As queer men, we are men who date men, have best friends that are men, and some of us interact almost entirely with men. And yet, how we interact varies from person to person. You can act like a brother, a lover, a friend, a Daddy, a mom, a wing-man or a gal pal. We gender jump in our communication style, demeanor, and behavior. Sometimes, even in our dress. Many of our queer male celebrities make their money dressing up as women. But challenging gender norms doesn’t make us less male. Has our all-male community naturally shifted to accommodate the feminine like in Jurassic Park? Cut to Jeff Goldblum saying, “Life finds a way.” Or, are we more free to tap into our feminine side because we’re already challenging society with our existence?
As marginalized people, we are chameleons. As a tool of survival, we code-switch i.e. adjust our behavior, language, and demeanor, depending on who we are with. It’s one part survival tool one part adaptive superpower. How we act in a heteronormative environment is not how we might act in a gay bar. You wouldn’t agree with your boss in the boardroom with a resounding “Yasss Queen.” How we act around our female friends may vary significantly with how we act around our male friends. Even within our male friends, there are men we are interested in romantically, and sexually vs. purely platonically. And all of this code-switching makes us uniquely suited to transcend gender lines. We can gender jump in the way we engage with each other the same way we do with men or women.
Most will agree we have a masculine and a feminine side. Whether you believe these are the two parts of our soul (our anima/animus), the parts of our parents that have been socialized into us, or just a part of being human … our mirror has two faces. Every gay man, hell every man, has something that will make them “queen out.” Men cry at sports games. Super “masculine” guys have diva breakdowns over machines at the gym. All men have moments they want to feel pretty/attractive. Men want to be heard and understood emotionally. Gendering these natural characteristics is part of what’s wrong with our society. While there are some intrinsic differences between men and women, perhaps some of our views on what it means to be a man or a woman might be dated.
Let’s take a pit stop at the playground for a second. Some gay boys played with girls and boys that played with boys. Some sensitive souls were protected and cherished by their gaggle of girlfriends. They knew the gossip and navigated the girl drama. Some gay boys played with boys. They may have been in anguish in the closet or living it up in the locker room. But they played sports, learned how to bond with other guys, and they may have checked some of their more queer characteristics to get by. Neither is more or less of a man or better/worse than the other. No matter what anyone might think. Both learned interpersonal skills that help them navigate the world. These subtle differences in how we grow up can affect how we interact with each other as adults. For example, a guy well-versed in “girl world” will know when someone is doing something emotionally dramatic for attention. They might be less likely to engage. Whereas, a guy socialized around other guys might notice when a guy is showing off to save face. He might give his friend a moment and let him have the win. And from the outside, these scenarios can seem exactly the same. A lot of queer conflicts can be between guys who grew up with girlfriends and guys who grew up with guy friends trying to understand each other.
So much of our identity, as gay men, is defending our manhood. As children, we get belittled for not being typically masculine. Or we get bullied into fitting into a box of what it means to be a man in America. As adults, we must defend our manhood to ignorant straight people who ask, “Who’s the girl?” Hell, we even have to prove our manhood in queer spaces. Photos on apps and dating sites look like mugshots as guys try to look more “masculine” by looking murderous. What happened to just smiling? We might put on airs to please sex partners by deepening our voice or taking on a different demeanor. But as we change our behavior to please partners, we can compartmentalize who we are in the bedroom vs. who we are outside. But we are still the sum of all of these parts of ourselves. And to find meaningful relationships we need to find the people who can appreciate all of the faces we put on to survive and, most importantly, the person we are inside.
A Quick Deep Dive into Drag
It’s no coincidence that drag is taking off in our culture. The drag queen is an important figure. They serve as a reminder that we shouldn’t be ashamed of the parts of ourselves that are feminine. They irreverently force us to confront our own shame, guilt, or fear of our feminine sides. They provide the freedom to express that part of ourselves. Hell, they take the piss out of toxic masculinity and internalized homophobia while ensuring everyone’s having a good time. The popularity is in part a response to a war on women. Men dressed as the women they admire are somehow inspiring women to admire themselves. But it’s also a sign of our collective exhaustion of having to repress parts of ourselves to fit into a toxically masculine society. And yet, even those who represent the “majority” don’t seem happy. Does our President look happy? Do the people who preach hate seem to have their lives together?
Meanwhile, drag, while focused on the feminine, gives queer men the physical challenges and social opportunities they didn’t find on the sports field. RuPaul’s Drag Race is our Super Bowl. Drag shows are like our sporting events. Just because someone is in a wig and heels doesn’t mean they aren’t men performing impressive physical feats like dips, jump splits and precisely choreographed lip syncs. They push their bodies to the limit spending hours standing in heels, squeezing their bodies into corsets, and doing other painful things in the name of beauty. They expand their precision, hand-eye coordination, and dexterity in their application of make-up. They also showcase more “feminine” characteristics competitively with their ability to build social groups, create art, and communicate nonverbally and emotionally.
For a second, let’s remove masculine and feminine from the mix. Not only does this honor our trans brothers and sisters it removes some of our own biases. It helps us take a step away from what we’ve learned all our lives about what makes up gender. Sex is the sum of biological and scientific differences between men and women. But gender is a social construct. Removing charged words like “masculine” and “feminine” frees us to explore parts of our personalities without shame or judgment. We live in a patriarchal toxically masculine culture so everyone is affected. We’ve evolved past mating in the streets and pooping outside so we should honor that trying to tie personality factors to biological factors or social constructs may be problematic. We all stifle parts of ourselves to fit in and that needs to change so we can live our best life.
I like to use the term solar and lunar energy. It may sound hippie-dippy but similar to the idea of the yin/yang it gives us a paradigm where both aspects are required for us to thrive. A conservative woman from Texas might be channeling more aggressive, competitive solar energy. Similarly, a cis-gendered male therapist from Portland might have a more lunar emotional communication style. Neither is better or worse. They are natural parts of us. After all, both make up a day.
Solar energy is like the sun, energizing and active. It’s about physical action, connecting with your body, generating quick ideas, and asserting yourself socially. You process thoughts and emotions through rigorous activity. Your communication style may be more focused on solutions or forward momentum. Solar communication tends to be Socratic. It’s often about deconstructing arguments and asking probing questions. Solar energy is about getting things done.
Lunar energy is like the moon in that it provides light in the dark and influences the tides (i.e. our emotions). It’s about longer contemplative thoughts and seeing things from multiple angles. It’s about connecting emotionally with ourselves and others. It’s about processing emotions verbally and entertaining multiple perspectives and empathizing. Lunar communication is more freeform and can handle multiple topics at once. It also is about creativity both in understanding and in action. Lunar communication also includes more emotional and nonverbal communication.
When we remove the bias of the masculine and feminine it frees us up to more deeply explore ourselves. We can work on our shortcomings and expand our social, emotional and personal skill sets. Being able to agilely shift between these modes of communication can help us get along with other people regardless of gender. For example, when someone gets violent or aggressive, it’s best to engage them emotionally. Matching solar energy with solar energy will just start a fire. In the same way, if someone is overcome emotionally approaching them logically with limited emotion may help shift their mindset. Or engaging them in physical activity can give them a tool to process that feeling if they don’t want to talk about it.
We learn our tools for survival, dominance, and conflict resolution from people we hold in high esteem regardless of our gender. How many gay men have looked to powerful women as examples for superior social grace, vicious verbal skills, or just a great vibe? We also look to men as both examples of what we might want to be and also people we want to sleep with and also who we might be competing against. This is the complicated dance that is the social space. But if we focus on being authentic, learning, and growing it will ultimately serve us for the better.
Maybe gender is just a red herring. Maybe we all are unique individuals. We all want to find people who can understand how we feel, how we think. We want to find people who can make us feel sexy and safe but also want to return the favor. Hopefully looking at things in a completely new way, i.e. solar and lunar, can help us find more common ground with people on both sides of the gender line. Because God knows as queer people, we are uniquely qualified to observe gender is a construct. We meet men and women and everyone in between. Sometimes we shift through dozens of identities a day. So it isn’t until everyone can get on the same page and check their gender biases that we can start to get to the good stuff.
Christian Cintron is a writer, actor, and stand-up comedian. He has written about entertainment and gay culture for Edge Publications, Queerty and DNA Magazine. He’s also a regular contributor to Backstage.com.