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Modern manhood

Dynamic duo talks masculinity on spoken word tour

Perry “Vision” DiVirgilio and Kavindu “Kavi” Ade explore masculinity and vulnerability through spoken word performance.

Darryl Cobb

Perry “Vision” DiVirgilio and his partner in poetry education, Kavindu “Kavi” Ade, noticed similar discussions coming up again and again during their marathon practice sessions.

DiVirgilio is a large, tall, cisgendered heterosexual male, and Ade is a shorter, transgender, queer person. Their differences are their strength, which led to questions about masculinity: what it means, how it works, and how it shapes their own experiences in the world. “It caused really great conversations,” DiVirgilio said. “We thought we needed to really broaden this conversation.”

That conversation was broadened widely, with the pair taking their work on the road for the Mending Masculinity spoken word tour. Their program of poetry and conversation comes to the University of Tulsa’s Tyrrell Hall on Feb. 8.

The topic of masculinity has been in the national spotlight lately, most recently thanks to a viral ad from the shaving brand Gillette encouraging men to critically examine their behavior. “Toxic masculinity” has become a common term to describe the motor mechanism behind male violence and regressive ideas about gender, and many are now examining its effect on men and boys themselves. The American Psychological Association recently released guidelines to tackle the issue, saying that “traditional masculinity—marked by stoicism, competitiveness, dominance and aggression—is, on the whole, harmful,” leading to an increase in risky behavior like drug and alcohol abuse, as well as inadequate health care stemming from a reluctance to admit vulnerability.

DiVirgilio and Ade’s work with students through the Philadelphia Youth Poetry Movement and Brave New Voices connected them to discussions and challenges faced by students. But it also led to a realization: If students are having these conversations and doing the work to understand their world and each other, why weren’t other generations or groups having these discussions?

“If our young people are feeling this way … if they’re confused and have questions about this, we really need to take this on the road,” DiVirgilio said.

But even for the two friends, it took some learning, understanding, and—most importantly—listening. “For me, it’s been a lot about listening to Kavi’s narrative,” DiVirgilio said. “I’ve known Kavi since 2008. Watching Kavi’s evolution, hearing Kavi’s story, that’s been the biggest growing-up for me.”

Those conversations dug into the ideas of masculinity as we experience it today, its pressure on men to conform, and the effect on those who exist outside those confines. It led to a poem that DiVirgilio performs about street harassment, and it resonates with many who hear it. “I get a lot of feedback about that. A lot of people have talked about that,” he said. “In places I’m comfortable, my best friend is not. And I’m like, yo, the fight continues.”

The two have performed at more than 75 colleges and universities across the country. Their work includes a performance and often workshops and other interactive events, all meant to spark conversation about our world, the people in it, and how we can best interact with them. Since they’ve been taking Mending Masculinity on the road, DiVirgilio said they have seen more people open to having those difficult discussions and listening to those around them.

Those changes have come more with younger generations, and the duo still hopes to reach more men with the discussions. “They’re becoming comfortable with their emotions and their vulnerability,” DiVirgilio said about young men he’s encountered through their work. “There’s nothing more manly than being vulnerable, having the courage to be vulnerable.”

While the poetry and the discussions carry some weight, DiVirgilio said the program is not an uptight lecture or stiff presentation. They bring a dynamic quality and humor to their performance. “We talk about some heavy topics. But we’re super silly on stage,” he said. “We’re very honest and vulnerable. If you come in there with an open mind and an open heart … you’re going to have an amazing time.”

Mending Masculinity: Spoken Word Tour
Feb. 8., 7 p.m.
University of Tulsa - Tyrrell Hall