DEAR DR. NERDLOVE: I guess I have questions… or maybe thoughts? It’s complicated.
I’m a cis gay man. I think? I think that’s a part of it.
I wish I was more masculine. I feel like my life would have been a lot easier if I had been… that it would be easier in the future if I were… I kind of hate that it never came naturally to me. Never has. Probably never will. And, it gets hard. I feel like I’m not allowed certain sports or hobbies or… just things in general, because I’m not “masculine” enough for them. Honestly, same thing when it comes to “feminine” things to. I feel like I’m not allowed to want them because I won’t fit in… should I just give up on them, or try to force it? I’m too fem to be masc and too masc to be fem… but like… I kind of want to be both?
So it makes me wonder… am I a man? I mean. It fits… sort of? I often feel like I’m not the right kind of man or am sort of a “failure” as a man. That’s probably just a lot of internalized bulls--t that is really toxic. Doesn’t help that I have certain people in my life who will tell me they accept me, then police my gender in the next breath.
But does all of this make me nonbinary? I’m not sure.
And sex… oh sex… Never done it before. Sex is a complicated thing for me. Given the fact that gay men can be so fixated on masculinity, I feel like a somewhat fem (and fat) guy like me will never be found attractive. Kind of sucks, to be honest. It’s to the point where I can’t imagine myself having sex with someone. I can’t imagine myself being seen as a sexual being or seen as sexy… or even sexual. I can’t really connect with my own sexuality, to the point where I wonder if I’m damaged or have too little self-esteem or if I’m just… not into it.
Funny enough, I jokingly call myself “the pervert friend”, because I’m comfortable talking about sexuality. I’m very open. I just haven’t done anything. I’m pretty sure I want it. I want to be loved. I want to want someone and be wanted by someone. I want intimacy. I’m pretty sure I want sex… ?
So… I guess I just don’t know if the labels I’ve used for myself for the past several years fit anymore. I mean, I clearly have a lot of unpacking to do, a lot of unhealthy relationships to manage, and a lot of thinking to do. But, I don’t know where to start. I don’t know if this is just the thoughts of someone who feels that he doesn’t fit the mold and, therefore, must clearly be something else. I don’t know what to think.
I guess I’m asking for even some reassurance.
I don’t know the answers. I don’t expect you to know all the answers either.
But what would you say to someone like me?
Dazed and Confused
DEAR DAZED AND CONFUSED: Alright D&C, before we get to your question, I want to lead with my standard caveat: I’m a straight, cis guy. This means my advice comes from that perspective, and there’re things that I may miss that would be glaringly obvious to someone with different experiences. So take anything I have to say with appropriate levels of salt and skepticism. I also encourage my LGBTQ, genderfluid and non-binary readers to share their thoughts and experiences; they will have insights I don’t have.
Now with that in mind:
My first question for you D&C is, do you wish you were more masculine because you want to be more masculine? Or because it feels like you’re supposed to be?
My second question would be what, exactly, does being “more masculine” mean to you? Do you mean more traditionally masculine? Having more stereotypical masculine interests? Being taller, more muscular and more male-presenting? Being more aggressive and assertive? Would these be because this is what you want, or because it would be more in keeping of what others expect from you?
One of the things that I always try to tell people is that the restrictive, limited ideas of masculinity are just that: ideas. They’re ideas that’re encouraged by the culture at large… but they’re not inherently definitive, and many of them are toxic to the people who try to live up to them and to society in general. Part of what’s astounding is how many things are considered to be “unmanly” or “off limits” to men and male-presenting folks because… well, because f--k you, that’s why. This includes anything from wearing certain colors, to what hobbies they can pursue, to wearing more floral scents, to taking baths or practicing basic skin care. Meanwhile, “manly” virtues include doing things that will get you hurt or killed and prioritizing those above things like “not needing to send people into danger in the first place”. Wearing a dress or makeup is seen as being worse or more damaging than, say, drinking to excess, getting into fights or strutting about like a would-be vigilante to “protect” your family from danger (rather than, say, wearing a mask or getting vaccinated). To many, it’s better to be treated as a disposable resource than to — let me check my notes here — wear a dress or use singular “they/them” pronouns.
The truth is that gender is as much of a social construct as it is biological determinism. You’re fully capable of engaging in those hobbies regardless of whether you have a Y chromosome or not. You aren’t a more or less effective knitter, for example, based on your relative estrogen or testosterone levels. Being a caregiver isn’t affected by chromosomal pairings. People can be s--tty about these things… but then again, people can be s--tty about anything. As I write this, E3 has started and people are getting into arguments about goddamn video game trailers. People gatekeep over the stupidest goddamn things, whether it’s your gender identity (or lack thereof) or which version of D&D you enjoy.
(No, seriously. There are people who are pissed off at Critical Role and The Adventure Zone for making D&D popular and more accessible.)
Now the question of whether you’re non-binary or genderfluid or not isn’t something I can tell you. It’s certainly a possibility. I know plenty of folks who have more masc days and more femme days and roll with that. I know people who are non-binary and don’t really identify with any particular gender, some who are more agender and some who are one gender but embrace their interests and aspects of their personality that fall on the other side of the gender spectrum. So it could well be that you’re a bit more on the fluid side of things and hey, that’s absolutely valid and real.
It could also be that you’re a man who just has non-traditionally masculine interests and non-typical gender expression. And that’s valid too. Li’l Nas X and Billy Porter aren’t any less male for looking fabulous in a dress. By that same token, Jonathan Van Ness isn’t any less nonbinary (who uses he/him pronouns) for all that he wears facial hair and an enviable mustache.
And it could well be that you aren’t sure yet and you’re still figuring things out. That’s just as real, just as legitimate and just as valid. Gender can be a complicated thing and processing what you’ve been told you’re supposed to be vs. what you are can take time and exploration. You may need time to find an answer for yourself and, during that time, you may be trying out aspects or identities to find the one that’s the right fit for you.
What I can say is that there are many, many ways to be a man. Being fat or having a more femme presentation doesn’t make someone less of a man; it just makes them a fat man or a femme-presenting man. David Bowie was no less of a man for all of the ways he f--ked around with gender and gender presentation. Men — cis or trans — can present in any number of ways, from softbois to thick, muscled fireplugs; they’re still men. Who wants you and who doesn’t has no bearing on your gender, for that matter. Being fat may mean that you’re not some people’s particular flavor of yum, but there’re also dudes who want a guy or nonbinary special someone who looks the way hugs feel.
You’re right in that you have some s--tty relationships to manage and some stuff to unpack, and it probably wouldn’t hurt to talk to a therapist who understands queer identities and gender issues. But it also wouldn’t hurt to talk to other folks who fall on different parts of the gender spectrum as well and get their perspectives. There’re also a number of resources out there that can be helpful for unpacking your gender and your feelings around masculinity and femininity.
Pride.com has a list of resources, including Life Outside the Binary and Let’s Queer Things Up. Genderspectrum.org also has a list of online resources, including various online support and discussion groups for folks of various ages. Genderqueer.me likewise has a list of available online resources for folks wanting to know more about non-binary and genderfluid identities as well as LGBT issues. These can give you a starting place for unpacking some of your feelings and questions, as well as connect you with a number of different communities where you can ask questions and get support.
But regardless, there’s one thing to consider: fitting the mold or not isn’t a sign of succeeding or failing at being a particular gender. The “mold” is about commonality and expectations, not rigid definitions. Not fitting perfectly into one particular version of gender doesn’t mean that you have failed or that you’re “something else”. It may mean that yes, that your gender is different or more fluid than your biological sex. Or it may just mean that you’re wonderfully and uniquely you and your not fitting into a particular mold just means that its a bad fit. Better to find what fits you than to try to cram yourself into something too small, too restrictive and unable to handle your awesomeness.
Please send your questions to Dr. NerdLove at his website (www.doctornerdlove.com/contact); or to his email, email@example.com