This blog has often always taken queer-feminist perspectives when deconstructing issues of gender and sexuality. I have always felt feminism has a useful lens in which to look at a variety of social issues. Feminist, especially those that take on a queer inclusive perspective, tend to be most helpful in empowering the marginalized and deconstructing social structures of power and privilege. When the discourse of feminism is used correctly it ultimately wishes to achieve a goal of egalitarianism where those oppressed are lifted up, and those that are privileged are sensitive and empathetic enough to allow those who are marginalized to share in their privileges. But I feel like a deconstruction of privilege and power and pointing out oppression is not enough to achieve a goal of equality and well-being for all. You can only spend so much time opening your wounds as someone oppressed by patriarchal, heteronormative, gender binary social power structures. I feel I have become increasingly aware of how debilitating being limited to this perspective of victimhood can be to my own well-being.
But one does have to change one’s relationship with masculinity if no other reason then moving beyond being a victim of one who has been oppressed by it. Masculinity is not inherently bad, when you spend enough time exploring the queerness inside of you, you eventually realize gender binary ideology is essentially the result of social conditioning and less an objective reality. It’s more sociology than biology. Sure there are certain common traits biological men and biological women tend to differ on like hormone levels and such, but there is so much exceptions to what those hormones imply about behavior and physical ability it’s not truly scientific to assume it’s all a solid correlative fact that biological sex can determine these things. I am a cisgendered male, but my gender role tends to be very androgynous not fully effeminate (though I can be a fabulous drag queen when I play around with make-up for fun) and not fully masculine (though I very clearly am a boy to most people and feel most comfortable being perceived that way). But I am very in touch with my emotions, I am not at all afraid to talk about my feelings and wear my sensitivity on my sleeve, I am more creative and artistic then I am physical. But I have a slight competitive side if we break out some video games, though I prefer the less gory ones in favor of the more fantasy role playing types. I simply am who I am, I have constructed a male identity based off what my birth certificate said I was at birth, but I have not fit the mold of what society says that “should” mean about my behaviors, interests, and ways I express myself. The more I have gotten to know other gay men even the quote “masculine” ones, the more I feel how we define masculinity and what it implies about someone has to change and the more I challenge my relationship and wounds with masculinity.
Perhaps its that I have dated more than my fair share of military men, and am currently in a romantic relationship with a navy man who does fit that typical “masculine” mold. But, this pattern of attraction often makes me revisit my wounds with my oppression with toxic masculinity, and seeing masculinity in a different light with the men that have shared intimacy with me. Have you ever seen a grown manly man cry, get insecure in a moment of uncertainty, express feelings that are raw and honest? We grow up as queer boys perceiving masculinity as this toxic thing that society expects us to be. To swallow our emotions and not put them on display and put on a show of dominance and strength. We perceive masculinity as cold and distant insensitivity, men that expect us to compete or be bullied for a show of weakness when we prefer art class over the football team in school. If you’ve been put down for being queer long before you’ve even accepted that about yourself, then you may know what I mean. For your own well-being you have to reject masculinity, and all that you perceive it to stand for to find comfort in being yourself and have enough self-esteem to survive defying a hetero-patriarchal mold.
Yet life had a funny way of putting a very masculine man in my life that likes sports, working in the military and lives a military life style, and defines himself as masculine. What makes him so different though is not only the fact we love each other, but he puts forward no effort to make me feel like I have to be anything other then what I am. He’s very loving and kind hearted, though he definitely has a tough and protector kind of exterior, it’s not at the expense of disempowering me or putting me in submissive position. If all masculine men were so comfortable in their masculinity I do not feel patriarchy would be a problem anymore. It’s been very healing for me falling in love with a masculine man whom I feel respected and loved by…because deep down I have been bullied, hurt, and oppressed by masculine men all my life. It’s made a lot of my emotional wounds come up for me to work through and heal, and realize when I am staying stuck in a victim mentality.
It’s made me perceive debates and discussions about power and privilege a bit differently. When a bunch of marginalized individuals get together, open up their wounds, and try to discuss how they have been oppressed there are times it can help raise awareness and reach a greater understanding and sensitivity (which I am all about) but there are times where we get caught in our victimhood and enable that mentality in each other to the point of no longer reaching egalitarianism or “social justice.” The only thing we achieve at this point is endless arguments about who is the bigger victim that ultimately gets nowhere because everyone in the discussion is marginalized in some way or another and feels their perspective is being dismissed or underrepresented. Maybe it’s the side of me that has fallen in love and found a sense of unity with someone who is the opposite of me on the surface, but I don’t feel this practice truly does anything to empower anyone, or help each other find well-being as queers. I hold this criticism to myself as well, as I have done this enabling of victimhood many times. I am only merely saying I am beginning to realize how toxic it can be when its coming from that place and I believe it to be unfortunately very common in the queer community especially when we try to have intersectional conversations.
I am beginning to see that masculinity itself is not a bad thing. Whatever happened to “being a good sport” where “being a man” meant things about integrity, fairness, respect, and virtues of character. When masculinity becomes about “dominance” and a social expectation to make others do and be something they don’t want to be and do…that’s when it’s a problem. Sometimes men do, do this. Why? Not because they fit a mold of what we call “masculine” but because they are taught to believe toxic things about what that is. They are taught to believe being a “man” is the opposite of “being a sissy” and that, that is a bad thing to be discouraged and put down. They are taught to believe “being a man” is a limitation of their emotional and artistic expression because that’s what women are supposed to do. In this heteronormative patriarchal gender binary we are all conditioned by, the man plays his role to be strong and dominant, the woman is the nurturer and both are expected to do activities that encourage these traits. But what if a man can play football and still like sculpting and painting while he writes a love poem for his lover, whilst winning an athletic championship on the weekend. While he is genuine as he shakes his opponents hand saying “good game.” As he goes home to his kids and holds them close while they cry about their boo-boo they just got playing in the yard, reassuring them that they are okay. That to me is a man very comfortable in his masculinity and that’s what masculinity could be.
Plus we ourselves as the non-masculine persons, enforce masculine stereotypes and toxic social constructions of them, when we hold that expectation of behavior to men we perceive to be masculine. If you don’t give masculine men a safe space to be themselves without the expectations for once…why would they be anything other then what they are expected to be? Playing that role has kept them safe all their lives since childhood and gives them the security of a social mobility that helps them achieve success. So when we assume all masculine men are the same, that anyone that expresses themselves in a masculine manor is automatically all the negative things we associate with it…we participate in keeping the social structure and its rigidness alive. Perhaps we need to heal our wounds with masculinity and redefine our understanding of it. To allow masculine men to be sensitive and give them opportunities to do things we typically consider “feminine” without gender shaming them or making them feel less of a man in doing so. To respect how they want to define themselves as athletes or physically oriented roles without assuming that means anything about who they are as a person and expecting them to conform to preconceptions about masculine behavior. So long as they learn not to compare themselves to feminine or what they perceive to be “less masculine guys” and learn to respect the diversity of how others express themselves too.
Masculinity doesn’t have to be about dominance, and unhealthy competition. It doesn’t have to imply a lack of emotional sensitivity and intelligence. The message any queer I think essentially wants to get across at the end of the day is that you can be whoever you want to be, and should have equal respects and opportunity in society. That includes masculine men, sure maybe they can’t personally relate to the perspective of someone that has been bullied for being gay all their life because they don’t fit masculine gender roles…but that doesn’t mean they are bad people, or that they lack the ability to be sensitive to that. Some men really can take off their blinders and have empathy for problems they’ve never faced if you give them a chance. Furthermore just because they don’t have your problems doesn’t mean you shouldn’t extend the same sensitivity you want from them when they try to express their feelings or problems.
There is a growing cultural war it seems in the gay community on issues of intersectionality, particularly between feminine gays and masculine ones. On one hand masculine men feel they are expected to be untrue to themselves to participate in the gay community, and are being judged for simply being masculine and wanting to hold a masculine identity. While non-masculine conforming guys feel they are being put down as a “everything that’s wrong with the gay community” statement by guys that are masculine and feel it’s necessary to compare themselves to gay stereotypes and put them down to qualify their sense of self. The reality is, we all just want to feel secure in our identities, and while plenty of motivational speakers and people like RuPaul want you to let go of the need of other people’s approval and just be yourself and “fuck them all.” I think this is the heart of the gay community’s real problem. We are all so victimized we feel a desperate need to inflate our gay identity in a way that makes us feel okay with ourselves and we do it by comparing ourselves (and often putting down) other expressions of gay we don’t want to be. I feel like if we truly had healthy self-esteem in our sense of self, we wouldn’t lift ourselves up by putting down other gay people we perceive to be different, we’d simply be who we are and feel no need to compare ourselves to others. From that basis we’d have a much healthier sense of community. Gay men need a sense of love too, and while we can’t live our lives being the victim of assholes that mistreat us and expect them to change to make us feel better…it would do a world of good for all of us if we all felt more supported and encouraged by each other.
Do you know why I don’t like RuPaul’s Drag race? I love drag queens, they are entertaining, have great stories, are creative as artists, and bring people together in our community. But RuPaul can be watched for hours on end and all you hear and see is criticisms, petty drama that’s completely unnecessary, and bitchiness being worshiped like it’s actually encouraged, with no compliments, no “good sportsmenship” and no community spirit that encourages the best in human traits. I’d prefer a football star who knows how to shake his opponents hand and say “good game,” then I would a queen that doesn’t know how to speak in any language except “shade” any day. Just as I would prefer the company of effeminate men that are more sensitive and in touch with their feelings then men that aren’t. Shade is not nice, why have we all as gay men adopted it as our birth rite? Because the world is mean to us and we want to be mean back? Isn’t that a little like that competitive, dominant, oppressive, toxic masculinity that has hurt us all, all our lives? Call me a fluff bunny, but humanity needs love, it needs kindness, it needs relationships that are affirming and supportive…are we providing that to each other as we worship “bitchcraft” and “shade” thrown back and forth on RuPaul. Maybe that’s the real reason we all struggle to find love, we don’t live from an open hearted place. As we send messages of “sometimes you gotta put bitches in their place” in memes on our facebook walls. A healthy ego is “I love myself and I don’t need validation, I am unique as an individual and have no need to compare myself to others to feel okay about that” an unhealthy ego is “Bitches be bitches and they can go fuck themselves because I am supreme.”
At some point we have to move beyond our victimhood, I seriously believe it’s been on of my biggest barriers to love in the romantic sense. I think it could vary well be the barrier for a lot of us. Because we all cope with it in different ways. We find ways to inflate our egos to boost our self-esteem and achieve a level of emotional independence that we feel protects us. Rather that’s a fierce drag personality, pride in getting those rock hard abs in the gym and being as sexy as an Andrew Christian model, achieving a level of intellectual language that makes you feel superior, and lifts you up over the others that can’t be nearly as good at your expression of gay as you. (Putting it that way sounds an awful lot like internalized homophobia no matter how you put it doesn’t it?) Maybe it’s the experience of loving someone that has made me soften up my heart a little bit and let my wounds bleed a little bit more exposed…but I know I had ways of trying to lift myself up. I always had a talent for academia and intellectualism around subjects I was passionate about and studied a lot in college. There is certainly nothing wrong with that…but when I felt threatened or victimized I immediately resorted to my debating skills and using an academic vocabulary to try and achieve intellectual superiority. I was good at winning arguments, especially one’s I had researched well. But I began to realize more and more even if my logic and reasoning was sound or I had a good point, underneath it all was a reactionary victim that took pleasure in the win, that said “take that you idiot!” We’d all be lying to ourselves if we didn’t have this inner victim inside of us…especially the intellectuals and activist…because we are really good at convincing ourselves through logic and reason that we are justified where we stand.
I think loving a masculine man, has ultimately been one of the best things that’s happened to me in a long time. It’s made me open my heart some more and feel vulnerable. There is not enough spaces for us to do that in our gay spaces, we are too busy with our foolish pride trying to protect the victim within to take a minute and let our foolish pride down and be in a heart space together. I am all for the sex positivity and encouraging people to have lots of GREAT, CONSENSUAL, SAFER sex. But maybe that saying I see so much going around in memes on facebooks is true “ever sense sex got easier to get, love got harder to find.” Not because hook-ups and casual sexuality is bad…but because its way to easy to get comfortable not actually having any emotional intimacy that hits a deep spiritual depth when you’re just gratifying yourself and moving on. “I feel good, instant gratification, move on…don’t pause in still waters that run deep, just keep going…” Not everyone hooking-up is that way, and I am not criticizing ethical sluthood, when it is indeed practiced in the right spirit of ethics and respect…but there are a lot of people that on a deep spiritual level are starved for something more intimate and deep then a one night stand. Many of those people I think need a better sense of self-esteem, not in the RuPaul definition, but in the being okay alone sense, not “needing” someone else to complete them. But when they get there they are ready for love on a much more mature and deeper level. To aspire to a higher level of well-being we must move beyond our victimhood, less we like to stay stuck in that place where there is problems in the world everywhere we look and no opportunities to grow even when they come knocking at our door and say “Hey I know your busy deconstructing the patriarchy, hetero-normative, gender binary, white supremacy, toxically sex negative rape culture….but I am here offering you some flowers and night out on the town because I think you are beautiful, brilliant, and cute…though I am a bit masculine, and all those things…I am offering you love just the way you are…”