Homer

Homer is an online journal which creates conversations about masculinities and alternative male role models. The website was officially launched in September, and we spoke to founder and editor Ashley Thomson about how he’s feeling about things so far, the difficulties with creating a space that invites men to be vulnerable, and where he’d like to see Homer going in the future.

Can you tell us where the idea for Homer came from?
The idea for Homer was personal. Growing up, I felt ideas of what it meant to be a man – and I only realised this in my mid-20s – had influenced me to think and do unhealthy things. By that, I mean I basically wanted to be rich and have my pick of women. I think when you’re a teenager, people equate that behaviour to ‘boys being boys’. Then it’s up to those boys in their mid-20s to figure out why they’re still deeply unhappy and why those things aren’t coming to pass. I was lucky and had a couple of long, healthy and fruitful relationships with very switched-on and big-hearted women who opened me up to the rewards that come from open and empathetic relationships between men and women. I realised what I would have liked growing up was – I hope – something like Homer, where I could watch men like me be emotionally honest and open in a way that, as a young man, I felt comfortable copying. Hopefully for the betterment of my general quality of life…
What’s been the most difficult part of bringing Homer to realisation?
Two things. The first is self-doubt. The more you read about feminism and critical gender studies – which I’ve done a fair bit of, and I’m still no expert, but think I have a passing awareness of what it’s about – the more you realise your own privilege.

I’m like an apex predator when it comes to privilege – I’m a straight white male. I’d think: is there any value in doing anything to help not only myself, but other straight white men? Then of course I would critique that and come to the realisation it’s not just them I’m helping.

Typically speaking it’s that demographic – straight white men – who perpetrate the most violence, are responsible for the most institutional and structural violence against others, and prevent progressive change. If you’re helping men be more empathetic, vulnerable, in touch with their own emotions and open minded around others, you’re making the world a better place. I think there’s a great deal of value in that. Overcoming that doubt was a big factor in creating Homer.

The other part is getting men on board. I’m really uncomfortable being emotionally vulnerable around other men, it doesn’t come naturally. Reaching out and asking men to be involved in Homer is hard for me. I’m getting better, but even when I do reach out, that’s not to say that it’ll necessarily work because they’re probably just as uncomfortable as I am.

Why do you think something like Homer needs to exist? Where do you think it fits in broader conversations about masculinities and male role models?
I think it needs to exist because there should be a place where men are modelling behaviour for each other that involves being vulnerable, emotional, and attaching masculinity to things like acts of charity and progressive workplace reform, without resorting to ideas of what makes a ‘real man’. I think the closest we’re getting to progressive ideas of masculinity is always framed in this vaguely regressive way, like “it’s okay if a real man cries” or “a real man is not afraid to cry”. I think that’s using the ‘master’s tools’, and I’m actually writing something to that effect right now. I think it’s great, and it’s going to help the kind of people to whom the ideas of blokeyness and straightness appeal. I look at that though and think I never wanted to be a ‘real man’ in the first place; that sort of stuff never really appealed to me. Therefore that vulnerability they’re trying to access using that paradigm of masculinity is not really going to affect someone like me, who wanted to be more of an alternative person anyway.

That approach reifies this divide between masculinity and femininity. What I’d like is to create a bridge between the great ideas that you see in feminism and the men who don’t see the value in those ideas or the value of the world that might create; a gender equal or at least gender reciprocal one. I’m hoping Homer can be that bridge. One of the great findings of masculinity studies is that men are much more likely to listen to stuff about gender equality from other men. You use men to get to men, and that’s where Homer fits.

What do you think are some of the shortcomings of the format you’ve chosen?
I think the first is to do with the format of the content I’m creating. I think dudes are very unlikely to engage with long-form written content – it’s not where they thrive online. They like photos and videos, to be very reductive and general about it – everyone likes photos and videos. At the moment, Homer is not creating that content, so I think it’s really important that we do.

Also, the kind of content we’re creating tends to attract people who are already working in progressive gender writing areas – meaning female feminists and queer writers. It’s really hard to get someone who would actually serve as a good straight male role model to write in that area. At the moment, to get the kind of content I want, I’m unconsciously creating a queer feminist space, and there are already heaps of those. If a straight man – that is, the kind of demographic I’m hoping to engage with Homer – ends up visiting the site, they’ll probably think there’s nothing there to drag them in. I don’t know how I’m going to get around that yet.

What impact has the creation of Homer had on your own personal life?
Stress! It’s really stressful trying to get something off the ground. When you add the fact that when you want to get anything off the ground, you’ve gotta be totally invested in social media which heightens your levels of stress, plus ‘new baby’ anxiety, it just means I’m constantly on it. It’s really in my head, which is hard when you’re a full-time uni student, looking for work and in a long-distance relationship.

That said, another large impact it’s had on me is that it’s inspired some unexpected conversations.

I’ve had a lot of men especially, who move in social circles proximate to me, just start conversations with me since Homer began. I’ve had a couple of submissions to the site because of it.

It’s been really helpful for me, with all my stress and anxiety, to know that the idea of this resonates with men.

What’s been your favourite part so far?
I think my favourite part so far was the first interview I did, with a guy named Andrew Levins. He’s a really interesting and wonderful man. He’s my age, so late 20s I think, and a married father of two. His day and night jobs consist of being a chef, a DJ, a podcaster, a charity non-profit co-founder, and a kind of geek extraordinaire. He defies genres, essentially. His social media presence and general persona is so warm and happy; he always looks incredibly loving. He’s short, a little bit chubby and round-faced, so he’s not the kind of guy you’d stick on the cover of GQ. But there’s something so incredibly charismatic and warm about him and I thought, you know, that’s a good role model for men.

He refuses to be stuck in a box, he makes his money his own way – he even defies my norms because he’s already a father of two and married, both things I’m fucking terrified of. He’s neither alternative nor mainstream, and very unaccustomed to talking about this kind of stuff, so he bumbled a lot and wanted to check what I’d written about him to make sure he’d gotten everything right. He was afraid he’d said something stupid or offensive. Which I think shows great thoughtfulness.

That was the most roundabout interview I’ve done for Homer because he was so unaccustomed to talking about this stuff. Ultimately, I think it was the most rewarding because throughout our conversation we both opened up to each other in unexpected ways. When the piece was published, the people around him, like his wife and sisters, were really positive and warm and open-hearted about it.

How are you feeling about the pieces that you’re getting, and is there something missing you’d really like to see?
I feel great about the pieces I’m getting. I did have one submission from a Men’s Rights Activist who, when I rejected the piece, called me a sexist bigot. Which, I dunno, that was fun. I actually enjoyed that on some level because it means that my site is reaching people like him.

I guess most of the submissions I’ve had are from men who are already aware of gender politics. I saw something on Facebook the other day that was like “In the wake of every woke dude there are ten broken feminists”. I think those are the guys that I deal with. They’re woke dudes who’ve become that way through contact with female feminists in most cases.

I’d like to hear from men who aren’t necessarily woke, or necessarily feminists – I don’t want to turn a judgmental light on those people, I want to know what makes them tick. Who they are, how they see themselves and what’s important to them and their sense of themselves as men.

I have no idea how to get that content. At the moment I’ve only had one submission that fits that criteria and that came about by random happenstance. I would really like to see more of that stuff because I think if it’s not on the site then, as I said earlier, the site’s not doing anything different.

How do you see Homer in the future? Do you think you’ll introduce new formats and concepts to the site?
Oh absolutely. I see Homer in the future becoming more multimedia focussed. I would love to have a web series, and as soon as this semester of uni work is over I’m going to start a podcast. I think those are much more digestible and relatable formats than the written word because you’re seeing and hearing people speak. Writing can obscure the reality of a person’s life because you don’t get a good sense of who they actually are – what they look like, how they speak, how they feel. So that’s where I see the site going – becoming a multimedia platform for this kind of stuff. I think if I keep turning out things like a literary journal, it’s not going to kick off in the way, and to the audience, I want it to.

Homer is always open for submissions, so if you have something to contribute to the conversation about masculinities or alternative male role models, regardless of your gender, head over to the submit page on the website.

Photographs by the ocularly talented Adam Thomas.