I have recently become addicted to watching Skepticon videos. Atheism! Rationality! Science! Vulvaless nematodes! Really, it’s everything a young angry atheist’s heart could desire.
However, one video this year went far beyond the usual skeptic fare: JT Eberhard discussing his experience as a man living with anorexia.
I have tremendous respect for JT Eberhard as a person. He wrote one of my favorite descriptions of what it’s like to be depressed:
To be chemically depressed is like having a monster in your brain trying to take it over. The monster is never dead, but you can keep it chained in the corner by taking certain steps. Sometimes it tries especially hard to get loose. And even for the most well-managed loon, sometimes it does break free. When that happens, it changes your opinions. Things you believed to be true just the day before – that life was worth living, that there was hope for things to get better, that you’re not extremely obese, evaporate as the monster sinks its tentacles into your mind. You literally lose track of ‘you’, and with it your ability to realize that the monster is lying to you.
Yeah. I’ve had days I’ve felt that.
I think this speech is tremendously important, because as a crazy person myself (with the line of healing cuts down my right arm to prove it), I think that fighting stigma and myths about mental illness are tremendously important. One of the best tools that we crazy people have to deal with it is to get out there and talk about it– to show that we tend not to be gibbering maniacs, but ordinary people with a disease.
I find this video interesting from a masculist perspective because anorexia tends to be a disease gendered female– if you ask someone to visualize a person with anorexia, they’re liable to visualize a skinny young white woman, despite the fact that anorexia affects people of all genders, races, ages and body types. In particular, even though ten percent of anorexics are male, there is not nearly enough awareness that men even can be anorexic.
So good on JT for speaking up and helping to raise awareness that men can be anorexic.
One moment during his speech really brought home to me how utterly fucked-up our culture’s notions of masculinity are. JT chokes up and starts crying onstage during his speech (quite rightly– I mean, he’s talking about his struggles with mental illness, I can barely go through the list of my crazies without crying either). As he cries, he said he promised his friends that he wouldn’t be a pussy during the speech.
So let me get this straight. JT survives years as an anorexic, a disease which has the highest fatality rate of any mental illness. He fights his way into something approaching recovery. He stands up on a stage and talks about his history of mental illness; he faces the risk that people would take his ideas less seriously because he’s crazy, make fun of him for being crazy, give him all the shit crazy people get, in order to possibly reduce the stigma for all us crazy people in the future.
And our culture’s notion of masculinity is going to call him weak on account of he cries?
There is no conceivable universe, tears or no, in which JT is not strong as shit. All this “boys don’t cry” (which is really just a euphemism for “boys don’t feel”) nonsense needs to go jump off a cliff.
(Accessibility Note: Startledoctopus is MADE OF AWESOME and has a transcript.)