Gay Shame, Internal Homophobia, and the Need to Redefine Masculinity

M is for masculinity.

As I’ve been watching, reading, and observing all different videos and articles about gay culture, one theme has really hit a cord with me, and it’s the idea of masculinity that plagues our community.

For a long time it was seen as desirable to be as “masculine” as possible, so that one could “pass.” The idea of passing as a straight man was widely considered to be a beneficial thing because it allowed you to be looked as “normal,” and not experience the discrimination and bullying that comes when one doesn’t “pass.”

However, while there are many problems with this notion from the very beginning, I understand why historically many men just wanted to get by. With that said, I find it incredibly disheartening to watch so many men today, especially on dating apps, be overtly discriminatory within the very community that they belong to.

I never passed, so I know the true hardships that come from standing out. I was gay to others before I even knew I was gay, and it wasn’t a friendly welcoming experience from those others, so I get it.

The idea that being more or hyper masculine equates to something more enticing for a large portion of our community speaks to a greater insecurity, and an internal-homophobia that still exists in a large way. As Alan Down explains in The Velvet Rage, “when we were denying that we were gay, we acted as if we were straight. ‘Acting as if’ meant that we had to split our lives into two parts: One part was the acceptable, public self. The other part was the secretive, darker self.” The idea of “splitting” is an especially damaging occurrence because as we grow older, and even after we come out as gay, we “continue to split off unacceptable parts of ourselves.”

Thus, anything that may feel like it isn’t masculine or heteronormative becomes something that many gay men still fear, and why there still is a huge divide within the gay community. Things like race, gender norms, ageism, body types, socioeconomic status, and a multitude of other things create a huge divide amongst a large group of men, who are all gay.

Yes, just because you’re gay doesn’t mean that you have to prescribe to a set way of being. In fact, I think that is part of the beauty in being gay. We get to challenge what's normal to be uniquely ourselves; however, when we start to divide ourselves into some sort of hierarchy based off of what is deemed more acceptable as men, a larger problem exists.

I think it’s incredibly important to further this conversation by looking at the definition of the word masculine. The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines masculine as, “having qualities appropriate to or usually associated with a man.” 

Where in this definition does it say anything about deep voices, super worked out bodies, and specific styles of grooming and dress? No where. 

Society has created an idea of what masculinity is supposed to be in order to put binary restrictions onto not just men, but also what women are supposed to be in comparison. Our consumer culture has further perpetuated this for hundreds of years in order for things to be neat and tidy, and sell us male targeted merchandise. Well, the world isn’t so neat and tidy, and as we’ve seen nothing has imploded yet.

To take this one step further, men, while being masculine, have been taught to be less expressive, less sensitive, and to hide their feelings. What this has to lead to is a large group of men that are mentally unhealthy, and unable to open up when they truly need to, gay and straight. The American Foundation for Suicide Prevention states that “men die by suicide 3.5 times more often than women,” which is heavily related to not taking care of one’s own mental health.

As men we’re taught to keep our bodies strong, but not our minds strong. We need to have a real discussion of how detrimental this truly is, and let it become a common practice for men, and women, to know that it’s beyond important to open up and share how you’re feeling.   

Furthermore, I think more gay men need to realize that coming out isn’t the answer to all your problems, it’s actually the very beginning to authentically addressing all the other real problems you carry in that expensive baggage that weighs so much. Let’s be serious, all the fabulous things in your life aren’t going to be able to overcompensate for the lack of self-love that sits on the very shallow surface. I know, I’ve been there.

The desire to pass in today’s world is still a very large complex for many gay men, but the thing is, whether you’re passing or not, you’re still a dude that likes dick, and that makes you gay. We need to start diversifying social cliques, interactions, and be more inclusive within our already discriminated against community.

I think we need to start defining masculinity, or what is thought of as more masculine, in terms of being a good human, being emotionally and mentally intelligent, and not being a tool. In my opinion a real man is someone who stands up for what they know to be the greater good, is accepting and loving to all people regardless of their differences, and doesn’t lead with their dick, but with their heart. 

As gay men we'll never fully pass because we aren’t straight. At the end of the day you may want to walk around in public like you’re some machismo dude who wants to sleep with every women, but the thing is, you still like dick. To be honest the more we acknowledge how amazing this difference makes all of us, the more likely we are to finally break down our own internal barriers, feelings of shame, notions of outdated masculinity, and start to see our community change for the better.

It’s time we let go of who we think we’re supposed to be based off of heteronormative ideals because those ideals don’t fit us, and if we're being completely truthful, those ideals don’t seem to be working out so well for our straight counterparts as well. Let’s show the world what real men look like, and finally let go of that excess baggage too many of us are carrying around.

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Posted on December 16, 2016 .