Words by Mark Reed | @Mark_Reed88

Growing up, there were a number of times in my teens when I was asked if I was gay. I was trying my hardest not to give away any hints at all, and I was petrified that anyone would find out. So, naturally, I denied it. But, just like in Carrie Bradshaw’s weekly advice column, it got me thinking about what I was putting across that people were picking up on: My slight lisp? My sensitivity? My complete lack of interest in football?

It’s not uncommon for gay men to struggle with the fact that they don’t fit the masculine mould – especially when growing up. And while I may now be a very happy gay man who’s firmly out of the closet, I’m certainly not a masculine man by any means. But that’s totally fine, as I can now safely say that masculinity is an outdated, bullshit concept that I have zero time for. Unfortunately, in the wider world and also, very sadly, in the gay community, we idolise masculinity. We even seek it in our partners: a strong, confident individual who’s independent and assertive, and may seek companionship but is entirely self-reliant. But what if that’s not you? What if you don’t have those traits? Well, don’t worry, because you my friend are a magical unicorn and that’s infinitely better.

And if any of you magical unicorns were in doubt of your true awesomeness, let me share some excellent reasons as to why you should not give two shits about masculinity:

I’ll watch RuPaul’s Drag Race if I want to

I once came across an acquaintance on Tinder and on their profile the following words were emblazoned: ‘If you watch RuPaul’s Drag Race, we probably won’t get along’. You know what? I agree with him, but probably not for the same reason. I won’t get along with him because he’s a judgemental prick. He implied in this comment and throughout his profile that being interested in that show makes you less of a ‘straight-acting’ male and, therefore, less desirable. But fuck him. We all get to choose what activities and things we like to watch and do, and shame on him and anyone else who would judge us so quickly on our choice of TV show. You can enjoy football, stamp-collecting or making macramé headdresses: the choice is yours. But you must never stop yourself from doing things that make you happy.

Own your emotions, don’t suppress them

Growing up, I was acutely aware that I was different from a lot of other boys my age. I remember feeling everything so vividly. This feeling continued into my teens and early twenties. When I was upset about the fact that I didn’t get the part in the university play, I was bitterly upset. When the boy I liked didn’t like me back, I felt awful. I wished for an absence of feeling. I wished for the ability to not feel anything, to be like the guys who seemed to be able to mute their emotions with the touch of a button. But, in reality, my sensitivity has served me well throughout my life. It’s helped me to identify and tap into the emotions of a whole range of different characters throughout my acting career. It’s also made me a good friend and a better partner in a relationship. It’s helped me to avoid arguments and, more importantly, support those around me when I see them struggling. Being sensitive doesn’t make you less of a man, it makes you a better one * drops the mic *.

Be yourself. Everyone else is already taken.

It’s a sad truth of the gay community that we often favour masculinity. Gay men who are camp are regarded as less attractive, whereas gay men who are butch and toned are seen as the absolute epitome of the ideal man. If we needed any confirmation of this sad truth, we need look no further than Grindr and Scruff where the phrases ‘Straight-acting’, ‘masc4masc’ and ‘no fats, no fems’ are never in short supply. This internalised homophobia is perplexing, especially in a community that has faced so many prejudices. We’ve effectively created a hierarchy where beefy, bearded hunks are at the top and camp gay men at the bottom (yes there’s an obvious joke there, I’m just too frustrated to make it). And while there may be a bucket load of dickheads out there perpetuating these myths, you don’t have to abide by them. You just have to be the best version of yourself. And someone is going to like you for being that guy, rather than trying to be someone you’re not. Don’t forget that you’re actually a magical unicorn so you’re kinda a big deal.

Masculinity is a hangover from a distant past

Masculinity is not something to aspire to. It’s a set of antiquated behaviours that are a hangover from a time when men needed to kill things to survive. At that time, sure, masculinity would have served you well when you were hunting mammoths. But those ideas of what a man should or should not be don’t hold today. Not talking about your problems because you think you should be able to handle them on your own is not healthy, at all. And feeling the need to subscribe to a certain set of behaviours in order to be considered a real man can be seriously harmful. If you weren’t already convinced, then look at the results of a masculinity audit conducted in 2016 by mental health charity CALM. The results were startling, with 61% of the gay men surveyed reporting having felt depressed.

Now at this point you may think that I’ve been a bit of a masculinity basher in this piece, and you’re right, I 100% am. I just dream of a world where we don’t have to define ourselves by these ridiculous terms any more. I want to live in a place where none of us are masculine or feminine. Where we don’t worry about what traits we do or don’t have. Where we’re all just magical fucking unicorns.