Image depicting toxic, scary masculinity
Art, art history, gender, masculinity, Transgender artist

Toxic Masculinity vs. Non-Toxic Masculinity

I don’t want to carry tote bags and wear pink! 

Photo by Moose Photos from PexelsPink Bathrobe.jpg

I’m not touting an anti-pink, anti-feminine, trans male revolt here! However, I’m not fighting to express my toxic masculinity either. I want to claim my non-toxic masculinity without the soft, chewy, gentler male persona, that some men seem to like. I’m kind and unthreatening alright, but I’m tough as rocks, and still sensitive! My intention is to say “Hey, there’s lot’s of gray areas in men too.” I can still be sensitive AND masculine. The toxic masculine social norm, of the last, oh-I-don’t-know, 500 years or so, has annihilated us! Stomping on the subtle nuances and gray areas of our emotions. The new man, those of us who embrace non-toxic masculinity, love our gray areas. You know…I want to eat my entire spectrum of the gray-scale, in one bite. I love the grays, they’re yummy! So many beautiful grays in the world.

Artists haven’t escaped the beating from toxic masculinity either…

For centuries, male artists have ruled the art kingdom. Whether they were “straight” or gay, doesn’t, and didn’t matter much. Point being, toxic masculinity locked women out of the kingdom. Male artists got the recognition, despite having to wait ’til they croaked, and most did, and still do. Except for David Hockney, who this past week, broke a record as the highest paid living artist to date. Selling one of his paintings, for a staggering 90 million dollars!

Abstract Expressionism, an American art movement, born out of New York City (post World War ll), became a breeding ground for toxic male bravado.

Jackson Pollack at Work

Photo credit: Hans Namuth

Jackson Pollack, in my opinion, represented the Abstract Expressionist brand of the hard-drinking, brash, working-class, macho, toxic, overtly masculine, ART SUPERMAN, the best. In fact, he may have invented that brand. His wife, Lee Krasner, a brilliant artist herself, lived in the dark shadows of this classic, toxic male persona her entire life. Sadly, she supported his career, pretty much at the expense of her own.

Becoming Jay, for real…

It pains me to admit it (not really haha)… I love my non-toxic masculinity, but, I love the oh-so-masculine-old-world-alpha-male’s too. As long as they are like me, non-toxic, with lot’s of gray areas. (ie. No bully’s). I am both. That’s my exact point here. Masculinity today is becoming redefined by a new non-toxic-man-movement. Sure, I dreamt of being the Marlboro man (minus cigarette’s) rocky and rugged, a tough outdoors manly man. I still have that dream. The free-wheeling, free-spirited, chock-a-block-of-man, tearing up the wilderness, running with the wolves. Handsome and unbreakable.

I find the masculine binary life liberating in my personal trans-experience. But binary doesn’t need to present as one-dimensional, black and white, with no gray areas. Blah, how drab. Besides, I want to claim my male-artist identity stolen from me growing up dammit! Ha, I said it, whew!…that felt good.

Okay moving on…

Artists are transformative by default. It’s what we do, transform things. Isn’t it contradictory to human nature to pretend we don’t have lot’s and lot’s of gray area’s, non-toxic behaviors or emotions? Little by little that’s changing, but don’t you think, admitting the obvious would transform the art world, the world in general, to advanced levels? Levels where sensitivity is a strength, instead of a weakness.

I guess artists are guilty. Or, are we the lowly bottom feeders of a society, where the callous minions win, over us humans? No control over our own destiny? The hapless victims of a toxic masculinity? Are we doomed to hell for a lifetime?

Or, shall we progress toward enlightenment?

I pick enlightenment.

Transgender artists, like myself, are on a particular spectrum, a spectrum of enlightenment. We kinda have no choice here.  A colorful world, if you will of building a new human identity. An identity where no one life, no one gender, is greater than the other. Instead, experiencing the entire range of our personality. The feminine, the masculine, the whatever we want kinda’ thing. An enlightened life, walking through the fire. The fire of fear.

In today’s world, the violence-the fear-the Xenophobia, suggest’s that “the chickens are coming home to roost.” Toxicity is turning inward and it’s killing us.

I won’t go down with that burning ship. I want to claim my masculine-rugged-alpha-identity, which I longed for growing up.  I don’t want to wear pink though. I don’t want to carry tote bags (not dissing those who do). That isn’t who I am. No prerequisite’s in masculinity, no club to join, at least there shouldn’t be. This funny New York Times piece, pokes fun at non-toxic masculinity a bit. There’s truth in satire, and it’s okay, laughter is healing.

Truth is, non-toxic masculinity is part of what man has suppressed in the collective consciousness of men, since time immemorial. Emotional, but still masculine sensitive men, weren’t allowed to flourish in society, without a brutal beating from its’ dark counterpart, toxic masculinity.

I think in the end, it is obvious, that gender is more like an infinity circle than a binary dichotomy, of this or that.

©Jay Mora-Shihadeh

 

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gender, Memories, Psychology, Transgender artist

I Cracked the Outer Shell and Touched the Inside of my Soul

selfieA vision struck me one day, that little bubble that appears in newspaper comics popped inside my head: “The Artist From The Inside Out”. In that moment, clarity washed over me. I said – “What a great premise for my blog”. Lay everything out, bare naked and in the open. Being an artist who is going through transition is simultaneously exciting and exposing; sometimes leaving me in a raw emotional state. After all, I didn’t plan on being transgender, nevertheless this is who I am. I spent my life hiding inside a shell. In mere seconds, I cracked that outer shell and touched the inside of my soul for the first time. A shell created to protect me from our society’s hate, ignorance and judgement. This coping mechanism – I honed –  from the outside in.

Realizing that I had defaulted to my shortcomings and created a suitable safe existence, became shocking to me. This idea of “The Artist From The Inside Out” reversed that dialogue with myself. Critical that I live unrestricted, free from hate and judgement, my quest is to get re-acquainted with the boy I abandoned years ago. Reclaiming ones’ self-identity is vital to transition. Being transgender, and an artist, means visiting the places I forgot, the uncharted experiences of my life that I desperately desired.

When I was a child, I assumed I was a boy, however, society rejected this and rendered me female – that was devastating. Life became hard when that reality sank in. As people challenged my identity, seething anger replaced innocence. The outer shell of self-protection began to form, but with consequences. My life became sad, depressing and scary. Confusion twisted my little soul in two, and I split my world to somehow fit this “new reality”. To become whole as a man, and as an artist, is my end goal. That’s happening with ease now, but with moments of grief. Normal human behavior is to look back and mourn the years we lost. However, grief purges the soul and opens your heart.

“The Artist From The Inside Out” was the light switch moment; the flipping of my life story. As an artist, authenticity is my mantra – what I strive to live by. Living by this code is what I need to feel connected. That authenticity is unraveling for me everyday as I learn something profound (or not) in becoming connected again to my true self. Funny, but the experiences I find profound are the simple memories of a carefree boyhood and joys of unfettered play. The simple love of my Matchbox and Hot Wheels , my purple Nerf football and my reckless tree climbing were true bliss.

However, as a small child I had awareness that I was different. My mother shared the other day a memory of me, at five years old, punching the little boy next door for calling me a girl! I consider myself a Robin Hood type, but a bully – no! My nature is to come to the rescue of the victim, the underdog. I suppose I was the victim of that little boy – and the five-year old me – didn’t accept this! Mom verified to myself (and to herself) that even at five years old, I understood I was a boy.

I strive to express love, passion and the human spirit as an artist. I want to express this crazy need I have to say something in my life. Art is a reminder of the inner light us humans hold. The brighter the light the bigger the impact. Self-expression is one of the biggest needs humans have, but at times forgotten. What higher form of democratic-expression is there but the human right to self-expression, self-determination. Therefore, my self-discovery of being transgender and going through this transition has been the ultimate in self-expression.

A critical and larger part of a healthy democracy is all equal parts are thriving. Artists are here to remind us of the commonality we all experience, because art by nature allows for human connection. As an introvert – as an artist – albeit late in life; my shell cracked open and the man within – exposed from the inside out.

© [Jay Mora-Shihadeh] and [thepainterspalate.wordpress.com], [2018]. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material, artwork, or photo’s without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to [Jay Mora-Shihadeh] and [thepainterspalate.wordpress.com] with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

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Art, Artist, gender, Transgender artist

Gender Identity and the Dreaded Self Portait; At Least I Didn’t Cut My Ear Off

 

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Vincent Van Gogh “Self-Portrait with Bandaged Ear” (Photo Credit: Public Domain)

Vincent Van Gogh cut his ear off. They claim he had mental Illness. Maybe he did – maybe he didn’t, I don’t know. Artists have demons. His demons caused him such distress that he physically harmed himself. He was emotional, passionate and intense; yet out of his element in that century. Van Gogh is one of my favorite painters. I related to him as an artist. Perhaps he struggled with his identity? He may have even hated his self-portraits. I dreaded mine. Self-portraits exposed me. I didn’t like being exposed. Deep down I knew something wasn’t right inside me. I never felt comfortable with my image. But at least I didn’t cut my ear off.

This past July I was recruited to do an “Ask Me Anything!” (AMA) event after being “found” on an illustrators group. I’d never heard of it before but after researching it, I was intrigued. I immediately signed up and soon after was hosting my first event.  The experience really touched me personally. It was this event that spawned the idea of  revamping my old blog. If you haven’t heard of AMA events, I urge you to check them out amafeed.com . I want to expound a bit on my answers to some very insightful questions I got from people during my event. One of the questions I was asked was, did I think hating my self-portraits had anything to do with my gender identity crises? To that I said, “I absolutely do!”  In fact as good as others thought my art was, I often felt it was not good enough or worse yet, they are lying (just to make me feel better) weird right? The imposter syndrome was always with me. Sure I liked my art. Sometimes I even loved my art. BUT it definitely brought out my self-hatred too, especially when I had to look in the mirror and do a self-portrait. I guess it was not the usual self-loathing that most people experience. It was a fear to portray myself as female. I thought to myself, is it okay that I looked and felt kinda like a guy anyhow? Gender identity was my Achilles heel . I was always trying to walk an imaginary line of androgyny. After all, androgyny was cool I thought, I’m an artist right? Also, I was struggling with never feeling quite right with being a “lesbian”. In fact, I never really self-identified that way, preferring instead to say that I was gay. This way I could avoid the female connotation, it was an easy and more accepted identity for me. I am very comfortable and relieved now that I’m not a lesbian. I never was. I am a male who is binary and straight. I was born transgender not cis-gender. This has been a huge relief because I harbored feelings that I might be homophobic or hated lesbians and felt extremely guilty about that. I haven’t picked up and explored self-portraits since transitioning. I suspect when I do it will be a better experience. I like how I look and feel now. I am not saying I won’t struggle at all, that would be absurd. However, I don’t have to agonize over my female features anymore. I can look in the mirror with confidence and ease. I finally like they way I look. Self-portaits aside, having transitioned to male and feeling my gender dysphoria slowly dissolve has been a sheer joy. This artistic journey, this human journey leaves me to wonder, what if Van Gogh lived today? Would it be different for him. Maybe he wouldn’t have cut off his ear?

© [Jay Mora-Shihadeh] and [thepainterspalate.wordpress.com], [2018]. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material, artwork, or photo’s without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to [Jay Mora-Shihadeh] and [thepainterspalate.wordpress.com] with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

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Artist, gender, Psychology, Transgender artist

I’m Back After A Long Hiatus

C8F3D0F4-771B-4108-8D7F-440CCB22D07F Updated Life: I am resurrecting and re-tuning my blog to catch you up on my life after several years of blog abandonment. As you will discover, I have had a whole lot of change over the years since starting this blog. Formerly my blog was about food, art and poetry. It was pretty “themed”. This time around I’m re-tuning it to a more serious (at times) raw, revealing blog on my artist’s life and mind. As I state in my profile, “The Artist From the Inside Out”. My story goes like this. I began making art as a child (like many artists) it was my escape into my own world. Then suddenly hit by adolescence life became very painful and confusing. I found myself in constant turmoil unable to sustain art making. After years of self-inflicted dysfunction in my teenage years, I once again turned to art to heal my pain. I began to gain some inner strength and decided to go to art school earning a BFA in painting and drawing; taking self healing a step further I also obtained a certificate in Art Therapy. However, upon graduation, my road quickly became disjointed once again. I suddenly found myself in a whirlwind. I was in a relationship, we had a baby to support, I was an activist hitting the streets protesting and chanting, I was donating my art skills and basically heading for burnout. I was lost. I had been running from myself and my art. Instead of the art building me up, it clearly was breaking me down. It just became too painful and tormenting for me to continue. I was having an all-out identity crisis as an artist. I was never clear on my identity, my voice. I would create, then run, create then run, etc. There was an art therapy joke my peers and I would often say to each other, “You know what they say? Every painting you make is a self- portrait!” (I hated my self-portraits). So I quit making my art. I ran from myself.

Years later I sat alone in my living room deeply wounded from a job loss. I was determined to start making art again but this time it would be different. I was insistent on tackling my blocks. I had been listening to a podcast from “The Artists Entrepreneur Network” it was discussing finding your identity as an artist. Then Boom! Just like that my wall came crashing down and I jumped up, slapped myself on the head and said “no wonder you can’t find your identity as an artist! You’ve had GENDER identity crises your entire life!” I admitted to myself at that moment that I was transgender. It was HUGE in my understanding of why I kept running and dodging myself as an artist, (hell as a human being) all these years. Today, I truly believe this is how art built me into what I claim for myself as the man-made artist.

Going through this life changing transition and claiming my true identity means I am not afraid to look at who I am anymore. I’m making great art in different new ways. I’m happily married. I have a great and successful son. The weight of self-hatred and extreme self-judgement lifted off me when I realized my true identity and began my transition to freedom. It has allowed me to create freely and explore ALL of me as an artist. I have opened myself to the business of making art, an avenue I had shut down previously due to my constant instability. Sure I’m a work in progress, but who isn’t. I don’t need to manipulate my self-identity to suit my fictional idea of self anymore. I created a “way” of existing in order to securely live, and that has been very eye-opening. Everyday I’m excited at the myriad of interests and self-discovery I have now as a man, yet at the same time I deeply mourn the years lost to my fears.

© [Jay Mora-Shihadeh] and [thepainterspalate.wordpress.com], [2018]. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material, artwork, or photo’s without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to [Jay Mora-Shihadeh] and [thepainterspalate.wordpress.com] with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

 

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