Queer Men of Color and How They Manage Problems of Masculinity and Queer Prejudice
This month, Steve Stephens was seen killing someone on Facebook Live as the country watched the murder take place. He stated that he started his violent outburst because of a woman who had rejected him. Many people blame mental illness for the sudden outburst of violence. However, many others see that Stephens was an example of a man influenced by toxic masculinity. Within this article, I will explain the origins of masculinity in Asian and Black communities. There is a history that goes along with hypermasculinity in Black communities, as well as different ways that queer Black men deal with the prejudice in their community. Queer Asian men have issues with masculinity, too, but the problems are much different. While queer Black men have problems with masculinity and not expressing themselves in healthy ways, queer Asian men have problems appearing too feminine and abnormal compared to Western standards of masculinity.
Asian and Black men both have to deal with being compared to White standards of masculinity. Asian men are seen as less masculine than White men or Black men because of the physical attributes that the “ideal” White man has. Some attributes of the ideal man according to Western standards would include lean muscles, broad shoulders, and a small waist. The ideal man may also be seen as athletic. Many Asians are not seen in sports related contexts and therefore seen as less masculine. In 2011, there were only 2.6% of Asian/Pacific Islander football players in college (1). Asian demasculinization can also be seen as desexualization for Asian men. The hypersexualized Black man contributes to their definition of masculinity. In an NPR interview with Mireille Miller-Young and Herbert Samuels, Miller-Young, a professor at the University of California, called the slave trade a “sexual economy.” She referenced Black people as “both breeders and concubines” and commodities that come with labor. There is an increased need to include sexual prowess and experience in masculinity. Samuels, a professor at LaGuardia Community College, claims that some Black men have accepted their stereotype as a sexual expert and do not look into who they are as an individual (2). These two extremes that have been appointed to Black and Asian men create boxes where, if they do not fit, they are deemed abnormal for their respective race.
Basic definitions should be explained before going any further. Elijah Ward cites a few key concepts for masculinity: domination over environment and relationships, interest in sports, independence, having a competitive nature, not showing emotions. This is why many people say that Steve Stephens was influenced by hypermasculinity: he thought that he deserved a response from a woman and when she did not respond, he did not know how to take the rejection. Hypermasculinty has been defined as “an exaggeration” on traditional masculinity. Since conceptions of masculinity go against queer people, in this case, queer men, and call for discrimination against them, there is a need to be straight to fit into the ideal image of a masculine man (3).
Elijah Ward’s article “Homophobia, Hypermasculinity, and the US Black Church” discusses the relationship between masculinity and Black communities and what it means for Black men. Black men are victims to hypermasculinity and its constricted sense of being. “Being cool” means exemplifying certain behaviors that emphasize certain aspects of masculinity, such as “toughness” and “emotionlessness.” The act of being cool in Black communities explains that feminine, dependent, or subordinate characteristics, characteristics that are associated with homosexuality, are not masculine. Therefore, gay stereotypes perpetuate what it means to be gay. Prejudiced individuals take the feminine stereotype of queer men and use it to make assumptions about queer men in general. These individuals are using feminine bodies as a way to police masculinity. Ward states that “homophobia” is used to define masculinity. A big part of Ward’s article deals with where this queer prejudice comes from. The Black church in the United States has been a center of culture for Black communities (4).
The Black church’s impact on Black men does not just influence queer Black men. Straight men who may not have displayed aggressive and confrontational characteristics may feel pressured to bring these traits out because of theological messages. Throughout his article, Ward mentions that these outwardly hypermasculine Black men use their aggressiveness as a way to cope with racism. Queer Black men with internalized homophobia have lower self-esteem and may lead them to not use protection and put themselves at risk for HIV (5). Ward does not fully go into how much men who have sex with men are at risk for HIV/AIDS. Oluwakemi Amola cites that “HIV-infected nondisclosing men who have sex with men” are more likely to have had sex with women and less likely to know their HIV status (6). This means that everyone is at risk for potentially contracting the virus. These men who were not aware also had higher internalized homophobia (7). The Trinity United Church of Christ openly discusses HIV/AIDS stigma, which helps reduce anti queer beliefs in the church (8). This increase in Black churches discussing Black queer life will hopefully bring an awareness and education to the communities that still have a hard time conceptualizing and normalizing queer bodies.
There is a similar way of thinking in Asian American communities. An article by Kyung-hee Choi, Chong-suk Han, and Kristopher Proctor called “We pretend like sexuality doesn’t exist: managing homophobia in Gaysian America,” explains the different ways that queer Asian American men handle the stigma of homosexuality. According to Choi’s informants, Asian queerness is associated with cross-dressing and other feminine characteristics. These openly gay men who cross-dress are associated with femininity. To act “less gay,” Asian men will avoid feminine clothes, choices, behaviors, etc. Historically, homosexuality was much more accepted in Asia than in Europe (9). In an article from the Chicago Tribune, Dr. Mark Chiang stated that after physical labor was no longer needed, early Asian Americans had to find different jobs. These jobs include laundry work and cooking, which “are seen as women’s work.” In the same article, Dr. Josphine Kim stated that early Asian immigrants were focused on helping the family survive and were not concerned with displaying typical masculinity (10).
Asian “devaluation” by White gay men was associated with depression and sexual risk behavior (11). These different forms of policed masculinity in relation to White men are detrimental to the psychological health of queer men of color. There is a stigma in both Black and Asian communities that there is more LGBTQ+ prejudice and discrimination than in White communities, but this is not the case. An informant from Choi’s study reveals that it was not until Europeans started communicating with Asian countries that homophobia started to become more prevalent (12).
Choi’s study cites passing, covering, and normalizing as three main ways that queer Asian men manage homophobia. Queer Asian men believe that simply not acting feminine was a way to pass as straight. Since being straight is the norm, simply not acting feminine as a man would allow you to pass. This is also why queer Asian men do not have a need to act more aggressive or tough. Covering means people know that you are gay and simply ignore it. Usually when one deals with covering, it means that a parental figure knows but does not discuss it at all. Many times gay Asian men do not come out so that their extended family does not know. In Asian culture, it is not normal to not marry and have children. It would lead to shame if there was an official “coming out.” In terms of normalization, Asian men who have sex with men bring awareness and a new education to those that are not familiar with the truth about their sexuality. They also try to “stigmatize those who stigmatize them.” One example includes the idea that Asian countries were always more accepting of queer people. This idea brings queer Asian men closer to their culture and pushes prejudiced Asians out (13).
In a more general study, Choi, among other researchers, found five strategies for managing stigma. These include concealment of sexuality, disassociation from social settings, dismissing stigmatization, drawing strength and comfort from outside sources, and direct confrontation (14). Black queer men stated they stayed in the closet for self-preservation. They viewed their sexuality as a personal part of themselves. By not being “out,” they simply viewed it as not sharing that part of them with others. Black men avoided social settings that were discriminatory based on race rather than sexuality. In terms of drawing strength, Black men cited members within the Black community to cope with racism, but did not mention any strategies for sexuality (15). For both Black and Asian men, direct confrontation was a tactic that had to be done.
The effects of toxic masculinity affect every race and every gender. Masculinity in itself is not a bad thing. Having a competitive nature or liking sports is not unhealthy. When it gets to the point that certain groups of people experience violence because they defy gender norms is when it becomes a problem. When women do not think they can say no to a man without fearing violence is when it becomes a problem. There are very few organizations that are actually working toward breaking down the falsehoods of masculinity. However, there are a few that have programs to educate people about the problems. One of those organizations is Brown University. Brown has a program called Unlearning Toxic Masculinity that has workshops, such as Masculinity 101, and publications, such as the Masculinity Storybook, aimed at re-educating students and creating spaces for men to talk about how they deal with conflict or emotion (16). Matt McGorry is also a very vocal celebrity who has talked about masculinity online and in conferences. A Fusion interview cited him as saying that Donald Trump was what toxic masculinity looks like and went on to explain how so (17).
With the limited amount of organizations and people talking about masculinity, those with this knowledge must go out and educate others who do not know about these issues. The issue of toxic masculinity is intersection: any race, any gender, any abled or disabled body, any person who has been socialized is subject to the consequences of it. The path to creating a society that does not have problems from masculinity is long one. Through re-education and research, people will be able to find a way to bring masculinity to the forefront of the feminist plans.
1. Lapchick, Richard. “The 2012 Racial and Gender Report Card: College Sport.” NCAA. July 10, 2013. https://www.ncaa.org/sites/default/files/Final%2B2012%2BCollege%2BRGRC.pdf.
2. “Sex Stereotypes of African Americans Have Long History.” NPR. May 07, 2007. Accessed April 24, 2017. http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=10057104.
3. Elijah G. Ward. “Homophobia, Hypermasculinity and the US Black Church.” Culture, Health & Sexuality 7, no. 5 (2005): 493–504. http://www.jstor.org/stable/4005477.
6. Amola, Oluwakemi, and Marc A. Grimmett. “Sexual identity, mental health, HIV risk behaviors, and internalized homophobia among black men who have sex with men.” Journal of Counseling and Development 93, no. 2 (2015): 236+. Expanded Academic ASAP. http://dbsearch.fredonia.edu:2048/login?url=http://go.galegroup.com.dbsearch.fredonia.edu:2048/ps/i.do?p=EAIM&sw=w&u=sunyfredonia&v=2.1&it=r&id=GALE%7CA408915739&sid=summon&asid=28140b5a5d7d82cf7fff50ef15673f6e.
8. Elijah G. Ward. “Homophobia, Hypermasculinity and the US Black Church.” Culture, Health & Sexuality 7, no. 5 (2005): 493–504. http://www.jstor.org/stable/4005477.
9. Han, Chong-suk, Kristopher Proctor, and Kyung-hee Choi. “We pretend like sexuality doesn’t exist: managing homophobia in Gaysian America.” The Journal of Men’s Studies 22, no. 1 (2014): 53+. Expanded Academic ASAP. http://dbsearch.fredonia.edu:2048/login?url=http://go.galegroup.com.dbsearch.fredonia.edu:2048/ps/i.do?p=EAIM&sw=w&u=sunyfredonia&v=2.1&it=r&id=GALE%7CA361943997&sid=summon&asid=e9256d2ab222f8f8393747316ddfc462.
10. Kim, Joanne Yj. “The perception of Asian dads and masculinity.” Chicagotribune.com. June 20, 2016. http://www.chicagotribune.com/lifestyles/sc-asian-dads-masculinity-family-0614-20160615-story.html.
11. Choi, Kyung-Hee, Chong-suk Han, Jay Paul, and George Ayala. 2011. “Strategies for Managing Racism and Homophobia among U.S. Ethnic and Racial Minority Men Who have Sex with Men.” AIDS Education and Prevention 23 (2): 145–58. doi:http://dx.doi.org/10.1521/aeap.2011.23.2.145. https://search.proquest.com/docview/863145869?accountid=28748.
12. Han, Chong-suk, Kristopher Proctor, and Kyung-hee Choi. “We pretend like sexuality doesn’t exist: managing homophobia in Gaysian America.” The Journal of Men’s Studies 22, no. 1 (2014): 53+. Expanded Academic ASAP. http://dbsearch.fredonia.edu:2048/login?url=http://go.galegroup.com.dbsearch.fredonia.edu:2048/ps/i.do?p=EAIM&sw=w&u=sunyfredonia&v=2.1&it=r&id=GALE%7CA361943997&sid=summon&asid=e9256d2ab222f8f8393747316ddfc462.
14. Choi, Kyung-Hee, Chong-suk Han, Jay Paul, and George Ayala. 2011. “Strategies for Managing Racism and Homophobia among U.S. Ethnic and Racial Minority Men Who have Sex with Men.” AIDS Education and Prevention 23 (2): 145–58. doi:http://dx.doi.org/10.1521/aeap.2011.23.2.145. https://search.proquest.com/docview/863145869?accountid=28748.
15. Han, Chong-suk, Kristopher Proctor, and Kyung-hee Choi. “We pretend like sexuality doesn’t exist: managing homophobia in Gaysian America.” The Journal of Men’s Studies 22, no. 1 (2014): 53+. Expanded Academic ASAP. http://dbsearch.fredonia.edu:2048/login?url=http://go.galegroup.com.dbsearch.fredonia.edu:2048/ps/i.do?p=EAIM&sw=w&u=sunyfredonia&v=2.1&it=r&id=GALE%7CA361943997&sid=summon&asid=e9256d2ab222f8f8393747316ddfc462.
16. “Brown University.” Unlearning Toxic Masculinity | Health Promotion | Brown University. https://www.brown.edu/campus-life/health/services/promotion/general-health-emotional-health-mens-health-sexual-assault-dating-violence-get-involved-prevention.
17. Aran, Isha. “I Went to See Matt McGorry Talk About Toxic Masculinity and Left With a Tote Full of Axe Products.” Fusion. April 24, 2017. http://fusion.net/i-went-to-see-matt-mcgorry-talk-about-toxic-masculinity-1794533577.