The idea of a weekly support group formed by four men who drink glasses of French rosé, pass around a “talking stick” to share their struggles and have invented Native American names for each other may be enough to unsettle any feminist attempting to dismantle patriarchy or notions of male oppression. But in Ellen Fairey’s new play Support Group For Men, the exploration of this unique group is less a portrayal of toxic masculinity and more an examination of what it means to be alone… and what it might mean to be a man. Or a woman. Or neither. Or both.
Roger, Brian, Delano and Kevin have been meeting weekly at Brian’s apartment on the edge of Wrigleyville and Boystown to share their collective and personal struggles with what it means to be men. Misunderstandings emerge when a newcomer stumbles into their group, and the men are forced to welcome this person who may not identify as a man in the same way they do.
The conversation about gender is an interesting one: who says who we are? What qualities or characteristics do we inherit? What is learned behavior? What do we internalize and teach to those around us, especially youth and the next generation?
In the last few years, language around the various ways to identify one’s gender has evolved and expanded exponentially. Language around individuals who identify as two spirit (two identities occurring in one body), genderqueer (one whose gender identity is not just a man or a woman), gender fluid (one who identifies with a mix of two sexes), gender non-conforming (one whose gender identity is, or appears to be, different from what others might expect from their assigned gender) and gender non-binary (anything that falls outside of the binary system of male/female or man/woman) has widened the transgender narrative to include identities of individuals who may not identify with either gender, or with all genders, and the nuances that come with that.
Who says who we are?… What do we internalize and teach to those around us, especially youth and the next generation?
With singular non-gender specific pronouns like they and them or hir and ze becoming more utilized in every day vernacular, our society is slowly shifting towards a more inclusive non-binary culture. That’s not to say there still isn’t much work to be done or learning to be had – especially when introducing elements like race into conversations with individuals who do not identify as either man or woman, as well as discriminatory legislation and violence that are still very much a part of this narrative.
There are no easy answers. The more these areas are explored, the more questions we will have. And it is in this gray area, this place of questioning,
where we find Support Group for Men. It is in this living room with these people where Fairey breaks open a conversation about gender (without the play explicitly feeling like a discussion panel about gender) through the eyes of five very lonely people who don’t want to be alone. And that universal truth is one that transcends gender altogether.