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‘Gay men won’t be truly free until we learn to ditch labels like masc and femme’

By Will Stroude

In today’s post-RuPaul landscape of fast-evolving, rule-bending genders, sexualities and roles, set identities are becoming a thing of the past.

A more fluid and open understanding is slowly setting in in which people’s inner world (of feeling, knowing and sensing of who we are) is winning the right to run the show, instead of the previously accepted rules of looks and appearance.

The LGBT community (the very definition of which is synonym for being beyond cultural norm) has always been at the frontier of this exploration. However, a conversation once reserved to queer bars and gay magazines has gone mainstream, making its way into TV shows and red carpets. The boxes we once lived in have been thrown wide open.

So, the question remains: is our work done? Can we rest upon our laurels, safe in the knowledge that the world is a better, more inclusive place?

For sure, we should celebrate our current reality, and honour the blood, tears and sweat spilt by our homo-ancestors to get us to this expansive time in history. However, along with the fact that many parts of the world are nowhere near close to our newfound freedom, there still is a clear need for a little bit more self-introspection: It’s time to take a look at the man in the mirror (or woman, or whatever else you identify as).

Just a few years back, I remember my own fascination for ultra-masculine men: the kind that looked like they would throw you around the bedroom (and then out of their house ten minutes later), and cause a lifetime of Sex and the City-style emotional suffering. Sure, I had some ‘camp’ friends, but they seemed to me to be purely for entertainment value (what could a hyper-effeminate male teach me, went my thinking at the time).

In hindsight, I recognise that I had divided the world between two polar opposites: on one side, a heavily-distorted image of masculinity, and on the other an equally-distorted image of femininity. There were no grey areas; no room for anything in between. And certainly no space for authenticity.

The fact was, I was living divided within my own self; desperate to present my masculine side while avoiding my feminine side at all costs. I revered the gym, muscles, emotional detachment and feats of strength and despised emotions, brotherhood, vulnerability and true self-care.

How many gay men like me have spent countless hours worrying about the tone of our voices, the sway of our hips, the limpness of our wrists, lying in fear of being discovered for the ‘girl’ within us that we’ve been so desperately trying to suppress?

And how many of our queer brothers and sisters have done similar things to themselves, masking their authenticity, their voice or their true desires?

Because the truth is, we’ve been convinced that the right body, job or clothes would provide the decoy we needed so that others would never truly see us. Everyone has been living the same shared dream, in the silent and unspoken agreement that what is on the surface is what is true.

Well I’m sorry to say that it hasn’t worked: we humans are far too sensitive. We feel each other far more than we think we do. Our emotional, intuitive, softer sides are far too powerful, too wise and too pleasurable to be held prisoners any longer.

Perhaps it is time to see our situation as the blessing and responsibility it is, as we exist at the frontier of gender norms, pushing accepted boundaries every single day. We are the revolutionaries and explorers of sexuality, the Che Guevaras and Shackletons of gender. It isn’t for nothing that queer Native American were known as ‘Two-Souls’, and would be the healers, visionaries and guides of the tribe.

But this revolution must start first within ourselves; without self-introspection it has no meaning and is merely a band-aid. The wider shift must start with an observing, an allowing, a mothering of our own inner separation, a welcoming of the parts of ourselves we try to hide.

After working with many men and women (straight, gay, bi and many more) over similar issues – it is clear that this division of so-called masculinity and femininity is everywhere. Much suffering is caused by these old images that have been running our lives.

It’s easy to blame the outside world; these distorted images are present everywhere we look, from porn to fitness magazines. But in order for true change to happen, we must be willing to see ourselves objectively first. We have to pause and consciously ask ourselves questions such as ‘What do I believe to be true about masculinity?’, or ‘How do I define femininity?’.  It might take a little digging: these old images are deeply ingrained in our unconscious.

On my path, I have also learnt to use the outside world as a ‘way in’, in the understanding that whatever I judge or reject outside of me reflects something I am rejecting on the inside. This led me to face some hard truths about myself, including how I had projected my own self-hatred onto people close to me. And yet through this process I found another, deeper level of self-love and authenticity.

If we are ever going to let go of the need for letters and acronyms for our identity, we need to learn to move beyond our labels first. Because only when we can let go of our own unconscious bias, of our dualistic minds, of our age-old stories of what is right or wrong, good or bad, masculine or feminine – can we truly find the freedom we’ve been craving.

Follow Edward Pike on Twitter @edwillpike and find out more about him on his sites and

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