restricted access 3. Straight Men: Renegotiating Hegemonic Masculinity and Its Homophobic Bargain

From: Straights

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>> 87 3 Straight Men Renegotiating Hegemonic Masculinity and Its Homophobic Bargain If being homophobic is still one of the clearest ways for straight men to signal their straight identity status, then one of my central questions was, How does this identity practice change in contexts where lesbians and gay men are out and other straight individuals disapprove of hostile homophobic attitudes? Although homophobia persists, I argue that straight men, like Eric Ward, a white man in his twenties, use boundaries of social distance from gay individuals, symbols, and spaces to more tactfully and subtly project being straight. Eric’s straight identity practices include not wearing light-colored and tight-fitting shirts because of the “gay look” he thinks they convey, and he avoids going into gay bars, has no gay friends, and says he more “tastefully” engages in the homophobic banter of his friends and stepfather. In contrast, Jason Robson, a black man in his twenties, mixes urban styles of dress (e.g., hoodies and sportswear) with metrosexual ones (e.g., tight shirts and fitted jeans). Unlike Eric, Jason has close gay friends and goes to gay bars on occasion. In fact, the first time I met Jason’s girlfriend was when they were hanging out in one of Orangetown ’s downtown gay bars with their gay couple friends. In this chapter, I show that straight men are neither simply antigay nor uniformly pro-gay, but rather that there is a multiplicity of homophobic and antihomophobic stances that they draw on in constructing their sexual-gender identities, their identity practices that enact boundaries 88 > 89 principle of contemporary straight masculinities. To be sure, homophobia is central to the construction of many boys’ and men’s sense of masculine status, identity, and power, but most of these studies of straight masculinity focus on adolescent boys in school settings (e.g., Epstein and Johnson 1998; Kimmel 2003; McCormack 2012; Pascoe 2007; Plummer 2001) or young men in college (Anderson 2009). This focus imposes clear limits on this important body of masculinities scholarship. For example, one might think that high school boys and college-age men are emotionally immature and sexually insecure, and while this is obviously more pronounced among high school boys, it still accurately characterizes young college men as well (Arnett 1994; Grazian 2007; Mishkind et al. 1986). For these reasons and others that I will elaborate on regarding the development of antihomophobic practices, my book moves us further toward understanding how adult straight men, ranging in age from twenty-two to fifty-six, construct their straight masculinities. Like the previous scholars, though, I document homophobic attitudes and actions as central to the construction of some straight men’s identities. However, I complicate conceptions of homophobia by showing they can be not just about prejudicial attitudes toward gays but also a response to being identified as possibly nonstraight because of less conventionally masculine styles of clothes, such as tight-fitting shirts or pink-colored ones, as pink is a color with a highly feminine association . I underscore that context and self-definition remain primary in my approach to interpreting straight masculinity’s meaning-making practices; consequently, a pink shirt when worn by an “alpha male” may have a double-edged meaning, indicating his ability to embrace a highly feminine color due to his masculine reputation. In effect, a pink shirt may enhance, not diminish, an “alpha male’s” straight masculinity. Other straight men defined their homophobia toward gay men as a reaction to being sexually objectified or “cruised” by another man, and it is this both imagined and real objectification that precipitates their feelings of homophobic prejudice. Throughout this chapter, I highlight how homophobic practices are being reframed due to a context of increasing homosexual tolerance that pressures straight men to downplay prejudice toward lesbians and gays in public settings, and to reserve 90 > 91 First, as I map expressions of heterosexual masculinities, I describe the hegemonic masculine pattern: straight men who engage in homophobic practices that define homosexuality as socially inferior to heterosexuality . Homophobic practices involve the construction of boundaries that establish social distance from gay individuals, signifiers, and social spaces. By putting distance between themselves and gay men, straight men aim to signal an unambiguous straight masculinity. Furthermore, I analyze the way race subtly and complexly shapes heterosexual men’s reported homophobic and antihomophobic practices . I illustrate how black straight men on the homophobic end of the continuum draw on their racial status and religious beliefs to legitimize homophobic...