GTA youth using art and performance to address toxic masculinity
'I saw how urgent it was for us to be together,' one group member says
Ayrah Taerb is hoping for a day when toxic masculinity doesn't exist — in fact, the concept artist has a song, Reanalyze, all about it.
Taerb is part of a larger group of racialized men in Toronto who use art, performance and frank conversation to address the dangers of toxic masculinity.
While the topic can be challenging to talk about, Taerb sees it play out in his community as some carry themselves with a sort of "reckless abandon."
"You have this black man with fiery look in his eyes, ready to conquer the world no matter what opposition is in his way," he told CBC Toronto.
Taerb and his group, dubbed the Good Guise, are out to create a space where people are free to discuss why they feel that way. "I decided I wanted to be there because I saw how urgent it was for us to be together, unpacking, and because I was seeing the results," he said.
Taerb said the conversations and performances can get heated, especially when there are "two very strong or opposing realities," but that they've been a more effective way for him to learn about himself than anything else he's tried.
"There's certain things you can do through a performance that from my experience you can't do through a conversation," he said.
'The whole world will be richer'
Julian Diego, a founding Good Guise member and a program coordinator with the community arts enterprise SKETCH, says the conversations aim to stop youth form keeping their feelings to themselves.
"It's unhealthy for us, and the people who are important to us," he said.
As for the project's name, "the guise is kind of like the mask we wear, that's what toxic masculinity is all about," he said.
Diego says once that mask's dropped, participants have been free to address topics ranging from consent to personal accountability to self-care.
"I don't want men to think that sharing power will come at a huge expense to them," Diego said. In fact, if they do, "the whole world will be richer."
A learning process
Balu, an aspiring Bollywood singer and a vocal percussionist, said joining the Good Guise has helped him reflect on his past and some toxic incidents driven by isolation.
"I went from denying my toxicity, to defending my toxicity, to actually understanding how to internally and externally start changing those conditions in a way that works for me," he said.
Balu said music has always been an outlet for him, but he felt a part of something bigger when he found the Good Guise.
"I went to mental health therapy and it didn't really work with me because the people that were leading it, I didn't see myself reflected in them."
Last spring, the group organized a city-wide performance tour, highlighting May as Racialized Masculinity Month.
This year, the network will be collaborating again with like-minded groups to perform and organize events around toxic masculinity across the GTA.