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No Fats, No Fems: the Gay Masculine Ideal

No Fats, No Fems: The Gay Masculine Ideal
John A. Lewis, Jr.
The idea of gay masculinity seems absurd to many in the dominant heterosexual world. Common stereotypes portray homosexual men as devoid of masculine characteristics (McDiarmid). Many conclude that masculinity exists in opposition to femininity, and because gay men are not sexually attracted to women, then they cannot be masculine. The flamboyant, fabulous, and feminine sissy is a popular caricature of the gay man in television and film. Likewise, the quiet, asexual gay man is popular because he does not make straight men uncom comfortable with the fact that he enjoys sex with other men. Jack McFarland, the best known character of the television sit-com, Will and Grace, falls into the former category. His character is loud, silly, irresponsible, and the epitome of the classic effeminate gay man. Will's character, on the other hand, is attractive, smart, professional, and practically asexual. One can imagine his relationship with his best friend, Grace, as having more romantic potential then he has with another man. But most gay men despise those depictions. Their lives are vastly different, and more fulfilling, than either man's character on the television show.
Gay men are part of a subculture; and subcultures often see themselves in a different way than the over-culture's view of them. Homosexual men are no exception, and have developed their own definitions of masculine identity. Not surprisingly, men-who-love-men can be just as judgmental as the heterosexual world that judges them. Visit, if you dare, any online gay dating site, and you will find guys in search of str8-acting (straight-acting) men; and most ads conclude with the popular phrase: No fats, No fems. Gay men tend to be straight-forward, no pun intended, when describing what they are looking for in a short-term boyfriend, long-term partner, or fuck buddy: a relationship where the parties are sexually compatible, but have little to nothing else in common. It can be argued that gay men's attitudes regarding masculinity are influenced by society, or from childhood experiences. Ultimately, the most important thing that matters to gay men is what other gay men think of them. They are constantly attempting to meet the complex criteria of the gay masculine ideal: a handsome face; strong, muscular body; a manly demeanor; and hyper-sexual without being sluttish.
First, it would be foolish of me to write about a subject that I know nothing about. Suffice it is to say that I have personal experience as part of the gay subculture. The trajectory of a gay man's life can be summarized as follows: As soon as an adolescent boy realizes that he is sexually attracted to the same sex, his journey to becoming a com complete, gay man begins. He quickly learns that his youth is his greatest asset. A young gay man is considered a prize in the eyes of other gay men, young and old. During his late teenage years, and during the first few years of his twenties, the openly gay man usually has no problem establishing friendships, and thoroughly exploring his sexuality. However, the bloom of gay youth quickly fades as he reaches his mid-twenties. At this point, he must make the transition into a mature gay man. It is during this metamorphosis that he discovers how to remain desirable as he inevitably ages. Gay men wage a constant battle against time. They refuse to "go gentle into that good night" (Thomas line 1). Gay men are far more conscious of their bodies than their straight counterparts.
Gym memberships are regarded as necessary. Diet sodas, low calorie food, and frequent facials are weapons against age. Usually, by the quarter-century mark, the gay man focuses his powers on achieving the gay masculine ideal by a plethora of methods.
Twentieth-century artists provided a template for the image of the ideal gay man. Tom of Finland, born Touko Laaksonen in Finland, was a famous homoerotic fetish artist. His pencil drawings depict ruggedly-handsome men, bulging with muscles, brandishing raging erections, and frequently engaged in gay sex (Tom of Finland Foundation). The men illustrated were nearly cartoon-like in the exaggeration of their male physical attributes. Tom of Finland never drew girlish men. Although marginally appreciated by mainstream artists, Tom of Finland found avid fans among gay men worldwide. Gay erotic novels frequently featured his art on the covers, and as illustrations of sex scenes described. He influenced the emergence of clones during the 1970's. These were gay men who dressed and behaved as hyper-masculine imitations of heterosexual men. An outstanding example is the disco group, "The Village People, " who were a comic depiction of a cross-section of manly heterosexual men. However, gay men took notice of these examples. Mustaches, flannel shirts, and denim became the favored costume of gay men attempting to appear sexy and distinctly masculine. They mastered the walk of the straight man, propelling themselves with their shoulders and arms without the feminine swivel of the hips. Another influential artist, whose work was more widely accepted by mainstream art, was Robert Mapplethorpe. His homoerotic photography features "an emphasis on classical formal beauty" (The Robert Mapplethorpe Foundation). Most of his models are unusually beautiful men with bodies similar to those represented by Greek sculptors. The overall effect was cyclical. Gay men imitated the masculinity displayed in homoerotic art; and the artists were fueled by the men they idolized as their ideal of gay masculinity.
Yet, stereotypes are based on truth. It is a fact that some gay men are effeminate. And certainly not all gay men are perfect male physical specimens. Such gay men are victims of the no fats, no fems ideal. These men are double-minorities. They are excluded by heterosexuals because they are so different from so-called normal straight men. Often, they are also ridiculed and shunned by their gay brothers, who deem them unattractive and undesirable. Gay men do not seek out androgynous or obviously effeminate men for intimate relationships. For the majority of gay men, the flamboyant queen is merely a diversion, and provides outrageous entertainment at gay clubs, or is the ultimate hostess at dinner parties, and gay functions. Effeminate and overweight gay men have devised strategies to help them cope with their place on the gay periphery. Some protect themselves with caustic wit, sarcasm, or the façade of being jaded. They live vicariously through the lives of their female icons; usually beautiful, talented, scandalous, or troubled divas: living and dead. Observe the attendance of concerts by Barbra Streisand, Bette Midler, Madonna, or Whitney Houston; and one will find marginalized gay men are the most loyal fans. These coping mechanisms conceal the pain of their rejection because they cannot meet the gay masculine ideal.
The modern heterosexual man is different in this post-feminist era in comparison to the man of the 1950's. Today's straight man is more sensitive, and less misogynistic than his father. He is more apt to share household duties with his wife, as well as care for their children. It is valid to question whether gay men will change their perceptions of masculinity. The answer lies in gay youth who are coming out earlier than previous generations. Now, gay youth are more com comfortable with their identities. They refuse to hide, or feel ashamed about the sexual aspect of their lives. Gay teens are embracing words to describe themselves that were used by hateful homophobes just twenty years ago. Whitney Houston sang a saccharine-sweet, pop ode to self-love with the opening declaration: "I believe the children are our future" during the mid-1980's (Masser and Creed). As one of a myriad of female gay icons, she might have been right. Gay youths are the future; and they may reject the gay masculine ideal.
Works Cited
Masser, Michael and Creed, Linda. "Greatest Love of All." Whitney Houston. LP Arista, 1986.
McDiarmid, Robert. "Masculinity." The Personal Website of Robert McDiarmid. 3 Mar 2008 .
Stossel, John and Binkley, Gena. "Gay Stereotypes: Are They True?" ABC News Online 15 Sept 2006. 4 Mar 2008 .
Thomas, Dylan. "Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night." 11 Mar 2008 poets /viewmedia /prmMID/15377.
The Robert Mapplethorpe Foundation, Inc. "About the Foundation." 10 Mar 2008
Tom of Finland Foundation. "Biography." 10 Mar 2008 . I am a biotechnology major and writer of a novel, short stories, and editorial essays. I have 15 years of experience in broadcast television and radio. During this time, I've worked in news and commercial production, and as an account executive managing local, regional, and national business advertising accounts with a FOX affiliate. I've also developed advertising campaigns for non-profit organizations. I've received extensive training in marketing, sales, commercial production, and branding.

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