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Gay Men & Masculinity

What Does it Really Mean to Be "Manly?"

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Can gay men be masculine? What if they aren't stereotypically "manly" or are into things traditionally associated with women? And what does the word masculinity even mean? These are complicated questions. They are also pretty common ones given that a lot of people confuse ideas about sex and gender with ideas about sexual orientation.

So just a little refresher:

Sex is biological maleness and femaleness.

Gender is feeling male or female or somewhere in between.

Gender roles are the behaviors, identity and activities that a society considers appropriate for men and women.

Sexual orientation is who you are attracted to romantically and sexually.

Since so many people are unclear on how these terms work together, people often expect all gay men to act feminine. Many are even surprised when they meet a gay guy who fits into their definition of traditional masculinity.

So back to the original question, what is masculinity, anyhow? Does it just mean being tough, and aggressive and controlling? Do masculine guys need to love sports and beer and cars? Or can masculinity be a more loosely defined concept that embodies qualities like confidence and responsibility? The answer is going to be different depending on who you ask. But just like there is no one way to be gay, there is no one definition of masculinity.

As one reader wrote about masculinity:

It’s not knuckle-dragging, chest-thumping machismo. It’s not insisting that a man go out and work for a living while a woman stays home, barefoot and pregnant. It’s not pushing kids into physical sports, while being horrified that they prefer something like, oh, music and art. It’s not mocking gay men for being “pansies” or “freaks” while chugging down a kegger and watching girl-on-girl porn. It’s not pushing the rest of the world around, grunting and spitting and scratching his crotch, insisting that he not apologize for being a jerk because he’s an American, damn it, and he’s entitled to being the schoolyard bully.

One of the benefits of being gay is that you might not feel totally bound by traditional ideas about gender. Sure, some gay guys will stick pretty close to the gender expectations that society has for men. But others will move away from those and may act and dress more "feminine." Does this mean that they aren't really men? Nope, it just means that they feel free to express themselves in the way that is most personally comfortable. And if you ask me, a guy with the strength to be who he is, regardless of what the world tells him, embodies the best of what it means to be a man.

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