“If there was a book that had everything you needed to know about being a man, what questions would you want to have answered?”
-Keith, creator of The Pillow Talk Project

The Question that Started It All

While embarking on this journey for The Pillow Talk Project, the first question I asked myself was not only why I thought this was important, but what made me so special to take on such a lofty endeavor. I’d had many sleepless nights after first feeling the spark that inspired this idea nearly two years ago, but I still wasn’t convinced that I had anything special to say, or that I even knew how to say it.

After spending many days overwhelmed at the possibilities, I decided to simplify things to keep my sanity, which felt like it was slipping away with every passing hour. Instead of putting together a million questions, I vetted every question that ran through my mind until I stumbled upon the one that I felt could be the gateway to what I was trying to figure out.

One morning, I woke up and this question was the first thing that popped into my head:

“If there was a book that had everything you needed to know about being a man, what questions would you want to have answered?” I was speechless. I had no idea what the answer was to such a question, which is why I knew that’s where I had to start.

The more I thought about it, the more I realized that for so many years I’d hoped I would stumble across a book, an article, or something that would help me make sense of my own troubled relationship with manhood and masculinity. But I could never find anything. Either the texts were written in the early 90s and didn’t really feel like they applied or they played into the same stereotype that men are dogs that need to be trained and that they aren’t nearly as complex or complicated as women.

While reading through dozens of books, I began to realize that I couldn’t possibly be the only millennial or man who was thinking this. So, I used that essential question to develop a comprehensive list of questions across three topics, which would later become my treasured toolkit for over 150 hours of interviews to date.

So, what were some of the questions men wanted answers to? Here are my top 10:

1) How do we as men (regardless of sexual orientation) express love to each other in a society that thinks that very affection makes you less of a man?

2) How can we describe maleness in  a way that isn’t dismissive of femaleness (or people with no allegiance to one gender over another)?

3) When did it become okay for men not to be as vulnerable or sensitive  as women?

4) Does a male figure have to be present in order to teach a young male how to be a man?

5) Why is the focus of being a man more about your sexuality than your contributions to society?

6) How do I stop needing to be validated by things outside of myself?

7) How do I learn not to fear being happy?

8) When can you really call yourself a man and what characteristics qualify you for that classification?

9) How can I be emotional and masculine, simultaneously?

10) Why are society’s standards and representations so different for white men than black men?

With every interview, I continue to learn new ways of thinking about beauty, masculinity, and male desire (love, intimacy, relationships) from men all over the country. And because I first focused on finding the right question after admitting that I didn’t have any answers,  I’ve been able to approach nearly 100 men–and counting–from a place of curiosity.

To be honest, I don’t think I’ll ever find the perfect answers to even half of the questions these fearless men asked, but I’m excited to be a part of a movement and a tribe of men who are brave enough to ask. Armed with this curiosity, we’re sure to make a powerful impact that changes the lives of all men and women.

What questions would you like to add to this list? What question from above resonates the most with you?  Tell me in the comments section below, or feel free to take this quick, 7-minute survey.