For eons two wicked forces have done battle over us all: masculinity and femininity.
Seriously, I can’t think of a single culture throughout history that doesn’t have hangups over gender. Queer culture is not excluded from this problem.
Gay and queer men’s masculinity is something I’m particularly fascinated and concerned by. As British writer Damian Barr describes, if you’ve done any digital-age dating, it’s something that has probably affected you:
“‘Masc only,’ ‘Str8 acting’ and ‘Not into camp.’ Strain your thumbs swiping Grindr, the gay dating app, and you’ll see a depressing amount of this prejudice. You’d think that, having been oppressed, we’d be more enlightened.”
Barr describes an instance of homophobic violence 10 years ago, when he was chased home by a group of young men. He talked with co-workers about the attack, and he found the reaction was similar to the victim-blaming and slut-shaming of women who are sexually harassed and assaulted.
The implication he found is that “men who refuse to perform masculinity and women who refuse to be corseted by femininity deserve to be punished. Much progress has been made in the decade since I last ran for my life but the twin forces of homophobia and misogyny are far from defeated. Now we have slut-shaming and the bullying to death of gay teens on social media. We have Emma Watson getting rape threats for speaking about feminism at the UN, and Women Against Feminism, and the rise of the straight-acting gay man — the most homophobic man there is.”
I can’t stress the importance of Barr’s argument, how interlinked the issues of homophobia and misogyny are, where the worst thing anyone can be is female or feminine. Especially in this instance, the “straight-acting” gay man is just a symptom of this age-old problem.
“There is a growing resistance to the straight-acting gay man,” Barr writes. “‘Masc’ is just another mask and the straight-acting gay man is just that — an actor. The bromosexual chooses his clothes as carefully as any drag queen; his mannerisms are as studied, his voice as carefully modulated. He is trying to pass. But so is the straight man. It’s just that over centuries all his careful nurturing has been naturalised. He is the norm but he is not natural.”