Hedge work for the masculine: a participant's reflection

A participant reflection from the course re-storying masculinity. André Marques Chambel writes: "The hedge work is the deep work. The hedge work is to be held and to hold in turn. The hedge work is the opening of ways to the masculine, the way in which we root into safe and honourable environments."

How do we perceive gender? How do we perceive masculinity? Usually, our approach to know something, so as to understand it, lies in getting “what it is” and “what it isn’t”. It lies in presupposing, in forming a line, drawing a definition, sketching an area that will then hold the object of our question. The assignment of a territory. We may not even start with an array of questions but an encasing, a construction of borders.

Maybe our questions should be “How could we perceive gender and masculinity?”, “What can it be?”, “Where could it lead to?”. We should open the ways, discover new possibilities of understanding something. We should experiment. Not presuppose.

During my time with the course Re-storying Masculinity, I found myself encountering an image in my mind, one that has been quite familiar to me in these questions of gender. That of borders. More accurately, that of inhabiting the borders of something. I have felt this many times: that, when it came to gender, I was occupying not the middle or the interior of masculinity, but the margin. I knew I was not outside of it, only between it and not-it.

A central meaning of my given name is “man”. This becomes really interesting when the place through which I experience gender is taken into view. Maybe the border is the place to be, not somewhere to feel displaced but somewhere to feel present. Maybe by being in the liminal space I can rethink my own sense of the masculine. And discover a new way of engaging. By being between territories I can feel the masculine, not as something isolated but in connection. My sense of masculinity needs me to be rooted. Rooted into stories, into visions, into relationships. And the margin is exactly the place to do that for me.

If I am to occupy a border, it means there is some inside and outside, something to hold and something else, off those limits - something that holds. What is this understanding of masculinity? What can be held by us? And what can hold us? Does masculinity hold us or do we hold it? What makes this territory possible? Is it the stories we tell, the examples we’re given, the assumptions we make?

We presuppose, and that’s normal. We take something as a given, even if it isn’t. Our understanding of anything exists in a specific context and is made possible by that context. This applies to gender as well. In the course, Pat McCabe says “All you know is how these energetics behave in this power-over paradigm. And if you were to put them into a different paradigm, a different situation, they would behave in a completely different way.” Maybe if we saw masculinity through other contexts, our sense of the masculine would be something else entirely. We would hold it and be held by it in turn, we would be cultivated by it. We would discover other ways of relating to the world and to our communities.

And what is this border if not a door to other possibilities? What if the frame of this image, the fence of this garden, the arms of this held interior is a fertile place for the cultivation of connection? What if the circle of bodies that comprehends masculinity, and any other gender, gives rise to an opening? Actually, what if the bodies that occupy the space of gender would become its edges, not its interior?

When conceiving masculinity, we may draw a circle to hold that which we think falls under the term “masculine”, leaving all that it can not be out of the circle. We just assigned a territory, possibly with people that “feel masculine” occupying the interior of that circle. But what if this circle, this line that holds the concept of masculinity as a gender identity, was not a wall or a divider, but a home for its people? A pathway that holds our stories and assumptions, our myths and images, yes, but also a pathway that welcomes newcomers and new stories or forgotten ones. Not a box but a row of hedges with openings. Or of bodies, that are borders, holding space for the masculine and its possibilities. Holding space and asking questions. Letting more come through. Maybe this is what any conception of gender identity could be: not an encasing or separation of persons, but a place for connection and community, helping us to feel safe and sane and present and loved. A place of opportunity.

And if being gendered is seen as work, insofar as work means process, let it be a hedge work, a work of edges, of borders, of margins. A work of openings to connection and otherness. If there is a territory to be upon, let it be the hedge, so we don’t fall under unfavourable assumptions or paradigms. Let us occupy the space in-between so we can create liberation and care, so we can tend for our elders and our youths, for our children and our adults. To be in any identity work is to take care of its space and its garden. And if the border is a hedge, or the space is a garden, it should need the help of a gardener, someone who takes care of the seeds we plant in our fertile soil, someone who tends to the needs of the beings in that garden. And that someone is all of us, the stewards of belonging.

The hedge work is the deep work. The hedge work is to be held and to hold in turn. The hedge work is the opening of ways to the masculine, the way in which we root into safe and honourable environments.

I think this seems to be, foremost, about getting to leave the constraints of dualism and discovering the possibilities of plurality. About getting to know a “biodiversity of expressions”, as Sophie Strand mentions in her interview to Ian MacKenzie. About accepting a vast variety of masculinities and their becoming and engendering. What the border means to me is for us to be open to the possibility of otherness, for us to be welcoming to a plurality of ways of engaging. More than that, I understand the border, and its work, as a blossoming of healthy and well-grounded values regarding gender. I understand the border as an open space and a portal.

Let us, then, be a bridge, to hold passage and connection. Let us be a bridge not only between bodies with a similar sense of the masculine, but between what masculinity already is and what it could be. Let us be a bridge to hold possibility, to hold an opening through which otherness could enter. Let us be welcoming.

*Header image courtesy of the author


André Marques Chambel

André Marques Chambel is an artist and writer based in Portugal.

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