Why Straight Men Should Read More Stuff By Gay Men

I first started my work on masculinity over a decade ago as a doctoral student researching spirituality and masculinity. My 2009 book, Numen, Old Men: Contemporary Masculine Spiritualities and the Problem of Patriarchy argued that pretty much every type of “masculine spirituality” is actually a thinly-veiled patriarchal spirituality. The exception I identified was gay spirituality, and I suggested this should be seen as a “way out” for men, both gay and straight.

The point I made was not that there is anything innate about gayness that is of value, simply that gay men have been forced to reflect upon their masculinity more than straight men, and they consequently tend to have a more mindful and informed approach to the subject. This is why I believe it is beneficial for all straight men to read more stuff by gay writers and advocates: it’s of value to everyone, not just the gay community.

I was reminded of this again today reading two articles. First, It’s Time to Stop Labeling Our Sexuality discusses the policing of tops and bottoms among gay men, but it reveals a nuance to thinking about male sexuality that is often missed in discussions of straight men.

The second was 17 Ways Drag Sashayed Into Pop Culture in 2017. Drag is an excellent entry point into thinking differently about masculinity, not just because it offers some counter to normative masculinity, but because it is so playful with gender whilst demonstrating its total performativity at the most fundamental level. As RuPaul says, “We’re all born naked. And the rest is drag.”

And it’s worth reiterating in full what I say about gayness and queerness in the introduction to my 2014 book Masculinities in a Global Era:

The importance of non-straight sexuality is far greater than “merely” representing the experiences of a minority of men. I believe this issue is of crucial importance to allmen, as it gets right to the heart of how masculinity is policed, largely by other men, but also by women. Non-straight men are, as it were, the “canaries in a coal mine.” What happens to non-straight men is an amplification of the regulatory processes that coalesce around all men. Therefore, all men should have a vested interested in how their queer brothers are treated, because if those queer masculinities are shut down, it is only a few very short steps for straight masculinities that fall marginally outside of the hegemonic center to also be shut down. Conversely, if those queer masculinities are given room to flourish and are celebrated, so too will the multiplicity of atypical masculinities performed by straight men (leaving to one side here the reification of the gay–straight binary). The “queer issue” is, therefore, not a “queer issue,” rather an “everybody issue.”