In Flight From Manhood

You don’t have to become a woman to like yourself.

Psychotherapist Joseph Burgo, Ph.D. speaks to the “crisis of masculinity” in the Western world. I agree. There is a crisis.

I’m a psychotherapist who works with biological males considering transition, and also with men who have resumed living as their biological sex after having inhabited a female identity, often for years. Some are homosexual men who struggle to accept themselves as gay; others are heterosexual males on the autism spectrum, bullied as boys because they were misfits. Others have a rare condition known as autogynephilia – a straight man’s sexual arousal at the vision of himself as female.

The psychological factors behind such a flight from manhood are various and complex, but all my clients have been driven to some degree by shame about being a man. While an abusive or emotionally violent father occasionally figures in their backstories, they all lack heroes or positive male role models. When I ask them for a positive vision of masculinity, they can’t articulate one; at the same time, they feel vaguely ashamed for falling short of it. They may have come to accept the fact of being a biological man, but they often hold the male sex in contempt.

The large number of young girls suddenly showing up at gender clinics has received much media coverage of late, but an increasing number of adolescent boys are identifying as female. I see them as reflections of a crisis of masculinity in the West, along with the boys falling behind in school and in the labor market, the fathers losing touch with their children in increasing numbers, and the disaffected young men addicted to drugs, video games and porn who seem never to grow up – all of them in flight from manhood.

In his recent book Of Boys and Men (2022), Richard V. Reeves describes how our culture tends to “pathologize naturally occurring aspects of masculine identity, usually under the banner of toxic masculinity.” For young men coming of age, “the message, implicit or explicit, is all too often, there is something wrong with you.” The APA’s Guidelines for Psychological Practice with Boys and Men (2018) has endorsed that message, essentially pathologizing masculinity in nearly all its forms.  

Burgo finishes his article with this….

Despite what the APA Guidelines tell us, there’s a lot to be said for masculine men who can be aggressive, even violent in the service of protecting others; competitive in a way that promotes innovation; and able to suppress strong feeling during crises when a cool head is needed. Until our society finds a way to make young men feel good about themselves for being men, as evolution in part has shaped them to be, we’re doomed to see too many of them take flight from manhood in increasingly dysfunctional ways.


Mothers & Fathers, Raise Men