Book Review: I’m Afraid of Men by Vivek Shraya

Queer artist and writer Vivek Shraya lay probes her queerness as a brown transwoman, exploring how the social construct of masculinity has shaped her thoughts and behaviour, before and after transitioning. The book forms a series of second-person essays, addressed to spectres of masculinity from Shraya’s past that carved her behaviour. Reliving painful moments, however seemingly insignificant, that represent how she once performed masculinity and how it is paraded in front of her now. This vicious cycle of pretending, transitioning from what you are to what you are expected to be, is examined and the damage evaluated.

That’s how this slim, powerful and emotionally charged book shows life on both sides of the strict, claustrophobic binary. Young and enacting masculine assimilation, she dimmed her light, only wore beige and worked out to undo her naturally skinny frame. She exposes experiences, giving them immense weight and feeling with so few words in the hopes of taking up space and displaying the need for change. Touching on the sensationalising of suffering as the seemingly sole way to exact social change, with individuals needing to be victimised to be humanised and heard.

The most poignant sections for me were the discussion of the constant fear, worry and considerations made to stay safe in this man’s world. The tension caused when you’re attracted to men, seeking approval and attention, yet spending a large portion of the day making calculations to keep yourself safe from some of them. Asking such deep and difficult questions like: ‘to what extent is sexuality shaped and constrained by childhood experiences of male violence?’. Some parts felt borderline-triggering, causing sharp intake of breath and a moment to reflect.

★★★★★ – So many parts of this book called to me, so many extracts made resonating sense, describing something indescribable up until this point. This will be my new go-to recommendation for feminist non-fiction, a beautiful view of the damage patriarchal values like masculinity, have on our societies and individuals across and outside of the gender binary. I’m not going to say any more about it, hoping that I’ve tantalised you enough to go and buy it. Share it and put it in the hands of the men you know. Will you be picking this one up?

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