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Monday, August 17, 2015

MASCULINITY & GAY MEN



Gay men have an ambivalent attitude towards masculinity. The word comes up all the time in personal ads and profiles – you know, “masculine guy seeks same.” We often equate masculine with sexy. At the same time, many gay men privately worry they are somehow deficient in the manliness department, no matter how much time they spend at the gym.
So what is masculinity, anyway – a hairy chest and the ability to change the oil in your car yourself? Being congenitally unable to ask for directions when lost? Can you be “too masculine?” Is being a top somehow more masculine than being a bottom?
One of the ways homophobes misunderstand gay men is in assuming we secretly want to be women. Gay men sometimes respond with camp humor, calling one another “girl” or “she.” This is a funny way of defusing hate directed toward us, but it can cause us to become confused in relation to how we feel about being men.
Growing up, gay boys are sometimes taunted with words like “sissy,” that imply they are deficient in the masculinity department. Many of the images of gay men in the media are unmanly in way that’s supposed to be funny, though that is changing. Small wonder that one of the things that so upset the ‘phobes about Brokeback Mountain was the image of two virile men with their lips locked on one another.  More than one right wing critic has speculated that John Wayne must have been spinning in his grave.
What characteristics do you associate with the word masculine? It’s easy to over-generalize about gender roles, but it’s clear that some qualities are positive and some are negative. On the plus side, being masculine is often associated with strength and competence, as well as secondary sexual characteristics like big muscles and lots of body hair. On the negative side, manly men often seem over-aggressive, stubborn, close-minded…perhaps not too bright.
Since gay men are attracted to other men – duh – a certain amount of testosterone is inherently attractive to gay guys. A gay man is a man’s man! Not a problem unless we fetishize hyper-masculinity. Many of the qualities that lead us to see a man as manly may make him a great sexual fantasy, but a questionable candidate for a flesh-and-blood relationship. Successful relationships typically require an ability to empathize or support your partner when he needs it – qualities that are more often associated with women than lumberjacks or fighter pilots. Sometimes our first choice for a sweaty fantasy isn’t our best choice for a partner.
We gay men wound ourselves when we learn to think of masculinity as something that resides outside of our own selves when we see other men as masculine, but not our selves. This is more likely to happen when our view of masculinity has become too narrow and too focused on physical parts (the size of this or the amount of that). A broader sense of what it means to be a man can allow us to cultivate other masculine qualities in ourselves: the ability to take action, for instance, to master tasks that are important to us (regardless of whether that task is changing a tire or cooking a fabulous coq au vin), to pay at least as much attention to developing our inner strength as to inflating our pecs.
Men are sometimes advised to get in touch with their “inner feminine.” Maybe gay men need to get in touch with their “inner masculine” instead. Identifying those aspects of being a man we most value and then cultivate those parts of our selves can lead to a healthier and less distorted sense of our own masculinity.

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