March 17, 2009
Happily Gay Me
This is the post I've really wanted to write in this series because I'm gay. And because I'm gay, most of the energy I've directed toward thinking about masculinity and femininity is from within that context. Nevertheless, as I've been pondering this topic of late, I've had lots of little personal insights that have been very exciting to me.
But before I get going on this I do want to make a few items clear.
First of all, I do subscribe to the "nurture" side of the nature v. nurture argument. I do not think one chooses to be gay, but I don't believe that biology plays a role in developing a person's sexuality in any meaningful way. I think that as a person's identity comes together from infancy as one integrates concepts and values and sexual identity is part of that.
I do not think there is or ever will be an effective means of changing an adult person from gay to straight or gay while also retaining their whole identity as an individual. Can you imagine your life if your own sense of gender and sex were removed or altered in some significant way? I can't. Sexual identity is just one manifestation of an individual's consciousness in a particular regard or context.
I am going to disclose a lot about my personal sense of my sexual identity with this post. This is not an invitation to speculate about my sexual proclivities. If you are interested in finding out about that sort of thing you are invited to submit an application to find out about such things first hand.
I am happy with who I am and I am gay. Certain people seem to leap to the conclusion that my ideas about masculinity and femininity make me miserable with myself.
There's a hint of sexism in the conclusion that simply because I think homosexual men aren't "properly masculine" (You'll see.) that I'm self-loathing. I wonder if those people think women just cry themselves to sleep every night for not being men. That would require me evaluating my life as if I were someone else and I'm not and I don't want to be.
One final note: I am going to focus on masculinity and gay men because I'm a gay man and I don't feel like constantly writing "gay and lesbian" and constantly making references to both men and women, but the general principles here can be said to apply to lesbians as well.
Homosexual is Not Normal
"Normal" is such a loaded term and people often assume that it includes an evaluation. Here, I am not suggesting that it is either morally right or wrong. I only mean to say that it is a minority disposition and it is at odds with the concept of masculinity/femininity as derived from the physical reality of men and woman.
See? Doesn't it feel better when I just drop the bomb right at the front?
Picture the characteristics, both physical and psychological, that allow us to form the concepts of masculinity and femininity.
I know they're hard to identify consistently -- particularly in the case of the psychological traits -- because people often think that if a woman is seen with one of those masculine traits then either it's not a masculine trait or she's not feminine. While I think that's a valid question to ask when testing out the concept, I think people make an emotional decision about it because they're unwilling to tell a woman that they're unfeminine in some way.
These sets of characteristics also represent sexual values. They are what one seeks sexually. If the psychological characteristics of masculinity are developed based on the the physical characteristics of what is male and together these traits allow us to build the concept of masculinity (allowing the same sort of logic for the formation of femininity), and because in humans the only options sexually are male and female, then in order to be "properly" one or the other, one must also sexually value the opposite.
It should be noted that there are otherwise masculine gay men and effeminate straight men in the world. There are also effeminate lesbians and butch straight women out there. And people of any sexual orientation may value any combination of masculine and feminine traits in a partner and still be perfectly moral, admirable people.
Nevertheless, deviation from the norm where the properly masculine man is attracted to the properly feminine woman, necessarily means there is some compromise somewhere in those values. This causes many people a lot of conflict and turmoil.
Evaluating Masculinity and Femininity
You can't just change your mind about what you like in a sexual partner. It incredibly hard to identify all of the factors and aspects that go into choices like that, so I don't even know that I would bother trying to change if, for some reason, you think you'd like to like something else.
When I was coming to terms with my homosexuality, I had a big problem reconciling being gay with how I saw myself as a man and what I wanted from life as a man. It was difficult for me to imagine being taken to dinner. Hell, it was initially difficult for me to imagine having any feelings for another man other than sex. Interestingly, though, in many ways I think I've actually become more masculine as I've embraced my homosexuality and stopped treating it as something separate from who I am.
Although there is an element of the is-ought in sexual identity (one is male, therefore one ought to be sexually attracted to females) changing is simply not an option if you're gay and there is no point at all in fretting over whether or not you should be gay. You ARE gay, therefore you ought to be sexually attracted to virtuous gays.
Similarly, one might be tempted to think, "Well, if I am to be a masculine man, then I ought to be attracted to feminine women, but I am sad because I often like when a woman is assertive and that makes me think I am less of a man." Listen. Nothing can make you less of a man or less of a woman. And in terms of moral values one should seek in romance, a particular style of genitalia isn't even on the map.
I believe this element of is-ought is the source of Rand's uglier remarks about homosexuality as when she stated that she believed that it "involves psychological flaws, corruptions, errors, or unfortunate premises." Errors, perhaps, but it's impossible for me to view my identity -- least of all my sexual identity -- as corrupt or unfortunate. You should be so lucky to be like me!
You can be moral, happy, healthy regardless of whether or not you're gay, straight, masculine, or feminine. But you might have to work harder at it than if you had grown up more in line with the sexual identity and sexuality that is the norm for your own genitals.
I, personally, am attracted to more masculine men. I find body hair, broad shoulders, and large hands attractive. I like men who are comfortable and unpretentious in their personal space, frank and direct in their interactions, but I dislike masculine pretentions and posturing because they strike me as actually un-masculine and unauthentic.
In considering all of this over the past few weeks, I've come to realize that I am rather feminine. I wouldn't say I'm especially flamboyant unless I'm being silly, but my relationship toward other men in romance tends to be more submissive.
On the other hand, I've long thought that in order to attract the particular type of gay man that I want, I need to be as much like the type of gay man I want as I can be. I think that's very true in terms of moral values, but in terms of sexual values it can actually be a bit of a challenge.
For instance, I have both a desire to have a man court me and a discomfort with constantly accepting those attempts from another. Sometimes I like to make the reservations and pick up the check. I definitely think the desire to "bring home the kill" is a rather masculine trait and I certainly feel a strong desire to impress my mate with my ability to provide for him.
It's common for gay people to simply balance their roles in the relationship, rather than one person constantly being "the man" and the other being "the woman." I'm sure there are people out there who do try to adopt typically straight gender roles in a romantic relationship, but every gay guy I've ever met would not be comfortable in their relationship if things were done that way.
So, there is a tension in gay relationships that has to be moderated by both parties carefully. I think the two men or women have to work together to make sure that neither feels oppressed in the relationship. That is surely the emotional experience one would have if one consistently deferred the expression of one's sexual identity in a relationship.
Obviously, I don't believe this tension is insurmountable, but it can be trouble, just like some heterosexual couples have a little trouble when roles reverse in some way, like if the wife finds herself supporting the family. But when you realize that having small hands doesn't make you an effeminate man, specific issues like the size of hands or income become somewhat inconsequential. After all there was some time when Dominique made more money than Roark and he didn't mind.
Ok, so did you catch all that?
Masculinity and femininity are concepts associated with sexual identity, derived from the the physical differences from men and women and the way in which one experiences those differences in the formation of one's individual psychology as a man or woman.
These differences in psychology affect the optional values that men and women pursue in their lives both in romance and in other areas such as their choice of career.
These concepts translate into values for sex and keeping that direct line to the concrete reality of men and women, we have to conclude that deviations from the essentials of these paradigms create a certain amount of tension in relationships (platonic as well as romantic) for those individuals. This tension may or may not inhibit any particular relationship. A particularly masculine man may not even be comfortable being friends with an effeminate man even if they're both heterosexual, for example.
But I think it is only in relationships where deviations from these archetypes really matter at all and even within relationships such deviations can be overcome and balanced so that one can lead a perfectly moral and happy existence.
So, if you're gay, be gay and use reason as your guide to thrive, prosper and build a happy life for you and your husband or wife. And the same is true for heterosexual couples as well no matter how masculine or feminine they may be.
I agree with you that no-one needs to feel a bad person because he is homosexual or otherwise not properly masculine/feminine. If sexual identity is, as you argue, indeed formed very early and cannot be changed, so that there is basically no choice involved and not much can be done about it, then it's not a moral issue and the normativity involved is not of a moral kind. Rather, it is comparable to the norms of anatomy, which state that a normal human being has 32 teeth... But only few men actually have all 32 teeth (wisdom teeth, hello!), and no one ever came up with the idea of making a moral reproach out of that. Having such defects may be unfortunate and sometimes bring about some problems, as you described them in regard to homosexual relationships, but usually such deficiencies can be compensated for, so that a fully moral and happy life is quite possible.
Posted by: Sascha Settegast at March 17, 2009 02:10 PM (OEK+V)
Posted by: Flibbert at March 17, 2009 04:53 PM (ErOeR)
Interesting article. I found most interesting the part about "Sometimes I like to make the reservations and pick up the check", and how there is a tension there that needs to be managed. Even as a hetero, I found it easy to imagine that tension. More importantly (and this is what has me puzzled): I don't think that tension would ever necessarily exist between myself and my wife (i.e., she'd have no qualms about letting me pay every time, and I'd have no qualms about doing so). I suspect my wife and I don't differ much from many other hetero couples in that respect. I'm not positive yet how to square it all with Objectivism, but my initial thinking is that it has to do with the mind-body unity: you cannot separate the psychological from the physical. In other words, I'm wondering if you *could* feel the same, in your relationships with other men, were your body female: feel the same pressures over who pays the cheque, and for the *same reasons*.
Might the tension you write of (in the tab-paying situation) - that feeling that you should, at least some times, be the one who "brings home the bacon" - be not a matter of psychology independent of genitalia, but be a matter of psychology relating to genitalia?...such that one cannot really think of a man - no matter how feminine - as having the same "feminine" psychological make-up as a feminine woman?
Please keep in mind: I'm not trying to suggest that A is ever not A. I'm not trying to suggest that feminine female could logically be the same as feminine male. Rather, I'm referring to male femininity vs. female femininity: in other words, I'm wondering whether feminity-masculinity is improperly binary and whether the facts of reality demand something more like "male masculinity", "female masculinity", "male feminity", and "female masculinity".
Posted by: Paul McKeever at March 19, 2009 06:02 PM (RqsLx)
P.S. "application": funny. ;-)
Posted by: Paul McKeever at March 19, 2009 06:06 PM (RqsLx)
You might feel the tension I speak of if your wife insisted on paying for dinner every time. I think your wife would probably feel some discomfort with such an arrangement as well -- if as you say she's the sort of lady who would be perfectly happy with you paying every time.
If I were female (and heterosexual and with a "properly feminine" idea of myself) then my relationship toward men would involve this sort of "submission" or "hero worship."
So, I do think it is as you describe, "not a matter of psychology independent of genitalia, but be a matter of psychology relating to genitalia." However, I think there is a point at which a man might "cross over" and I think that point is where we begin to encounter not homosexuals but transsexuals.
I deliberately stayed away from the topic of transsexualism because I don't know where that line is and because I don't really "get" it.
Nevertheless, I think things the spectrum ranging from "properly masculine" straight men to homosexuals of every persuasion to transsexuals reflects a corresponding psychological fidelity to the concept of masculinity.
So, I would not say there is any such thing as "male femininity" but merely how closely a particular male adheres psychologically to the concept of masculinity. I think there is only masculinity and femininity because there are only men and women. (Contrary to what others may suggest, I do not think eunuchs and other such aberrations are proper referents for forming concepts of sexual identity. Those individuals have particular challenges which actually exclude them from consideration in terms of sexual identity.)
Posted by: Flibbert at March 19, 2009 10:10 PM (Cniw0)
This is not Fannie Mae! I will decline!
Posted by: Flibbert at March 19, 2009 10:19 PM (Cniw0)
Posted by: Flibbertigibbet at March 30, 2010 12:43 AM (WVKsK)
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