Presenting Men

Some considerations...

When O. J. Simpson and Tony Soprano last met up, they had a lot of masculinity to talk about. They didn’t want to talk outside. It was cold. They each got in their cars and drove around. Each other’s voices burbling over ambient static, dipping through the car speakerphone.

“I’ve outlived my moment,” both men say to each other simultaneously in a totally genuine and unplanned way. The words maintain a disgruntled stolidity; they are unsliced deli meat. Tony is tired (tired Tony!) but not tired from doing crimes. It is the weird exhaustion of running, as Beatrice Adler-Bolton argues, “a one-man welfare state.”

Bro—fortunately and unfortunately—you aren’t the only one.

Pulling into a gas station. Real end-of-the-decade vibes. O. J. and Tony get beer nuts, kombucha, and peach rings. Put peach rings in the kombucha and sip. Does the guy who rings them up feel grossed out or starstruck? No, he’s zoned out—the same dysphoric ruminations: I was alarmed by my sustained desire to become the enemy (a man), only to find that I was already the enemy (a man). Or I was a man but not the enemy. I learned about trans online, and (except when I am) I’m not sorry. Another way to put this, to quote Noah Zazanis: “The question of whether trans men can experience misogyny was a defining feature of my time on Tumblr.”

The expectation of possible comradeship makes the not inevitable but in this case very palpable disappointment extra bitter. Or very FUNNY. In “Letters From a Black Feminist Man,” it’s (as always?) both. “Sorry we didn’t get a chance to meet up to discuss my article (that you inspired!). I’m sure you’ll see it when it comes out.” Men as a category weren’t the enemy, but maybe individual men were.

O. J. wants to explain that he’s been on Twitter a lot, but language feels like a WeWork holding so much nothing. The chic thing now is to aestheticize your own disinterest in speech, or like . . . from whence this disinterest stems. Held against the inability to stop saying stuff. For Lake Micah, “Simpson’s world, then, its histories and futures, ended three decades ago. He was his own arbiter, Horseman of the Apocalypse riding his white Bronco.”

They park in the private driveway and give their keys to the valet. They’re allowed to struggle with the front door, which is made of literal marble and thus quite heavy, because their masculinity is so legible. Which isn’t, as Marquis Bey argues, good: “Your masculinity is secure, strapped in, unable to be unmoored from its gendered lodgings.”

It would be very homosocial to have Tony and O. J. hold hands now, or clap each other’s backs, and in some universe they already are, kissing each other’s cheeks in a deeply felt, habitual gesture of friendship and solidarity. For too long they have longed to learn the nonlinguistic language of their own bodies, a mode of “sensual awareness” that K.K. Trieu points to in his essay on the bodycock. “It is one of the body’s ways of speaking: a language that describes but cannot define.”

A violet portal opens up.

“The thing about my transition,” says Tony to no one, “is that it mostly worked. Of course, I have certain advantages.” He fingers the uncut diamond in his pocket. Thinks of the cash in the car. “There’s no good way to say this. You sound transnormative, or cringe. But HRT made me cry more and I love it.”

Shimmering, the portal expands. A very rainbow oil-slick glow.

By the time O. J. and Tony wake up in 2034, caked in another decade’s malaise, the harm they have done has been put through an accountability process that we still had feelings about as we left, how could we not, zipping up our winter coats. We had achieved Medicare for All. We were ambulatory marshmallows, foregoing at last the capacity to mistake a desperate attempt at collective survival for a revolutionary horizon—or the latter is just INSIDE the former, the great ice-cream sandwich of capitalist life . . .

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