If you’ve been on any gay hook-up app for longer than three minutes, you’ve likely seen guys proclaiming themselves as “masculine” or “masc4masc” (that is, a masculine guy seeking another masculine guy). While “masculine” is certainly a far better term than the outdated and self-loathing term “straight-acting,” it also reinforces the idea that qualities like deep voices stoicism and athletic hobbies are inherently male and therefore more desirable than high voices and theatrical flair which are somehow “feminine” and less desirable.
Nevertheless, two recent articles have examined the “Masc4Masc” phenomenon and reached entirely different conclusions. Both are worth consideration.
In an article entitled, “Why ‘Masc4Masc’ Isn’t Necessarily Self-Hating And Anti-Gay,” author Jeremy Helligar says, “Many gay men still consciously and subconsciously equate gayness with femininity.” He then asks, “By publicly identifying as ‘masculine’ and seeking the same, is one somehow rejecting his own gayness?”
Only if you associate homosexuality with effeminacy, Helligar writes. But, he adds, gay culture has long exalted masculinity as a desirable gay trait: from Tom of Finland’s drawings of muscle-bound daddies to The Village People’s hairy chested biker and construction worker.
While Helligar finds fault with online phrases seeking “no fems,” “real men” and “men who act like men,” he says that guys seeking femme guys aren’t automatically labelled homophobic or problematic, so neither should Masc4Masc guys.
“We spend so much time and effort rallying against gay stereotypes, but aren’t we only reinforcing them when we suggest that to desire masculine men is to somehow be anti-gay? … There’s no one way to be gay. Some turn on the camp, while others overcompensate with hyper-masculinity.”
While Helligar has a point that many gay and bi men fall somewhere in the middle of stereotypically masculine and feminine behavior, he misses one very important point: We live in a sexist and patriarchal society that values men over women. So while seeking masculinity may not self-hating and anti-gay, it may be misogynist (anti-woman or anti-feminine).
This brings us to Ben Kawaller’s recent article “Want to Feign Being ‘Masc’? Try the Hat Trick!” Kawaller is a self-avowed “thirsty theatre queen” who got hit on by a “someone far better-looking than [he] deserved” after he dressed up as a baseball player on Halloween.
Ever since, he has realized that wearing a backwards baseball cap is an easy and surefire way to get more attention from attractive men and feel more “masculine.” He says, “When I’m wearing the cap, I feel I am slightly less mouthy, unwieldy and terrified of my surroundings.”
He wonders if all those guys seeking Masc4Masc are actually just living out a gay fantasy:
I’ve come to suspect, however, that many of the people explicitly seeking “masc” partners are really just looking for a little role-play — more specifically, a chance to enact the fantasy of landing one of the normal, sporty boys from our formative years. If you can only look the part, that can be enough to get your foot in the door. Once he lets you in it’s just a matter of saying very little until you’ve had your way with him; then you can let your hair down and talk Sondheim.
Kawaller suggests that femme guys who’ve felt excluded by Masc4Masc culture can simply wear masculinity on as a costume, snag the hot guy for a night (or maybe for life) and rest-assured that “You’ll still be the man you always were.”
While his advice is certainly subversive — how delightful to think that Masc4Masc guys are just overcompensating or trying to live out their “bromantic” fantasies — as Kurt Vonnegut Jr. once wrote, “We are what we pretend to be, so we must be careful about what we pretend to be.”
That is, while acting masculine to appease others, don’t start believing that your so-called “feminine qualities” need to be suppressed just to get what you want.
(Featured image by Photologue via iStock Photography)