How should I react when someone brandishes the F-word, livid at my limp-wristed effeteness?
As well-meaning advice in the art of bully deflection, Sir Ian McKellen would tell me to not give a shit. “Gay men are more masculine than straight men,” he tells Sir Patrick Stewart, the Professor X to his Magneto, “because they love other men.” I’d be hard-pressed to impute any malice given his track record of co-founding Stonewall, a UK LGBT rights charity. But as someone who has struggled to find self-esteem beyond the muscle-bound and stoic conception of ideal masculinity, the words fail to resonate.
In actuality, these words assume that masculinity should be equated to a currency of
self-worth, with no space for the feminine. It subtly erases male-identifying people who
aren’t necessarily ‘masculine’ – especially perpetrated in wider society by those who insist on
plastering ‘no fats, no fems, no Asians’ to their dating app biographies. The fetishisation
of masculinity shared by McKellen and many gay men marginalises those asexual and aromantic individuals who, while identifying as men all the same, are barred from this narrow avenue of performative masculinity.
Empowerment predicated on a quota of masculinity ironically becomes disempowering and exclusive because it only applies to particular individuals: it buoys the ‘men’, and emasculates the ‘boys’. That said, this is no invective against masculinity, which can be a
crucible of individual possibility and expression. Rather, there is more worth in embracing
the beauty of who you are and building upon that constructively, instead of adhering to a
system that bears little likeness to you. After all, the hirsute of manliness needn’t be conflated with the pursuit of happiness.