Wednesday, March 24, 2021

The Harm of “Masc4Masc”

From the moment we leave the womb, we are indoctrinated with ideas about what gender means. Real men don’t cry. They don’t ask for help. They don’t back down from a fight. Our culture teaches masculinity in ways both subtle and overt, through schoolyard taunts and gendered bathrooms. It carries over to sports, the gym, fraternities, and other male-only spaces. The result of this relentless social conditioning is that every gay man inherits an identity crisis: we must reconcile our sense of masculinity with our inability to conform to the world’s inherent enforced heterosexuality. While some resolve the conflict by rejecting gender norms altogether, a surprising number embrace the very customs they fall short of, striving to embody cultural notions of masculinity in how they speak, act, and dress. This is particularly true when it comes to dating.

In the gay community, a sexual premium is placed on masculinity, which puts pressure on gay men to be masculine. Dating (hook-up) apps often feature ads saying they are looking for “Masc4Masc” or describe themselves as “straight-acting.” More feminine-acting men are seen as less desirable sexual partners for these men. In one 2012 study about gay men’s attitudes toward masculinity, a majority of those surveyed said it was important not only for themselves to present as masculine but for their partners to look and act masculine as well. Other studies have found that gay men are more attracted to masculine-looking faces and muscular builds. The more masculine one rates oneself, the greater importance one places on masculinity in his partner.


I remember as a child being made fun of because I liked to play with the girls or that I walked with a swish or used my hands to talk. These were seen as feminine, but there was the unspoken belief that if others derided me for that behavior, I’d conform to the masculine ideal. I remember my father even made me play flag football during recess because that’s what all the other boys did, even though I hated it and felt uncomfortable playing football. He did not care. When I reached puberty, and my voice changed, it did not become very deep, and I was often made fun of for the way I talked. Other boys used to mock me with an over-effected gay voice. I spent most of my life in school trying to avoid being seen as feminine or gay. While some may dismiss the reverence of masculinity among gay men as “just a preference” or the ridicule of less than masculine men, both have been documented to have adverse mental health effects. Gay men who are more gender-nonconforming struggle more frequently with self-esteem and experience higher levels of depression and anxiety. Those who prize masculinity are more likely to be dissatisfied with their bodies, gestures, and voices.


A primary reason people in the LGBT community have more mental health issues is not only because they experience higher levels of marginalization from society at large but also because of the intense pressure to be, look, and act in a masculine way. However, there is also the larger issue of this social exclusion happening within the queer community itself. We’re judging and excluding one another because of perceived gender roles. Gay culture’s obsession with masculinity hurts both masculine and feminine men alike. Even gay men who endorse their own masculinity feel a degree of uncertainty about whether they are manly enough in the way others see them. There is a certain feeling that they will never be masculine enough.


While such feelings are most common earlier in the coming-out stages, masculine norms continue to affect gay men’s sense of self long after they’ve come out. Many gay men want to fit in and be seen as “normal,” not different. If you pay attention to gay social media personalities, you may notice that the strict division between masculine and feminine appears to be blurring. A majority of Millennials believe gender falls on a spectrum, and a survey from queer-rights organization GLAAD showed 12 percent of this generation identifies as gender non-conforming. Take, for example, the social media personality Tate Hoskins, who has grown in popularity by blurring the gender norms for young men by switching from an ultra-masculine country boy to a femme boy in a French maid outfit and cat ears. He’s taken a lot of flak for embracing a non-gender conforming attitude. Still, he continues to stay positive and have his message heard by his nearly 754K followers on TikTok and his close to 30K followers on Instagram. The following video has more than 2 million likes and has been viewed by many more:


this is the energy we’re taking into 2021 #lgbt #country #cowboy #newyearnewme #duetthis

♬ Hai phút hơn - marlene

Gay men know instinctually that that masculinity is fluid. Even the most “straight-acting” gay man can’t call everyone “bro” all the time. All gay men engage in code-switching, butching it up in a job interview but letting themselves “queen out” at the weekly Drag Race gathering. Much of this variation in behavior stems from a desire to avoid negative social repercussions from society at large, but gay men also tend to put on their straight faces to be more appealing to other gay men. As young people push the boundaries of gender, an increasing number of gay men feel comfortable questioning gay culture’s idolization of traditional masculinity—and the notion that desire is bound by it. It would take a whole new series of posts to discuss the gay obsession with straight men. In gay romance, you sometimes see the trope of the straight man who falls for a gay man either only to realize he was always gay or that he is gay for just one man. Then there is the genre of gay porn that uses gay for pay actors to get viewers or the gaybaiting of the bromosexual culture. Straight men can be a nice fantasy, but a diversity of gender norms (or lack thereof) can all be found within the gay community.


We should respect the diversity of the gay community more and quit looking outside our community for what is considered normal. Too many gay men only want a masculine, fit top with a large penis. Other gay men have an obsession with the myth of a six-pack gay (a straight man who will go gay after a six-pack of beer). It’s all unhealthy. And while some men exist out there who are very masculine, have a perfect body, and possess a huge dick, they are few and far between, and it’s an expectation that is found more often in porn than in real life. We need to look more for what is in a man’s heart than his outer appearance, whether that is his body, fashion sense, or mannerisms. 


Tomorrow, I will discuss how bottom shaming has hurt gay men throughout world history. 


Dave R said...

Your thesis needs some footnoting, otherwise this is an opinion based on perception rather then fact.

JiEL said...

I've been married for 22 years to a woman and divorced in 1999 to live my real identity as a gay man. To me, woman and man are different and in some ways complementary for most of the manking and as I dare say of most of the animals.

There are surely some social, cultural and religious influence how men and women are raised but at the base we are different in many ways.

To me, I don't ever be in love with a woman and what I'm looking for is to meet a «MAN» that acts like a «MAN» and as some, as you mentioned, can be more on the feminine side, REAL MEN are more attractive for me.

Sorry if I may be of some old school of thinking but the video you've shown here is just what I don't like. I'm not a closed mind and I know that there are some who are ambiguous about their own gender and I can respect it but that isn't what will be appealing to me.

Having been so many years with a woman and suppressing my sexual orientation for so many years did show me that any feminine gender acting or thinking is now something I'm fleeing of.

Yes, men can cry, have romantic heart etc. But to me men and women are as we say two different planets like Mars and Venus.

Joe said...

Dave R, this blog post, like the majority of my blog posts, is based on my own opinions, observations, and/or experiences. This post happens to be based on all three. The exception to this rule is my posts based on history, which come from years of research and study of history and historical methods.

Joe said...

JiEL, I too tend to be more attracted to more masculine and dominant men, but I also don’t dismiss someone because they don’t meet my masculine ideal. I do think it is more about what is in a person’s heart and soul than what we perceive is on the outside. As I said to Dave R, this post was based on my own opinions, observations, and experiences. I have never been one of the most masculine of men, so I have taken a hard look at what that says about who I am, who I’m attracted to, and what prejudices that may have instilled in me that I need to overcome.

VRCooper said...

Let me jump in here.

I am a 63-year-old gay man with all sorts of baggage. But all in all, I am a good person.

I grew up in the '60s and '70s. There was always the emphasis on being a "man" and fitting in. I was not really teased much in school. I do recall in gym class I was made fun of because I could not climb the rope. I had a guy pull me aside after class and show me how it was done. Oh!! I was now a pro and the chanters amazed. I was also pulled aside by my gym teacher and asked if I wanted to try out for track. In a nutshell, I was me being me.

What kind of men do I like. First of all, I like a man with a good heart. I am not into an effeminate type of person and I am not really into the hyper-masculine ones either. Just in-between. I had a partner for a short period that wore out his welcome. Everything was predicated on fitting in, being a man. The rules that I had to follow. He was ten years older than me. For instance, I could not sit next to him at a restaurant. I had to sit across from him. I could not drive him anywhere. He had to be behind the wheel. I could not pay for anything except bills. Once we were in Dillards, remember them, he went to the cologne department to try out some sample and I tagged along. The lady showed him a few and asked if his partner-me-wanted to try a few. He was livid but nice. I said no thank you and after we left the counter he went on for what seemed like hours. He wanted to know how she knew. I said honey, she works in retail. This grew tiresome and we ended the relationship. I am just me. A lot of straight guys knew I was gay because I did not act like a straight guy. Not effeminate but not straight eighter. We got along well. I was not a threat and I was not competition. I was the one to confide in. I was the one to treat you like a person. I even had straight guys be the first to pull me close and hug me. I had one guy who was as straight as they come who would always shake my hand like we're closing a business deal. I told him one day that we are friends, not business partners, we hug. He said ok. And never looked back. I had positive experiences in the Air Force as a gay man. I had one guy bang on my door. I opened the door and there he was bucked naked excepts for his tightly whities-what a body. He rushed in and asked me if I could teach him how to iron because he forget to send his uniform to the cleaners and he is due on the floor in a couple of hours. He said I always looked sharp in my uniform. I showed him the finer points of ironing. Another story of a guy hung like a horse. One day I was in his room and he was getting ready to go out on the prowl. He asked me how he looked. I said fine. Then I asked if he was wearing any underwear. Snake for days. He looked down and said no. I said you are going to scare someone with that thing. He pulled off his pants, put on a pair of underwear, put on his pants back on, and asked "How is that?" Much better I said. Yes, he knew I was gay. This is a straight man who would raid my closet/locker for a special shirt.

I could write a book. But all in all, I am just me. If you figure out I am gay, I am gay. If you are confused you are confused. If you ask I will tell.

All, I can say is don't change to fit in or get a man. Just be you.

Joe said...

VRCooper, most of my male friends have been straight men. One of my best male friends in grad school was a straight, skirt-chasing, frat boy (who happened to be hung like a horse). I was not completion in his pursuit of women, and he always encouraged me to flirt with men. We spent a lot of our free time together whether it was going to bars or watching West Wing or Grey's Anatomy, two of his favorite shows. His girlfriend (yes, he had a girlfriend and still pursued other women constantly), who was still in undergrad at his former school, found it very funny that his best friend in Mississippi was a gay man. But most of my friends have been straight women.

Like you, I don't usually go for very effeminate men, though I did go on a date with a drag queen once, and I have never dated a hyper masculine man. I did date an episcopal priest for a while, and he was often worried about appearances. However, I remained me. After high school and once I came out, I decided to just be me, though it took a while to get comfortable in my own skin. Nowadays, I don't worry about how I appear to others. Like you, I am just me. If someone figure out I am gay, then great, I don't have to come out as gay. If someone is confused, then they are confused. If someone asks, I will tell them I am gay.

I just want to be me. I was pressured to be someone I was not when I was younger, and I still hold a grudge against the people who pushed me to conform to a more masculine ideal. I spent far too much of my life worried if I was walking the wrong way, or if my voice was too gay. I was scared to death someone was going to call me gay, which happened often when I was growing up. I hated hearing people mock my voice in an over-effected effeminate voice.

I don't try to be something I am not anymore. I just want to be able to be me. If that means I call you honey or darlin', that's just me. I think that should be the lesson we teach girls and boys: don't try to be something you're not, just be you. And we should accept them for that.

Coop said...

Joe, thanks for saying what has to be said. I've tended to use "masculine" when talking about myself (and my ideal partner) because I thought it conveyed a general idea. Obviously, more communication leads any two people to learn more about one another.
But, I'm not trapped in any ideal/trope/category/etc.

I've often wondered if gay men decide that the identify as a certain type, then do their best to fit inside that label.

Cody said...

I am only attracted to masculine men and I am masculine myself. It is preference and I don't think I should feel bad about what I'm attracted to. I don't feel bad about preferring men over women, so I won't feel bad about preferring masc men over fem men. By definition, a gay man is a man who is attracted to men. I have never understood gay men who are attracted to men who act like women. But, I identify as an androphile more than I identify as gay, so don't mind me. :-)

Dave R said...

Then footnoting should be no problem for you. ;)

Joe said...

Thanks, Coop.I just think that we should not try to force gender norms on people. We should be allowed to be ourselves.

Joe said...

Cody, I was not trying to make anyone feel mad for who they are attracted to. While I love to see a beautiful man, as you might can tell by the pictures I use on my blog, I do try to look beyond how someone appears. A lot of that has to do with how I have been perceived throughout my own life, so I try not to judge others in the same way. I don't consider myself effeminate, nor do I consider myself very masculine. I am just me, and I think everyone should have to chance to be themselves without judgement from others because of gender stereotypes.

VRCooper said...


Thank you for your response.

Life is funny. And we agree, just be you. It appears today that gay men have a better time of it. There is more acceptance. I just don't want the young ones to forget the hard battles that were fought so they can be who they are.

One last story. I had a roommate in the Air Force that was straight. He would get flack from his buddies because he was bunking with me. He set them straight-so to speak. He stated, "what does it matter, I am not fucking him." He would get ready for boys' night out/date night and would come over all shy to my side of the room and ask he looked. One time I asked him if he was putting on a little weight. He said yes and that he had to lay off the beer. This was the same straight guy who would go on TDY-business trips-and bring me back little trinkets. Let's say it was something a gay man would love but you would never give to your straight buddies. I have his gifts to this day.

Good times.

Say no to toxic masculinity.


Cody said...

Joe, I don't disagree. Everyone should be able to be themselves and it's fine if I'm not attracted to them. I like men with beards, but I don't think every man should have a beard. I have always believed there is someone for everyone. To quote a country song by Miranda Lambert, "Ever since the beginning, to keep the world spinning, it takes all kinds of kinds." I'm looking forward to tomorrow's post. :-)

Joe said...

Cody, if you like men with beards, you’d love Vermont. I honestly think is the beard capital of the world. Nearly every man here has a beard. I personally don’t like men with beards. Yes can handle a very nicely trimmed short beard, but a beard is just not something I’ve ever found attractive. We all have our own tastes.

Nikki Hardin said...

Great post