Opinion Screen Shot 2013-03-13 at 5.41.08 PM

Published on March 13th, 2013 | by Toi

Shades of Masculinity: On Strength, Perceptions of Power and Desirability

By Toi

What does strength look like to you?

Many of us are caught up in the ways that we’ve been socialized to believe what strength looks like, especially as it pertains to masculine presenting folks. Often, I see “strength” being tied to the performance of male roles and traits, especially aggression, cockiness, etc…I see “strength” as tied to a specific kind of power that has been relegated to males and that is connected to the outward expression of dominance in all its ways of being portrayed.

Inner strength is often overlooked. A masculine-of-center person with an enormous reserve of inner strength who is “holding it down,” but who does not express an aggressive attitude or what we’ve come to label as “masculine” or “male” energy, is sometimes seen as weak, or not compatible in the ever-perpetuated butch/femme dichotomy.

I think we need to reexamine maleness and masculinity in a way that doesn’t carry the assumptions of what “masculine energy” looks like. Is the gender binary so far entrenched in our psyche or queer collective consciousness that we must tie masculine to stereotypical “maleness,”  while opposing stereotypical “femaleness” and femininity in a cyclical way that is neither definitive or serving to us?

There are different shades of masculinity, but only one of those shades receives precedence: the butch, the AG, the aggressive, the dom, the macha. They are usually seen as more “legit”and also more desirable. This plays out similarly in transmasculine and transmen circles often.This outward display, the way a person “holds themselves,” or project a certain image of masculinity. Essentially, the way people  interact and participate in the world as this very specific portrayal of masculinity, is often validated while other forms of masculinity are invalidated.

Masculine energy: should this always be tied to white patriarchal notions? Let’s define “patriarchal notions,” the colonizers had very specific ideas about the place of “man” and “woman.” Generally, a woman was responsible for the private sphere (the home) and the man was responsible for interactions in the public sphere. The man had a whole list of traits and characteristics tied to what we think of today as “masculine” and “manly” while the women took on the polar opposite. She was to be soft-spoken, demure, docile, loving, the caregiver, etc. This “balance” was stifling to women and in many ways against the ways gender roles played out in the pre-colonial societies of our ancestors (for more information, visit this  previous blog post).

Should the butch/femme dynamic always take its cues from this type of “balancing” of male and female roles and behaviors? Why does masculine and feminine have to look so static and replicate hetero relationships and a patriarchal model?

Are QPOC subversive in their relationships? Do we sometimes appear to be replicating this model but our relationships are more complementary like those relationships of our ancestors? I can’t say I’ve seen much of this in the very visible relationships in some of our circles. But maybe the folks in these relationships aren’t part of any “scenes”. Maybe they’ve been alienated like us masculine folks who don’t adhere to the assumptions of how we should act and be. I don’t have the answer.

And if we are subversive, why do queers, feminists, womanists, and radicals still accidentally recreate the ever so problematic patriarchy by unconsciously being committed to concepts of masculine and feminine being tied to these entrenched societal notions of male and female?

Honestly, I’m confused as to why strength looks like an “aggressive” male or female. Why is it tied to the traits of a “man”? Why is manhood  “more desirable” in our communities? And what is masculinity and femininity really if we take away assumptions and the characteristics we’re socialized to believe are male and female? What is masculine and feminine energy when not tied to perceptions of strength and roles we’ve been assigned? And why is this energy in people so polarized? Why is the polarization of this energy valued so much in this society? Is it because it makes it easier to know who should have power and who shouldn’t? Seems to work pretty well in a male-dominated society. But how do  matrilineal and matriarchal societies function?

So many questions, plenty of time.

Also, some etymology:

1) male (noun)
a) a male person : a man or a boy b) an individual that produces small usually motile gametes (as spermatozoa or spermatozoids) which fertilize the eggs of a female

2) male (adjective)
a) of, relating to, or characteristic of the male sex
b) of, relating to, or being the sex that produces gametes which fertilize the eggs of a female


b : having qualities appropriate to or usually associated with a man
Masculinity is possessing qualities or characteristics considered typical of or appropriate to a

Origin of MALE

Middle English, from Anglo-French masle, male, adjective & noun, from Latin masculus,

First Known Use: 14th century


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About the Author


Toi S. is from Austin, Texas. They are best described as a multi-racial, multi-lingual, genderqueer philosophactivist, health advocate, queer and civil rights activist, grassroots organizer and “peacemonger”/peace activist. Toi is also an anti-oppression facilitator for medical and social service professionals, a womanist, a reluctant academic and a willing educator.

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