When I first read that Attitude was carrying out a survey to look at masculinity within the gay community, it made me think about some of my own experiences. I’m aware that others around me perceive me as being “camp” or “effeminate”.
These words were banded around when I was growing up, before I even had the words to express who I was and embrace my differences. Then I came out and, perhaps naively, thought that I would be welcomed by a new community, where being camp was celebrated. Unfortunately, this simply was not the case.
More than 5,000 readers took part in the survey, with 71% stating that they would be turned off by a prospective partners if they showed any signs of femininity. This, coupled with the idea that effeminate gay men give the community “a bad name”, was a reminder of the institutionalised rejection of certain groups within the gay community – effeminate men being one of them.
It had taken me a long time to become comfortable in my own skin, but here was another reminder coming towards me like a knife, puncturing the bubble I had been happily inhabiting.
I had a very tangible perspective of what it meant to be “a man” when I was growing up. I attended an all-boys school in the north of England, and whilst it wasn’t all bad, I witnessed first-hand the toxic effects of masculinity.
During my time there, I saw friends suffering from depression, self-harming and contemplating suicide. They felt unable to talk about how they were feeling, because society had deemed it ‘unacceptable’ for them to open up. Others gave up studying Creative Arts, to focus their careers on more ‘male’ subjects like Maths and Sciences, only to find themselves hating every second of it.
This notion of masculinity also manifested itself into homophobia.
The only out gay guys I knew at school were all effeminate (myself included) and we were easily spotted amongst the crowd, given that we didn’t follow the socially imposed norms of masculinity. None of us changed the way we acted or attempted to fit the mould, despite the homophobia we encountered, and for that I will always be grateful. We showed each other that it was time to throw the rule book out of the window.
Today, the scars of masculinity are all too apparent. Phrases like “masc4masc” and “no femmes” litter hook-up and dating apps, further perpetuating the notion that being anything other than ‘masculine’ is reason for exclusion. We may have left the school gates, but the same attitudes engulf the dance floor in G-A-Y. Gay men excluding other gay men from a community – a so-called safe space for all – being influenced by the memories of who faced homophobia at school or in the workplace today.
Certain gay men are clinging to a false sense of security found amongst other masculine men, at the expense of their mental health, self-esteem and relationships with others men.
Masculinity is a socially constructed concept, which means that we as a society can change it. Living openly as gay and bisexual men, we are already pushing the boundaries of an archaic view of masculinity, but our work is far from over. The level of discrimination faced by gay and bisexual men that do not fit into the “masc” pigeonhole is something we should all be ashamed of. We all need to consider our language and behaviour towards others within our community – the consequences of current trends are damaging to say the least.
For anyone else who felt the results of this survey puncture their bubble, I felt it too. If you’ve ever wondered why some members of our community wish to outcast us, they simply feel threatened by our ability to re-write the rules. We’re paving a new path for men in society, so watch the “masc4masc” brigade tremble in our shadows.
We are igniting the conversation and changing attitudes, allowing those after us to express their sexuality and gender however they wish – we should be celebrating this, instead of fighting it.
Words: Hadley Stewart