I don’t tend to expect enlightenment from gay hook-up apps, but I was struck by the words I read recently on one man’s profile. I was taught that a real man is someone who makes others feel comfortable in their presence. What an admirable quality to aim for: to make others feel comfortable and at ease around one’s self. How many of us consciously or unconsciously strive for that?
To make others feel comfortable shows compassion and kindness: two qualities not linked very often with masculinity. Instead, masculinity is linked with ‘courage’, ‘strength’, the impulse to hold it all together and not talk about our feelings.
Most of us know how toxic notions of masculinity can be. Gay men, in particular, struggle with notions of masculinity. We often grow up in societies that tell us we are the antithesis of masculine. Sometimes this leads to over-compensation. We adopt ‘straight-acting’ personas or hyper-masculine clothing, as if to say, ‘Look, I’m just as much of a man as anyone else!’
Today, gender lines are crumbling. Trans models feature on the cover of fashion magazines. Toy stores are eliminating ‘boys’ and ‘girls’ sections. High-street clothing retailers are following suit. ‘Making others feel comfortable’ is not a ‘man’, ‘woman’ or non-binary thing, but surely just a sign of maturity? Something we all, as adults, should strive for.
But we don’t. Some people feel empowered to intimidate others. Some people get a kick out of putting others down. Others can’t wait to point out the faults or shortcomings of friends or acquaintances, whether their criticism was sought or not.
Again, sometimes gay people are guilty here. In fact, for a whole raft of reasons, often rooted in poor self-esteem, internalized homophobia or shame, I’ve known gay men to behave in a very immature fashion.
The ‘bitchy queen’ stereotype exists for a reason.
I’ve been there myself.
Of course, behaving in an immature fashion is not the preserve of LGBTI people. Successful individuals and powerful figures across society – even world leaders! – can behave with a shocking lack of maturity at times.
That’s when it occurred to me: rather than getting tangled up in whether I’m masculine enough, or manly enough, the bigger challenge is whether I’m behaving with maturity.
Anyone can ‘act’ straight. It’s much harder to resist our more childish impulses. Did I behave like a man? Or did I behave like an adult?
Rather than promoting yourself as ‘Masc4Masc’, you may be surprised how much more of a catch you are if you strive to behave simply like a compassionate grown-up.