Masculinity and its place in the LGBTQ+ community

4 min readFeb 18, 2020
Photo by Mick De Paola on Unsplash

In the LGBTQ+ community, particularly among gay men, masculinity is a tricky subject. On one hand, reconciling their masculinity with their sexuality is an ongoing struggle for many gay men, as their sexuality is often perceived to be at odds with traditional masculinity. On the other hand, being more effeminate, although extremely common among gay men, is seen as a negative personality trait and oftentimes masculinity is seen as an attractive and desirable trait in potential partners. Stranger still, traditional masculinity is often fetishised and emulated, despite gay men being chastised by heterosexual men for not possessing these qualities, and are often reminded that their sexuality barres them from ever being considered masculine. How can the gay community come to terms with its stance on masculinity, and what needs to change?

To start, it is important to explore why masculinity is perceived the way it is in the gay community by looking to history and the social contexts in which the community exists. For the purposes of this article, the gay community will be viewed through the lens of western society. In such society, men have held a higher social status than women for the entirety of modern history. This hierarchical social structure heavily based on gender resulted in strict gender roles being enforced, and as such certain traits were considered as inherently masculine or inherently feminine. Due to the higher status of men in society, it is only logical that masculine traits were seen as superior to feminine traits.

These traditional gender roles heavily influenced the dynamics of relationships. Masculinity was seen as dominant, controlling and authoritative, while femininity was seen as submissive, obedient and subordinate. This way of thinking has a noticeable legacy even in modern western society, with gender roles often existing in the form of unspoken rules that are perceived to be inherent to men and womens’ nature.

These concepts are inserted into the gay community as well, due to the heteronormative nature of western society and the suppression of homosexuality or queerness in general. Because of this, it is generally understood among gay men that individuals with more feminine traits are naturally submissive and those with masculine traits are naturally dominant. This leads to the same gender roles in heterosexual relationships being transplanted into a gay context, where relationship dynamics are often modelled -mainly subconsciously- on heterosexual relationships. This dichotomy has heavily influenced gay culture, resulting in new language in the form of slang terms being widely used to this day, mainly for the purposes of finding a partner with the most desirable traits based on the individual’s preferences.

While all of this is likely a natural result of a community having to exist and adapt within a heteronormative context, it doesn’t mean these structures and ideas should go unchallenged. In fact, as awareness of such topics grow, the community has a certain duty to challenge and break down these accepted structures, and bring nuanced ideas to our own community, particularly given the ongoing struggle to inform and educate non-LGBTQ+ society of their problematic aspects.

A major way this can be achieved is by addressing our own issues surrounding masculinity, whether it’s fetishising it, emulating toxic aspects of it, placing it at the top of social hierarchies, or treating those who lack it (in the traditional sense) as inherently inferior. While it is absolutely okay for one to be traditionally masculine or to be exclusively attracted to others who are, what’s not okay is to step on others because they’re not. A subtle but damaging way this occurs is often on dating apps, particularly the infamous Grindr, where phrases like ‘Masc4masc only, fems keep moving’ or ‘NO FEMS. I’m looking for a MAN, if I wanted a woman I’d date one’ are all too common.

At a more societal level, this can be seen in the overrepresentation of masculine-presenting gay men in queer representation, or the media’s portrayal of the ‘ideal gay’ archetype of a masculine gay man who never explicitly mentions his sexuality and emulates straight men in every way. Similarly, when feminine gay men are portrayed in media, they are often depicted as cheap stereotypes and are usually intended to serve as comic relief, often finding themselves at the butt of the joke.

These aspects of representation are damaging to the LGBTQ+ community in a number of ways. Firstly, creating an ‘ideal’ archetype of any minority is always harmful to those who are unable to live up to the prescribes ideals associated with it. It causes the dominant majority to place expectations on the community and come to accept the archetype as the norm, leading to the idea that those community members who diverge from it are ‘pushing the envelope’ or being ‘over the top’ when demanding equality or simply being themselves. Secondly, these ideals find their way into the gay community and are aggressively emulated. This can occur consciously or subconsciously- the former is often the case when members of the community are trying to be more accepted by mainstream society, and the latter usually happens as a natural result of heteronormative mainstream society being an inescapable aspect of living in the west.

It can be reasonably stated then, that gay men’s relationship with masculinity is largely linked to the desire for acceptance and equality. While gay men can’t be blamed for this in itself, they certainly can be blamed for the damage they do to those unable to meet ideals created from outside of our own community. As a community, it is time to shift our focus from trying to appease non-LGBTQ+ people who may never accept us fully, to creating meaningful acceptance amongst ourselves, and to our own standards. Only our sincere self-determination will help us progress as a community and overcome the problematic aspects of our thinking which have held us back for so long.