A common nickname my friends have for me is the “Gay Ron Swanson.” I like that nickname. Ron is a masculine character, a favourite of mine, in Parks and Recreation. I see why people call me that, as a common evening for me involves typing on my 1930 Smith-Corona typewriter by a wood fire, sipping a single malt Scotch, and reading a book like Paradise Lost.
Ron Swanson fits many of those classic masculine stereotypes, and so do I. I’ve always felt comfortable around other guys, and I haven’t struggled with some of the same questions of masculinity that many other gay/SSA guys do.
Even though I fit many masculine stereotypes, I’m really bothered by how people often talk about masculinity.
When we talk about masculinity, we usually talk like it is something we need to become, instead of something we already are.
For example: stereotypes. We often think we need to become manly; in order to do that, we need to wear flannel and chop down a tree while drinking a single origin French press coffee.
Or some may interpret masculinity as showing power and strength: you have to build a bunch of muscle and possibly harm others, too.
The problem with these stereotypes is that most men do not fit them. That’s why we often talk like masculinity is something we become — because nobody is yet there. Neither gay nor straight men are fully masculine according to this stereotypical understanding. This masculinity is unachievable.
Or many other men define their masculinity by their romantic and sexual relationships with women. In non-Christian circles, men can chart their masculinity by the number of women they’ve slept with; in more Christian circles, masculinity means finding that one woman and taking care of all her needs.
There are many problems with these approaches, but the most glaring for us is that most gay/SSA men are not married to women or have never had a sexual relationship with a woman.
I think this might be part of the reason gay/SSA men struggle with their masculinity: their definition of masculinity usually cannot be defined by their romantic/sexual relationships with women.
I think we need to introduce a new masculine narrative — a new narrative that is actually an old one, formed by Scripture.
“Then God said, ‘Let us make mankind in our image, in our likeness, so that they may rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky, over the livestock and all the wild animals, and over all the creatures that move along the ground.’ So God created mankind in his own image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them.”
Genesis 1:26-27 (NIV)
The first correction of masculinity formed by this new narrative is this: men cannot be more masculine than they already are (and likewise women cannot be more feminine than they already are).
God created us already masculine and feminine. It doesn’t say that God created people who would become masculine and people who would become feminine. God created humans male and female.
This approach gets rid of those harmful stereotypes.
If a man likes something, it is by nature a masculine thing. If a woman likes something, it is by nature a feminine thing. It isn’t the object that makes someone masculine or feminine; it is the masculine or feminine being that makes something masculine or feminine.
I don’t think there is any such thing as a “feminine man” or “masculine woman.” They are just men and women.
And the second correction of masculinity by this new narrative is this: holiness is not growing into your masculinity; holiness is representing the full image of God.
Both men and women represent the full image of God, together. Normally we think of this in marriage, but I think it is within all of our human relationships, both single and married. Holy interactions between men and women represent the fullness of God.
One of the dangers for me and other gay/SSA men is that we do not interact enough with women to fully represent who God is. If you’re like me, most of my friends are men. Most of my interactions are with men. I’m attracted to men. If there are levels of masculinity, which there aren’t, then I am probably too masculine.
I’m not the first person to think this. The famous (and controversial) theologian Karl Barth also pushed these ideas. Barth pushed that the real problem of homosexuality is that it is trying to create a form of human relationship that doesn’t fully represent the image of God — that homosexuality is too self-sufficient and does not try to know the differences of the other sex.
I tried looking for a good quote of Barth concerning this topic, but he is not known as a “quotable theologian.” But I think this is a helpful approach for gay/SSA men: we need to seek the full image of God in our relationships, not solely focusing on men and masculinity.
In summary, this new approach to masculinity teaches me two things: stereotypes do not matter, and I must develop healthy relationships with women to represent God’s complete image.
What have been some of your struggles with masculinity or fitting into masculine stereotypes? Do you feel an “imbalance” of sorts in your relationships with men and women? How else do we form a healthier new masculine narrative?