasing trauma from a body that has always refused to assimilate. I'm Afraid of Men is a journey from camouflage to a riot of colour and a blueprint for how we might cherish all that makes us different and conquer all that makes us afraid.

30 review for I'm Afraid of Men

  1. 5 out of 5

    Krista

    I'm afraid of men because it was men who taught me fear. I'm afraid of men because it was men who taught me to fear the word girl by turning it into a weapon they used to hurt me. I'm afraid of men because it was men who taught me to hate and eventually destroy my femininity. I'm afraid of men because it was men who taught me to fear the extraordinary parts of myself. As per her current author blurb, “Vivek Shraya is an artist whose body of work crosses the boundaries of music, poetry, fiction, v I'm afraid of men because it was men who taught me fear. I'm afraid of men because it was men who taught me to fear the word girl by turning it into a weapon they used to hurt me. I'm afraid of men because it was men who taught me to hate and eventually destroy my femininity. I'm afraid of men because it was men who taught me to fear the extraordinary parts of myself. As per her current author blurb, “Vivek Shraya is an artist whose body of work crosses the boundaries of music, poetry, fiction, visual art, and film”, and in I'm Afraid of Men – truly more a long essay than a full-length book – she uses stories from her unusual life to illustrate her journey from being born a boy who was always accused of being too feminine, to coming out as a gay man – who was then accused of not being buff enough to fit into the gay culture – to eventually transitioning into a woman, who is now accused of not being feminine enough. Throughout this process of self-discovery, Shraya has learned to be afraid of men (and women, too) who would confront nonconformity with violence, and while some of her declarative statements weren't quite self-evident to me, I think that hers is an important voice to add to any conversation about gender or sexual nonconformity. Hearing stories about how other people live helps to move them into familiar territory; familiarity must lead to acceptance and safety; here's to a world in which Shraya is no longer afraid of men. (Note: I read an ARC and quotes may not be in their final forms.) I have to admit that it challenges me to have Shraya describe her time when she presented as a gay man – someone who was butch and buff, spoke in a low register, dressed in neutrals and plaid – and then say that she spent ten of those years in a relationship with a woman. Ultimately describing herself as “a queer trans girl”, Shraya was still presenting as this butch gay man when she met her current boyfriend, and was together with him for a while before she even realised she wanted to transition; it challenges me to think that this boyfriend would stay along for the ride as his male partner became a female (or rather, began to outwardly express that part of herself). Yet, I like being challenged in this thinking; who or how other people decide to love doesn't affect me at all. Even so, some of Shraya's most politically progressive statements made me raise an eyebrow: • On the heirarchy of harassment, staring is the least violent consequence for my gender nonconformity that I could hope for. • In this particular relationship, the process of exposure is especially protracted by how jarring it feels to see my (brown) skin against your pale skin, the skin of the oppressor. • Whether it's through an emphasis on being large and muscular, or asserting dominance by an extended or intimidating stride on sidewalks, being loud in bars, manspreading on public transit, or enacting harm or violence on others, taking up space is a form of misogyny because so often the space that men try to seize and dominate belongs to women and gender-nonconforming people. But again, I'd rather be challenged in my thinking than read only things that chime with what I already think I believe; and this book gives me plenty to think on. As for what solutions Shraya offers, that was challenging as well: Out of this fear comes a desire not only to reimagine masculinity but to blur gendered boundaries altogether and celebrate gender creativity. It's not enough to let go of the misplaced hope for a good or a better man. It's not enough to honour femininity. Both of these options might offer a momentary respite from the dangers of masculinity, but in the end they only perpetuate a binary and the pressure that bears down when we live at different ends of the spectrum. Just as Shraya now appreciates the “chest hair – a black flame rising from my bra – more than I ever did when I was a boy who regularly waxed and trimmed to adhere to the '90s standard”, she can see a future where “gender creativity” is celebrated and everyone walks down the street, expressing themselves fluidly and without fear of violence. I don't know if I can quite see that future, but I do firmly believe that the first step in any cultural revolution is listening to the stories of others and embracing them as part of the larger human story. I wish for Shraya that fear-free future.

  2. 5 out of 5

    Monika

    This was an incredible essay. In so few pages Vivek Shraya really drives her point home. It's as heart wrenching as it is illuminating. This is essential reading - for everyone. Special thanks to NetGalley for the ARC! I'm Afraid of Men comes out August 28. Please pick up a copy. If you're only buying one book this year, let it be this one.

  3. 4 out of 5

    Elisabeth Manley

    Make yourself smaller, invisible, don’t take up too much space, don’t accidentally rub arms with the man next to you on the subway. Don’t make eye contact, or smile, don’t accidentally show an interest that could be seen as “asking for it”, whatever “it” may be. Vivek Shraya speaks to the little things we do every day out of fear, whether we notice we do them or not. She doesn’t only limit this to men, this fear also extends to women; women who encourage these men, women who do not support each Make yourself smaller, invisible, don’t take up too much space, don’t accidentally rub arms with the man next to you on the subway. Don’t make eye contact, or smile, don’t accidentally show an interest that could be seen as “asking for it”, whatever “it” may be. Vivek Shraya speaks to the little things we do every day out of fear, whether we notice we do them or not. She doesn’t only limit this to men, this fear also extends to women; women who encourage these men, women who do not support each other, women who stand by and let abuse happen. A must-read, and it will take you less than an hour to do so. While I can’t relate to the added struggles of being transgendered or gay, the small every day fears expressed in this essay of a book hit close to home and must resonate universally with women everywhere. It not only touches on fear, but also on societal views of a “good man” and the bars we set for men because we just expect them to be inherently bad, and so consequently celebrate them when they are not. Women and men alike should read this, for perspective, so we can create a generation of decent people, regardless of gender.

  4. 4 out of 5

    Beth

    I initially picked up this book hoping to see through the eyes of a trans woman and educate myself on what her path might look like. What I discovered was an insight into a very difficult journey but along with that I was challenged in my own perception of gender conformity. It made me think about our roles in society and I found that it gave me a little bit of strength and encouragement to explore my own feelings on the topic. My can of nonconforming worms has been well and truly opened. And fo I initially picked up this book hoping to see through the eyes of a trans woman and educate myself on what her path might look like. What I discovered was an insight into a very difficult journey but along with that I was challenged in my own perception of gender conformity. It made me think about our roles in society and I found that it gave me a little bit of strength and encouragement to explore my own feelings on the topic. My can of nonconforming worms has been well and truly opened. And for that I’m thankful that Vivek was able to so beautifully articulate her thoughts and share them with us all.

  5. 4 out of 5

    Kiki

    How to describe this book? It's essentially an almanac of whining. Shraya, born into privilege and now a university professor after struggling for many years to achieve fame as a pop star, enumerates the ways in which she's felt oppressed, or even made slightly uncomfortable, by men (and women -- basically everyone) through the years. I was excited for something substantive, but this was insufferable.

  6. 4 out of 5

    Jackie

    Some will be afraid of this book and that’s exactly why they - and you - should read it. It makes you think, it makes you nod in agreement and shake your head at the behaviour of some and most importantly forces you to consider yourself.

  7. 5 out of 5

    CaseyTheCanadianLesbrarian

    4.5! Moving, accessible, important: that's what this book is! I loved it. My only complaint is that it was so short! Full review to come on my blog. "What if you were to challenge yourself every time you feel afraid of me, and all of us who are pushing against gendered expectations and restrictions? What if you cherished us as archetypes of realized potential? What if you were to surrender to sublime possibility, yours and mine? Might you then free me at last of my fear and of your own?"

  8. 4 out of 5

    Lisa H

    Honestly, everyone should read this book. Shraya examines how masculinity has effected her life, she was too feminine as a boy, and is not feminine enough as a girl. It brings up tough questions about gender and asks us to reconsider what it means to be a "good" man. How do we make good less nebulous? In what ways does the way we think about gender need to change? This books asks hard questions but they are exactly the discussions we need to be having right now.

  9. 4 out of 5

    Prakash

    After reading "even this page is white" I never thought I would see my experience as a (gender)queer South Asian person living in Canada so acutely expressed in literature. But "I'm Afraid of Men" has done just that. Vivek Shraya so succinctly and devastatingly recounts how the systemic violence of a forced gender binary robs us of the ability to both be safe and be ourselves. I really hope everyone who has ever cared about me reads this book so they can understand what I mean when I too say, "I After reading "even this page is white" I never thought I would see my experience as a (gender)queer South Asian person living in Canada so acutely expressed in literature. But "I'm Afraid of Men" has done just that. Vivek Shraya so succinctly and devastatingly recounts how the systemic violence of a forced gender binary robs us of the ability to both be safe and be ourselves. I really hope everyone who has ever cared about me reads this book so they can understand what I mean when I too say, "I'm afraid of men."

  10. 4 out of 5

    Liz Laurin

    this book is incredible but I feel the need to consider my review better as a queer white cis woman. I underlined many passages and felt it very deeply.

  11. 4 out of 5

    l.

    Tbh Vivek just isn’t in command of her material here. The way Vivek continually conflates femininity and women is extremely irritating and I’m fed up of trans writers doing this. I’m tried of people substituting the word feminine for female - which Vivek does repeatedly. They’re not interchangeable. If you can discuss male privilege and behaviours, you can acknowledge that female people exist. We are not just non-males. Really the book’s biggest problem is that it claims to be about misogyny but Tbh Vivek just isn’t in command of her material here. The way Vivek continually conflates femininity and women is extremely irritating and I’m fed up of trans writers doing this. I’m tried of people substituting the word feminine for female - which Vivek does repeatedly. They’re not interchangeable. If you can discuss male privilege and behaviours, you can acknowledge that female people exist. We are not just non-males. Really the book’s biggest problem is that it claims to be about misogyny but really it’s on toxic masculinity. I don’t believe that toxic masculinity is a useful concept but that is what this book is about. For example, calling gay men groping gay men in a gay bar misogyny.... it’s not. Also, the whole homophobia is just misogyny point is one I find irritating. Maybe homophobia is based in misogyny, but how is saying that helpful, how is it clarifying. How is calling men shaming other men for not being muscular misogyny helpful? Here, it comes across as an attempt to argue that male people - including cis men - suffer from misogyny just as much as women. An attempt by Vivek to wrap up a bunch of their negative experiences by labelling them all the product of misogyny. Pass. Being a gender non conforming person is scary and lonely and hard but this analysis is Just Bad.

  12. 4 out of 5

    Andy Bird

    A slim, 84 pages, hyper personal essay / memoir of being trans, bi, a person of color & what it would mean to be a "Good man". If you're interested in sexuality or gender I would highly recommend It!

  13. 4 out of 5

    Karina

    I’ll wait to share my favourite quotes until this comes out but wow do I have a few! I Love Good Essays

  14. 5 out of 5

    Sarah

    I wanted to like this book more than I did. I think as a memoir it succeeds, but it has the flavour of a manifesto, and I guess that's where I stumbled with it. In summary--I don't think women or anyone assigned female at birth (AFAB) would find any of her experiences surprising. Distressing, of course, but not surprising. I think any woman or AFAB person has lots of similar experiences. Again, it's memoir and it's hard to questions another person's experiences. The entire first section, where s I wanted to like this book more than I did. I think as a memoir it succeeds, but it has the flavour of a manifesto, and I guess that's where I stumbled with it. In summary--I don't think women or anyone assigned female at birth (AFAB) would find any of her experiences surprising. Distressing, of course, but not surprising. I think any woman or AFAB person has lots of similar experiences. Again, it's memoir and it's hard to questions another person's experiences. The entire first section, where she recounts a constant vigilance about how, when and where she will encounter men in her day to day life--this is work that's familiar to most women or AFAB people. Constantly parsing your language, your tone, your questions so as not to appear nagging or stupid--this is certainly familiar to me. But there are parts where she makes generalizations that I found grating--like (after describing the ways her boyfriend helps her navigate the world)--"Being a girl has required me to retrain myself to think of depending on others or asking for assistance not as weakness or even as pathetic, but rather as a necessity" (pg 7). I mean I know she's not saying that women are more dependent, but it....kinda sounds something like it. Later in the book she bristles when a cis woman tries to elide their experiences, observing that this woman couldn't know what Shraya's experience is, not being trans herself. So, as we read on we learn that it's not only men she's afraid of, it's also women who have failed to show up for her, or extend friendship, or confront other people on her behalf---basically the gamut of shitty things that people do to one another or don't do, out of ignorance or apathy or lazyness, or just being oblivious. As an example, she wonders why a high school friend didn't confront a boy that Shraya had a crush on, when the boy said he had thought of beating Shraya up. I don't know, I just felt like, yes---we're ALL afraid of men, including lots (and lots!) of men. The book is 85 pages long. You can read it in a couple of hours, with time to think in between. She discusses the phenomenon of the 'good man'--the one who does the bare minimum and is celebrated, only to be displaced or disgraced when he's revealed to be fallible or less than 'good' in some way. This is tricky--again it relies on an understanding of people as either 'good' or 'bad', and made me wish there were more nuance in this analysis. Also--the gender norms she's discussing trap men also--like all genders are existing in the same misogynist culture, and we are all absorbing messages about behaviour in different ways, enacting patriarchal values differently. God knows I'm not an apologist for the patriarchy, but who's done the work of deprogramming all the men? I don't understand why we expect them to even realize they're benefiting from patriarchy--they've been swimming in this water their entire lives too. At one point her partner cheats on her, and in anger she says to her boyfriend, "You're just like every other man, and you made me just another stupid bitch."---this is the last sentence in a chapter! Like, no unpacking of the hornets nest of misogynist self hatred embedded in the phrase, 'just another stupid bitch'---like WHAT???? She concludes by suggesting that non binary people should be considered sort of idealized forerunners in the gender present and future---she's probably right. But after the whole short book was spent only on two sides of the gender binary---it seems like too little too late to ask "What if you cherished us as archetypes of realized potential?"--as though we, the readers, aren't trapped by the same fears she's outlined in the previous pages. I was really conflicted by this book. If it read like a simple memoir, I wouldn't have felt so challenged by it I'm sure. I don't think 85 pages was adequate to untangle all the issues she presents here. And I probably wouldn't have finished it if it had been a lot longer.

  15. 5 out of 5

    Brandon Forsyth

    Vivek Shraya's writing is undeniably important: direct and powerful, a voice that should be heard more widely. It certainly forced me to examine the ways in which my masculinity has been programmed (why don't I own any dress shirts that aren't black, blue, or white?) and may be threatening to those around me (why do I walk so aggressively?). Coupled with Vivek's deeply moving personal story and bravery in talking about some of her deepest relationships, there's a lot here in under 100 pages, but Vivek Shraya's writing is undeniably important: direct and powerful, a voice that should be heard more widely. It certainly forced me to examine the ways in which my masculinity has been programmed (why don't I own any dress shirts that aren't black, blue, or white?) and may be threatening to those around me (why do I walk so aggressively?). Coupled with Vivek's deeply moving personal story and bravery in talking about some of her deepest relationships, there's a lot here in under 100 pages, but it somehow felt incomplete to me. Pair with Mary Beard's WOMEN & POWER - an equally small book - for a one-two punch on how to rethink gender.

  16. 4 out of 5

    Laura

    Required reading.

  17. 4 out of 5

    Kim Trusty

    Clear-eyed and questioning. A concise and emotional. A necessary read.

  18. 4 out of 5

    Critterbee❇

    *e-Arc Netgalley*

  19. 5 out of 5

    Krystal Hicks

    This was incredible powerful. Vivek’s honesty was inspiring and also eye opening. Definitely a must read. Thank you to Penguin Randomhouse for the ARC.

  20. 4 out of 5

    Rachel Mantas

    This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here. As per usual, if it is a book club pick, it is not a book I would normally pick up. I have my own distinct taste for certain books, but I don't always gravitate out of my comfort zone. That's why this book was good for me to read, as normally something under 100 pages seemed insufficient in providing information. Overall, the author takes her time building the facts about her life experiences in many different ways. It tell an incomplete version of her life, but allows you to glean enough from h As per usual, if it is a book club pick, it is not a book I would normally pick up. I have my own distinct taste for certain books, but I don't always gravitate out of my comfort zone. That's why this book was good for me to read, as normally something under 100 pages seemed insufficient in providing information. Overall, the author takes her time building the facts about her life experiences in many different ways. It tell an incomplete version of her life, but allows you to glean enough from her experiences. The only thing it was missing for me was what was her experience with her father. She may have only mentioned her mother once, maybe twice, but that was near the first half of the book, it wasn't until nearly the end that we could barely make out a picture of who her father was. It may have been done that way specifically for the metaphor of she was trying to overlook the role her father played in her life. Maybe the feelings, thoughts or experiences Vivek had with her father were not worth mentioning? Or were too overwhelming to make note of in such a short book. I will never know.

  21. 5 out of 5

    Lara

    *ARC from Penguin Canada* To echo Tegan & Sara, this book is required reading for all!! "Being a girl has required me to retrain myself to think of depending on others or asking for assistance not as weakness or even as pathetic, but rather as a necessity." "What might desire feel like if the construction of sexuality didn't take place in tandem with childhood experiences of violence from men?" "I am soothed by your quiet demeanour, the absence of the masculine obligation to fill space, and th *ARC from Penguin Canada* To echo Tegan & Sara, this book is required reading for all!! "Being a girl has required me to retrain myself to think of depending on others or asking for assistance not as weakness or even as pathetic, but rather as a necessity." "What might desire feel like if the construction of sexuality didn't take place in tandem with childhood experiences of violence from men?" "I am soothed by your quiet demeanour, the absence of the masculine obligation to fill space, and the ocean of curiosity in your eyes." "The disdain for women and femininity is insidious, infecting even those who profess to love women, and it takes many forms (including scoffing at women's studies programs). Using 'sensitive' as a pejorative and mechanism of restraint, as my dad did, is a form of misogyny." "I'm afraid of women who've either emboldened or defended the men who have harmed me, or quietly watched." "Out of this fear comes a desire not only to reimagine masculinity, but to blur gendered boundaries altogether and celebrate gender creativity."

  22. 5 out of 5

    Sarah

    This is really more of an essay than a book, but it is short and eloquent and gets the point across. I love that the author isn’t just “afraid of men” but also of women who don’t stand up and who go along with misogynistic words and actions. We far too often set the bar so low for what qualifies as a “good man” and then again we also have very gendered ideas of what makes a good man or a good women- shouldn’t there just be one bar? Aka be a good decent human being no matter what you identify as? This is really more of an essay than a book, but it is short and eloquent and gets the point across. I love that the author isn’t just “afraid of men” but also of women who don’t stand up and who go along with misogynistic words and actions. We far too often set the bar so low for what qualifies as a “good man” and then again we also have very gendered ideas of what makes a good man or a good women- shouldn’t there just be one bar? Aka be a good decent human being no matter what you identify as? Sooo much to think about with this book 👌🏻

  23. 4 out of 5

    Chelsey

    I just finished feverishly reading I'm Afraid of Men in one sitting. So few writers can open a book with a Le Guin quote and then build on said quote with such strength and vulnerability. I'm still ruminating on it, and plan to reread it this weekend, after which I may be able to more clearly convey my feelings about Shraya's latest release, but in the meantime, all I can say is that you need to read this woman's work. Seriously. Like now.

  24. 5 out of 5

    Cait

    This is an incredible book. Her perspective is one that is entirely different from my own, and I learned a lot while reading this. It’s a quick and short read, but her honesty is humbling, and so brave. To show the world who you truly are is an act of courage, and one that Vivek does with grace. This is a must read for everyone.

  25. 4 out of 5

    Ian Ridewood

    A powerful, heartbreaking, and essential essay that's probably impossible not to be read in a single sitting.

  26. 5 out of 5

    Kyla

    too short!

  27. 5 out of 5

    Samantha Mielke

    Enjoyable and very personal book of essays. I enjoyed the examination of toxic masculinity.

  28. 4 out of 5

    Kiirstin

    Essential reading for humans.

  29. 5 out of 5

    Joan

    Breathtakingly neurotic, self-absorbed person depicts countless incidents of self-consciousness throughout a life defined entirely by how others perceive her. At the end, one gets absolutely no sense that she's found emancipation or balance from her transition. Depressing and so very self-pitying.

  30. 5 out of 5

    Kari

    This short book packed so many punches! It was easily readable, but also made me think about a lot of things. It's super relate-able to the current discourse, one of the lines that especially stands out to me is "Why is my humanity only seen or cared about when I share the ways in which I have been victimized and violated?"

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