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I’m Afraid of Men by Vivek Shraya
Published by Penguin Books Canada on August 28, 2018
my rating: ★★★★ (4 stars)
Goodreads avg: 4.28 (as of 2021-05-31)
In I’m Afraid of Men, Vivek Shraya reflects on her experiences from being “sensitive” and feminine boy who learns to perform masculinity through her adulthood as a transgender woman. She explores how her relationships to and perceptions of men have changed with a bluntness that is educational to those who may not have experienced the intersection of misogyny, homophobia, and transphobia that she has faced. This is an incredibly compelling set of essays that force one to examine how they may be complicit in the ongoing oppression of others.
She describes how carefully her life must be navigated, how she often goes out in public dressed as a man to avoid violence, how she will remove her makeup before leaving a show she’s performed at, how her boyfriend sometimes accompanies her as a bodyguard of sorts. She reflects on how this anxiety, this terror, has weathered her body and her mind:
My fear of men… both protects my body… and erodes it… I have been stricken with numerous freak pains… that practitioners are unable to explain or cure. When they suspiciously ask me, ‘Are you sure nothing happened? You didn’t fall somewhere?’ I want to respond, ‘I live in fear.’
As she reflects on her experiences with men, she notes the women in the background. The girlfriend of the classmate who spit on her, who giggled instead of stopping him. A friend at a bar who told her she should be flattered when she was repeatedly groped. Cisgender women who dismiss her stories of transmisogyny, assuming the oppression they face is the same that she faces. Women with internalized misogyny who continue to tear down other women. As she recounts them, she adds “I’m also afraid of women.”
Shraya’s essays provide unique insight into how boys are socialized and how expectations of masculinity can be damaging, both to boys and men and the people they interact with. She also shares how dangerous life can be for men who do not adhere to our expectations for masculinity as well as for transgender women. This was a short, informative read that I highly recommend. I would love to see a full memoir from Shraya someday and will keep my eye out for more of her writing.