When I was 12, my family and I packed our bags and headed out to America, far from war-torn Lebanon, where I had lived my entire life. I was in no way prepared for this move: I did not speak English, I didn’t know what a bake sale was, and I crossed my legs when I sat down. Within a year though, I learned the basics of survival. I took intensive language courses, actively volunteered at bake sales, and learned to pretend my penis was too big to be able to cross my legs comfortably.
What I couldn’t figure out though, was how to be a man.
I never thought about being a man until I found myself in the 6th grade with lots of American boys. Before then, I had always figured that, hey, I have a penis, I kind of like my penis, so I must be a man.
But America knew better.
To be a man in America, you had to act a certain way, dress a certain way, talk a certain way, sit a certain way and walk a certain way. It all seemed like a big act, and I was desperate to be included in it.
As it turned out, being masculine just meant having to pretend a lot. You had to pretend you didn’t like pink clothes, or that you didn’t like musicals, or that you found the popular girls really hot, or that you were really into basketball, and on and on.
I struggled to figure things out, but, as luck would have it, I suddenly became friends, then good friends, then best friends, with the most popular boy in the class.
Sam was as masculine as it gets. He was on the American football team. He always sat with his legs wide open. He claimed to have had sex with at least two girls, and he was proudly showing off his new pubes. Sam quickly became my role model for how men should act.
I took my cues from him, and with every single day, new lies made me more of a man. I joined the volleyball team (football was too scary for me), realized I actually had more pubes than Sam, and I made up stories about girlfriends I had left behind in Beirut.
With Sam, I was turning into an all-American boy.
And then Sam sucked my cock.
And because everything Sam did was masculine, and I was on a mission to be masculine, I sucked his.
And just as easily as his cock fell into my mouth, my masculinity somehow disappeared for everyone around me. Within a couple of days, Sam stopped talking to me, and when that happened, people around me started whispering a lot. With time, the whispers grew louder and more audible. “Dick-sucking faggot” and “Dick lover” became my nicknames.
But no one ever said anything about Sam, who had been the one to initiate the sucking party. Sam could not have possibly sucked my cock. He was too manly for such a vile and feminine act. Sam only got sucked. That was manly!
I, however, was clearly a cocksucker. After all, I crossed my legs.
Luckily for me, I left Los Angeles a month later and returned to Beirut, as Lebanon’s war came to a supposed end.
In Beirut, I discovered I was gay. Actually, I don’t like the word discover. It’s not like I went on a hike through the mountains and forests and savannahs to finally discover that I did, indeed, like the cock. It was more of a dawning self-awareness that suddenly made me aware of something that’s always been there. It made me dig a little deeper, and, eventually, I ended up making out with four boys in a dark room on the secret underground floor of a posh nightclub. So, yeah, I was gay, and, strangely enough given my religious upbringing, it didn’t bother me.
Here, in this magical queer world, I saw men that contradicted everything I had learned about masculinity. I saw men with bulging muscles wearing high heels. I saw effeminate men dominate ultra muscular hairy men sexually. I discovered the raw masculinity of Tom of Finland. I saw muscles, hair, sweat, and lipstick all come together perfectly and naturally.
It didn’t take me too long to be comfortable coming out to those close to me; then to those a little less close to me; and finally to total strangers. To help with this process, I put up a defense mechanism that forced me not to care what others thought about me. It allowed me to act however I wanted…for the most part.
Ideas of what was masculine and feminine were no longer my priorities, and I quickly started embodying traits associated with both . I became more feminine than I was before because I was no longer scared that someone might think I was gay. And, because I let my feminine attributes come out, my masculine attributes were now more genuine. I became a pink-loving, bearded man who loved musicals, video games, and baking. I stopped thinking about who I was, and just became myself.
This new me created confusion in the straight people I had come out to. As a straight man, they had considered me to be feminine, but, now, as a gay man, I was a shining beacon of masculinity. I suddenly appeared incredibly masculine in their eyes. For them, a gay person was shining with glitter, walked around wearing feather boas, and had purses falling out of their mouths every time they talked. They certainly didn’t have a deep voice, facial hair, or watch the television show ‘24’. For them, the simple fact that I didn’t have a limp wrist made me masculine.
With my newfound masculinity, I had a certain superiority in the eyes of straight people. Suddenly, my masculinity became something that made me better than those other gays. “Why can’t all gay men be normal like you?” my friends would ask. “Why do they have to act so feminine?” Straight people had no problem with gay people, as long as they didn’t in any way “act gay.”
For straight people, gays were OK as long as they were straight-acting: it was comfortable and familiar for them, and it helped them ignore the actual sexual acts between two men. Because only flamboyant boys get fucked in the ass. Straight-acting boys would never toss their legs up in the air.
To deal with this, I escaped into the gay world, where I hoped such things didn’t matter.
Then, I discovered Grindr.
For the gays of this dating app, the masculinity spectrum seemed just as important as it was for my straight friends. “No fems please”, “straight-acting” or “masc for masc” showed up everywhere, pushing me deeper into complete confusion about what it meant to be masculine. Now, how easily I could get laid depended on how masculine I was. I had no idea which scale to use—the straight measure of masculinity or the gay one?
A typical conversation on Grindr played out like this:
- Top or Bottom
- Versatile. You?
- Top. Are you masculine?
- I don’t know. What’s masculine and what’s not?
- No fems please. No offense but I don’t want to fuck a woman.
- Well, I have a penis, if that’s what you’re worried about.
- You sound like you’re feminine. Bye.
Suddenly, in the gay world, you had to act like a man to fuck like a man. Otherwise, you were undesirable, or even worse, you were a woman. It made no sense whatsoever. Why were gay men in search of straight-acting, “non-feminine” guys? After all, is there anything less “straight-acting” than a man sucking another man’s cock? For a while, this was all very confusing. Then I started meeting gender queer folks, trans folks, butch kings, butch queens, self-identified lady boys, cis queers, and so on and so on. I tried to place myself somewhere in there, but I realized it was pointless.
There is no universal scale of the masculine and the feminine. And once you realize there is no scale, it is freeing. And this freedom allows you to define your own masculinity.
Mine shines brightly with glitter.