Masculinity and Stereotypes in the LGBTQA+ Community
I never intended my first post on Bailey’s Beatbox to be about me standing on a soapbox, but I recently had an experience that I need to talk about. And I’ll get there, I promise. But first, a little perspective.
Google shows the definition of the word “masculine” as “having qualities or appearance traditionally associated with men, especially strength and aggressiveness.” Now, obviously the opposite of that word is “feminine” which Google shows as “having qualities or appearance traditionally associated with women, especially delicacy and prettiness.”
The issue that I have with these definitions is that masculine and feminine are considered to be opposites of each other. Therefore, their definitions would essentially be opposites as well. Aggressive would be relaxed, delicate would be harsh, pretty would be ugly, and strength would be weak. It’s this last one that I’m going to focus on in a moment.
Ideas about what it means to be feminine and masculine have been incredibly deeply ingrained by society. Little boys are taught to be aggressive and that it’s weak to cry or show emotion. Little girls are taught that they should be dainty, “lady-like”. Now, I’m not saying that every parent teaches this. I know there have been some incredible cultural changes made within the last few years, and I look forward to more.
I can only speak from my experience growing up.
You weren’t masculine if you were smart.
You weren’t masculine if you were in theater, choir, or band
You weren’t masculine if you were emotional.
You weren’t masculine if you didn’t play sports.
Add to all of this the stereotypes within the LGBTQ community. A stereotype is “a widely held but fixed and oversimplified image or idea of a particular type of person or thing.” (Again, thank you Google). There are stereotypes for virtually everything. We as a culture and society feel the need to “box things in” or categorize them as opposed to viewing them on an individual basis. That categorizing makes us feel safe. We even do it with the M/M Genre (which itself is a sub-category of another genre) with everything from MPREG to MMM to BDSM to Paranormal. Everything has to have a category, a box, to makes our lives easier.
Sadly, more often than not, these stereotypes have negative connotations.
For those that are sensitive to sex talk, particularly gay sex, now would be the time to leave.
Anyone still here?
Good, so let’s continue.
Some of those stereotypes center around bedroom activity, including the far-fetched idea that those that “top” are seen as more masculine than those that “bottom.” Given the above definitions and the ideas of what it means to be masculine and feminine, I can see how this might be.
Regardless how wrong it is.
I recently read a book that absolutely infuriated me. In it, one of the MCs felt as if his life was out of control. He had only bottomed and decided that in order to take control of his life, in order to seem and feel stronger, more masculine, he needed to start topping. (Now, I would argue that one does not take control of their life simply by changing their preferred sexual position. If that were possible, I would imagine a vast majority of us would try.) I understand that the argument could be made that it’s simply the character. While this may be true, the character is still a product of the author’s imagination. That very same argument could also be used to justify any of a whole host of unsavory stereotypes.
This, in itself, wasn’t what bothered me. What did was the inference that as a bottom, he deserved to be treated poorly because he was weak. The only way he could show that he was strong was by learning to top. If he learned how to top, he would be seen as stronger, more masculine, and therefore more in control of his life and less likely to be walked all over.
There are so many things wrong with this notion that it’s difficult for me to separate each of them.
The very idea that a top is seen as more masculine and therefore stronger is preposterous. Strength is not only characterized physically, but also mentally and emotionally. Yet, because these last two attributes can’t be seen, they can’t be quantified. The sad irony of this society is that something isn’t real unless it can be seen, with the exception of religious beliefs.
Bottoming has always been viewed as a more feminine characteristic. Traditionally, it is seen as being submissive, as giving up control to the stronger, more aggressive partner. While I’m sure that in some cases that may be true, I would argue that is not the fact in all of them. From a purely physical standpoint, there can be an enormous amount of pain associated with being on the receiving end. Biologically, we aren’t designed that way. Yes, eventually, there may be some pleasure derived from bottoming, but at the outset it’s more painful than anything else. Doesn’t pushing through the pain (no pun intended) take an incredible amount of strength, and, therefore seem more “masculine” given the above definitions?
What angered me the most when I read this book was that there was an LGBTQ author catering to these stereotypes. For decades, we within the community have had to fight against negative stereotypes. Media, especially television and movies, loved to portray us in a negative fashion. At any give Pride event, the camera seemed to focus on either men wearing as little as leather jockstraps and harnesses, or men dressed in drag. These images played to the stereotype that members of the LGBTQ community were either predatory and scary, or flamboyant and effeminate. Arguably, extreme and opposite ends of the masculine/feminine spectrum.
Books are a form of media as well. We look to them to see representation. We as a community don’t normally see ourselves represented positively (although that is changing, but that’s a whole different post), to see that we have the ability and the right to lead our lives and be as happy in them as possible. I read in this genre to see myself represented in a form of fiction free from stereotypes, where we are more than just the gender we are born with. To see these stereotypes not only creep their way into that fiction, but to be used as the basis for a book is off-putting, and, quite frankly, angering. It plays to a stereotype that we as a community have been fighting against for decades. These are the same kinds of stereotypes that have used against us for decades, a way for society as a whole to paint us with a broad brush, and deny us our rights because we don’t fit the mold of what it means to me men and women. At the end of the day, whatever we find pleasurable in the privacy of our bedroom, we are all individuals, not subject to the boxing in that so many seem comfortable with. I would hope that as authors and readers, we would have a better understanding of that.
Links To Michael