Thursday, November 16, 2017

On MSM, Femininity, and Fags

In Dude You’re a Fag, CJ Pascoe argues that young, presumably heterosexual, men construct their masculinity in opposition to femininity and an abstract “fag” identity, a “specter of failed masculinity” embodied in an effeminate man. Extending Pascoe’s framework to adult men who have sex with men (MSM), their erotic practices suggest they too construct masculine sexual identities in opposition to femininity and feminine gay men—“fags.” This is a phenomenon that should concern feminists.

Given the return of Will and Grace to the small screen, one would think that MSM would embrace characters like “Jack,” a flamboyant and feminine W&G character. But sexual identities and practices remain complicated. Indeed, I use MSM rather than gay, queer, joto, etc., to reference the subjects of this piece since other descriptors carry connotations that many MSM repudiate in seeking same-sex sex. For instance, there are MSM who identify as straight and are unlikely to adopt gay or bi labels for various reasons. That is why I focus on MSM’s sexual practices vis-à-vis femininity and “fags.”

Today’s literature on men’s sexual practices suggests men’s sexuality is as fluid as women’s has been thought to be. This "not safe for work" (NSFW) vignette on Ric offers insight into a MSM who does not identify as gay or bi because “straight people don’t give shit” about those labels. But he does identify as a “cocksucking anal slut faggot” to his prospective suitors. Arguably, Ric strategically calls himself a “faggot” to attract straight men whose partners may not consent to fellatio or anal sex. By marking himself as a “faggot” at the outset of his sexual encounters, Ric allows his MSM partners to remain straight and masculine throughout sex. Moreover, Ric’s sexual practices suggest that “fags” are MSM who are anally receptive or willing to perform fellatio.

When other straight-identified MSM were queried about their sexual practices, their responses repudiated femininity and fag(ness). One stated, “I don’t want the effeminate ones.” Another said he identified as straight because he “likes to hunt, fish, camp, and raise cattle for a living." In other words, these MSM don’t want to have sex with nor be considered “fags.” What then of Ric’s MSM partners who had sex with a self-professed “cocksucking anal slut faggot”? These sexual practices expose the amorphous, irrational logic undergirding MSM sexual identities, which are tinged with misogyny since they are constructed at the expense of femininity, especially femininity embodied in men—“fags.”

The same outlook can be found among users of the MSM hookup app Grindr. Its users, including many who identify as gay, routinely employ describers like “masc,” “chill,” and “dude,” to convey they are not effeminate and attract other “masc” or “real men.” This suggests that MSM, irrespective of sexual orientation, place a premium on masculinity over femininity, including “fags.” Thus, Grindr enables its users to spread an insidious form of misogyny that privileges masculinity over femininity in what is commonly thought to be a progressive space. I guess gay friendly spaces are only friendly so long as you’re not a fag—so much for gay men’s progressiveness! (For more on this, see Why are Faggots so Afraid of Faggots?)

So why should this concern feminists? It’s easy to dismiss the misogyny that colors MSM’s sexual practices as only extending to MSM’s bedrooms. But feminists should be alarmed that MSM are hindering sexual equality by reifying masculine privilege in one of our most personal and valued spheres of action, the bedroom. As feminists, we must provide more nuanced critiques of erotic practices, including the ways in which gender is mapped onto erotic practices at the expense of femininity. Curtly, we will not be able to “fuck our way to freedom” so long as fucking is construed as entailing privileged masculine elements over feminine elements.


Suzanne Connell said...


Thank you for another deeply interesting post. I'm new to the term MSM, however as you also expressed, it's deeply concerning that within this sexual interaction between men there's somehow still room for all things feminine to be dismissed and almost demonised. It poses the prickly, almost unanswerable questions; how do we correct this, or can we even correct this? It has long been argued "the personal is political". The erotic practices we engage in in the privacy of our own bedrooms are arguably tainted by the social conditioning we have all undergone in life and will continue to be for time immemorial. However, how can we as a society reach past the innate privacy of the bedroom in order to police the misogyny that people may be engaging in? I'm in complete agreement with the crux of your argument; that we will not be able to "fuck our way to freedom" so long as fucking is construed as entailing a privileged masculine elements over feminine elements. I just wonder how this can be rectified, since the reality is, in most cases people are going to carry out their erotic practices and give into their carnal desires without giving a second thought as to whether their acts are actually representative of misogyny.

B. Williams said...


Your post reminds me of my most recent post on the concept of femme erasure. I'm not surprised to find it is happening in similar ways within gay male culture as well.

I recognize that this movement against femininity may be partially about innate sexual desire. However, the cruelty, bullying, and self-hatred that permeates some of the behaviors you wrote about give me pause. I suspect that this intense rejection of femininity and "fagginess" is a way to reclaim whatever privilege men might feel they have lost from identifying as gay or engaging in homosexual practices. Adopting an aggressively masculine persona, eschewing or shaming feminine men, or irrationally/stubbornly identifying as "straight" despite homosexual practices or desires, allows these men to avoid cognitive dissonance and maintain superiority over those they perceive as weak. I think the Ru Paul quote from one of your linked articles says it very well: "People who have been oppressed take on the characteristics of their oppressors."

However, this movement seems to be not just a rejection of femininity, but a rejection by men of what they perceive as stereotypical gay culture. A less intense/toxic manifestation of this trend can be seen in "gaybro" culture. The writer of this article ( surveying a community of "gaybros" has a lot of interesting thoughts as to where the impulse to identify as a gaybro comes from. He mentions that oftentimes the gaybro culture is a less shocking transition out of the closet for young gay men who aren't quite sure where they fit into gay culture. He also mentions that these men may reject "gay culture" while having very little real understanding of it... either because they are so newly out of the closet or because they lack older role models to educate them on gay history. All very interesting arguments and worthy of greater reflection. I think, in a way, these arguments almost parallel the arguments of women who refuse to identify as "feminists."

Omar de la Cruz said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Omar de la Cruz said...


I found your post fascinating, you never fail to expose me to new ideas that I have never heard of before. When I was reading the beginning of your post I was skeptical but after reflected a little deeper I can definitely see some truth to this theory. When I was growing up, in a very old-fashioned atmosphere in terms of sexuality and gender, it was absolutely reinforced that boys should like certain things and girls should like others. Having gone to school in a sort of rough neighborhood for a while, ideas of masculinity were troublesome. One of the best ways I can describe it is anti-gay, in the way your post describes. No matter what kind of boy you were, whether you were good or bad at sports, whether you hung out with more girls than guys, etc. the most important thing was being "man enough" to still be considered a "man." One of the most "anti-man" things you could be was gay. That's probably why the majority of insults used my boys against other boys were gay slurs. While I don't know if the entire theory holds up, there is certainly some truth to it.