“Straight-acting seeks same,” “No femmes,” “Not into camp.”
You don’t have to scroll down very far to see phrases like these on gay hook-up apps such as Grindr or Hornet. They highlight a queasiness towards femininity that, as a camp man myself, I find insulting and concerning in equal measures.
It’s one of the reasons I wanted to devote the latest issue of Attitude to exploring how gay men feel about their masculinity. We started by commissioning a survey among our readers and, in less than four days, received an amazing 5,000 responses.
There were some troubling results.
The survey seems to suggest that the insecurity we feel about our masculinity is dividing the gay community and turning us against each other. Forty-one per cent of those who responded reported that being gay had made them feel less like a man at some point in their lives, which is worrying enough in itself.
But it may also partly explain the fact that the same number of people admitted to thinking effeminate gay men give the LGBT+ community a poor image or bad reputation. Comedians such as Graham Norton and Alan Carr have already spoken out about feeling femme-shamed by other gay men – and it appears they have grounds.
Matters are not helped when you see that 92 per cent of gay men said they still feel our masculinity is mocked by the mainstream media. I’m old enough to remember the likes of the closeted John Inman and Larry Grayson playing up their campness for laughs, while their catchphrases were used to taunt me in the school playground. Although stereotypes such as these are no longer considered acceptable and rarely found, clearly there’s still an issue with a more covert femme-shaming operating against us.
Another of the responses that struck me is the 71 per cent who said they’ve been turned off by signs of femininity in a man. It backs up the experience so many of us have had on hook-up apps or the dating scene. And it reflects the difficult relationship so many of us have with our masculinity.
But why should we let expectations about how we should look or act as men make us feel bad about ourselves?
Throughout history a traditional understanding of masculinity as strong, powerful and dominant has fuelled war, oppression and destruction. And you only have to look at the exploitation scandals of the past fortnight to see how it’s continuing to cause division and suffering.
Society’s understanding of what it means to be a man is constantly evolving and you only have to look at the mainstream media again to see how many straight men are struggling to adapt to their new role in society now that women are gradually inching towards equality.
We may be gay, bi or queer but we are also men. And I’d argue that the situation is worse for us, given that we are attracted to our own sex – so can project our desire for an idealised version of masculinity back onto ourselves. It’s not difficult to draw a straight line from this to feelings of insecurity, anxiety and worthlessness that all have the potential to be more intense for us than they are for heterosexual men. And if we believe the results of various studies conducted recently, this is indeed the case.
For me, the traditional understanding of masculinity is to blame. And I believe this is not only toxic but outdated. It originated during a time when the human race was much less civilised and it made sense to divide us into two distinct groups based on our reproductive functions. But the trans movement has taught us that gender is so much more than this. And as human beings, we are more than just our gender.
I’d love it if we could move away from an understanding of gender as binary and leave behind all expectations of how a man should behave. This would benefit us all, whatever our gender or sexuality.
After analysing the results of our survey, I stopped short of coming to any firm conclusions regarding exactly what masculinity is because that isn’t interesting – the whole point is to go beyond it. Instead, we at Attitude have hopefully opened up the issue to provoke thought and debate. If our readers are struggling with their own sense of masculinity, the aim is to make them feel reassured by what they read or at the very least, less alone. And if they don’t conform to the traditional “masc” image, it should make them realise that this doesn’t make them any lesser a human being.
And if the message gets through we might see less femme-shaming on social media or out in the real world. If that’s the case, I’ll be one very happy camp man.
Our brand new Masculinity issue is available to download and in shops now.
Matt Cain, Editor-in-Chief, Attitude