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Heteronormative values in gay couples: being masculine/feminine and sexual practices

Opinion post by Vince Mallia

When I was a teenager, I admit I was a person whose idea of being gay largely depended on either being masculine or feminine. I think this also reflected my way of, or my trying to, sensing who is gay and who is not, a form of cognitive heuristic known by the gay community as the gaydar (Rule & Alaei, 2016). Though today, at 25 years of age, I know better, especially because I know men who are very much gay but possess very masculine and very little feminine traits.

I may have done this not because I wanted to. I think it stems from something way deeper than that, and that is the society we live in. Think about it. We are mostly faced by heterosexual couples in the street, in films and TV shows, books and even teaching. We are so used to being bombarded by this idea of heterosexuality that it is ingrained in our psyche; it has become the norm to think of people as being heterosexual (Fischer, 2016).

Fast forward to 2020, where gay marriage and same-sex adoption in Malta are now legal, there are still some subtle messages and beliefs which we hold when seeing gay men. For instance, we describe a person who gives a “top”, that is the man who penetrates the other. We describe the person who receives a “bottom”, the man being penetrated.

The top is very much linked to power, control, and domination, which is the reason why it is connected to manhood, masculinity, and heterosexuality. In other words, to be a man is to be a top. On the other hand, being a bottom is linked to womanhood and femininity, and therefore it is a trait which is somehow inferior. We have seen this time and time again, not only from straight people but also from gay people themselves (towards one another).

This form of institutionalisation is rooted in the beliefs that homosexuality (a term which in itself is historically rooted in medicalisation and pathology) is somehow a lesser version of being human, a sexual perversion and sociopathic personality disturbance that most probably needs a cure, or at least some form of “therapy” (American Psychiatric Association, 1952; Drescher, 2015). The reality is that our sexual practices cannot go without the other, we need each other to be sexually satisfied. But more than that, and this is the interest part, is that the aforementioned top is actually attracted to the bottom so why stigmatise, bully and ridicule someone/something you are attracted to?

This is the reason why gay people, probably feminine guys more than masculine guys (Fundamental Rights Agency, 2014), experience more stigma and prejudice/discrimination than anybody else. This is because they are inverting gender roles and adopting traits which are not associated with what society expects them to be doing.

Think about it for a second…

Vince Mallia is a University of Malta under-graduate in his final year reading a B.Psy Degree.

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