Navigating Traditional Gender Roles as an Ace Guy

The gender binary is entirely a social construct, but knowing that does not spare you from dealing with its consequences. Transgender people face a multitude of social problems due to gender roles being assigned to people based on their biological sex; however, other queer identities can face difficulties as well. I never thought of myself as queer until I found out about asexuality and that I was asexual. Before then I had constantly been at odds with my masculinity; it was a problem that was becoming progressively worse as I got older. That issue was the culmination of years of internal wrestling over my personal perception of gender and my own gender in particular.

Before puberty I found myself slightly confused by society’s view of gender. I was and still am more masculine than feminine, at least by the traditional measuring stick. I did have a fascination with things considered feminine, especially feminine fashion, but even as a small child I choose to keep these things to myself as I felt that my family might take issue with it. I would feel safe expressing my interest in “boy things”, and slowly began to dislike my feminine side. Once adolescence sent in I really began to overcompensate for perceived shortcomings in my masculinity. For instance, before I was twelve I had hardly ever paid in attention to sports; I had played them but was not good at all. Soon I was following sports like a junkie, and while I did enjoy it I starting using the hobby somewhat subconsciously to prove my masculinity to others and to myself.

Things really got bad once I started exploring my sexuality. It was impossible for me to sexualize people in my mind; the whole thing was uncomfortable and basically uninteresting. However, when I was not trying to think about sex I had no issue with it. I was a “mental virgin” and not by choice, causing a series of internal issues including extreme masculine insecurities. At first I thought it was a problem that I would grow out of, but as I grew older so did my insecurity over my “problem”. I tried thinking about women and men, and every fetish in the book – including cross-dressing – but still nothing worked which made things worse and always left me feeling straight by default. Eventually, I reached an age where most of my peers were sexually active and no longer virgins. I then started to try date, hoping that losing my virginity would “fix” me. Needless to say I was not very good at attracting mates, flirting was like an alien language. This led to body issues, as I felt like I needed a great body to compensate for my apparent complete lack of masculine instinct. I had always been small too, most of my childhood I was smaller and weaker than most girls my age. At the point when I discovered my asexuality I was working out vigorously five to six times a week.

Finding out that I was asexual was the greatest thing that has ever happened to me in my life. One of the things that I was the most excited about was not feeling trapped by social codes of heterosexual masculinity. I could now indulge my feminine side without shame. Unfortunately, things have not worked out as I had initially hoped. I would like to be able to walk seamlessly between masculine and feminine worlds. Go primitive camping with guy friends one day, and go shoe shopping with girl friends the next. Oftentimes it feels like the opposite.

In all honesty, I was expecting to lose some of the male comradery when I came out. I no longer talk to a few of my former male friends because my coming out experience with them was far less than ideal. Most of my good male friends were more or less accepting; however, now that I am open about my asexuality and my more feminine aspects, relating to them has never been more difficult. Whenever I knew I was going to be talking to friends or family soon, I found myself researching my past interests just so I wouldn’t seem like a completely different person. This leads to me constantly reevaluating how I feel about myself in each of these relationships. While I know that friends and family should love you for who you are, I still feel guilty if I completely take away the person they have known so long. This is especially difficult when they are making an obvious effort to understand asexuality, my activism, my former struggle, and my new identity. Making new male friends outside of Ace/Queer spaces has proven to be even harder.

While my problems with male relationships have been more or less expected, my problems with female relationships have not. Beyond the lack of awareness associated with asexuality, this has been my biggest disappointment with coming out from an individual standpoint. In regards to relationships with women, I do not want to be their boyfriend, guy friend, or “just friends”; I want to be a girl friend who happens to be a guy. Instead, I feel like I am still seen like any other guy except that I am uninteresting as a partner. It is a hard pill to swallow because typically other queer men do not have this problem to this extent. There are only two male demographics who do not find women sexually attractive – gay men and ace men – and yet they are often treated very differently by women. Sometimes it feels like being an ace guy is the most uninteresting type of guy to women, including mere platonic relationships. However, it is true that I now feel closer with most of my female friends than I did before. They were very supportive the first month after I found out I am ace, and I now feel closer to them than I have even felt towards women before. While these relationships are great not one of them has the closeness I am look for, and none of them allow me to “walk in to” the feminine world as much as I would like.

I am not blaming any individual for this paradox, but it reveals a much larger societal issue. Being masculine is usually celebrated while being feminine depends on the circumstances. Generally, macho guys and girly girls do not face any conflict within society based on their gender expressions. What is curious is to evaluate how society views masculine women as compared to feminine men. While tomboys do face issues due to their gender nonconformity they are far more accepted than feminine men or “sissies”. The fact that sissy is the most comparable word to tomboy is sad. The model says that it is ok for a girl to act like a girl or a boy, but only ok for boy to act like a boy. If a boy being like a girl is so bad, then what does that suggest about being female? Being a woman should not be seen as something degrading, and being a feminine guy should not be shamed.

So here I am. I am asexual, I am a guy, and I am not very masculine. So what is the big deal? If a tomboy can go to a game with her guy buddies one day and go shoe shopping with her gal friends the next day without causing a stir, then why can a feminine guy not do the same thing and why does any of this apply to asexual men?

About Tim

Tim is an undergraduate studying history and anthropology. He has known about asexuality for about a year, in that time he has tried to find his feet as an asexual activist. He identifies both as asexual and aromantic and hopes to one day establish a queer platonic relationship with a girl.
This entry was posted in Articles, Intersectionality, personal experience and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.

17 Responses to Navigating Traditional Gender Roles as an Ace Guy

  1. Rae says:

    I think it’s a bit odd as I’ve not considered being ace = feminine. Yes, there’s a lot of problems w/the idea of macho masculinity. Have you considered joining the social networks? Although it’s far from perfect I’m a part of them and it’s a bit better than feeling 100% alone being ace.

  2. epochryphal says:

    “based on their biological sex” – no, we are biologically whatever we say we are. Based on our (coercively) assigned sex at birth.

    Gender is not wholly a social construct, either; that is an oversimplification. I firmly believe it is partly innate as well, and that degrees vary by person. (And yep, like money, even if it was wholly a social construct it has material consequences.)

    Tbh you can never be “one of the girls” because you are a man and have male privilege, and do not experience misogyny, and are not a woman/girl.

    And being fetishized as the “safe” ace friend ain’t all it’s cracked up to be.

    Obligatory mention that non-binary people exist and can be neutranim or otherwise not-masculine-not-feminine

    And butchphobia is quite real. Tomboys may get more leeway but are also seen as childish, same for androgynes. Absolutely transmisogyny and its effects on male-assigned people who are feminine/non-masculine is the most virulent. But the overfocus on tomboys as getting a free pass is so common and wrong and ignores butches altogether despite so much history.

    • Tim says:

      I am sorry, I definitely was not trying to suggest that I do not have certain social privileges. I am white, male, cis gender, and I do not have any same gender attractions; I know I have privileges from those things. I guess I did not make that clear enough. In the first paragraph, I was trying to establish a disclaimer that whatever issues I have dealt with in regards to gender pale in comparison to what trans people deal with.

  3. luvtheheaven says:

    Tim, I enjoyed reading your story, I did. I appreciate you sharing it, even if I do think epochryphal’s objections to some of your wording should be taken seriously.

    Adding onto epochryphal’s last paragraph, the only time in high school I remember witnessing an actual insulting slur used against a person was when I witnessed, in gym class, a classmate being called a “dyke”, not because of any actual lesbian sexual orientation she may or may not have had, but because of her short hair and preference for clothing she could buy in the guys’ section of the store. Yes it’s a homophobic statement. But it was based on her gender presentation, I’m fairly certain. It was thrown at her regardless of if she was heterosexual or not, because she looked “wrong”, or perhaps because she looked “like a lesbian” which was “wrong” – either way.

    That moment has stuck with me, and I’m not 100% sure why, but it does seem to highlight the fact that “Tomboys” certainly don’t get a free pass either. Just like being a gay guy might not be better at all than being an ace guy in terms of the problems you face in social situations and in terms of friendships, the problems might have just been different.

    It’s sort of like the “gosh I wish I was an aro ace, then all my dating problems would go away, and my life would be easy and happy” situation – that’s not really true, being aro ace opens up a whole new set of difficult experiences for a person.

  4. Scheherazade says:

    Hi Tim,
    I thought this was a really great piece. I remember I had this conversation with my dad about gender roles and masculinity and femininity. I sometimes wear masculine clothes, and I used to be a big tomboy as a child. My Dad is fairly good on the feminist front and the accepting of non-hetero normative identities front (although he doesn’t quite get what asexuality is) but he can’t bear to hold my purse for even two seconds in public. If I have to stop and re-tie my shoes, if I’ve pulled a muscle, for whatever reason he can’t hold my purse, and that lead to a very long conversation about why men can’t either be feminine, or have feminine things.

    It’s men like you who will help change that, so keep being the wonderful man you are. Also, I’m sorry that women haven’t let you into feminine places as much as you’ve liked. I think for a large part we aren’t used to men being overtly and admittedly feminine and that can throw us off. This is probably not the case with your friends, but I do know I’m more guarded of the feminine spaces I’m in from men because there are many men who would enter, mock, and degrade those spaces or alternatively try and take over them. This is the problem with the patriarchy; it makes it difficult to trust and allow the genuinely feminine but still cis man into our spaces, and share our femininity. That said, I’ve never really been into shoe shopping. Am I missing out???

    • Tim says:

      Honestly, I think has more to do with women just not thinking that I would appreciate being involved in those spaces. I do not think it is intentional exclusion in most cases. As far as shoe shopping I was mainly looking for an extreme feminine example, working as a counter to primitive camping. It does sound fun though, lol.

      • luvtheheaven says:

        What’s a realistic “coded as feminine” activity you feel more interested in than other cis guys you meet (likely heterosexual and masculine guys)? What’s one you actually wish you could be a part of, if your female friends aren’t doing shoe shopping? 😛 I mean, I’m just curious.

        There are few things as broken up amongst the two different binary genders (to the exclusion of all who are nonbinary) as clothing (and shoes)… so I get that this would be an obvious and extreme example.

        But you brought up sports as being masculine. I just wonder if there is a similar thing that isn’t related to clothing/shoe shopping that you might consider feminine.

        • Tim says:

          certain movies and TV shows, shopping for other girl related stuff, really all the stereotypical things I guess. It is more about being perceived by women as someone with respectable feminine opinion than the activities themselves. Shopping is really relevant because that would directly show respect for my opinions, although I would find it fun too. Does that make more sense?

      • Scheherazade says:

        If that is the case, then maybe you should ask? Blatantly? It might seem weird, but it is a natural assumption that men don’t want to be in feminine places. If they’ve accepted your asexuality, and have noticed that you are a feminine man, but still presume you don’t want to be surrounded by that much…girly-ness…you may have to let them know that you do? At the most it might open up a conversation about gender roles and such 🙂 I know if a man that was my friend asked, I wouldn’t mind letting him tag along for the feminine stuff I do part-take in, but he’d have to ask.

        • Tim says:

          I have tried with a couple, but it has not gone that well. Neither were negative, but they were not crazy about the idea. It is a vulnerable position to put yourself in, but yeah I realize that it is probably something I would have ask.

          • Scheherazade says:

            I guess that’s the problem with stringent gender roles and spaces-it’s really hard to break them down. >.<

  5. Hollis says:

    I want to respond to some of the same things re: gender as people above.

    You’re assuming that it’s acceptable for a butch woman to do stereotypically male things with dude friends and then go do stereotypically female things with lady friends without any pushback at all. And…that’s not the case, in my experience. True, I’m experiencing things as a non-binary person, but I’m also drawing on 18 years of not knowing that non-binary was a thing people could be and so I defaulted to a pretty butch woman. I received a ton of pushback for doing femme things with female friends, mostly from said dudes who thought said things disqualified me from being able to be “one of the guys”*. But there was also this incredibly weird and patronizing attitude (often with mocking undertones) from everyone else where it was like “finally you’re doing female things haha see how that tomboy thing was just a phase (just a phase that existed for literally my whole life)”. I can’t parse all of the dynamics of me and female friends about not being a fully accepted AND integrated member of those groups (because I did not feel like one at all), but there’s also a confounding variable of gender, as part of the basis for being an accepted and integrated member was all being women, so it’s unclear whether my (perceived or real) masculinity was causing the rift or if it was my gender.

    *Which, don’t get me started on that shitty dynamic.

  6. I enjoyed reading about your experiences, Tim, and I’m looking forward to more of your posts here on The Asexual Agenda.

  7. Luke says:

    Tim,
    Thank you so much for writing this! I definitely relate to … EVERYTHING … you’ve written about. I’ve never understood or related to gender expectations growing up either. I, too, what to be able to walk that like and just be me. I don’t see why that is so bad? And I’ve never understood why women could be masculine and feminine and still be deemed attraction; yet, if a guy does that then he is ‘broken.’ That idealism is warped and really degrades what it means to effeminate too. If only women saw that and everyone for that matter saw it as an issue, we could really change the world. I believe that! At this point in my life now as a 22 year old, I’m okay with gender bending. You just have to develop that courage to step out and be vulnerable. I wasted years too, like yourself, being afraid of what others might think. All along, that only hurt me – no one else. Why should we deny ourselves? Being an Asexual Male is a huge privilege in this world that values fake, shallow ideals to the truth. So own it; that’s what I’m trying to do – every day. 🙂 I hope for you and other guys like us the best!

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