We need to talk about gay men using body types to conform to heteronormative gender roles
November 8, 2017
By Siete Saudades / Black Youth Project*, AFROPUNK Contributor
I ran into a client of mine on the tube recently. She was surprised to see me in London, of all places. Normally, I see her in New York. I am a spiritual mercenary, and this client normally receives quarterly divinations from me, so we began to chat about some upcoming goals to be addressed during our next meeting.
She was with a small gay man who, after first trying to sit on my lap without my consent, sized up my income by assessing my coat as an “expensive” piece of clothing and volunteered himself to accompany me on a date. He never even asked my name.
I told him to slow it down. I let him know that I have no problem finding dates and I don’t need any volunteers. Not only had he been presumptuous, but he hadn’t even given me a chance to express any interest in him, if I’d had any.
“So what’s your type?” he inquired.
“First of all,” I began. “You’re too short.”
He was shook. SHOOK.
Still, he continued. “Small bottoms go well with big tops, because you can just fling them around on the bed and have your way.”
As if I don’t already know that.
His final inquiry to me: “Why would you want to fuck a giraffe?“
I always find it interesting (read: puerile) how men at or below average height assume, because I am tall, naturally muscular, and broad, that by default I am and should be interested in someone who is much tinier than myself. This is largely because this is how my heterosexual counterparts tend to be. This is compounded by how size disparity is fetishized and how that translates into the politics of desirability.
I also find it interesting that he went out of his way to insult and shame my hypothetical counterpart (and, by extension, insult and shame me and my sexual/dating choices)—a counterpart who is supposed to be less favored for someone like me within the context of heteronormative desirability politics. Notably, he also felt very comfortable invading my personal space. What he did was essentially sexual harassment.
In order to properly convey the background for all of this to you, we will have to note that additionally involved here is imposed heteronormativity and internalized homophobia, as well as the policing of expected gender norms.
Our bodies are labeled from birth, when we are assigned sex and gender. From there, we are further subjected to gendering as we grow up. We will conform, as well as fail to conform, to these socially constructed norms throughout life. This criterion, including the expectation of being heterosexual while articulating our assigned binary gender, is called heteronormativity. In LGBT+ relationships, we are also all-too-often expected to conform to these standards.
Men are expected to be as masculine as possible (the norms of which are decided intraculturally), and we are seen as more desirable if we are tall. The opposite is true for women. Other genders, the genderless, and the genderfluid are marginalized/ignored/erased/maligned altogether. They are, however, expected to align with their assigned gender at the expense of their own agency and desires.
Our heights and sizes play a role in how desirability politics affect us. Taller men are expected to be tops and tops must always be masculine, while shorter and feminine men are assumed to be bottoms. Because of this, short tops and tall bottoms are often overlooked or considered undesirable altogether. As such, tall bottoms are often forced to compensate via hypermasculinity. They are deemed less desirable because their height coupled with their “feminine” station as a bottom challenges fragile notions of masculinity, much like how tall women have a hard time finding partners.
Patriarchy-based privilege and politics aside, in my experience and observation, it always seems to be the tiny folk that demand guys my height be available and accessible to them, both romantically and sexually (and it’s always about what we can do for them), and I’m like… who said we all want you? Who said I wanna do all that extra work? Maybe I wanna be with someone who can reach the top shelf too.
Maybe I’m more than just someone who can make you feel protected and safe, and fling you around and dominate you (which I can and will do for/to anyone I date, on our own agreed-upon terms). Maybe I want someone who can watch my back too. Shit. And maybe I just don’t give a shit about your heteronormative assumptions.
It’s nice to not have to always be hyper-aware of my size or be fetishized and objectified because of it.
Socially acceptable gender is all about the performativity of the feminine and the masculine. Within this, there are expectations and permissions.
For instance, as a masculine mesomorph, there are many forms of labor that are asked of me simply because of my stature and the gendered ideas that are ascribed to a body like mine.
I am expected to follow patriarchal ideals around money (and its use), I am expected to be aggressive, and I am expected to not articulate my emotions (outside of anger). It is expected that I will not talk much, that I will not have many gay friends (because having openly gay friends is seen as an indictment against my masculinity, and therefore my desirability), and that I will dress in a way that conforms to ideals of urban masculine dress.
I am held in restraint by these, and other expectations. Conforming to desirability politics means having more sexual and romantic options. Diverging from them means less options. The cost of desirability is, all too often, freedom of expression and agency.
This event on the London tube was a single moment, but what underlays it is all the various dynamics at play—dynamics around who and what is desired, as well as why and how, and what that means practically. Present within these dynamics are their consequences—that our bodies and the way people relate to them determine how people engage with us, without any prior engagement or any other information being relayed. People stereotype you based on your body size and body type and make assumptions, many of which can be very damaging.
These ideas, these politics, are gendered and they are part and parcel of how gender is created and perpetuated in societies. As a result, they are culturally specific. In the West, gender is usually heteronormative and binary, although with the public resurgence of non binary genders, there is a significant challenge to binary heteronormativity. Hopefully broader gender identification will lead to healthier and more diverse expression of gender in the public forum.
It is important for us to understand that genders, like the cultures that have given birth to them, exist in finite spaces and in time, and are never universal.
I won’t pretend that this piece is a perfect examination of gender and desirability—it arose out of a single moment and there are many dynamics at play which are beyond the scope of this piece—but I would like for us to examine, intentionally, the subtle threads that weave together what we want, and why we want it.
I’m sure a lot more of what we want and why would be under critique.
Perhaps it should be.