Fetishizing str8 boy candy is a national gay pastime. The masculine, closeted gay man is someone who will have hot yet shameful sex with you under the guise of a bro-y friendship. Predominately found on Craigslist or Grindr, their profiles are usually faceless and use not-so-subtle terminology to weed out the ostentatious queers who threaten to give away their cover. Their online brand is "NO FEMMES! MASC4MASC!"
At best, the brutish MASC4MASC may seem like a ubiquitous nuisance online. But do gays actually go for the men in these profiles? Or even see their disavowal of femmes as a turn-on?
Read more: The Girls Who Use Grindr
To find out, Dr. Brandon Miller of the University of Missouri recruited 143 gay men and showed them four different profile pictures, assigning each picture either a normal or a femmephobic text. The normal text read, plainly, "If I'm online, I am accepting messages," while the femmephobic texts read, "I am NOT into men that look, sound or act like females. I am a man, you should be too" and "I'm allergic to fairy dust and I don't have time for queens." (Miller says he lifted the text directly from the Tumblr Douchebags of Grindr.)
The profiles that took a femmephobic stance were perceived as less intelligent, confident, and relationship-worthy to the gay survey-takers. Notably, though, the respondents still wanted to fuck them.
"To me, this indicates that men are willing to overlook language and behavior they find to be toxic or problematic in order to achieve sexual gratification," Miller told Broadly.
While masc4masc Grindr preferences might seem like a new thing, the stigmatization of femme gays is not. In late 19th-century medical literature, someone suffering from sexual perversion was said to have "[worn] the clothes and hairstyle, undertook the work, played the games, gestured, walked, talked, drank the drinks, acted the political role, performed the sexual acts and felt the emotions of the 'other' sex," Jonathan Katz writes in the Gay/Lesbian Almanac.
American postcards from the 20th century showed "fairies" with limp wrists, doing "women's work" as store clerks. These effeminate men were distinguished from the "trade" men, or heteros who occasionally accepted sex with a gay. As the term "gay" emerged in the 1930s and 40s as the dominant label for all men who had sex with men, "trade" gradually slipped from our lexicon; by the 1960s there were two discrete groups: gay and straight.
Men are willing to overlook language and behavior they find to be toxic or problematic in order to achieve sexual gratification.
But among the gay community, the marginalization and subordination of effeminate gay men continued. The owner of a leather bar in San Francisco told Life magazine in 1964, "We throw out anybody who is too swishy. If one is going to be homosexual, why have anything to do with women of either sex?" (Naturally, the rejection of femme gays sounds exactly like misogyny.)
Today, Miller and other social scientists believe gay dating apps are "branded in relation to traditional masculinity." Scruff is for hairy dudes, GROWLr is for bears, and MISTER is for more "mature" daddy types (Notice a trend? Mascs love ALL CAPS.) Where, they ask, are the dating apps for femme guys? As this Reddit thread suggests, there'd certainly be a market for one.
Gay men who are constantly preoccupied with presenting as masculine tend to have lower self-esteem and suffer from internalized homophobia, according to one study. Other studies have even shown that distorted conceptions of masculinity were associated with substance abuse and risky sex, using steroids, and eating disorders.
Miller is a longtime fan of "Douchebags of Grindr," which highlights ageism, femmephobia, and arrogance on the platform. In a separate study, he analyzed 300 profiles from Jack'd, another dating app, and couldn't find a single one in which the user self-identified as femme or non-masculine.
"In my experience, the ones with masculinity built into the names tend to be the worst, like Scruff," Miller said. "But all of these apps have categorizations that request for people to put themselves into boxes—and many of these categorizations are built around masculinity and the body."
On Grindr, users are asked to classify themselves as a bear, a daddy, a jock, a geek, or a twink (among others). "It's not entirely surprising that we would see some of this seep over into the free-text portion of profiles," Miller said.
He thinks internalized homophobia is the root of it all. "Because gender nonconformity is so heavily policed in young boys, men learn very early on to eliminate femininity or be ridiculed," Miller said. "Queer men are not immune to this, and actually, they probably feel it more strongly."