On Masculinity

Let’s keep this gender expression thing going, yeah?

The definition of masculinity is VERY hard to pin down as one thing, probably because it runs on spectrums of gender identities and expressions, and deals with both appearance and personalities. However, in her book Dude, You’re A Fag C.J. Pascoe defines masculinity as “a multiplicity of gender practices (regardless of their content) enacted by men whose bodies are assumed to be biologically male” (6).

I know what you’re thinking. How could I go along with that as a nonbinary person who explains that she presents masculinely? Hold on. Pascoe goes on to explain masculinity as a discourse and how “placing sexuality at the center of analysis highlights the ‘routinely unquestioned heteronormative expectations’…assumptions that emerge when traditional normative gender boundaries are cross” (12-3).

That’s why we’re talking about it here.

Masculinity is a Socialization

I don’t need to cite that masculinity is a socialization, something society often pushes onto folks, especially young boys. As we’ll explore here, it is pushed onto different identities in different ways, but young boys are told to act tough, wear only certain colors/styles, not show emotion, etc. This is where Pascoe’s definition comes in, only looking at masculinity as a binary concept. As folks get older, they may question this socialization and whether they really want to conform or not.

Masculinity and Gender

Masculinity knows no gender. Anyone of any gender can present masculinely or have more masculine traits/attributes.

Masculine Expectations and Gender Identity

While masculinity runs all along the gender identity and expression spectrums, there are socialized expectations that often show up amongst different identities.

For example, trans folks who transition MTF or FTM are often pressured to either perform and present masculinity or let go of it. This may mean wearing different clothing, changing hair styles-cutting or growing hair, or asking folks to use more gender-affirming language like different pronouns.

Nonbinary or other genderqueer folks might feel they need to conform to the stereotypes for their identities. I’ve witnessed a pressure for nonbinary folks to be more androgynous or masculine of center, which in some way falls into the conversation of masculinity. As discussed in this article, this brings up the topic of whether “it’s possible to define masculinity without relating it to femininity” (Crofton). Just like the gender binary, femininity and masculinity exist in a binary and folks who don’t fit in that binary might have a hard time navigating that. For example, the picture above is me on my bike. It’s not a super feminine outfit, but my headphones are pink, typically associated with femininity.

 I think it’s important to remember that cisgender, straight folks can also be masculine, whether they’re queer or not.

 Masculinity and Sexuality

Compulsive Heterosexuality

Compulsive hetereosexuality is a complex discourse within gender and sociology. In short, it is the belief that everyone is straight and that straight relationships are superior to all others (Alcid). Pascoe argues that, “demonstrating dominance in a variety of ways is a central part of contemporary American masculinity” (quoted from Peirce 1995). Dominance is often a trait of masculinity, which is typically linked to men, as mentioned. The idea that heterosexuality is superior and the default makes some people question attractions to masculine women as the same as men, as if they are the same (Alcid).

Stereotyping Masculinity and Sexuality

Gay men are often stereotyped as being more feminine and not conforming to masculinity, both in gender expression but also attributes and actions. I think gay men have more stereotypes than queer women. Gay men are often seen as unmanly simply for the fact that they are gay, in our patriarchal society where being straight is the norm. You can read more about this here.

Masculinity is also a trait of lesbians. In Pascoe’s study of high school students, he was explained that the guys in the study were “cool with lesbians” which of course goes into “their place in heterosexual male fantasy…” (56). As I discussed here, there is a butch/femme dynamic in the lesbian and queer community that has been evolving overtime. Check out this photo project on the topic.

Toxic Masculinity

The concept of toxic masculinity can be hard to explain, probably because ambiguity of “what it means to be a man.” In relation to gender and sexuality, navigating what is “right” and “wrong” makes it even more complex. I’ve listed some links below to articles that I think explain it better than I feel I can.

The Danger of What Happens When Toxic Masculinity Fails Men

More Men Should Learn the Difference Between Masculinity and Toxic Masculinity

4 Things the Queer Folks in My Life Taught Me About Resisting Toxic Masculinity

Queer Men of Color and How They Manage Problems of Masculinity and Queer Prejudice 

I hope this taught you about masculinity. Stay tuned for On Feminity 🙂 Feel free to check out the sources and additional resources below! 

Sources and Mentioned Hyperlinks

Pascoe, C.J. Dude You’re A Fag: Masculinity and Sexuality in High School. University of California Press: Berkley and Los Angeles. 2012. Print.

Butler-Sims, D. The Gay Community’s Obsession With ‘Masculinity’ is Killing Us. Huffington Post. https://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/the-preoccupation-with-masculinity-is-ridiculous_us_593038d6e4b09e7836228f23

Alcid, S. Masculinity Doesn’t Belong to Any Gender and Other Reasons Why Sexuality Policing Does Not Work. The Body Is Not An Apology. https://thebodyisnotanapology.com/magazine/masculinity-doesnt-belong-to-any-gender-and-other-reasons-why-policing-sexuality-does-not-work/

Crofton, J. Is Masculinity A Lost Cause?: A Non-binary Person’s Thoughts on New Masculinity. The Body Is Not An Apology. https://thebodyisnotanapology.com/magazine/is-masculinity-a-lost-cause-thoughts-on-a-new-masculinity-from-a-non-binary-person/

Duff, M. Butch is Beautiful: Exploring Queer Masculinity, in Photos. Broadly. https://broadly.vice.com/en_us/article/nejbpg/butch-is-beautiful-exploring-female-masculinity-in-photos

Dr. Nerdlove. The Danger of What Happens When Toxic Masculinity Fails Men. Everyday Feminism. https://everydayfeminism.com/2016/05/when-masculinity-fails-men/

Douglass, R. More Men Should Learn The Difference Between Masculinity and Toxic Masculinity. Everyday Feminism. https://everydayfeminism.com/2017/08/masculinity-vs-toxic-masculinity/

Dylan F., S. 4 Things the Queer Folks in My Life Taught Me About Resisting Toxic Masculinity. Let’s Queer Things Up! https://letsqueerthingsup.com/2017/09/30/4-things-the-queer-folks-in-my-life-taught-me-about-resisting-toxic-masculinity/

Minio, L. Queer Men of Color and How They Manage Problems of Masculinity and Queer Prejudice. Medium. https://medium.com/lgbtq-american-history-for-the-people/queer-men-of-color-and-how-they-manage-problems-of-masculinity-and-queer-prejudice-f797b3bccfc4

Additional Resources

Gelfer, J. Queer Masculinity for Everyone. The Good Men Project. https://goodmenproject.com/featured-content/queer-masculinity-for-everyone-wcz/


Schneider, H. How I Navigate Masculinity As a Queer Fat Woman. Them. https://www.them.us/story/navigating-masculinity-as-a-fat-queer-woman

Cruz, C. Where Have All the Butch Dykes Gone? Them. https://www.them.us/story/butch-please

Caver, S. Behind Patriarchy Looms The Spectre of Tacky Lesbianism. Polyester Zine. http://polyesterzine.com/behind-patriarchy-looms-the-spectre-of-tacky-lesbianism/



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