Photography / Article by Toni Smailagic www.ToniSmailagic.com

Stop complimenting me on my “masculinity”!

Don’t think you’re doing me a favor by noticing my masculinity in order to appease to your heteronormative standards. To be clear, I’m not the most masculine man you’ll meet, by far — but that this compliment comes into play so often, I wanted to unload.

As a gay man, you have these stereotypical connotations attached to your existence as being extremely effeminate, loving fashion, shopping, and pop culture. Let me be clear now — THERE IS NOTHING WRONG WITH FEMININE GAY MEN.

My masculine traits were self-taught as a mode of survival. Going through elementary, middle, and high-school in the public education system in the south (all while growing up in a Bosnian household) — you have to assimilate to the environment to make day-to-day living feasible. Every day I was reminded of my overly dramatic hand-gestures, of the way I switched my hips as I walked, of the way I held my head, of the clothing choices I made, of the tone of my laugh. I had to fix each and every one of those things year by year. It’d be pointed out, and I would pick someone in school who epitomized “masculinity” and I would literally go home and practice each one of these qualities. It’s a mind-fuck and it wasn’t until a few years ago that I moved to NYC and started realizing what I did in my teenage years and start to unlearn these behaviors.

To date, I still haven’t gotten to the point where I’m comfortable in my own skin because I still care about how I’d be perceived in the street. The second you think you’re free in NYC, you hear “faggot” yelled across the street and that same high-school trigger comes back and I immediately code-switch to avoid torment. I reassess how I dress and how I walk and I find myself right back in the same place that mutilated my personality to begin with.

When I talk to my cisgendered friends, I’m very often complimented on my more masculine demeanor (in comparison to the stereotypes they expect) and the only way I can perceive this is “you’re not like the others, you’re more like us”. Fine — that makes you more comfortable for not having to confront something outside of your normal space, BUT I AM LIKE THE OTHERS. The same “queens” you make fun of or disassociate yourself with, are the the queens who never developed this personality disorder I have to live with.

Now that I’m back in Florida, I’m not as preoccupied with being extremely masculine — mainly due to the growth that comes with age. I share professional spaces with an older generation who’s either part of the LGBT community, or just don’t care due to the nature of our industry. Outside of those groups, I can be doing something as trivial as walking on the beach and I notice a group of men playing football, and IMMEDIATELY my breath tightens and I become hyper-aware of the way I’m walking or holding my hands. This personality disorder is something I’ll be dealing with for years to come and the blame falls into the laps of the straight communities that perceive femininity as a weakness. That cherish this hyper-masculine male role and further perpetuate western patriarchal standards.

I have the privilege of being able to adapt in different environments without immediately being spotted as a gay man — but just because someone else doesn’t, doesn’t mean they don’t deserve the same common decency and respect. Start noticing your behaviors and habits and ask yourself why femininity bothers you. I truly hope you do, before you’re teaching the next generation of kids to follow your footsteps that trampled my sanity.

(This specific article is for those outside of the LGBT community, specifically, as we have our own community problems to deal with when it comes to gender roles.)