Me(n) in the movement

Basil Elias invites men to participate in the anti-violence movement.

Recently I participated on a panel for New Beginnings staff on “Men in the Anti-Violence Movement.” Questions arose of how panelists became involved in the movement, what are some obstacles, and what steps can we take to increase participation. I wanted to share my story and some thoughts.

Currently, I work at the NW Network of Bisexual, Trans, Lesbian and Gay Survivors of Abuse. The Northwest Network increases our communities’ ability to support the self-determination and safety of bisexual, transgendered, lesbian and gay survivors of abuse through education, organizing and advocacy. We work within a broad liberation movement dedicated to social and economic justice, equality and respect for all people and the creation of loving, inclusive and accountable communities.

Specifically, I work as a community advocate – doing advocacy based counseling, referrals, safety planning and participating in our community organizing and education efforts. As an advocate, I work with people of all genders. I was invited to work at the Network as the first biologically born man to become part of the staff. This invitation was exciting to me because it gave me a chance to bring together the grassroots work I was doing against violence – running workshops for men against sexism, workshops for men on sex and violence, organizing against racism and other forms of oppression – and incorporate it into an agencies work against domestic abuse.

I came to pursue work in the anti-violence movement through my process of understanding the energy of space, listening, healing and autonomy. I wanted to take where I had grown in my own life and find public space to reach out and end violence.

I grew up in a suburban home on the outskirts of Chicago with my brother and my immigrant Lebanese father and Syrian mother. I grew up as the first generation of my family to be born and live inside the United States. As an Arab-American, I grew up with a strong sense of culture, history and struggle.

At a very young age, I began to understand disempowerment. From the racism I faced as an Arab; to the unhealthy patterns of power and control around me; to the expectations of boys to live up to unrealistic myths of masculinity; to the hatred I faced as a queer man, I learned struggle. I saw cycles of violence play themselves out in the very relationships I was supposed to trust and grow from — and with that, I took that violence into myself.

For years I was self-destructive and outwardly distrustful, distant and passively aggressive. It wasn’t until I found the punk music scene and riot grrrl (a radical young women’s feminist movement within punk) that I learned the language of cycles of violence and ways to end the cycle. This was — for the first time in my life — a place where I was encouraged to think critically; explore my life and views within the context of larger political, cultural and social systems; and find my place in the world.

Like many men in the movement, I was invited in. Riot grrrl revolutionized my involvement in the world from destructive, apathetic and uncaring to a position of thoughtfully engaged. Through my new outlook, I began to explore healing. I learned about the importance of a creating safe spaces for people to be challenged to work from their power from within and simultaneously be accountable for the ways they participate in cycles of violence and oppression. I learned the importance of having language as a tool to understand my experiences; of asking for help; of understanding violence that has been perpetuated on me and the violence I’ve perpetuated on others; and of understanding cycles of oppression.

It was with this knowledge that I began to work against violence in my own community. I began facilitating workshops that challenged racism and sexism, writing ‘zines on men’s participation in domestic violence and became involved in grassroots efforts to end domestic and all forms of violence. I learned the importance of connecting my inner work with work in my community and took it upon myself to go outward.

My story is not much different from the many women in the movement — except that I was born male. Because an understanding of patriarchy gave me the language to find home in my experiences, I wasn’t as threatened by the challenge of giving up my male privilege. Also, because I was strongly influenced by the women’s movement, through trying to participate, I learned that there was a place for men in it.

For the men who do not think you are welcome in the anti-violence movement, I invite you to participate. There is a lot of work for us all to do. For men who are feeling defensive around issues of male privilege, I encourage you to take time to let your ego rest and understand why male privilege and the cycle of patriarchal violence go hand in hand. Whereas 1 in 3 girls will be sexually assaulted in their lifetimes, so will 1 in 5 boys. I encourage you to join me and participate in the many ways to end sexual assault, domestic violence and all forms of oppression.

Men have the choice to treat all people with respect due an equal. Men have the choice to hear and accept “no” from their partner. Men have the choice to play an active role in stopping sexual violence, harassment and abuse. Men have the choice to mentor and educate other men on these issues. Men have the choice to accept a balance of both their feminine and masculine qualities. Men have the choice to develop healthy relationships with all people. Men have the choice to not make assumptions about others regardless of their dress or actions. Men have the choice to stop telling sexist jokes. Men have the choice to stop violence within their families and to encourage men’s participation in understanding it’s roots. Men have these choices and others to make our world a safe and healthy environment in which to live.*

* “Men’s Choices” was adapted by me from Sexual Assault Prevention Educator Todd Denny’s “Training the Trainer” Materials.


Reprinted with permission from On the road to healing: A booklet for men against sexism, issue #2. Contact: PO box 84171, Seattle WA 98124, USA.