Friday, December 10, 2010

Film Review - The Butch Factor

The stereotype is that gay men are effeminate, fey, sissy, or in some other way not masculine. But that is a stereotype, not a reality. The opposite misconception is that gay men who are not effeminate are hyper-masculine. Again, a stereotype and not a reality.

The Butch Factor (a 2009 film by Christopher Hines) is a documentary that looks at the issue of masculinity in gay men - the challenges of being an athlete, a cop, or some other role that is generally considered the realm of heterosexual men, not gay men.

Some of the people profiled in the film are former college or professional athletes, including a football player; members of gay rugby and softball leagues; a sheriff's deputy who looks like he can certainly hold his own with the inmates; indie rockers and many other men, including a rodeo cowboy.

Here is a brief synopsis:
Is there a gay man out there who hasn't pondered the meaning of masculinity?

Insightful interviews mixed with entertaining eye-candy make this fast-paced testosterone tour a must-watch movie for all gay men. From the Castro clone culture of the 1970s to today's Bears and gym rats this fascinating investigation of gay men and masculinity blows the lid off old stereotypes and showcases a strapping battalion of interviewees including muscle men, rodeo riders, rugby players and cops. The men speak candidly on a range of topics from homophobia to metrosexuality to embracing effeminacy as they reveal what it means to be a gay man today.

* * * * *

When you grow up straight in America, being masculine is not something that one tends to think about without some kind of prompting - a gender studies class, reading a book, or seeing a film. But if you grow up gay, you study those things seen as masculine and try to learn to "pass" as straight for as long as possible.

Gay men probably know a lot more about masculinity than most straight men because they have had to learn how to perform the enactment of masculinity. As the It Gets Better project demonstrates, for gay teens being able to pass as straight can determine ones survival.

Many of the men they talk to in this film felt out of place in the gay community when they first came out because they were not simply enacting the masculine pose, they actually did enjoy sports and were good at it. One man even questioned his sexual identity because when he came out he did not identify with the image of gay men he saw in the media or in the gay bars. What he came to understand is that his masculinity was simply who he is as a man.

And that's the real lesson in this film for straight viewers - being a man is not about how we look, how we act, the size of our muscles, or the number of women we sleep with - it's about our inner sense of integrity and personal values.

In the gay community, this is most clearly expressed by the Bears - larger, hairier men who do not fit the image of the then, muscular, shaven gay male model (see image to the left). These men tend to be older, larger, and much less concerned about image. They are mature enough to know who they are and that who they are is perfectly fine. They are more accepting of differences and more secure in their own sense of masculinity.

To me, one of the most interesting interviews - which was far too brief - was with a FTM transgender person. He was amazed at what a difference testosterone had made in his life. He was also pleased, it seemed to me, that in transitioning from a heterosexual female to a gay male he had found himself at home in the gay community.

FTM transgendered people are of special interest to me, as I have mentioned before, because their model of masculinity is entirely self-created. Unlike straight men or even gay men, they were not born male so they have none of the unconscious socialization that comes with being born with a penis. Again, we have a lot to learn from these men.

I'm sure most straight guys would not even think about seeing a film like this - but I would highly recommend it. In fact, when I begin offering workshops on developing a more fluid sense of masculine identity, there are segments of this film I would love to use.

No comments: