Writer Jasmine Khan / Photographer Ryan Ridley
I haven’t been to The Moseley Hive on Alcester Road before, so I’m particularly excited for I FEEL YOU with Adjei Sun on this sunny Friday evening. ‘Masculinity and Mental Health’ is a broad, complex topic, and one I’ve got quite a bit of experience talking about. So, I’m curious as to whether Adjei’s curated discussion will avoid both the ‘poor men’ and ‘f*ck men’ narratives which are unhelpful in masc mental health spaces.
When I arrive at The Moseley Hive it’s packed. The events setup is open and clean but still intimate. There’s a plush blue sofa which matches a singing bowl and a director’s chair that I assume Adjei will soon occupy. There are plants dotted about the place, incense is burning and there are plenty of cushions plopped on the floor, as well as chairs for members of the audience.
DJ Exile Artisan is already playing an interesting mix of neo-soul and afrobeat loud enough that the constant enthusiastic chatter stays as background noise and I get a chance to soak up the ambience.
As Adjei takes a seat in the director’s chair he looks out at us, “This is a beautiful view and I’m really happy to be here” he says. The somewhat forward statement doesn’t feel forced or insincere, it puts me at ease. Next, he explains that I FEEL YOU is a community story-telling project that aims to unpack masculinity, mental health, and gender.
His co-host Mica leads on a short meditation as the sun starts to set. Afterwards Adjei echoes my sentiments exactly: “Thank you Mica, I really needed that.”
Their first guest is filmmaker and poet Atlas Azure, whose short film I Think I Died Last Night, is an abstract rollercoaster about serious loss and long-term emotional pain.
In the discussion that follows, Azure tells us about his grief after losing his parents, cousin, and experiencing a break-up. He explains the sense of isolation and hopelessness he felt quoting “I’d rather be a ghost than a zombie” from his film when prompted by Mica. Azure explains it is because at least ghosts are self-aware – zombies don’t even know they’re dead.
When Mica asks what Azure has learnt from the grieving process as a man, he responds wisely: “Everything is transient, but also not. I’ve learnt to be in touch with my emotions in a deeper way. I use my art to process my grief.”
Then Azure reiterates that, although he’s learnt things from the grieving process, nothing can prepare you for loss on such a scale, “you just go through it”. Azure also takes time to mention that fathers could be more present for their son’s emotions, that the media needs to show men being emotional, and finally that the biggest difficulty for men communicating their grief is “other men”.
The discussion is inspirationally frank as well as deeply moving. George, the first audience member to contribute to the discussion, explains that as a man he’s struggled for years to receive love because it’s seen as weak.
My womxn friends have been consistently present for loss in my life, and George’s comment prompts me to think about how men are often unable to reach out and left to their own devices when it comes to dealing with extreme loss.
Azure then performs some poetry alongside improvised keys by Vato. It’s a raw and heartbreaking experience as Azure’s poetry makes no attempt to hide the depth of his grief, Vato’s off the cuff melody matching his creative flow at every point.
One line really stands out to me: “I won’t have your second hand fear” – something to ruminate on for sure.
Azure leaves to rapturous applause and I’m sure I’m not the only one with tears in my eyes.
Next, there’s a group activity that means I have to talk about my feelings. Group therapy has never been my thing, but two people come and ask me for my sticker colour (which corresponds to a personal question we’re meant to discuss) and before I know it myself, artist Ollie and business student Melanie are talking about what makes us feel loved.
We’re all more honest than I expect and it’s kind of beautiful. When Adjei asks for our feedback, lots of audience members feel confident chiming in. It’s clear the space is non-judgemental and open to learning.
One man, whose name I don’t catch, talks deeply about fear and masculinity, how it manifests as bravado and a lack of giving and receiving love. Emotional intelligence is a practice, and it’s clear that because patriarchy labels emotions as fem, cis-men aren’t pushed to practice emotional intelligence. Which then manifests as a lack of empathy for themselves and people around them.
A few womxn in the room join the discussion, talking about the wider social impact of a lack of male empathy which includes harassment and not respecting peoples’ boundaries.
The next guest is psychotherapist Christie Samuels, a particularly insightful choice by Adjei. Samuels describes himself as a healer and stresses that the best way to listen to someone is “quietly”.
“Listening isn’t just with your ears,” says Samuels, “it’s sensing and feeling what’s in the gaps.”
Adjei asks Samuels what we would need to make a safe space for men and he’s a bit stumped. The question is put to the audience and a few people talk about the notion of ‘safer spaces’ and Azure jokingly adds “one without other men.” But we all agree it needs to be a space where men are allowed to communicate their feelings openly.
Adjei turns to Mica and asks her to introduce the next guest, “it’s you” she says, and we all chuckle. Adjei reads two poems and as he begins, his gentle tone and subtle intonations spread like a warm light filling the room. Adjei flow is confident and clear, and the imagery in his poems is relatable without being too obvious.
But what strikes me most is Adjei’s vulnerability, he clearly intends to practise all of the love, gratitude and openness he preaches.
The final act is a replacement because Isobel is sick, meaning Veronica and Ben have stepped up on short notice. Veronica has pure honey tones and a killer range. Her runs, culminating in heavenly high notes are delivered with ease as Ben plucks and strums his acoustic guitar.
After the set, Veronica switches it up and starts interviewing Adjei about his masculinity. He brings up the idea of developing masculinity which then becomes a group discussion. As the conversation darts back and forth between the responsibility men have for the impact of toxic masculinity on womxn, and accounting the way toxic masculinity negatively impacts cis and trans men, it rests on a somewhat useful conclusion.
Changing the culture of masculinity is not about womxn playing the role of teacher for fully grown adults. It starts with cis-men, but everyone needs to create a more nurturing culture for masculinity, one which jettisons the idea that men don’t cry, that boys don’t need hugs, and that ‘man-up’ is anything other than an inability for one person to engage with another person’s emotions.
I have a lot of anger towards masculinity. But as a non-binary person I’m also figuring out my place in it. This discussion leaves me with lots to think about particularly concerning how I nurture my masculine self, and the ways in which I should go about supporting positive masculinity in those around me.
Adjei rounds off the evening with a song called ‘Girl Your Worthy’ where he raps over an acoustic guitar accompanied by great RnB vocals. An audience member asks if we can sing the chorus a few times over at the end but replacing ‘girl you’re worthy’ with ‘boy you’re worthy’ to send some love to our lads in the room.
It sounds cheesy but I think it’s a real moment for all of us as we sing ‘boy you’re worthy’ to our hearts content at The Moseley Hive
Thank you Adjei, and thank you to everyone that night who vulnerably shared their true self so that I could have this opportunity to learn and grow. It’s definitely not what I usually do on a Friday night.
For more from Adjei Sun follow him on Instagram via www.instagram.com/adjeisun/
For more from The Moseley Hive go to: www.moseleytogether.org.uk/moseley-hive-activities