It was just three years ago that I was a high school student ready to explore the realm of internet dating. One day, I decided to get my phone out and download an app; I prepared my thumbs for all sorts of left- and right-swiping. But my highly romanticized journey with dating apps took a confusing turn when I repeatedly encountered a phrase I soon realized was treacherous: “Masc 4 Masc.”
“Masc 4 Masc” is a phrase with which many gay men on dating apps are familiar. Men often describe themselves this way to indicate that they’re masculine-acting, and are seeking other masculine-acting individuals. Those who use the term tend to be straight-passing men who refuse to communicate with anyone other than straight-passing men, and therefore dismiss and/or degrade feminine or androgynous people. They sometimes use the term “no fems” as well.
Some try to defend these actions and “preferences” by saying things like “everyone has a type,” “it’s just a description,” and “it’s not what I’m into.”
But I certainly find “Masc 4 Masc” problematic. The phrase excludes feminine and androgynous queer individuals — a type of exclusion that speaks to a long legacy of internalized homophobia and misogyny both in the gay community as well as in broader American society. Ingrained homophobia teaches us to accept and normalize relationships that fit into a heterosexist framework and oppress queerness, while ingrained misogyny simultaneously teaches us to privilege masculinity over femininity. Being queer in this type of society already marginalizes gay men, but the way in which they present their gender and sexuality in their own community can ultimately marginalize them further. In a world that expects men to be stereotypically masculine, being effeminate leaves you particularly vulnerable.
Homophobia and misogyny create a looming cloud over queer men: Many are worried of being “noticeably” gay, overly flamboyant, or even slightly feminine. We are taught to monitor ourselves and not disrupt the serene façade of heterosexuality. Queer men who oblige get to establish a false sense of protection from “fitting in.”
I’ve unfortunately experienced both the consequences and the rewards of this dynamic. During my first year of college, I met one of my best friends, whom I’ll refer to as "Ethan." Ethan and I are both gay, and we bonded through confiding in one another about our lives. I had just recently come out as gay after years of denial, shameful secrets, and emotional breakdowns — not to mention numerous failed attempts to be straight and overly masculine. Ethan was more comfortable with his sexuality and expressed himself in more feminine ways. As we had one kiki after another, I felt increasingly comfortable with my sexuality.
But I also learned that being true to yourself can come with challenges. During one of my school breaks, I invited Ethan to my home and introduced him to someone else I know. We spent some time at my house until Ethan had to leave. After he left, this person and I started casually talking in the kitchen. At first, we just talked about our days and our plans for the week. But as the conversation continued, their thoughts about Ethan slowly came out.
“I’m glad you’re not one of those type of gays,” this person said.
I didn’t feel that I had enough knowledge about how to best respond, so I remained silent instead of defending my friend. I unknowingly reaped the benefits of not challenging gender expectations.
While I believe that nothing is wrong with being and expressing yourself in whatever way you desire — whether masculine, feminine, or androgynous — it’s undeniable that masculine-acting queer men reap unparalleled benefits of the patriarchal dividend, and receive unwarranted advantages for being male and masculine in a society that devalues and antagonizes femininity. This leaves room for misogynistic gay men to flaunt their male privilege while screaming for their exclusionary gay rights.
In terms of queer, virtual dating spaces, using the term “Masc 4 Masc” to describe oneself, or being attracted to masculine men, isn’t the problem. It’s that, as a phenomenon, this phrase doesn’t just symbolize a dating preference, but also the dominant, sexist notion that femininity is less valuable than masculinity, and it reinstates the oppressive structures that diminish feminine and queer people. It references and even bolsters the constant distancing, othering, and exclusion of a community that is supposed to be fighting for equality.
We are all products of the societies that we live in, and so are our ways of thinking — even what we find to be attractive. We are all imperfect in this way. But we must constantly question the systems of power in our lives. Why do we find certain characteristics to be attractive? What ideologies could have contributed to how we view different things?
While misogyny and homophobia are two separate (yet often overlapping) spheres of oppression, they are only pieces of the story when it comes to gender, sexuality, and systems of identity. Race, socioeconomic status, ability, global position, and other sexualities and genders are also parts of this broader story that need to be told and listened to in order to achieve true equality.
Back then, I saw “Masc 4 Masc” as just another label into which I didn’t fit. Now, I can see it for its exclusionary and oppressive nature.
And to all of the “Ethans” out there, I’ve got your (our) back now.
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