In the black gay community of men, masculinity is a significant factor of public identity. This is perhaps because of how the black community has responded, historically, to homosexuality. Or perhaps it is due to the deeply ingrained superficial Christian ideals and the stereotype of black men as being hypermasculine. There seems to be an unspoken expectation that black gay men have to choose between being either gay or black. There is little room between, and few black gay men have pioneered to create a space for a black gay man to be equally black and gay. So being able to function in both the gay community and the black community is a valued masculine privilege.
Masculine privilege, like all privilege, offers the chance of certain opportunities and/or benefits based on an uncontrollable factor of identity. In the black gay world there are certain benefits to being masculine. For instance, there isn’t the usual anxiety about whether or not people are going to treat you differently because you’re gay. Generally speaking the more masculine a black man is, the less likely he is to be presumed to be gay on sight or first meeting. The masculine black gay man can easily presume himself or be reputed to be the equivalent of a straight man. Therefore, he is thought to have transcended the battle surrounded his sexuality because he can compartmentalize his attraction to men and lead a hetero-normal life if he so chooses. This ability to move between worlds is a coveted benefit of masculinity for gay black men.
Given the privilege of masculinity in black gay culture, it is no surprise that it has become a highly valued characteristic to some. A review of any gay online website or app that is popular among Black gay men will provide the evidence. Profiles that declare and signify masculinity with fitted caps, Timberland boots, Jordans, frowns, scowls, and ambiguous pics. These peacock displays are used to assert ones attractiveness based on the socially accepted standard of masculinity. Black gay men, as we tend to do, take this to the extreme. We have made masculinity a requirement: for meeting, for dating, for being friends, and even for superficial associations. Every black gay man wants to be and wants to be in the company of masculinity. It has become so valued that black gay men will not even fuck a man that they perceive as having questionable masculinity (or at least they hesitate to admit it in most cases). We fetishize masculinity and in so doing have commoditized it.
Masculinity by our own hands has become a commodity to be possessed any cost. The ones that have it flaunt it and wield it recklessly. The ones who are able pretend to have it to validate themselves. The ones who can’t attain it or fake it, criticize and denounce it. Whatever the standing or opinion, we are obsessed with masculinity. Yet, our obsession lacks substance because we rely our superficialities and clichés created by heteronormative standards. We miss the truth about masculinity.
Masculinity is subjective and, like beauty, is in the eye of the beholder. Masculinity is not the same thing as manhood: those things that make a man a man (outside of gender). Masculinity is the surface of a man. It is the external perception of a man. It does not define him as a man nor does it define his manhood. It is the way his actions and behaviors are interpreted. This, again, is subjective. It depends on who is doing the evaluating and also by what is socially acceptable at the time for men. For example in the seventies men wore tight pants that clutched their bodies so tight you could see their dick prints. In the seventies that was the trend and fashion. Today, if a black men were to wear something like that he would be looked at as odd and tight clothing is now associated with women and, therefore, falls under the category of being feminine. So concepts of masculinity are fluid as well as subjective. Manhood, however, rarely changes. Manhood is a social construct. The social construct of manhood is built from commonly displayed tendencies of males. For instance, men naturally have more testosterone than women, which, therefore, makes them prone to being bigger in build, stronger, and more aggressive than women. From these biological facts comes the notion that a man should be self-sufficient, independent, and protect and provide for his family. These notions are inherent in the concept of manhood. A man does not have to be considered masculine to embody these qualities. This is why I have come to the conclusion that masculinity does not determine manhood.
Our attraction to masculinity is a misdirected attempt at getting or being a guy who embodies what it means to be a man. I submit to you that masculinity has little to do with that. There are plenty of masculine men who, in fact, act more like children in their neediness or are more like women in their passivity. This is why so often we find ourselves with this guy who is the epitome of masculinity and find that we are unfulfilled in attaining those qualities we had expected. Masculinity will not necessarily make a man responsible, accountable, or self-sufficient. It may give them the ability to move between the gay and straight world, but that’s probably the only benefit. And for those longing to be counted among the masculine number, we should be sure that masculinity is not the extent of what qualifies us as being a man. Those surface characteristics and behaviors should be the result of a deeper embodying of manhood. Otherwise we will find ourselves and/or our partners limited to the only privilege that truly comes with masculinity: the ability to move between the gay and straight world. But what will that matter if there is no substance to our presence in either?