Anyone confused by how the phrase toxic masculinity became so commonplace in todays’ culture will get an answer by talking to any gay male Feminist. Ask why he’s a Feminist, and each time you’ll get an answer that follows the same line of reasoning:

(i) Gay men are victims. (ii) Women are victims. (iii) Gay men are victimised on account of their femininity. (iv) Feminism represents the well-being of femininity, so therefore; (v) Feminism represents gay men.

Few seem to recognise that this logic underlies the very origins of the phrase toxic masculinity, which is widely acknowledged as a popularised derivation of Raewyn Connell’s gender theory entitled hegemonic masculinity, formulated right here in Australia at my own University of Sydney. In a nutshell, the theory is a convoluted excuse to blame everything men suffer on themselves, namely, their own masculinity. Gay men are foundational to the theory because their effeminacy is described as the reason they’re targeted for mistreatment by more masculine, presumably heterosexual (but even homosexual) men:

“The idea of a hierarchy of masculinities grew directly out of homosexual men’s experience with violence and prejudice from straight men”

—Connell & Messerschmidt in ‘Hegemonic Masculinity: Rethinking the concept’ (2005)

But the reason gay men’s position in all this has proved so important to Feminists is likely that it (seeks to) fill over holes in Patriarchy theory. Because while Feminists were always keen on pointing out male violence, it was just never convenient for them that men are overrepresented as victims in almost all forms of violent crime—homicide, attempted and committed murder, manslaughter, armed and unarmed robbery, and blackmail/extortion. What good is a Patriarchy when men are too busy victimising each other to focus on their goal of oppressing women?

And so entered the Gay Liberation movement, who had long garnered support from campaigns against gay victims of street violence (gay bashing), providing just the kind of more feminine male victims that were useful. They posed no sexual threat—what with no desire to wield their penises as weapons against anti-penetration second-wavers—nor a nuisance to all that bother about masculine victims. And there you have it. We have femininity in its essence as a target of victimisation, even in contexts where women are literally absent, or in other words, “Patriarchy hurts men, too”.

Bearing in mind that this theory isn’t just applied as an explanation for gay men’s position in society, but is being generalised to all men and masculinity everywhere (except for manly lesbians, who somehow wind up oppressed by the same Patriarchy), I’m constantly amazed by how willing straight men have been to put up with all this. How on earth do they deal with the mixed messaging behind getting told not to call gay guys girly names—lest they be accused of ‘homophobic slurs’—when meanwhile gays have proven all too willing to be the ‘girly boys’ of Feminism and join in this witch magic voodoo ritual of triangulating masculinity as the epitome of all evil. It’s as though straight guys just have no idea of how resentful gays can be, or of what lengths they’ll go to fit in with the girls club (a domain where they’ll always feel just that bit out of place, no matter how hard they try).

So let me give you the reasons why after delving into this gobbledygook theory, along with article after article into violence against homosexuals, I decided this was all nonsense enough to convince me to leave Queer Feminist activist circles.

First, for all the scholarship that’s been dedicated to the issue, there isn’t (and probably never will be) any conclusive evidence that gay men are violently victimised at any higher rates than their straight counterparts. Given that sexual-orientation isn’t an immediately identifiable characteristic, representative samples of gay men are inherently difficult to capture, and it isn’t recorded in instances of violent crime unless there’s a good reason. And for where there is a good reason, as in hate crimes, those rates don’t answer the underlying assumption of disproportionate victimisation, not least because they’re so low. According to 2018 FBI statistics, the chance a gay man would be victim of aggravated assault because of his sexual-orientation was 2 per 100,000 gay men [see reference 1 below], whereas the chances that anyone would be an aggravated assault victim was 807,410 per 100,000 people [reference 2].

Second, for all the numbers we do have on anti-homosexual violence, we get the exact same patterns of before. Gay men are consistently shown to outnumber lesbian victims by very wide margins. For example, those same FBI hate crime statistics show that gay victims of aggravated assault represent 85% of the total [reference 1]. So as much as homosexuals behaving like the opposite sex is supposed to throw a cog in the works for all ‘normative assumptions about gender’, we still have what looks just to be a standard pattern of males outnumbering females as victims of aggravated assault.

Third, there already exist perfectly reasonable explanations for why all of this takes place which have nothing to do with navel-gazing about societal perceptions of gender, but rely instead on objective scientific standards in the fields of evolutionary biology and psychology. Humans are a sexually dimorphic species in which biologically feminine features, particularly those which make women more attractive, are known to be ‘neotenous’. This refers to traits such as softer skin, larger eyes, reduced brow ridge, less hairiness, and a more forward tilt of the head, all of which represent ‘a retention of juvenile characteristics’, ie., maintained since childhood. Such traits elicit psychological cues of protective response that inhibit aggressiveness. These cues were necessary for the development of the species, otherwise we’d be more prone to throwing babies out the window whenever they vomit on us. They are common to both men and women, and are so ingrained in our psychological processes that they even cross species—they’re the same reason even a baby crocodile can look adorable to us.

Finally, while of course feminine behaviour and dress is an identifiable marker of homosexuality, it makes no sense, given all the above, to define femininity as the root cause of violence against homosexuals (let alone against and amongst all men!). While one’s dress and behaviour may accord with standards of femininity, this does nothing to alter one’s physiological attributes, nor much to anyone else’s perception of those attributes. If anything, the contradiction between dress and behaviour on the one hand and physiological attributes on the other may accentuate the difference. And under those circumstances, physiology rather than dress would predominate any explanation for behaviour enacted towards them in turn—we’re hardwired to look upon bodily features and issue responses of aggression or protectiveness, not items of clothing. This could likewise explain the higher rates of transgendered women (biological men) recorded in rates of violence against transgendered people over and above transgendered men (biological women), especially in the case of pre-operatives.

Nothing about this theory justifies an explanation of masculinity as innately toxic or hegemonic, and I’m tired of it pervading our culture. It has no reason to be cited in criminology reports or education programs. But even when ‘toxic masculinity’ has become a household phrase, no one, not even the harshest critics of poststructuralist Feminist theory, comment on gay men’s role in all of it. I think it’s high time we all do, gay and straight alike.

[1] Data from the 2018 FBI reports of Hate Crime statistics. Number of incidents divided by the population covered by the agencies reporting the statistics multiplied by 0.03, a common estimate of the incidence of male homosexuality in the adult population.

[2] Data from the 2018 FBI reports of crime in the United States.