cover of boys weekend

Masculinity is a Crypto Cult: Mattie Lubchansky’s Boys Weekend

by | May 31, 2023

On December 19, 1896, in what may be the first documented case of a bachelor party gone wrong, New York cops on the hunt for licentious conduct raided a swanky restaurant on Fifth Avenue, interrupting the prenuptial revelry of showman P.T. Barnum’s grandson. The scandal and its legal fallout provided weeks of fodder for local reporters, and the New York Times, ever genteel, editorialized about “the repulsive trade of persons who want indecent dances with their dinner.”

Police repression and sneering press coverage? All because you wanted “one last night with the boyz”? Yikes!

One can imagine a counter-history in which straight men decided, reasonably, that a bachelor party was just not worth such a high price. Sadly, we aren’t living in that reality. Instead, the contemporary groom’s “final night of freedom” has metastasized into a ghoulish ritual that hangs like a grotesque tumor from the ass-cheek of matrimony, compelling men to perform unironic distillations of the worst things their fraternity brothers ever taught them about masculinity.

Now imagine if it was even worse!

Enter Boys Weekend, a new graphic novel from cartoonist Mattie Lubchansky, in which the stag weekend attains its final, malignant form and quite literally kills people. The story follows Sammie, an out transfemme, as they deal with the excruciating discomfort of being “best man” for a guy friend from college, while also trying to survive the tentacles of an eldritch abomination summoned by a sinister fraternal order of Silicon Valley weirdos. The premise is a personal dystopia for Sammie, though it’s not clear which situation — bachelor party or apocalypse — is more hellish, forcing readers to ask important questions like: Why do men wait until they’re on the brink of horrible flaming death before talking about their feelings?

Though Boys Weekend contains literal monsters, the antagonist and primary source of terror is male friendship. In the lead up to the party, Sammie comments that they’ll have to “go guy-mode” because, whether from carelessness, ignorance or malice, none of their old guy friends have accepted they are trans. These are men whose group chats are (unironically) titled things like “Beer Boys 4 Lyfe,” and casual performances of masculinity are constant. Some are innocuous, though annoying, like the redundant verbal reminders of mutual maleness; the conversations overflow with bro code honorifics like “dude” or “man” or “bud.” Other performances are openly misogynistic. Adam, the groom, is advised at one point to “hang on to [his] own time” and warned that his new wife will “steal [his] life.” Nothing like some “ball and chain” discourse to help bring the boys together, amiright?

Lubchansky is attentive to the way these little behaviors reinforce each other and generate a stultifying social miasma that clings to most interactions, smothering the possibility of genuine emotional connections. Sammie, on meeting their old college roommate — a man whose primary conversational mode consists of allusions to raunchy comedy flicks — tries asking an earnest, “How you doing?” He responds by deflecting: “You know. Kid, work, kid, work.” Sammie persists, trying to get beyond the surface, but their old roommate won’t (or can’t) show any vulnerability. His answer — “Haha, I dunno!” — lacks even the basic emotional literacy of a boilerplate response like “I’m good, how are you?”

At first, Sammie is treated as an enigma or peripheral curiosity, someone who thinks the role of best man includes “emotional support” — a suggestion treated as a joke by the men. But their presence increasingly becomes a threat to the stability of the bachelor party. When Sammie breaks from the group consensus around marriage and remarks that they actually like their wife, the men respond with hostile glares, and Sammie feels compelled to backtrack. Later, they suggest the group ditch a planned visit to a strip club in favor of a performance by the trans singer Princxss; this time, the men respond with mockery and a wave of misgendering. The more Sammie tries to assert their own identity, the more aggressively the men police the gender binary.

The comic’s dystopian, hyper-capitalist setting serves as a pressure cooker for this shitty behavior. The bachelor party unfolds in the fictional city of El Campo, a private seastead that advertises itself as “the premier party location in the entire South Atlantic Ocean.” There is no government, only corporations and terms of service, and no behavior is off limits. Are you cannibal-curious and eager to eat lab-grown, ethically sourced, fake human meat? You can in El Campo! Want to ingest liquid DMT while partying in a submarine? Go for it! Ever fantasized about going on a safari where you hunt a clone of yourself? There are no laws in international waters, baby!

There’s a clear irony to holding a rigidly gendered ritual in a libertarian metropolis where socio-political norms and moral scruples have been casually discarded. El Campo is a place where it’s acceptable to enslave and kill your own clone, but any minor deviations from cisgender norms are met with ridicule or bureaucratic hostility (as when Sammie’s identification is checked via an invasive blood test, and their “genetic profile reconstruction” registers as male). Though it’s a hyperbolic version of Las Vegas — the book’s cover features a nod to the city’s famous welcome sign — this hypocritical attitude toward freedom is more realism than satire. As Lubchansky explained in a recent interview with Luke O’Neil in Welcome to Hell World:

“Las Vegas is very overwhelming. This idea of a place that is hedonistic and anything goes, as long as you are in this very narrow set of heteronormative, cisgender, capitalist, American ideas. Anything outside of that is not tolerated, but as long as you are a red-blooded American man, anything goes baby.”

Boys Weekend simply takes the existing logic of “anything goes” and pushes hard, allowing its nightmarish implications to fully play out. For instance: El Campo is actually the staging ground for a cult that speaks in the byzantine techno-nonsense of crypto-enthusiasts and intends to awaken a demonic god slumbering beneath the ocean floor. (Still better than talking about feelings!)

Before this plan is revealed, the cabal slowly recruits members of the bachelor party, while Sammie grows more and more suspicious. Their wife urges them, throughout the book, to just talk to Adam, their best friend, about everything — gender stuff; how he won’t stand up for them in front of the other guys; the death cult blossoming in their midst. But when Sammie finally decides to tell him something is wrong, they discover he too has succumbed. Adam explains: “Loyal followers of Zo’Maal are going to be the only survivors when he devours the world and begins the earth’s Q4. Seemed like a smart play.” Maybe not all men want to destroy the planet, but that doesn’t mean they won’t go along with it.

This is the book’s central tragedy. Despite being a supposedly “nice” man, Adam still participates passively in Sammie’s humiliation and the end of the world; despite coming out, Sammie is still unable to tell Adam that they love him. Both are trapped by the prison of masculinity.

But “prison” is not quite the right metaphor. It’s more like toxic masculinity is a crypto pyramid scheme. The cis men on top only benefit if they can get everyone else to buy in and artificially boost this fake thing they’ve created. The book’s most revealing character, in this respect, is Erin, the only cis woman at the party. Sammie initially hopes that “another femme” will be in their corner, but Erin, far from being an ally, is even more cruel and rigid in her gender policing than the men. She hates that she’s been forced to “bow and scrape” in a male-dominated corporate world and turns that resentment on Sammie, while internalizing the destructive attitudes of the men who’ve forced her into subservience. “Who’s the fucking man!” Erin screams after successfully executing her own clone and telling Sammie they aren’t a woman. “Me, baby!” The girlboss turns out to be a violent enforcer of the patriarchy.

The crypto cult that men have built doesn’t seem sustainable, and maybe the grift will eventually collapse under its own weight. (The literal cult in Boys Weekend is ultimately undone by its members’ incompetence, who botch their climactic summoning ritual and take El Campo down with them.) But we don’t have to wait for that to happen. “If a world doesn’t hold anything for you? You can leave it behind,” Sammie tells Erin. “We can expect better for ourselves.” While Erin scorns this moment of vulnerability, perhaps men — and everyone else — can please listen to them.

Tynan Stewart is a freelance writer and critic living in Fort Worth, Texas. His writing has been published in Real Life Magazine, Undark, The Counter, and SOLRAD.