Hypermasculinity and LGBTQ+ identity erasure in communities of color

Michael Paramo analyzes the complex issue of hypermasculinity and its role in contributing to LGBTQ+ identity erasure within communities of color.

One of the many consequences of historical and ongoing forms of oppression against communities of color is the dissemination of hypermasculinity. Hypermasculinity is rooted in the presentation of a magnified version of stereotypical attitudes and behaviors that are perceived by society to be associated with those who identify as male. Performing hypermasculinity may involve harmfully suppressing one’s emotions, objectifying women, and increasing one’s admiration and usage of violence, all in the name of being perceived as “manly.” This is not to say that hypermasculinity holds a unique presence in communities of color, as it is found everywhere. The objective of this article is to address the prevalence of hypermasculinity in communities of color by understanding why and how it exists in its current form as well as what its effects are in contributing to LGBTQ+ identity erasure within these spaces.

While some individuals may attempt to explain the prevalence of hypermasculinity within communities of color as a consequence of “their culture,” thus employing racist notions in the process, the actual reasons for its dissemination are much more complex. In essence, hypermasculinity can be framed as a product of historical trauma. Widespread domination and subsequent subjugation in the form of forced labor, physical conquest, and other methods of physical, mental, and psychological domination resulted in a circulation of emasculation throughout marginalized communities of color. This historical deprivation of the ability for many men of color to fulfill their perceived role as men by an oppressive hegemonic white majority manifested itself in the form of hypermasculinity. In other words, hypermasculinity serves as a channel for some men to destructively process and act out the emotional and psychological anguish inflicted upon them from generations of traumatic experiences.

However, as much as hypermasculinity owes its contemporary widespread status within communities of color to historical traumas of the past, it is just as much a product of ongoing forms of oppression. For example, while chattel slavery existed in the United States as an evident generator of historical trauma impacting black people today, as educator and researcher Dr. Joy DeGruy Leary frames in her book Post Traumatic Slave Syndrome, it has only merely transformed since it was abolished in 1865. From slavery to segregation to mass incarceration, every iteration has sought the same overall objective: to dominate, control, and contain the black body. Ongoing oppression against communities of color in the form of mass incarceration, modern segregation, heightened police presence and brutality, etc. instills continuous feelings of powerlessness and produces many negative effects. One of these is an increase in the prevalence of hypermasculinity.

In regards to its effects on the LGBTQ+ community, hypermasculinity contributes a heightened hostility towards queer people of color with often dangerous consequences.

Hypermasculinity is an act that involves outwardly portraying, asserting, and acting on displays of toughness, intense sexual attraction to women, and disgust for male weakness in order for the performer to ensure that they are perceived and respected as a man. Men must overtly perform their masculinity in order to reclaim their “lost” manhood. This, of course, often materializes in disastrous manners, increasing the potential for these men to be involved in acts of violence and/or sexual aggression as well as endure psychological and/or emotional distress. Engaging in hypermasculine behavior stretches the boundaries of gendered performance to its limits by exclusively accentuating what is perceived to be masculine and entirely suppressing what is perceived to be feminine.

In this sense, performing hypermasculinity relies entirely on maintaining rigid gender boundaries in which men are only really “men” if they embody what is perceived to be acceptable as a man. Therefore, those who play by its rules, whether consciously or subconsciously, with embrace or with disdain, automatically become bound by its dictation. These men are forced to abide by the criteria of hypermasculinity in order to be accepted. Failure to do so jeopardizes their position as “real” men and risks punishment potentially in the form of violence and/or death as well as exclusion from the community.

Since many individuals within these marginalized communities of color rely on intra-communal support networks to access an already limited supply of resources (largely social and financial support), due to factors stemming from systemic racism, intentionally excluding oneself or being forcefully excluded from one’s community are not always options. As a result, the ever-present threat of exclusion results in a reduction of human diversity potentially down to a singular intensely patriarchal reality in which hypermasculinity dictates what both men, as the dominant, and women, as the submissive, can be in these spaces.

Hypermasculinity is an act that involves outwardly portraying, asserting, and acting on displays of toughness, intense sexual attraction to women, and disgust for male weakness in order for the performer to ensure that they are perceived and respected as a man.

Queer people of color possess no accepted role in this hypermasculine space of rigid conceptions regarding gender and sexuality, thus heightening the stakes and only further intensifying the consequences for them. Simply existing as a queer person of color in a space dictated by hypermasculinity is incompatible, which leads many queer people of color to simply conceal, suppress, and attempt to erase that aspect of their identity completely. For example, gay Latinx men often face violent consequences as a result of the prevalence of machismo in their communities, thus resulting in many being forced to conceal their sexuality within these spaces and live hidden lives. This very real possibility of violence, which is committed against queer people of color at a considerably heightened rate, allows for this identity erasure to continue.

As a result, many queer people of color are forced to choose between identifying with their race or identifying with their sexuality and/or gender identity because of the role of hypermasculinity. This choice is discussed in Gregory Conerly’s essay “Are You Black First or Are You Queer?,” in which Conerly frames how choosing to identify with one’s race essentially involves erasing one’s queer identity in favor of being accepted within one’s racial community. While a queer person of color identifying with their sexuality often finds themselves in a LGBTQ+ community dominated by whiteness in which they are often marginalized because of their race. Therefore, in either scenario the queer person of color is not in an ideal position.

There is no simple solution to the complicated problem of hypermasculinity in communities of color. Effectively processing centuries of historical trauma as well as ongoing forms of oppression in a constructive manner remains a consistent challenge. However, taking meaningful steps towards rectifying the issue of hypermasculinity involves increasing the visibility of men and women of color that challenge this toxic conception of manhood. While this is currently ongoing, queer people of color forming their own spaces in which they can fully acknowledge and be accepted for their identity as LGBTQ+ people of color is also proving to be beneficial as a means of garnering increased visibility. The existence of these solutions prove that the complex dismantling process of hypermasculinity is already underway, and we can all ensure its continued demise by understanding the cause of the issue and supporting efforts that mitigate its effects.

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