Bridges, T. 2014. “A Very ‘Gay’ Straight?”

Bridges, Tristan. 2014. “A Very ‘Gay’ Straight? Hybrid Masculinities, Sexual Aesthetics, and the Changing Relationship between Masculinity and Homophobia.” Gender & Society 28(1): 58-82.

Heterosexual men’s use of identifying “gay” characteristics to aid in construction of heterosexual-masculine identities — distances self from privilege, expresses “progressivity” or movement away from stereotypes of masculinity – however, does not interrogate ways these men benefit from/engage in gender-sexual inequality- especially white, heterosexual masculinity.

Use of “gay aesthetics” (here) to construct hybrid masculinities (HM to Demetriou 2001; Messner 1993) – which serve to distance selves from stigma/stereotypes of masculinity.  Though homophobia considered critical element of defining contemporary masculinities (Connell 1992; Pascoe 2007) – men interviewed here challenge this notion.  Use of “sexual aesthetics”: “cultural and stylistic distinctions used to delineate boundaries between gay and straight cultures and individuals” (59).

Hybrid masculinities as “gender projects that incorporate ‘bits and pieces’ (Demetriou 2001) of marginalized and subordinated masculinities, and, at times, femininities” (here 59-60) — accounting for recent changes in masculinities’ “practices, performances, and politics” (60).

  • HybMasc as move toward gender-sexual equality (Anderson 2009’s notion of “inclusive masculinity”; McCormack 2012)
  • HybMasc as perpetuating inequalities in emergent, inconspicuous ways (Demetriou 2001; Messner 1993).
    • hybmascs “represent highly significant (but exaggerated) shifts in the cultural and personal styles … but these changes do not necessarily contribute to the undermining of conventional structures of men’s power. Although ‘softer’ and more ‘sensitive’ styles of masculinity are developing among some privileged groups of men, this does not necessarily contribute to the emancipation of women; in fact, quite the contrary may be true” (Messner 1993: 725).
    • Demetriou (2001) – white heterosexual men’s appropriation of marginalized Others to reinforce race, sexual, and gender privileges – “blurring gender differences and boundaries, but presenting no real challenges to inequality” (61).

HybMasc as “specific masculine practices that may be appropriated into other masculinities” (Connell and Messerschmidt 2005: 845) – however, view hybmasc as localized, not indicative of anything more broad (hybmasc as subcultural, vs. larger social trend).

Men within these organizations associate stereotypical symbols of “gay aesthetics” (performing sexuality, gayness) as means to demonstrate authentic gay identities, memberships — see also notion that Americans are becoming more “skilled at reading signs of sexual identity” (Seidman 2002: 56) — however, these traits are highly classed and raced.  Sexual aesthethics as tastes (types of literature, appearance), behaviors (bodily comportment and speech, marked by gender transgressions – connecting effeminacy with gay behavior/aesthetic; sexualization of feminine traits, even within ‘gay’ contexts), and ideological (support for certain political issues – alliance with feminism assumed to be pridefully emasculating – using gender issues as gay aesthetic to authentically situate themselves as politically progressive, even when actively sexualizing these causes) – see page 69 here.  See Connell (1992) for discussion of gay men’s use of “straight aesthetics” as a means to negotiate safety and gender identification – straight men’s use of gay aesthetics “was not associated with an understanding of sexual aesthetics as part of systems of power and inequality” (Bridges here, 72).

Messerschmidt (2010): “Hegemony may be accomplished… by the incorporation of certain aspects of [marginalized and subordinated masculinities or femininity] into a functioning gender order rather than by active oppression… In practice, of course, incorporation and oppression can occur together” (39, here 73).

Identification of and with gayness reinforces sexual difference, and acts as a means to contrast themselves from other men through “better fit” of culture and politics of gay men — differs from Pascoe (2007)’s ‘fag discourse’ as it subverts the notion that homophobia is central to contemporary masculinity.  No less, this adoption of gay aesthetic helps to reproduce gender/sexual inequality, as well as reinforce heterosexuality as culturally dominant.  Heterosexuality, to interviewe men, often felt dull or meaningless, encouraging a desire to distance oneself, establish individuality, uniqueness through gender “queering” — however, not distancing self from ALL heterosexual men – relying on discursive strategies to maintain heterosexual affiliation while leaving own heterosexuality uninterrogated (presumed innocent – I’m a good person, as I’m not THAT type of person.)

  • “The men in this study utilized gay aesthetics to fill the perceived emptiness of straight masculinities – but they maintained a heterosexual identity and thus continued to benefit from the privileges associated with heterosexuality” (77) — contributing to “the formation of a self-conscious, deliberate public culture of heterosexuality” (Seidman 2002: 115, here 77).
  • Connell (1992): “The social identity of being gay … is now so well formed that it can be imposed on people…. Gayness is now so reified that it is easy for men to experience the process of adopting this social definition as discovering a truth about themselves” (743-44, here 68) — see also material on gay use of sraight aesthetics as means to assert gender identification — here, Bridges’ examination of straight use of gay aesthetics as means of dis-identification?
  • “It begins only when the oppressors come to have a bad conscience, and this only happens when their power is no longer secure. The idealizing of the victim is useful for a time: if virtue is the greatest of goods, and if subjection makes people virtuous, it is kind to refuse them power, since it would destroy their virtue” (Russell 1937: 731) — the superior virtue of the oppressed (women, etc.) allows men to saddle and side with their well-being, but promotes a discourse where dividends of inequality go unquestioned yet reaped – sustaining ideological support for inequalities during times of “transition” (when hierarchies/categories crumble).

“Hybridization in the realm of representation and in concrete, everyday practices make [new iterations of inequality] appear less oppressive and more egalitarian” (Demetriou 2001: 355).



  • “… the belief in the pre-social nature of gay aesthetics is part of an essentialist discourse that identifies and fortifies symbolic sexual boundaries between gay and straight aesthetics, and solidifies social boundaries between gay and straight individuals” (78) – while interviewed men “play” with practices and boundaries, they also reinforce the fixity of these categories.
  • [Interviewed men] – seemingly unintentionally – capitalize on symbolic sexual boundaries to distance themselves from specific configurations of hegemonic masculinity, but not necessarily the associated privileges” (78) – although these men distance themselves from forms of HM, they still reap the benefits of its embeddedness, their identification with it.
  • “… straight men’s reliance on gay aesthetics to enrich their heterosexual gender identities implicitly softens more authentic claims to sexual inequality” (78) – while giving substance and value to gayness, they also simultaneously distance themselves from the stigma associated with gay masculinities — similar to whites desiring “a bit of the Other” (hooks 1992) to fill cultural void, entrenching systems of inequality further (Hughey 2012 – within discussions of race).
    1. “By casually framing being gay only as fun and exciting, this practice allows these men to ignore the persistence of extreme sexual inequality and the hardships that actual gay men face every day” (79).

“These men’s reliance on gay aesthetics expands ‘acceptable’ performances of straight masculinity, but does so without challenging the systems of inequality from which they emerge” (80).


Anderson, Eric. 2009. Inclusive Masculinity. New York: Routledge.

Connell, Raewyn W. 1992. “A Very Straight Gay.” American Sociological Review 57(6): 735-51.

Connell, Raewyn W. and James Messerschmidt. 2005. “Hegemonic Masculinity: Rethinking the Concept.” Gender & Society 19(6): 829-59.

Demetriou, Demetrakis. 2001. “Connell’s Concept of Hegemonic Masculinity: A Critique.” Theory and Society 30(3): 337-361.

hooks, bell. 1992. “Eating the Other.” In Black Looks: Race and Representation. Boston: South End Press.

Hughey, Matthew. 2012. White Bound. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press.

McCormack, Mark. 2012. The Declining Significance of Homophobia. New York: Oxford University Press.

Messerschmidt, James. 2010. Hegemonic Masculinities and Camouflaged Politics. Boulder, CO: Paradigm.

Messner, Michael. 1993. “’Changing Me’ and Feminist Politics in the United States”. Theory and Society 22(5): 723-37.

Pascoe, C.J. 2007. Dude, You’re a Fag. Berkeley: University of California Press.

Russell, Bertrand. 1937. “The Superior Virtue of the Oppressed.” The Nation 26: 731-32.

Seidman, Steven. 2002. Beyond the Closet. New York: Routledge.


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