James AKA JRubberCub has become a familiar face in the fetish world over the last few years, thanks to creating and managing the Rubbermen of London social group and club night. He is also an outspoken body positivity activist, plus size model, writer, and he's on a one-man mission to change how we view ourselves and fetish for the better. Here he talks about toxic masculinity on the fetish scene and in the wider gay world:
As boys we are told many things that help shape us for later in life. All the times parents coo about how their baby boy will break girls' hearts. Being told not to cry. Being referred to as sensitive, as though it's some sort of consolation. Shamed for wanting to play with 'girls' toys, or wear girls' clothing. 'Boys' toys mostly having their themes in trade, violence or war. Being forced into partaking in sports despite showing no interest. Being told that 'girls' things' are bad. And it doesn't stop as we reach adolescence. As teens we are told both directly, and through the media, that we should 'man up' and not show emotion. That men should be dominant to women. That affection between too men is gay. That being gay is unnatural. That violence is the best way to solve conflict. That we have to be fit and tough to be desirable. That intelligence and sensitivity are less important. That making money is more important than following a passion. I could go on and on, but I guess you get the point. All these things lead up to what is called toxic masculinity.
According to Urban Dictionary, the definition of toxic masculinity is thus; "A social science term that describes narrow repressive type of ideas about the male gender role, that defines masculinity as exaggerated masculine traits like being violent, unemotional, sexually aggressive, and so forth". Now, you'd be forgiven for thinking that because being gay goes against so many of these things, that toxic masculinity couldn't possibly exist within the gay world, but my friends, you would be so wrong.
We are taught our whole lives that to be gay is to also inhabit a whole load of other traits. Feminine, interested in fashion, beauty and hair, high-pitched voices, a certain walk, etc. You know the ones; you're probably thinking about them now. For some reason these traits are largely considered negative for a man to have, and they just so happen to be traits that females stereotypically tend to possess. Coincidence? Definitely not. Obviously absolutely anyone can inhabit any of these traits, not just gay men, and yet, it's such a deeply ingrained negative stereotype, that even other gay men judge each other for them. We are all aware of the 'masc 4 masc' types, the 'straight acting' descriptor, the "I like my men to be men" refrain. What these imply is that if you are a feminine man, you're not worthy of admiration or being deemed sexy. "BUT ITS JUST WHAT I'M ATTRACTED TOO" I can hear you dying to shout, but have you ever stopped to think why that's all you consider attractive? What we deem as attractive, tends to reflect whatever we find the most ideal scenario. If you grew up in a particularly male dominated environment, or perhaps got ridiculed for not being masculine, you're more likely to see value in that trait, and strive to achieve that not just for yourself, but also within your partners and friends too. The same goes for race and body image. We are told subliminally that being white and slim is the only desirable type, so we subconsciously don't find them attractive, which leads to us consciously excluding them, hence "No Fats, Not Fems, No Asians" being so commonly used on Grindr profiles that it has actually entered the wider world as a joke.
The fetish world is particularly bad at perpetuating these ideas of masculinity. As fetishists you're expected to act as masculine as possible, especially within kink spaces. There are certain aesthetics that are to be strived for, both in your own looks, and the outfits you wear, especially within the leather community. Being into lingerie or fem clothing is something to be embarrassed of and hidden away. You're expected to want to look like, and embody, the men shown in Tom of Finland's famous drawings. If you're not interested in cruising and anonymous hooks ups, you're not doing it correctly. All of these things not only perpetuate the toxic notions of what it means to be the antithetical gay male ideal, but make for an incredibly intimidating, and often unfriendly environment for people that don't fit those molds.
I have two friends - for anonymities sake let's call them Bill and Ben. Bill is constantly ridiculed for not fitting these masculine ideals. He's small and slim, bleaches his hair, loves fem gear, and couldn't hide his campness if his life depended on it. Ben, on the other hand, is muscly, has a shaved head, a septum ring, a deep voice, and passes as straight without even trying. Just because they fit in the stereotypical masc and fem categories, doesn't mean that's what defines them. Bill likes being a dominant top just as much as Ben does, and Ben knows every word to every musical that Bill likes. But because Ben is outwardly more masculine, he is viewed as more desirable sexual partner than Bill, and Bill routinely faces shaming directed at him based on how he is. That's fucked up. Just imagine how much great sex we are all missing out on by judging partners on such a rigid binary.
I'm no angel, I've definitely suffered from the toxic masculinity in the past. I'd hold myself differently, lower the pitch of my voice and steer clear of camp topics, but I found it exhausting eventually. It's so much easier to just be yourself. And therein lies the problem. Most of the gay men that consider themselves masc or straight acting are doing exactly that - acting. Pretending to be something you're not is a sure-fire way to leave you unfulfilled and unhappy. I can't help but wonder how much of this is driven by deep-rooted shame. Shame that we don't live up to what people expect a man to be, perhaps, or a way of distancing ourselves from those traits we don't like in ourselves. It's no coincidence that the groups of people that are having the best time in the club, are the ones that don't care what others think of them.
It's also necessary to point out that toxic masculinity, and being masculine, are not the same thing. You can absolutely be a masculine guy and not be toxic. There is nothing wrong with liking sport, having a deep voice, being hairy, enjoying workout, or any other these other masculine traits, as long as you don't use them as reasons as to why you're better than a man that doesn't have them. Others being feminine, and by extension, the scene embracing them more, shouldn't threaten your own masculinity if its genuine. Nothing makes me smile more at a fetish event than when you see a guy in full BLUF leather, rocking a pair of killer heels with it. We should all lift up and support these guys that are willing to be themselves and go against the grain.
Thankfully things are changing…slowly. Thanks to shows like RuPaul's Drag Race and Queer Eye - where gay men of all different types are celebrated for who they are, regardless of how they fit in certain binary boxes - every gay is liberated to do the same. I've seen more fetish men start playing with make-up and drag. Being open about their love of dance and fashion. Posting pictures in their fishnets and heels to kinky social media. And not letting outdated ideas of what a man needs to be limit their dating pool. There is no one way to be a man. Every single man is valid the way he is. And whilst society has a long way to go to change the exceptions we put on boys when they are young, I hope we are starting to see that change. So next time you go to reject someone because he has a high-pitched voice, or wears heels sometimes, ask yourself why, and take the time to push past it, you never know, it might be the best sex you ever have.
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