Masculine is an assemblage of characteristics that are associated with being a male human. These characteristics have historically been associated with male heterosexuals, but within the LGBTQ community, “masculine” can be used to describe anyone of any gender, orientation, or sexual physiology. Masculinity as the social expression of manliness among heterosexual males acts as the basis for ways in which Gay-related folkways adopt, parody, queer, and trouble these same associations.
Masculinity carries connotations of power, leadership, virility, financial success, stoical emotions, and sometimes aggressiveness. It is useful to think of the masculine as a “family resemblance” term, in part due to the differences in which each group determines what is manly.
Sexuality and Dominance
Masculinity implies sexual dominance. The more masculine partner is often assumed to be the top (penetrator) in a sexual relationship. Masculine-style pageantry has been adopted in the Lesbian community in many ways, such as Dykes on Bikes motorcycle groups and women’s Leather communities. LGBTQ people have traditionally assumed the term butch to identify as masculine. The term soft butch identifies Lesbians who maintain a masculine look, but are more feminine in personality. Straight acting refers to Gay men who carry themselves with a pronounced masculine demeanor, think of themselves as regular guys, avoid effeminate speech markers that less masculine Gay men use, and take part in “guy stuff” like sports and outdoor activities.
Masculine features refer to a set of physiological traits. A masculine person has a strong jaw, broad shoulders, and narrow hips. For the most part, masculine attire extends and exaggerates these features, such as a tailored business suit with an extended shoulder line, making the shoulders appear slightly bigger. Since the exaggeration of masculine features has been associated with masculinity and power, it has been difficult to find a female or feminine equivalent: the power suit (a formal business outfit made to resemble a man’s suit) of women does not reflect embodied power in the same way.
Masculinity expressed through clothing is codified in the Leather community, which is most often identified with Gay men but is certainly not limited to them. Leatherfolk wear distinctive outfits with clothes made of shiny leather dyed black, which gives off the scent of leather as well as its hard and smooth feel for jackets, pants, boots, harnesses, chaps, and small paramilitary caps. Shiny chrome is worn in the form of chains and various accessories, most often attached to leather or denim. The performance of masculinity as daddies, boys, and other categories related to Leathersex role play while wearing leather clothing is also judged in contests during Leather runs, festive events for the Leather community, which may include categories for female-born women. Winners of these contests are often awarded sashes made of leather.
Norms of Appearance and Ballroom
In the Ballroom community, masculinity may be performed in runway competitions under the categories of Butch Queen Realness such as Thug or Banjee Boy, Butch Queen Face (handsome men’s features), Military, and Business Executive.
Just as drag queens perform feminine beauty and present an exaggerated picture of some aspects of femininity, drag kings demonstrate what is taken to be a typical masculine gender performance and dress. They often put on facial hair, wear straight-legged baggy pants, bind their breasts, and perform several masculine genres from the T-shirt wearing roughneck to the “business man” look with full suits, vests, cufflinks, and fedoras. These are all aspects of a masculine norm of appearance that amplify the performance of the macho (exceedingly masculine) ideal.
One important difference between drag kings and drag queens is the perception of masculinity as natural and femininity as artificial. For example, an unshaved man’s face is typically considered more masculine, while unshaved legs on a woman in the USA are considered unfeminine. Drag kings may capitalize on this emphasis on the natural by appearing as if their machismo is effortless. Nevertheless, the emphasis on the naturalness of masculinity may also be lampooned and teased by kings in what may be called Lesbian camp. Masculinity for women has also been made campy by portraying women in traditional macho roles, such as the television show Xena, Warrior Princess.
Certain emotions are traditionally masculine. Where anger and hate are considered ugly for a feminine individual, it is not so for the masculine individual in which expressions of violence are part of masculine performance, which may include homophobic expression. For a masculine individual, certain emotions are typically discouraged, including sadness, fear, and anxiety. Masculine individuals are stereotypically strong and silent. They are stoic, aloof, and will not show pain or fear easily. Indeed, they are often associated with fearlessness, adventure, violence, and conquest.
Masculinity and the Circuit
The Circuit community (Gay men and their allies who attend a series of annual weekend-long dance events) has developed a number of gendered performance and identities that include masculine traits and preoccupation with the muscular, fit male body. In the public performance of dance in the Circuit, men will take off their shirts, overtly displaying their muscles as they move to the music. Gym bunnies (men whose muscle mass is often augmented by artificial enhancers like steroids) may behave in a more heteronormal manner, as do muscular go-go dancers and participants. Such men may be body fascists, people who select their friends and dance partners solely on whether they are muscular and beautiful enough.
But some attendees do not reflect the masculine stereotype. The Circuit is the space for the performance of muscle camp, exaggerated effeminate behavior by a man who has the visual markers of being macho. There are also Bears, men whose expression of masculinity does not include as much body hair removal or body fat reduction. Flaggers, people who wave brightly colored square cloths, tend to present a more reserved masculinity than the flamboyant box dancers (men who dance on raised boxes or platforms). Performance artists dress in semi-drag, but display masculine (and often physically fit) bodies that trouble the heteronormal masculine/feminine dichotomy, and though fewer in number, drag queens and born-female women attend Circuit parties.
A feature of masculinity rarely seen in the Circuit is violence in language or in behavior. The same may be said in the Leather community in that violence associated with Leathersex sado-masochism is controlled, and there is a basic ethical position that violence is a means for greater mutual pleasure rather than destruction or keeping people away. Expressions of violence are restricted to satisfying the desires of the person who prefers pain and the performance of aggression.
Circuit events may also include dances for different forms of masculine dress, such as Leather parties, sports gear parties, and military-theme parties.
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Weems, Mickey. The Fierce Tribe: Masculinity and Nonviolence in the Circuit. Logan, UT: Utah State University, 2008.