ToxISH Masculinity: What It Means to Be a Man

ToxISH Masculinity: What It Means to Be a Man (Artwork created by Marjerrie Masicat)

How do you define “masculinity?” Adult ISH co-hosts Nyge Turner and Merk Nguyen try to define it with their friends and actor Jason Genao aka Ruby from Netflix’s “On My Block.” Their answers lie somewhere between selflessness, chocolate milk and Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson. Be sure to follow all our socials at @yrAdultISH!

Scroll to the bottom for the full transcript of the episode.

Little Heartbreaker

Illustration of man's hairy arm flexing his biceps.
“That’s why everyone told me you should never get too attached, you got to ‘play off.’”
(Photo: Malte Mueller/Getty Images)

Nyge and his first high school girlfriend happily spend their time together talking about Odd Future and sippin’ on strawberry shakes. But then the pressure from the men in his life make him start to cave in.

Talking Masculinity

Photo of actor Jason Genao
“I wanted to be a chef before an actor … but [my uncles] would say,
‘That’s not what you do.’”
(Photo courtesy of Jason Genao)

Quinces, Popeye the Sailor and Julia Child’s beef bourguignon all make a cameo in this conversation about masculinity. “On My Block” actor Jason Genao joins the co-hosts and their peers Jen Tribbet and Ronald Young Jr. (Time Well Spent) to talk about his character Ruby and the advice all of them have received from men (good and bad) over the years.

Episode Transcript

Jason: Hey, this is Jason Genao from “On My Block,” and you’re listening to Adult ISH from YR Media and…

Merk: Radiotopia.

Jason: Damn it, imma write this down. That’s how good I am with my lines. (laughs)

[Music Break]

Nyge: All righty, I got a question for you that needs to tap your brain. I’m trying to pick your brain for some gems. What does masculinity mean to you? 

Nyge’s Dad: Wow … Masculinity … Okay …  Ooh!… 

[Music Break]

Merk: Papa Turner coming in with the remix.

Nyge: Ayeee!

Merk: Sounds like that was a start to a super deep talk, though. What kind of fatherly knowledge did he drop on you about being masculine? 

Nyge: If it was anything, it’s always been selflessness. Growing up, he kind of always compared our family to a team. So he would wake me up early in the morning and always ask me, before I left the house, “What did you do for the team?” And I always had to have a list of stuff that I did for the team and stuff that I was contributing. So that was always what I was taught about masculinity; that it was like, in order to truly be masculine, I had to be putting people before myself. 

Merk: Does he do that to this day?

Nyge: (laughs) Yeah, he fasho does that to this day! Basically, he just retired, so he’s at home 100% of the time. Also, like the whole shelter-in-place thing, me and my friend both live here, and he’s just like going into overdrive where he’s like, “What are y’all doing at the house all day?!” And it’s like, “Yo! We’re sheltering in place. What do you mean?”

Merk: “Following the government’s order.”

Nyge: “There’s nowhere to go!” (laughs) “Y’all just be sitting around here, laying around!” “But, that’s what they be telling us to do, Dad! It’s on the TV.” 

Merk: What does he even tell you to do, though? What’s on his list? 

Nyge: So we have to use the blower in the backyard or pick up the dog poop. We have to clean out the pool, clean the kitchen, mop the floors in the kitchen and all downstairs. Vacuum everywhere, clean the bathrooms and wash the dishes. Yeah, we have to do that every morning. So I be having to wake up, do all that, then start work, which is just a lot. 

Merk: So, since this is something your dad has been doing for a long time, has your mom said anything about this definition and the whole “team” thing?

Nyge: Back in the day, I know my mom, naturally, is just not as meticulous clean like my dad. (laughs) And so she would always be like, “Oh yeah, whatever.” Or just roll her eyes whenever he goes on his little clean rant. But he didn’t just say, “Oh, if you’re a man, you’re Kobe.” Or “If you’re a man, you’re Jordan.” You know what I mean? It wasn’t like, “You’ve got to carry the team on your back.” I think he always likened it to a team because he was like, “To be a part of a family, you have to contribute. Everybody has to.”

Merk: Is there any part of his definition that you would change or, if you’re kind of into it, just add to? 

Nyge: There is another, like, emotional aspect to being masculine too that you have to fulfill. The way I would hear my aunties and stuff talk about men who didn’t do those things was always really bad. So, I guess it would kind of back up his definition when he would say, “You need to do this, you need to do that, you need to do this.” [Because] I would hear them on their little girl talk when my mom was getting her hair done. And they’d be like, “Girl, can you believe that he don’t even have no job?” or “Can you believe that he don’t even pick up his so and so?” So I was like, “Fasho, I guess that is … I guess it’s true.”

Merk: I think my dad’s definition of masculinity is different because he totally gets into sacrifice like your dad was saying, but to my dad, it seems like he’s the only one who makes the sacrifices, which is where I see the cons of his definition. Because, you know, my mom stayed at home for 12 years raising me and my siblings. But my dad, he was the one who was working. And by definition, they were both working. But yes, he was pulling the financial weight of the family but sometimes he talks about it as if like, “Yeah. I was the one who made the sacrifices.” But my mom had to give up things too. 

Nyge: Uh huh.

Merk: You know, I love my dad, but it doesn’t change the fact I grew up with resentment toward him for picking up business calls at the dinner table, not always being at my school plays or sports games…

Nyge: Yeah, like, unfortunately, stereotypically the dad is the one who tends to be doing more work on the back end of things and isn’t able to be a part of some big moments. For my family, my mom worked as well and my dad was kind of like the role of … He was definitely the workhorse. He went to work, worked full time. On top of that, he had all his side businesses. My mom would obviously take us to all of our different sporting events and plays and what not. But my dad actually was present at all those things too. He wasn’t at as many as [her] because me and Caleb, my older brother, would get so nervous when my dad was there that we would throw up and have panic attacks. (laughs)

Merk: (laughs) What are you doing for the team right now in this moment?” That’s terrifying!

Nyge: When my dad was there I would just feel so much pressure to be great. But, the way I grew up, masculinity was highlighted in lots of positive ways. But, I get it. Toxic masculinity is real and, unfortunately, that in-your-face rude bro talk is what a lot of people have experienced instead of the true definition of masculinity. But what even is the true definition of masculinity anyways? 

Merk: Throwing up chocolate milk? (laughs)

Nyge: Close, but we’re gonna find out on today’s ToxISH Masculinity episode of Adult ISH by YR Media. I’m Nyge.

Merk: And I’m Merk. We wanted to talk about different aspects of masculinity because some of you requested last season that we bring it up on the show, so here we are.

Nyge: So today we’re gonna get into a story about me trying to figure out my high school love life that had a lot more negative pressure, in this case, from the men in my life than I could’ve ever imagined. And later, we have a roundtable with some of our friends and actor Jason Genao who plays Ruby from Netflix’s “On My Block.” 

Merk: Yeah, we get into his character, his love for cooking and how that has affected the relationships he had with the men he grew up with. But now, let’s hear from a young man who I’m growing up with. Little Nyge, the heartbreaker himself. (laughs)

[Episode Break]

(music plays)

Nyge: I’m sitting in my freshman English class behind my friend Miley when she turns around and says, “Hey we gotta talk.” I think she’s gonna bring up some rumor she heard about me or who got caught smoking in the bathroom, but nah this is different. 

“Do you know my friend Stephanie?” 

Of course I know Steph! I thought she was one of the coolest and prettiest girls in our school. She basically teaches our honors English class all by herself. She’s also the first person my age I know that has a tattoo, a treble clef behind her ear. 

“Steph? Oh yeah, Steph! I think I know her.”  

Then Miley turns to me and says, “She told me she was tryna date you. Y’all would make the cutest couple because y’all are both tiny! She wants me to put her on.” Put her on, like hook us up? I say, “Yeah, give me her number, say less.” And I save her number as a treble clef emoji. The rest is history.

Every day after school, we hold hands and walk through the quad while everyone watches and smiles. Then we hang for hours at the burger spot, Frosty King. I show her how to dip her french fries in her strawberry shake, the perfect blend of salty and sweet. Just like that, Miss Treble Clef Steph becomes my girlfriend. 

None of my guy friends bring up my new relationship until my best friend D actually sees us kissing goodbye on the quad. After Steph leaves, D runs up to me, puts his arm around my shoulder and says, “Bro, when did you add Steph to the roster?” 

(music stops)

The roster? I don’t have a roster. “Oh (laughs) we just kickin’ it. She knows what it is.” And she did know what it was, but it was so much more than that.

(soft music plays)

Only Steph knows I write poetry late at night when I can’t fall asleep. That I start to stutter when I get really excited. She knows that the romcom “Brown Sugar” is actually my favorite movie and not “Inception” like I’d tell everyone else. What we have is genuine. But I keep that to myself.

(music stops)

A few weeks later, my uncle comes over to the house and I immediately tell him, “Hey, so I got a girlfriend. She is into Odd Future’s music just like me and everyone else at school thinks they are weird, but she like gets it though!” My uncle says, “Okay boy, what she look like?” I guess he didn’t hear anything else I said, but I show him. 

“Ooh nephew! Ay, nephew, that girl is built for speed, boy! Take it easy with that one. You not ready for that.” 

In my mind, I’m like, “Wait, she’s not like that at all! She’s not here to play games!” But something I’ve learned from being the youngest boy in the family is to always keep your mouth closed when your uncle is talking. So I just nod. 

(music plays)

My uncle isn’t the only man in my life who I share the news with. I go to my older cousins, family friends, and all of them, even my aunt says I’m too young to be in a serious thing. Then my friend D brings her up in a group chat with some of my friends. That morning, Steph had posted this bathroom selfie on Instagram. So he sends a screenshot of that and captions it: “I think I see Nyge hiding behind the door.” I feel sick to my stomach. Then my other friends chime in. “What’s she like Nyge? You can’t do no cuffing right now. Free that girl bro!”

I reply, “Stop it.” 

And that’s it. I mean, I wish I could have said that I really liked her. That it wasn’t just some quest to be cool or build a reputation. We were just two people connecting. Something real and organic. You know, growing up, I was always the shortest person in the group and the shortest person always seems to get, you know, the short end of the stick. Almost every compliment would start off with, “He’s short but…”, insert compliment there. So I always had to have a thing. I had to be good at sports. Be fashionable. Or, in this case, have the coolest girl in school as my girlfriend AND still have other options to give me credibility because that’s what manliness is, right? 

It seems like every time I “talk too much” about Steph, every male figure in my life starts to look at me a little sideways. The way they brush their hair with their hand and clench their teeth. It means, “Man, you about to learn the hard way, but I’m going to let you run into that wall on your own.” That’s why everyone told me you should never get too attached, you got to “play off.” 

(music stops)

The whole way they phrase all this advice is just a vibe I hate to feel. Like they are talking down to me. Making me feel like the smallest person in the group … again. But also, what if I do get my heart broken?

(tense music plays)

That monday, right before I arrive at school, a treble clef pops up on my phone screen with, “GOOD MORNING” in all caps. I don’t respond because all the butterflies and “advice” from this weekend start simultaneously flying around in my stomach. “Bye mom!” I hop onto the sidewalk and run to first period English class. There she is, sitting in the back of class. I grab a seat in the front and I can feel her eyes on me like lasers. But I don’t look back. When the bell rings, instead of walking her to her next class, I walk alone. At lunch, I stay in class with a teacher I’m close to and by the time school ends, I’m trying to hurry home. But there she is again, standing at the front gates. 

I say, “Hey babe.”

“Umm, what’s up with you?”

“Nothing … I just got a lot on my mind with finals coming up. My bad.” I don’t care about finals. I’m the type of student that skates by and she knows that.

She says, “O-Okay … Frosty King?”

“Yeah, sure. Why not?” 

We go to Frosty King, get our usual orders, but it doesn’t taste the same. The shake is too thick, the fries are too crunchy, but she thinks it tastes fine. I call her later that night.

I say, “Hello?” 

“Yeah?” I can tell she is waiting on me to finally talk about what has been bothering me.

“I really don’t know how else to say this, but the pressure is starting to get a little overwhelming, right?”

“What pressure are you talking about?”

“Like, people expecting us to hold hands everywhere we go and everyone else’s opinions on our relationship. I think … I think we should just go back to being friends.” 

“Umm, really? Is that what you think?” That moment I realize, she isn’t feeling any pressure at all. It’s just me.

“If that’s what you feel is best.” 

“Okay, umm. Perfect. I’ll see you at school tomorrow then!” Another long pause. Right as I open my mouth to say, ”Hello????

“Bye, Nygel.”

(tense music stops)

The next day we don’t meet up. That phone call is the last interaction I had with her, all because I was scared to follow my gut. Because a bunch of men who I respected said it would be the right move later on. I should have known better. But even if I did, would I have made the same choice? I’m not sure if I would have.

(music plays)

Steph transfers school later that year and gets a new boyfriend. My friend D also falls in love with this girl so naturally, I never see him again. It seems like every person who once told me it was silly to be tied up, finds themselves in a happy committed relationship. Even my uncle. He remarries that year. And then there was just me. A real man. All alone.

[Episode Break]

Merk: Okay Nyge, thank you for sharing another story. Have you talked to Stephanie since then? 

Nyge: Yeah, I have. So like, right after high school, I was trying to make a movie about the Bay Area.

Merk: That’s cool. 

Nyge: And I was going to have an interview with her, kind of about the meaning of love to her because she’s a mom. She has like two kids and so I was gonna holler at her about that and see what her definition of love will be, for that movie. But yeah, we’ve talked since. We’re cool. 

Merk: Are you really cool, though? Because the last time you talked to her, you were basically not talking to her. So did you get any vibes of like, “Okay, she’s actually lowkey expecting an apology?”

Nyge: I didn’t get any vibe that she was expecting an apology. I think she understands we were young in high school and I was just shy. Like, she even said, “Oh yeah, I remember how shy you were!” I was just nervous. It was a lot. It was a lot of pressure.

Merk: I wonder if that’s what my first high school boyfriend felt too, because we were dating for about a year and a half, but then he started acting really cold toward me and just stopped talking. And, even several months ago, when I reached out to him for our segment on exes in season two, he told me he didn’t remember much from our relationship and that hurt. I don’t know if that was his way of being tough and masculine. But, how do you even learn to part ways with what you thought masculinity was in high school? Because I think a lot of people, even at our age, in our early 20s, still hold on to those early mentalities. 

Nyge: I mean, you grow up. You grow up, you see all the people who were like, “Oh, don’t do that, because this” or “Don’t do that because this or whatever.” And you see the way that their lives go. It’ll be like the number one dude who is telling you like, “No, don’t ever get no relationship, bro.” But now he’s a family man with ten kids and or like his kids climbing on his head. I think when situations like that happen and you really just peep that, at the end of the day, you got to just live for you. That’s when you realize like, “Okay, I can’t let people be getting in my head.” But I don’t think it’s just a guy thing. I think you just shouldn’t let people get into how you feel about anything.

Merk: I feel that. I have definitely experienced that on my own. But I try to block those out as best as I can! (laughs) But right now, we’re going to shift gears a little bit. We’re gonna get into our roundtable where y’all are gonna hear from some of our coworkers and friends, including Jen Tribbett, an associate producer at YR Media, as well as our good friend Ronald Young Junior, a.k.a. Big Ron, host and creator of the “Time Well Spent” podcast. 

Nyge: And, of course, actor Jason Genao who plays Ruby from Netflix’s “On My Block”, a show about some street-savvy teens navigating their way through high school in South Central LA. So let’s get to it!

[Music Break]

Nyge: Alright, let’s start off by going around and saying the first person, place, thing or cartoon character, it don’t really matter at all, that you think of when you hear the word masculinity, and why. What do you think, Ron? 

Ron: The first thing that comes to mind for me is Arnold Schwarzenegger. Whenever I think of Arnold Schwarzenegger in like the 70s, 80s and 90s, you know, shirt off, running through the woods, chasing the predator or saving John Connor, I just always imagine big, strong dudes blowing up stuff in movies. And that’s that’s the first thing that comes to mind. Of course, that definition has changed over time. 

Nyge: Yeah, exactly. Jen?

Jen: For me, I think it’s Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson. Similar to Arnold Schwarzenegger, like big swole dude who is in action movies and like, kicks butt. Ah, a man. 

Nyge: (laughs) Merk?

Merk: Okay, Popeye the Sailor. That man … He has some big guns. And when I think of masculine, I just think, “Look at my arms!” And he’s got some big arms.

Nyge: Jason? 

Jason: It just all comes down to like my uncles. You know, I love to cook. So like, when they’d catch me, growing up the whole time I’d be in the kitchen with my aunts or whatever, and some of them were like, “Oh, you can cook!” And then other ones were like, “Why are you in the kitchen with your aunts? Let the women do the cooking.” And then I have to call them out and be like, “What the hell are you talking about?”

Nyge: You said you like to cook. What did you like to cook in the kitchen with your aunties?

Jason: I grew up watching the Food Network all the time. At first I was like, obsessed with Rachael Ray. 

Nyge: That’s me! That was really me too!

Merk: Thirty minutes with Rachael Ray.

Jason: Thirty minutes! Yes! I was like, “Damn, I have 30 minutes. What can I make?” 

Nyge: What was your favorite dish to cook back then? 

Jason: I think the first recipe I ever made off a cookbook, and I just kept making it and kept making it because people liked it so much, was Julia Child’s boeuf bourguignon. 

Nyge: Oh!

Ron: Wow, that’s advanced!

Nyge: I’m not about to fake like I know what that is. (laughs) Can you explain? It just sounded deep.

Jason: It’s beef cooked in burgundy with bacon and mushrooms.

Nyge: Ooh! The burgundy! Alright, well I’m getting hungry. That sounds dope. (laughs) So, Jason, while I’m already talking to you, in episode seven, season two [of “On My Block”] you’re planning your brother’s baby shower with your mom and your brother. And … you know what? Let’s just play the clip. 

[On My Block Clip]

Ruby’s Mom: Ruby! I conspired with the doctor and I ordered a gender reveal dessert!

Ruby: A what? Maaaa! We don’t want to know the gender. We won’t be surprised!

Ruby’s Mom: And you will be! When you cut it.

Ruby: I think the bigger issue is why are we deciding the baby’s gender? The baby should be deciding for itself. We need to wait for the baby to tell us how he, she or they identify, which is why we can’t use any colored decorations. Everything needs to be neutral.

Ruby’s Mom: Neutral. Beige?

Ruby: Yes! I was thinking more gray but beige is better. Way less gendered.

Ruby’s Mom: No color? Who are we? Beige? Beige is not our friend. It brings out the yellow of our skin. Oh no. That’s it. I quit. I am done. I officially do not identify as the party planner.

Ruby: Well, I do. Thanks, Mom. I will be taking the baton.

Nyge: Like in the rest of the show, Ruby is very thoughtful and he’s always challenging different norms, and in this one, he’s trying to “out mom” his own mom. He’s cocky about it. Obviously you’re acting, but you’re also bringing a little bit of yourself into this character. I’m curious what you were trying to tell the world about masculinity through Ruby?

Jason: Oh, that’s a deep one. Okay … I know that the audience, a majority of the audience watching “On My Block”, is a younger audience. So when you portray a character and then people fall in love with the character, they almost sort of want to emulate the character. And so if I were to make Ruby this lovable character that people want to emulate and portray in real life, then when I speak certain truths like about masculinity and how it’s false in a sense. So with Ruby and On My Block, it’s an opportunity to teach a generation through TV. 

Ron: I remember where he has a face mask on his face and the towel wrapped around his head [and] upper body and not his lower body when he gets out the shower, like he has all those different kinds of things going on. And it’s all funny, but at some point, I think I’m wondering if the writers are intentionally pushing that towards like, well, why can’t men be like a little more in touch with themselves, a little more feeling and all that? Is that done intentionally? 

Jason: Yes. So Ruby’s actually based off of one of the writers whose name is Eddie Gonzalez. And if you meet Eddie, he’s totally neutral. It’s like, he doesn’t care about gender norms. There’s nothing about him where you’d see him and be like, “Oh, this is like … this is another Popeye,” or whatever it is. He doesn’t care. He’ll do a face mask and wear a towel. It doesn’t matter to him at all. So basing Ruby off that character was completely intentional because that is Eddie. You know, he grew up in Compton, so the norm was to be this super tough kid to make it through the hood, to make your way safe, but he was the total opposite. He’s like, “Imma do whatever it is that I want to do.” And then, like Ruby, he’d talk his way out of situations or scenarios because he had to be himself. 

Nyge: Yeah, but he has his tough moments, too. Like when he approaches Oscar and kicks the little stoop out of the way and runs up on him on his lawn and things like that. Ruby has some gangsta moments. But… 

Jason: I mean, yeah. It’s still South Central. 

Nyge: Yeah, exactly. I’m curious, do you ever go off script to kind of fit your definition of masculinity? 

Jason: Yeah. So it’ll be kind of the more so the physical things where it’s like, “What do you think Ruby is doing here?” I mean, I was the one who suggested we put the towel [around my chest]. 

Merk: Hey!

Jason: Yeah, I was like… 

Nyge: I love that!

Jason: Yeah. So they wanted me to come out, you know, towel around my waist. And I was like, I think it’d be funnier and more Ruby if he had the towel around his chest. 

Jen: I just want to let you know that that one episode, when you were planning that quince, and you are like half soft glam and then half another look, I was like, “Dang, the soft glam is killing it.” 

Nyge: Alright, let’s shift to Jen. You worked on a project for YR Media called In Their Own Words, where you talked about your experiences as a person who identifies as non-binary. And in it, you were like talking about how it can just be a lot of pressure on you to have a label. And you said something that really stuck out to me. You said that black bodies are masculine by default. Why isn’t that something that sits well with you? 

Jen: It’s not something that sits well with me because it’s based in racism and eugenics. It’s based in being like, “Okay, these people were brought here for labor and they are strong and they’re, by default,” just like, “They can take anything. So destroy them emotionally and physically.” And I feel like some of that is regurgitated by a lot of black men. You hear the word ‘effeminate’ a lot, which is like somebody has made you feminine, not your femininity is an inherent quality that you are allowed to have. I feel like a lot of people are also afraid of instead of being like, “Okay, this is masculine and this is feminine and we need to expand what masculine is.” A lot of people are afraid to embrace femininity because there’s like this misogynist mindset going on. Where it’s like, we need to be masculine because that is what a black man should be. Like, a black man has to provide and hold the family down and procreate. And a lot of people are like, “It’s white supremacy if we aren’t doing that. That’s white people winning.” And sometimes I would say it’s not even a choice. Not everything, masculine or feminine, is a performance. Sometimes we’re just being. 

Nyge: It’s who you are. 

Jen: And I feel like some people get that confused because they are performing and they don’t realize it. 

Nyge: Yeah, that’s deep. You just woke a lot of people up on that one. Shifting back to you, Jason, we have a question from a listener. Let’s cue that clip up. 

[Listener Audio]

Listener: Hey Jason. As someone who is Dominican what are some of the struggles you’ve had or have when it comes to manhood in your community? And are they any different from the ones Ruby has in the show? Thanks!

Nyge: Jason, what do you think of that? 

Jason: Ruby is Ruby. You know, that’s the whole thing about “On My Block”, is that Ruby’s this character who gets to say anything and everything and you love him or you hate him or whatever the case may be. But I know that me growing up as a Dominican, my entire family, they grew up on a farm. I still go to the farm. My grandfather had 13 kids and it was seven men and six women. And all the women … none of them were allowed to work on the farm, and the men had to work on the farm. The women had to help my grandmother doing the dishes and doing the laundry. It was like these specific gender roles that were assigned to them. So they came [to America] with that mentality. And then when we got here and grew up with this American lifestyle where it’s like, the women are doing what the men are doing, or, even in some cases, the women are out working and the men are staying home, that to my family, when they came here, was so out of the norm. And it was like, they would look at it and be like, “What? I don’t understand this at all.” So me growing up, it was … That was all that I knew. I kind of became an alien to them in the sense where it was like … I wanted to be a chef before I wanted to be an actor, so like all these things that I wanted to do, to them, it was like, “That’s not what you do. What are you doing?” And I was like, “I don’t know. I don’t know anything else.” And I can’t blame them because they didn’t know anything else. But then to try to teach someone that, you really can’t do it. 

Ron: I have a non-masculinity based Jason question. So I saw you in “Logan”, that was the first thing I saw you in. Do you have anything else action based or anything coming out in the near future?

Jason: Yeah. I’m leaving to Colombia to film a war film. 

Merk: Are you going to have to deal with masculinity? 

Jason: Yes. Actually, I play a soldier and he umm … I don’t even know if I can say this to be honest. Oh my God.

Everybody: (Laughs)

Jason: Well, I play this character who … You know, it’s a bunch of soldiers, but back in the day, especially during the draft, where you just got thrown into war, there’s people who are like, “Yeah, I want to fight for my country.” And then there’s other people like, “How the hell did I end up here?” And I play one of those characters who is totally lost and doesn’t think he belongs there. So he’s kind of like the antithesis of what you’d think a soldier should be.

Nyge: Alright. I’m looking forward to it. The last question is for everyone. What do you love most about healthy masculinity and what can be highlighted or praised more?

Jason: Imma let someone else go first.

Jen: I can go. I think that what I love most about healthy masculinity is seeing trans masculine people express masculinity, because that to me has been one of the most eye-opening things about masculinity. Prior to acknowledging and accepting trans masculine people, I was like, “Masculinity is a cult. Y’all are all brainwashed. You only do things for other men.” And it’s like, no, there are people who are masculine because that is their comfort zone. And it’s like, masculinity isn’t just like this destiny that you’re thrusted into upon being born with a penis. So, yeah.

Merk: I would say that I love when people, who are healthily masculine, can acknowledge that they’re not the only ones with agency. That they’re not the only ones who have power and choice and the ability to do what they want.

Nyge: Definitely. Ron?

Ron: I think I would add, as a final thought, that rather than thinking that there’s roles or specific things that men and women should do, we should just try to fit into the best role that we can for ourselves, no matter what that means. I’ll end with the story by saying that my dad always told me, “If a burglar breaks into the house and you’re with your wife, you go downstairs, you defend the women. You take the bat downstairs, you defend the women.” And I thought that mentality my whole life until somebody said to me, “Ronald, what if your wife is a Navy SEAL?” And I was like, “Oh, I’m definitely sending my wife out there because she would definitely be the best person for the job!” So I think if we think in terms of the best roles and the best positions that we can play, then we can’t go wrong. 

Nyge: Jason?

Jason: The best part about masculinity, I think, is allowing it to be a choice. You don’t know how many times I’ve come across young kids, and you do something in front of them and they’re already at like 6 or 7 like “Why are you doing that? That’s for girls.” Or something like that. I think the best part about masculinity is that generations down the line are gonna allow their children to learn it if they want to and not instill it. 

[Music Break]

Merk: Go follow Jason Genao out on IG @jason.genao and go check out season four of “On My Block.” It’s on Netflix now. Before we go, I gotta ask you Nyge. What is YOUR definition of masculinity?

Nyge: Oh! I wasn’t ready! My definition for… 

Merk: You want me to make a remix of your “Oh?”

Nyge: Right? My definition of masculinity, I guess, is going to just be selflessness.

Merk: Wow. 

Nyge: (Whispers) Thanks dad!  

Merk: Just use your dad’s answer. Okay.

Nyge: Yeah. We gave it to you at the top, you didn’t see it coming. We brought it back! Boom! That’s called a story arc. It’s not. But oh well, we’ll go with it. 

Merk: Plagiarism! (laughs)

Nyge: And with that, thank you all for listening to another episode of Adult ISH, produced by YR Media — a national network of young artists and journalists creating content for this generation. Big thanks go out to our Senior Producer Davey Kim, engineers Cari Campbell and Galnadgee Joe-Johnson, Executive Producer Rebecca Martin, Adan Barrera for transcribing our social and web content and all the young people at YR who made the art and music for this episode.

Merk: You can check out the art for yourself by coming to or following us on all the socials @YRadultISH. If you’re really diggin’ our show please rate it with five stars and give us a short review on iTunes. We’d super appreciate that! We’re also proud to be members of Radiotopia by PRX. An independent listener-supported collective of some of the most binge worthy shows in all of podcasting. Find them at

Nyge: We still have a few episodes left for this season…

Merk: And our next season!

Nyge: So if there are guests you wanna hear from or some kind of ISH you wanna hear us talk about, send an email to

Merk: Yup, hit us up! Because we are here for your entertainment. 

Nyge: YEAAHHHH! Tell us what you want, what you really really want. (laughs) On that note we out this thang.

Merk: Ending masculinity with the Spice Girls. That’s very … I like that a lot. 

Nyge: You know, that’s what we do here. 

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