Be gone masculinity, be gone!

John Stoltenberg, Rusfusing to be a man

First published 1989

This addition, revised addition 2002, UCL Press.


John Stoltenberg is a renowned radical feminist activist, writer and scholar. I came to his work after a period of reflection and research into the subject of gender and sexuality. His book ‘Refusing to be a man’ has been key to my understanding of sexual identity and most significantly the role of masculinity within my own personal identity and within the social and political landscape. I came across this book after reading Judith Butlers ‘Gender Trouble’ (1). Whilst I found Butlers work both interesting and provoking, I began to feel that I needed a voice which came from the point of view of a ‘male’, one which questioned maleness and de-constructed masculinity.


Stoltenberg describes sexual identity and particularly masculinity as an unsupportable idea, one which has no metaphysical existence. His chapter ‘How men have (A) sex’ was particularly revealing for me. He starts this chapter by asking us to imagine a different world, a fantasy world, one in which people ‘know that they have all been born in an infinite variety’. In imagining this world we are taken into a place in which multisexed beings exist and where sexuality is ‘spread over a continuum’. The discovery is of course that this world is our own and that the reality is that we are all spread over a vast, ever shifting, ever growing, infinite and moving scale of sexedness.


My growing interest in the subject of masculinity and gender has led me to set up a reading group with my fellow course mate Daniel Curtis, inviting others to join us and to share their ideas and experiences. We used a chapter from John stoltenbergs book as our first reading for the group, which generated some interesting discussions and readings of gender and masculinity. Within my own work this book has acted as a starting point to understand my own personal identity and to start to understand where I situate myself and my art practice in relation to these subjects.


1 Butler, J. (1990). Gender Trouble, New York: Routledge.