Interview: John Gorman on mental health and gender expectations

Hey everyone,

I’m excited to bring to you another edition of my new interview segment.

This week, I brought on John Gorman, an Austin-based essayist, speaker, and storyteller on life, liberty, and the battle for happiness. He’s a Top-100 writer on Medium, a solopreneur brand consultant, and a political campaign copywriter for progressives.

And he’s one of the few people I met on social media that I actually call a friend now. John and I have conversations that constantly make me think about the narratives of life I’ve so easily bought into. In fact, one convo in particular sparked the whole idea for this interview.

Without further hoopla, let’s get into it:


Tell me about your path to writing and why you began writing on Medium. 

Back in 2007, I started at a telecommuting job, and there wasn’t much work there. I spent most of my day reading Deadspin (Gawker’s sports blog at the time). I thought, “shit. I like sports. I’m kinda witty. Maybe I could blog about them.” And that’s how it started.

I had some—not much—early success writing about sports, and when I lost my job as an ops guy for months and ended up on the streets, I decided, “I’m going to write for a living.” I got a job as a copywriter at Dell, got promoted a bunch, and on the side, I started writing on Medium. An early post (“How I Got Here”) went viral, and a sports site found it, and I had an SI byline before I got cancelled by the right-wing (and subsequently fired) for some tweets.

I didn’t write for a while, until a relationship I had went sour, and then I wrote about that … and *that* post went viral. Suddenly, I realized, “shit, there’s a market for writing about my feelings.” I’ve been doing that ever since. Medium, along with forays into politics and activism and my own branding business, became so popular, that I quit my Dell job to work for myself full-time, and began speaking and became an “influencer”-type thing. That’s how I ended up here.

You write a lot about mental health, both directly and indirectly. What do you think about the toll COVID-19 is taking on people's mental health?

So it’s many-fold, right? It’s mass tragedy in terms of human life. It’s individual suffering in the form of job loss and financial hardship. It’s the loneliness of isolation and the stir-craziness of quarantine. Everyone’s suffering in their own unique way, but it’s also a collective suffering that’s amplifying itself.

It also feels like there’s a warp-speed civilizational implosion on either on the horizon, or happening right now, so there’s mourning and looming dread about that. No one’s equipped to handle this even when we’re allowed out of our homes. That we’re confined, essentially, makes it all the worse.

How is your own mental health doing during this time? Anything that's helping you manage?

My mental health, honestly, is up-and-down. Some days, I feel okay (by pandemic standards) and some days I feel like there’s no real point to living, as there appears to be no future, and that isolation can be crippling at times.

I make it a point to do a few things to keep myself functional: I run, I drink a lot of water, I eat a lot of salads. Early in the pandemic, I decided I didn’t want to drink or smoke, so I don’t do those. I go to therapy. I meditate nightly. I do my ketamine infusion therapy for depression every 3-4 weeks. There’s a lot of tools in my toolbox, but some days, it feels like I’ve brought a division of tanks to a nuclear conflict. Lots of guns are no match for one big bomb.

Now let's talk about the main reason I wanted to do this. We dove into this topic via messaging on Instagram and it's something people need to hear more about. How is men's mental health being affected differently than woman's?

I think with men there’s this onus upon us to be both finished products (fully functional adults who know exactly how to name, feel, process and express our feelings without help), and also steely and resolute figures who show zero emotion. Like, we still love our “strong, silent types” and even if we’re healthily expressing our feelings publicly, it scares folks off. And in-progress growth, in and of itself, while applauded from a distance, isn’t exactly welcomed up-close.

Men can be anything—even pathologically angry, honestly, because it’s “masculine”—but depressed. I’m not sure how true that is for women? Depressed men are infantilized, and pitied, and offered trite platitudes like “your feelings are valid.” So there’s this weird catch-22 we’re in: Try and grow, and get hung out to dry or dismissed. Or, bury it to save face, and it slowly eats at your soul.

What do you think men are struggling most with right now?

I think all men are struggling with different things, to be honest. For some men, it’s loneliness. A sense of “Christ, I wasn’t chosen.” And yet women are constantly saying “men are trash.” And you sit there and think, fuck, like … how trash am I if I’m not one of the ones that’s in a relationship or married? For example: I’m single, still, and because I am, I’ve sorta internalized a belief that I’m extra toxic and just not good enough. Maybe that’s true. Maybe that’s not. I don’t know.

But for other men, it’s a general sense of helplessness. The roles of men have changed significantly, and expectations have, also. We have been conditioned to control things, and, when our job or income is taken away, or our freedom to move, or see others, that’s a struggle in its own right. It’s a loss of control. Maybe some men feel trapped in families or households they don’t want to be in. Maybe some are in less-than-ideal living situations, or struggling with substance abuse, or trapped in a country that doesn’t reflect their beliefs or culture.

Additionally, perhaps some men were excited about their future and it was put on indefinite hold, or they had opportunities taken away. Or, I mean, they could be sick or have lost a loved one. There’s so many reasons for men to hurt right now. Everyone, really. The possibilities are endless.

In what ways do you feel men are expected to act in relationships? 

I mentioned this above, but I think men are expected to both be the type of men they were expected to be in less egalitarian times (protector, provider, stoic, assertive) *plus* all the elements of what I’d call the “new masculine” (vulnerable, emotive, nurturing, domestic, etc.) and what we’re finding is those buckets don’t always play well together or are easily reconciled by individuals or society at large. We still don’t know how to react to men who cry, as much as we say we want them to. Men are still shamed when they do or feel things that impact their ability to be what we want them to be. We can’t be insecure. We can’t be sad. We can be angry, but we need to express it in a healthy way, despite never being taught how to do that.

To further complexify, women—and this is a good thing!—have unprecedented agency to balk at men left and right (I think over two-thirds of marriages are severed by the women, and among Millennials, that figure is much higher), and men keep failing them, over and over, and so there’s this hetero-pessimism now, where women are like “I wish I didn’t like men.”

Our expectations of men have increased exponentially, while we’ve also pulled up the ladder and told men, “I don’t know, man, figure it out and fix your shit.” It’s dark, and while I agree men should be more emotionally aware, there’s no tangible benefit to being emotionally aware yet, unless you write about it on the internet for money.

Like here I am, basically admitting to the strangers on your mailing list my own weaknesses and vulnerabilities, and I bet all that awareness is netting me a bunch of women saying, “I just can’t even with this motherfucker right now.” 

In what ways has society played a role in forming those expectations?

Society’s changing faster than it ever has. Right now. At this second. And so I don’t think expectations are ever static, beyond the stuff that’s hard-wired into ourselves from generations prior from media and fairy tales and families and church and institutions. We’re figuring this shit out as we go and building the plane while we’re flying it. And so nobody’s really sure what to do, or how to act.

It’s easier for women to shift their behavior and attitudes under the mission of becoming “more equal.” Taking on more of what men didn’t allow them to before. Breaking glass ceilings and all that. Men are expected to aid them in that struggle, and they should, and I gladly do. However, it’s unclear—on an individual level—how to properly “abdicate” apart from the obvious stuff.

I’ve often wrestled with my own unlikely success as a writer and professional in general. How much of my success do I owe to my existence in this space as a white man? (Probably a lot.) Should I not take every opportunity offered to me? (Who knows?) Are there things I should abstain from applying for? (Maybe?) In what spaces am I not welcome?

My own mental health, neuroses, and sense of unworthiness plays a role in me “sitting this one out,” but I bet for men who feel generally entitled to everything, I’m not sure they think twice about abdication. I think about it all the time, although I’m not sure where the line is beyond, “just … don’t.” I just let myself get chosen for everything and don’t do much in the way of selling myself or advocating on my own behalf. I’m not sure how useful that is for me, or for women.

What do you wish women understood more about men?

I don’t know how much it is about “men” women still need to understand. I mean, the general arc of history has been written by, and for, men … unfairly disproportionately so. The book’s literally out on us, and women have been forced to read it with gritted-teeth.

But I think with the individual men in their lives, it’s important to understand that most of us men have no idea what the fuck we were doing, even—and especially—if we recognize our privilege, even if we read a lot of feminist literature. Deprogramming is *hard.* A lot of us were raised on the kind of propaganda and social conditioning that, when you see it, makes you think, “holy shit. You’ve been systemically gaslit and abused and turned into little monsters.”

I would say a slight majority of men, now, want to be dissociated from manhood altogether. We reject it. And yet those of us who do also don’t carry the trademark aggressiveness of those who are intent on keeping shit the way they are, and so we struggle with forcing the issue. Some of us are trying like hell to tear this system down. We’re meeting a ton of resistance. We’re all kinda punching in the dark when it comes to solutions to overcoming that resistance.

Ultimately, I myself can wield my words as weapons, and yet, to give a recent example, when I verbally accosted a drunken douchebag at a local bar for telling a (woman) bartender to smile, he asked me if I would like to tell him that outside. I’ve never thrown a punch in my life, and I’m 5’7” and haven’t seen the inside of a gym in years. I didn’t want to die on that hill so I said, “nah man, I’m good.” I wonder if I changed his mind. I probably didn’t. At the end of the day, which one of us got emasculated? Probably me. Maybe I should work out more. I already go to enough therapy.

Do you see an easy solution to all of this? Or is it more of a Catch 22?

I see solution(s), but they’re not easy.

  • More elected and appointed women leaders at local, national, corporate and international levels.

  • More funding toward women-led initiatives and women-owned businesses.

  • More consistently level metering of justice when it comes to domestic and sexual violence.

  • A complete rewrite of the social contract, a closing of the wage gap, a rewrite of history texts, sensitivity training for men at the child and adult levels.

  • The network effects of more and more men becoming “gender traitors” who disown traditionally masculine concepts at toxic levels.

But as far as addressing imbalances and ambiguities in relationships, roles, and the mental health of men right now? There’s no real solution. Just time. Just repeated successful attempts by men to be good, kind men and respectful of women and their spaces … enough to normalize it so that women feel comfortable and safe around men. They don’t yet.

Even though I know you’re pulling for us to be better, desperately, I still yet feel we are a long ways off before men can convince women that we’re no longer the number one threat to society and women’s well-being … maybe not even within our lifetimes. Like I said, deprogramming is *hard.* That goes for both our ability to change, and women’s ability to accept it and forgive us for our general maliciousness.


Enjoy this interview? Make sure to follow John on Instagram and Medium.

Who do you want me to interview next? Reply to this email and let me know!

See you back in your inboxes on Friday!

All the love,

Kirstie


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