Modeling Sustainable Manhood


An excerpt from Gay Men and The New Way Forward Masculine-feminine intelligence bestows upon gay men an innate flexibility to access the masculine and feminine. Most gay men do not need instruction to access their emotions, to demonstrate empathy, and to act cooperatively. Sensitivity and intuitiveness often come naturally. At the same time, because we are men, and because we are socialized with all the expectations of manhood, we have broad access to the masculine.

Male gender norms restrict men’s repertoire of expression. The emergence of an emboldened gay male community around the globe counteracts that rigidity. By our very nature, gay men challenge patriarchal structure. When we become aware of our impact and our potential, we can use this gift to advance change where it is needed most: expanding male consciousness.

By coming out, gay men and lesbians have made enormous contributions to global consciousness. We serve as models of authenticity and courage, and we cleanse shame for humanity. Additionally, and very consequentially, coming out created a new rite of passage. It says, “I now choose to live according to who I am instead of what society wants me to be.” This public declaration emboldens us to choose authenticity in all areas of our lives, well beyond our sexuality. We have bequeathed this rite to future generations, creating a lasting ripple effect.

Coming out, of course, represents just the first step in our journey to authenticity. Gay men spend considerable energy questioning and rewriting society’s rules about what it means to be a man—and recovering from the emotional violence these rules and their messengers inflicted. But gay men are not the only ones whose spirit becomes crushed by society’s wholesale prohibition on the feminine for men. All boys and men suffer from it.

Of course, differences exist between society’s expectations of men and their actual behaviors. Many men choose to express feminine traits and consider it a sign of strength. For instance, the last few decades in the United States have witnessed an expansion of men’s permitted behaviors and traits, a rise in stay-at-home dads, and increasing gender parity. The women’s movement largely influenced these expansions in gender norms. Among the Millennial generation, men embrace a much wider set of permissible expressions than do their parents. For this generation, which came of age at a time when gay men had already been living openly for years, gay men’s model of manhood has no doubt had an influence.