Abstract: Femmephobia Among Gay, Bisexual and Queer Men in Online Spaces: The Socio-Cultural Subjugation of Femininity within Gay Socio-Sexual Applications (Society for Social Work and Research 26th Annual Conference - Social Work Science for Racial, Social, and Political Justice)

Femmephobia Among Gay, Bisexual and Queer Men in Online Spaces: The Socio-Cultural Subjugation of Femininity within Gay Socio-Sexual Applications

Thursday, January 13, 2022
Liberty Ballroom J, ML 4 (Marriott Marquis Washington, DC)
* noted as presenting author
Adam Davies, PhD, Assistant Professor, University of Guelph, ON, Canada
Steven Winkelman, MPH, MPH Student, University of Toronto, ON, Canada
David Collict, MA, PhD Student, University of Toronto, Toronto, ON, Canada
David J. Brennan, PhD, Professor, University of Toronto, Toronto, ON, Canada
Background: Femmephobia is the privileging of masculinized forms of embodiment, invoking traditional muscularity, fitness, whiteness, and non-femininity as markers of hegemonic masculinity. Among gay, bisexual and queer (GBQ) men, this renders visible forms of femininity as being devalued in order to approximate a heteromasculine norm. Femmephobia is rampant on GBQ socio-sexual apps. Femme theory (Hoskin, 2019) provides a focus for investigations to understand how the ongoing denigration of femininity relates to gender policing among GBQ men’s online communities.

Methods: Data are drawn from interviews conducted among participants in iCruise - a mixed method online 12-week diary study which sought to understand how GBQ men (n=910) engage with sexual health information and outreach through online tools and apps. After quantitative data collection, 79 participants were selected to be interviewed based on ensuring a diverse range of identities/experiences (sexual orientation, race/ethnicity, gender identity, location, HIV status). Interview question responses focused on online experiences of discrimination/ exclusion were the main focus for this analysis. Data were first inductively analyzed using thematic analysis (Braun & Clark, 2020), and secondary analysis employed Hoskin’s (2017) four classifications of femmephobia (ascribed femmephobia, perceived femmephobia, femme mystification, pious femmephobia).

Results: Results revealed three main themes. 1) Femmephobia and self-descriptions online: in which participants discussed the normalization of femmephobic language and the explicit rejections of “feminine men,” heteromasculine norms, and pressures felt by GBQ men to present themselves as masculine, (i.e., using images of being shirtless or in athletic postures and contexts to avoid being seen as femme). 2) Self-rejection of femme identification: wherein participants noted femininity was seen as “excessive” on apps leading to rejection or denigration and identified a resistance to being labelled as femme. 3) Femmephobia and gendered/racialized hierarchies online: a lack of interest in feminine men seen as a “personal preference” for masculinity while conflating femme men with cis and trans women, thus rejecting all three as potential romantic/sexual partners. Additionally, participants discussed overt racism and femmephobic discrimination against Asian GBQ men, leading some Asian men to present themselves as more masculine to counteract these racialized stereotypes. Finally, more masculine men were seen as more desirable on the apps, creating a gendered hierarchy placing straight acting masculine men at the top.

Conclusions: Participants’ gendered understandings often drew from gender essentialist and heterosexualized notions of masculinities that are privileged within GBQ communities as well as gender binary notions that construct femininity as inferior (and in opposition) to masculinity. This extends previous research illustrating how femininity is seen as inauthentic and deceptive (Davies, 2020), thereby reinforcing the positioning of masculinity as more natural and dominant within the gender binary. Such femmephobic ideas are critiqued by scholars who note that the idea that “femininity is performative” is a reproduction of heteropatriarchal logics (Serano, 2012) used to police self-expression of queer and trans individuals. Importantly, these findings suggest that focusing on femininity as a crucial site of gender regulation instead of focusing on different performances of masculinities can provide a more nuanced analysis of gender hierarchies within queer communities.