So to recap, your sexual orientation is a part of your identity that you don't choose. However, you start to assign traits, negative or positive, to sexual identities as you come across them. For example, it's acceptable in the US to idolize the straight, white man, and you chiefly identify him as masculine. Shortly behind, as long as she's riding sidecar, would be the straight white woman who is identified most significantly as feminine. Race plays a huge part of identity, both personal and perceived, although I'm going to have to just acknowledge that and move along if I don't want to end up writing a novel.
Beyond the heteronormative, to borrow a buzz word, we can include a few different stereotypes we assign to other sexual orientations, though the list of recognized sexual orientations is growing. For the scope of this article, we're going to focus on the stereotypes of these first two mentioned, as well as the stereotype of gay men and women because of how they help highlight this issue as one of perception and not of inherent value.
To start off, here basic traits assigned to each, by default, in US Culture:
Straight Men are assigned the culturally appealing trait of being masculine.
Straight Women are assigned the culturally skewed and moderately negative, trait of being feminine.
Gay men are also assigned the culturally skewed, moderately negative trait of being feminine. They are also maligned as having "given up" or possibly "not achieving" true masculinity that's available in/to a straight man.
Finally, gay women are assigned the culturally appealing trait of being masculine, but they are maligned for being women who could never truly "achieve" masculinity, because masculinity is again, only available to/part of a straight man.
Okay, American Culture, so you assign some traits to each persona (which is now my shorthand for identity/orientation), and there's certainly more we could add. Right now, we're only focusing on those pertaining to masculine and feminine.
So what is it about masculinity that our culture considers appealing, and why is it only available to one out of four personas listed, regardless of gender or orientation?
Masculinity and femininity are complicated vocabulary; we don't necessarily know what these words mean when we say them, let alone when someone else does. They apply to us, but we don't always know how, or for that matter why. Why would being confident make me appear masculine, why was my friend's emotional sensitivity considered effeminate? Those are interpretations of exhibited traits, which is exactly the reason why masculinity and femininity, unlike gender identity or sexual orientation, are mostly (but not entirely) cultural constructs. They primarily exist because of comparison and observation; Particularly, observation of how heterosexuals successfully attract one another.
The fact that masculinity and femininity are portrayals of heterosexual attraction helps frame why the possession and distribution of the idea of masculinity can be so oppressive, why it's so exclusive and sadly, why it's effective as cultural dogma.
I want to stress that there is nothing bad or wrong with masculinity; far from it. In order to work my way back to that point, there's a little shit talking that I need to do in the form of a history lesson: the rise of the Patriarchy.
Here's the short version: Patriarchy arose with the development of agricultural domesticating animals, and by proxy, owning territory that needed to be defended. Societies that remained hunter-gatherer based were typically more egalitarian, matriarchal in some cases. Ancient Greece went a long way into establishing patriarchy, with philosophers like Aristotle making such bullshit assumptions as women having "colder blood" which is why they couldn't "become men".
This wasn't strictly true across all civilizations, but there's far more examples than exceptions, and for the most part there's some level of subordination to the woman's role.
So what was a woman's place in a stationary, agricultural society? Child rearing, making babies that could help do farm work and defend the land, not to mention being bought and sold via marriage in order to establish treaties and merge family wealth. In order to buy and sell members of your species, you'd have to believe they're not as worthy as you, and so, long, long ago, before any one who reads this got close to being born, humans developed attitudes that females and things that are attributed to females are worth less. Because they were worth less as individuals, it made someone worth more to have many of them as property. Think of the early view of women as the pawns no the chess board. Only that one that might make it across and become queen would be of real value. The rest were sacrificial, literally or figuratively.
This isn't a comfortable truth, nor is it one men should feel responsible for: a lot of your traceable ancestry wasn't around while this was happening. This was very, very early in human civilization, and perpetuated with a lot of momentum until a few short lifetimes ago. Without learning this kind of history, however, we can't really do anything constructive about its effects in the present, never mind the "doomed to repeat it" thing.
So, here's my best guess as to where the ancient kernel of this dilemma arises :We're still working with an archaic framework for what defines masculinity: typically, a virile man who can attract the best mate, who will make the most and best offspring, offspring who can help him maintain his territory and possibly take more territory from other, weaker men.
As you might have noticed, the world we live in looks nothing like the ancient world where this idea developed. Does that mean that in modern society there is no masculinity? Before you can even look at that question, we have to start smaller : What is masculinity?
To be honest, I don't know if I could define, or find any one person who could definitely tell you, what masculinity "is": We could only maintain a list of things that are masculine.
Beards. Strength. Cars. Aggression. Fitness. Math. Video Games. Fathers. Confidence. Bearskin Rugs. Guns. Mustaches. Anger. Suits. Decisiveness. Wood Pipes. Whiskey. Ambition. Lumber, probably.
Wieners? Usually, but not always.
Even stupidity could be considered something of a masculine trait. In the media, it's usually used as an Achilles heel to exonerate or explain undesirable side effects (such as misjudging one's confidence) of characteristics that are still only attributed to men. Any word that "masculine" applies to should be a word that can be put in front of the word "man" and still give the same impression: Confident Man, Bearded Man, Strong Man, all similar in how they conjure our mental image.
(Wiener Man? Again, not really.)
Search the internet and you'll find a pretty expansive scope as to what manliness or masculinity is. There's a lot of scholarly papers written on the topic, the ever popular "Art of Manliness" franchise and let's not forget the myriad of men's magazines to help define it for you.
The simplest definition is in the dictionary, where the word masculine is defined as "pertaining to the characteristics of men."
What makes this adjective so troubling is that we use it like it's effectively tangible, and distributed exclusively to some people, as in men, and they must pertain to all men. Why do these qualities only pertain to men and not women? For that matter, do they really pertain to all men? We can easily establish that not all men share the same characteristics, but how does that make them any different in terms of being a man?
Those questions are frustrating enough, but the frustration could only be amplified given that we've never really toned down the importance of "being a man" since the days where that meant you had the most oxen or could wrestle a bear off of your pregnant wife.
At one point in time, your survival, your social status, and your family's well being was directly related to how good of a provider you were. How good of a provider you were was not only a trait of masculinity, but it was considered a result of it, as well. As the social climate progresses and we learn more about one another, including the diversity of sexual and gender identities, the idea of masculinity continues to play a huge role, but nobody has a fucking clue what that role actually is.
We developed cultural masculinity; ideals based off of our social values of being a man, that often have little to do with the actual qualities of being a man. We're taught these when we're very young and they're reinforced for the rest of our life. Our only reprieve is by meeting people who don't fit the mold that trigger some further understanding or acceptance.
American culture has further tailored the quality of masculinity as something ascribed to people in power, possibly because that's partially where the ideas originated. Today, power comes in different forms: money, success, and in this model, sexual prowess. Additionally, it's often preached (religiously or by social norms) to the middle class that "success" involves having a family, settling down, getting your own house, etc. Lifestyles that deviate from this idea of success are often viewed as also deviating from the qualities of that success, such as masculinity.
In order to keep it in the hands of the powerful, we've had to adjust the relevance of the word; masculinity can't apply to men who don't uphold the adapted power structure, nor can the favorable traits that are identified as masculine be considered inherent to the women who challenge it.
So, to challenge men who don't fit the social structure by claiming they lack masculinity, and therefore must be homosexual, goes back to those outdated power structures that are slowly cracking. A man who isn't masculine, who doesn't fit the stereotype that would lead them to the current patriarchal power model, must therefore either be sexually unfit, or gay (a social status which is still fighting for equality, and which is still considered by some groups of people to be a form of sexual deviancy).
If you don't think you're gay, and at the very least hope you're not sexually unfit, but you lack the prescribed traits of masculinity assigned by our culture, you're forced to make some very difficult judgment calls. Without doing anything besides having your personality, you're forced to figure out what kind of person you are, and how you fit into society as a whole, because you aren't the kind of man that culture dictates you should be. It's no wonder my male friends struggled with this for so long and felt frustrated and isolated; it took me hours to come up with that sentence and I only kind of think it makes sense.
Is that a fucked up social perspective? Sure is. Is the solution to stop putting such an elaborate cultural emphasis on masculinity? Yes and no; it's not that simple. First off, it's still not clear what our collective definition of masculinity even is. And again, there's nothing wrong with or bad about being masculine, and it shouldn't be discouraged in people who exhibit it in the traditional sense. The problem lies in the level of pressure we put on men to live up to what's ultimately an arbitrary definition of who they should be, and offering no alternative or recognition of diversity. That's idiotic.
Factor in a discouragement of diversity and the frequent lack of positive male role models a lot of my generation has, and you're left with confused, angry men who feel like they should hate themselves more than they actually do, but don't understand why. There's a million ways that kind of anomie can become dangerous.
Also, there's no point in celebrating femininity at the risk of snuffing masculinity out in some reverse chauvinism. This is usually the fear of people who have had poor introductions to feminism at large, and ironically could be argued would be by women exhibiting "masculine traits" such as confidence or aggression, in the name of feminism.
So far, we've established three things:
1. Sexuality and Masculinity (or femininity) aren't concurrent.
2. As a culture, we still overly value the idea of masculinity due to completely outdated social constructs.
3. Because we've changed so much as a society, we're pretty fuzzy on what that idea that we value so highly actually is.
Now that that's established, we have a new question: How is a person going to attain that social value if he doesn't know what it is? Essentially, how does a boy become a man?
Admittedly I could have titled this overall article better, but I chose the title because of its incendiary nature. There will be more on that in a later section; why we use "gay" as a derogatory term has a bit to do with why my friends have been struggling with their identity, as well.
First things first, there's a big difference between people I've met who are attracted to the same sex and people who ideologically believe they're supposed to because "that's their personality". I don't think there's something "wrong" with either person. That being said, these also entirely different struggles with identity.
If you're gay, I imagine your struggle is with feelings of attraction that you're told are unnatural or not okay; this might be in combination with a lack of feelings that you're told are expected or normal.
I say imagine because I don't have a ton of gay friends, the ones I do have pretty much solidified who they are and feel empowered by their sexuality. No homosexual, in my limited, anecdotal circle, thinks there's a problem with the fact they're gay. The people this article is written about not only think they might be gay, but they also seem somewhat opposed to it. They're struggling with how their personality makes them into someone gay or why that's expected of them, and their internal identity doesn't match that imposed sense of self.
To my knowledge science hasn't exactly nailed down the gay gene (and never had, that was an oversimplification of a study finding a genetic marker more common in gay men). Rather, there's a plethora of genetic factors, possibly including epigenetic factors for both you and your parents, as possible sources. There's also a lot of evidence that homosexuality isn't some "evolutionary misstep", as some people try to claim when arguing for the impairment of reproduction. Evolutionary biology (or psychology) isn't even close to as black and white as "If it helps us eat more food or make more kids, it's evolutionary success." The short version : Science agrees that it's complicated, and not something you simply decide on.
And it's precisely the idea that you can decide your sexuality that starts making people uncomfortable, and creates bizarre social controls that encourage you to make the "right choice". Being gay is part of who you are, as is any other orientation, but that doesn't mean it exclusively governs all aspects of your personality--and not every trait that's culturally considered homosexual is a link to that orientation, or vice versa.
Wrestling with feelings about your sexual orientation implies that you've had some kind of feeling or experience that relates to the people you desire to be close to, bond with and have sex with. For the people I'm talking about, those feelings don't exist at all or are primarily heterosexual. Attraction becomes an intellectualized process that makes it difficult for the individual to feel connected to their own desires for intimacy, and Intimacy is complicated enough without the fear that you're doing it the wrong way for yourself/with the wrong person.
The guys I talked to often admitted they'd flirted with or kissed men, or engaged in anal sex with women, other things that tested their belief that they might be gay. Most usually found actual homosexual contact to be more conflicting if not a total let down, but continued to have incredibly strained relationships with women in ways that still fostered doubts about their orientation.
I think the starting point of sexual maturation for your body is different for everyone, and whether you do or don't get hormonal signals about your identity, you'll invariably be bombarded with cultural messages about who you're supposed to be, how you're supposed to feel and what that's supposed to look like.
The problem with a lot of these social constructs is that they're generalizations, and they don't allow for the complexity and fluidity of human nature. It makes no account for the neck tattooed construction worker who picks up a couple of beers for him and his boyfriend after they get off work, or an ascot wearing interior decorator who goes home to his wife and three children and teaches his son how to play football or build an engine from scratch. At most, these people become the butt of a satire about gender roles without any recognition of the fact that they're just a different example of being human. Socially, we group deviations from accepted gender norms in the same category as deviations from heterosexuality, which is, well, dumb. It also further highlights discrepancies in how we idealize being human based on sexuality, as well as what roles we assume people have or worse, deserve based on it.
Orientation is just a fraction of your identity, and the amount of emphasis it holds varies from person to person. For some, their sexuality is a point of pride and for others it's just background noise. Sex sells, and appealing to a person's libido is a quick way to get a point across, positively or negatively. As a culture, we develop strong cues as to "negative" and positive" markers for sexuality because we're fed so much of it, early, whether we know it or not.
Many, then, begin to tailor their personality based on what they think makes them attractive to their desired partner, or at least mimic what they believe is desirable. When you learn that the things that make you "unattractive" to your desired mates are also the things that are anchors of your identity, and furthermore those also make you attractive to a different mate, there's undoubtedly going to be some internal conflict. Luckily, the further along you get in your life, the more you'll learn to balance the perfection of your mating call with who you most enjoy being as a person. In theory, it's the way you level that out attracts "the right person", AKA that statistical anomaly of "the one" we all seem to be searching for.
This leads us to the next problem: Your orientation is something wired into you, whether you're a lumberjack or an aspiring ballet dancer. Your view of a lumberjack or ballet dancer's orientation is based off of cultural values that you learn and internalize as you grow up and interact with people. Which takes us further through this intellectual corn maze...-->>
I'm amazed at how many things we hide from the people in our lives for fear that we'd be judged, completely unaware that these are things we'd have in common. In this case, this isn't my struggle that I'm writing about, but it's one that's been divulged to me multiple times by multiple people, and at this point I'm just shocked no one has thought of mentioning it to another one of their peers. The conclusions they drew, how the individuals were shaped from their experience and their overall opinions vary, but the root experience, which I promise I'll get to in a moment, was the same. It's also one they generally felt *very* uncomfortable sharing.
Since this isn't something I ever dealt with, let me preface this with the closest experience I have. While I was in late elementary school, I thought I might be a lesbian. I had no concept of sexuality at this point; I hadn't developed feelings for either sex and I wouldn't have had a clue what to do about it if I had. I thought I was a lesbian because I wanted to be a writer, I didn't wear girly clothes or makeup, and I preferred dogs to dolls. Based on what I learned from my peers, TV and whatever other sources of social control I had, these things would mean that I'd grow up to like women.
Again, I didn't even really know or understand what it would involve to "like" a girl or a boy, at this point. I was developing my assumption of sexual orientation strictly because of what kind of attributes and gender role was assigned to it.
Thinking I'd be a lesbian wasn't an opinion I expressed out loud because it seemed like a moot point. Firstly I was too young to be attracted to anybody. Secondly, even at that age and despite having a pretty conservative upbringing, I didn't think I'd have a choice. I like what I liked, and if that meant I'd end up liking women, I didn't see the point in trying to be somebody else for the sake of being straight.
I didn't look for women to be attracted to, either. Most of my preteen and teenage years lacked development of sexual desire. The reasons for that are pretty complex, but for brevity's sake, I can say that I didn't really feel attraction in any understandable form until I was 16, and I wouldn't do much about it with anyone until I was in college a year later. I just didn't understand how it worked, and at the time, I didn't place a lot of importance on it. Maybe I figured that the "right person" would be the one I'd work it out with, so I didn't have to worry about it.
Eventually, when I started getting crushes on boys, I didn't feel conflicted about it; and I certainly didn't feel like I was forcing myself to. It felt normal. I experimented with girls a little in my early 20s, but this had a lot more to do with problems I had in my relationship at the time. I was drinking a lot at that point, too. I don't devalue those experiences, but they didn't influence or change my orientation, and I didn't do them because I had questions about my sexuality.
I knew I was straight regardless of how I was perceived or thought myself to be perceived. Again, this wasn't a huge deal for me, although, maybe it wasn't a big deal because I didn't have to wrestle with my sexual identity. I imagine if I were gay, it would have been a whole other experience, and I would have gone through a lot more turmoil based on my exploration with those women. In the end, it was shits and giggles, stories for future parties, bucket list entries...
So what's with the personal exposition? Hang in there kids, this is armchair psychology day. It's also the moment I remind you I didn't graduate college, so take this all with whatever serving size of salt you require. This is all observational on my part. This observation also applies to something I'm not: a guy.
Recently, another male friend of mine confided in me that earlier in life, he had thought he was gay. That in itself isn't shocking; and while homosexuality is real and often times poorly misunderstood or mishandled in early years, that wasn't his case.
My friend believed this about himself because from what he understood, his personality "was gay", and not because he felt attracted to the same sex. He was artistic, perceived as more sensitive, slighter in build, and overall lacked the brutish, testosterone fueled stereotypes of masculinity that he perceived in his peers. In some cases, it was assumed for him, regardless of how he handled himself. So my friend experimented, felt unfulfilled, and struggle with his sexuality and his identity for years. It would be a few years before he worked out both his orientation and masculinity, all of which happened years before I met him, but left him with some downright bizarre ideas about relationships, and relationships with women in particular.
I'm not sure why he felt the need to tell me about it. I'm doing my best to keep any him as well as anyone else who's revealed this to me as anonymous as possible. I need to stress I wouldn't have any opinion were it not for the fact that I've heard this story a lot. This turned into a "tell me once, interesting story, tell me ten times, why the fuck does no one know this about each other?"
My friend was surprised to learn that I'd heard his story before. None of the guys I've talked to, to my knowledge, felt comfortable telling their friends or girlfriends, or felt misunderstood if they brought it up. This might be because the confusion and mixed feelings appear related to messages other people give you about what you're supposed to be. It's a strange kind of vulnerability to have with people whose opinions of you matter so much. It's mind blowing to me that these men could feel so deeply affected and completely terrified of the effect that they refused to tell anyone, opting to quietly deal with it alone. I guess they didn't feel like they had any alternative.
This article is written on the slim chance that someone else doesn't know how to work out what they're feeling, and they don't have anyone they trust to tell it to.
Firstly, you're not alone.
Secondly, you're not even a little weird.
Thirdly, even though this one doesn't really matter, I doubt you're actually gay. A lot more on this later.
This has taken me a long time to write, and I've split it into sections in hopes that it will be a little easier to read. If you have some insights that I missed, feel free to express them. This is a pretty complex issue and I don't claim expertise. This is only what I've learned from the people I've seen go through it, and I hope it's helpful to somebody.
Briefly, here's the overview of the next few sections.:
1. Your sexual orientation isn't a choice, but your idea of what makes you a man, to a degree at least, is.
2. In this case, the latter is what you're struggling with. This has a lot to do with the absolutely bonkers way we view masculinity in our culture, in addition to the amount of emphasis we place on that bonkers view.
3. The emphasis we put on this ideal descends further into madness because we have no real methodology or belief system for attaining masculinity, which makes it an even more vague quality.
4. We don't really understand or acknowledge the parental role, mother or father, that is embedded in our self-perception, particularly in our fulfillment of gender ideals.
5. Finally, the ill-defined, seemingly unattainable but ultimately prized sense of what it means to "be a man" is directly correlated to an also ill-defined, albeit much more attainable sense of "being a woman" (or a pussy, as will usually be used in this case). This fear of femininity, implicit or expressed, both comes from and causes a great deal of misunderstanding between sexes. I'd also argue that homophobia comes more from this quagmire of misconception than it does from any latent homosexuality.
Feeling unsure about this? Don't worry, we'll get there, bud. Read More Here -->>
About A Blog
I'm a Denver Comedian, occasional cartoonist and person of interest to someone, probably. These articles are really too long.