Heterosexualities also continue to be axiomatic in the construction of dominant masculinities and the ability to claim power, status, and authority over others (Connell 1987; Kimmel 2005; Silva 2018). For example, if second-wave feminists viewed straight women as socialized to be subordinate, passive sexual objects who lacked opportunities to express their own sexual agency, then straight men were the opposite — dominating, aggressive, sexually controlling, and they used women for their personal pleasure. Connell developed the concept of hegemonic masculinity to theorize the superordinate form of masculinity that men must negotiate in enacting their gender practices; a concept which captures and expands upon the domineering characterization of straight men by earlier feminists (1987,1995). The subordination of women and the repudiation of practices associated with femininity continue to be central to conceptions of hegemonic masculinity (Connell and Messerschmidt 2005; Schippers 2007). Moreover, masculinity scholars (Carrigan, Connell, and Lee 2002; Whitehead and Barrett 2001) conceptualize masculinity as multiple and hierarchical. For instance, the masculine practices of straight men of color as well as straight working-class men on one hand are marginalized for their less-valued racial and class statuses, yet on the other hand they are valued for their “hypermasculine” performances of gender and sexual normativity.
In addition to the repudiation of the feminine, straight men have also tended to invoke homo-phobic practices to subordinate gay masculinities as effeminate (Hennen 2008). Thus, hegemonic masculinity tends to be straight masculinity. Demetriou (2001) argues that hegemonic masculinity exhibits both “external hegemony” with men’s institutional dominance over women and “internal hegemony,” where one group of men dominates all other men (particularly over gay men). There has been much scholarly discussion and debate over the relational links between practices of straight masculinities and the expression of homophobia. Kimmel (2005, 2008) argues that “homophobia, men’s fear of other men, is the animating condition of dominant definition of [heterosexual] masculinity in America, [and] the reigning definition of masculinity is a defensive effort to prevent being emasculated” (2005, p. 39). In this view, homophobia can be understood as both a gender and sexual identity strategy that solves the problem of identifying oneself as both normatively masculine and heterosexual by deriding LGBTQ individuals.
This line of theorizing masculinity and homophobia can run the risk of binding masculinity to the social construction of heterosexuality so tightly that the two concepts collapse into one another, with masculinity serving as a proxy for heterosexuality. This conflation is understandable, since many straight men aim to be conventionally, even exaggeratedly, masculine in their identity performances as a way to project a straight status. For example, there has been considerable research on straight men who seek sexual encounters with other straight men, but still identify as straight. For example, Ward’s (2015) work on white straight-identified men who display homophobic and misogynistic attitudes while soliciting sex with other “str8 dudes” illustrates this tendency. Based on research from the “Casual Encounters” personal ad section of the website Craigslist (which no longer hosts personal ads due to legal liabilities), Ward (2008, 2015) finds a subculture of straight-identified white men who generally seek others like themselves for anonymous sexual encounters. The ads read like pornographic scenes. These men have specific erotically scripted requests for the encounter, from hanging out and watching porn while jerking oft in front of each other, to wanting to give another man oral sex and taking a Polaroid of the encounter, to sometimes just seeing what happens in the moment (2008, p. 420). Not surprisingly, this subcultural group of men who seek “dude sex” distanced themselves from the “Men Seeking Men” section of the website where many of the ads placed were composed by openly gay men seeking sex with other men (2008, p. 418).
Building on Ward’s work on men who have sex with men (MSM) and who are straight-identified, Silva (2018) describes an older rural group of men who have regular same-sex partners but still identify as straight and desire to remain married to their wives. He calls this practice “bud-sex” as it captures the secretive, nonromantic, but ongoing sexual encounters these white straight-identified men have with their buddies, who are also generally white, married men like themselves. They view themselves and their partners as normatively masculine and disparage gay men. Carrillo and Hoffman (2017) interviewed 100 white, straight men who were married or in stable relationships with women, but who also sought male sexual partners online. Carrillo and Hoffman (2017, p. 90) conclude that “in the process of maintaining identities as straight men, they change the definition of heterosexuality, in effect turning it into a considerably elastic category that is perceived as fully compatible with having and enacting same-sex desires.”
While straight men who have sex with men may invoke homophobia to distance themselves from gay identity, the available performances of straight masculinity are expanding with a growing set of non-homophobic and anti-homophobic dynamics and discourses in how straight masculinity is performed (Dean 2014). For example, the concept of hybrid masculinities has reinvigorated debate on whether contemporary straight masculinities enforce, reconfigure, or challenge the sexual and gender inequality associated with hegemonic masculinity that uniformly subordinates homosexualities beneath normative heterosexualities (Anderson 2009; Bridges and Pascoe 2014; Dean 2014; McCormack 2012). Bridges and Pascoe define hybrid masculinities as “the selective incorporation of elements of identity typically associated with various marginalized and subordinated masculinities and — at times — femininities into privileged men’s gender performances and identities” (2014, p. 246). The hybrid masculinity concept has emerged out of a social context of newfound LGBTQ inclusion and visibility in many western societies (Seidman 2002; Walters 2001,2014; Weeks 2007). Some argue that this new context of gay acceptance has led some white straight men to “hybridize,” appropriating “gay elements and practices” into their changing configuration of masculinity (Demetriou 2001, p. 348).
Yet the performance of hybrid masculinities among young, white, straight men can still enact new, more subtle forms of homophobia. Gay aesthetics, Bridges argues, are part of hybrid masculinity and can reinforce homophobia in new, more complicated ways than previous studies of homophobia (Pascoe 2007; Plummer 1999). Bridges (2014) explains that hybrid masculinity among straight men involves the incorporation of gay aesthetic practices that range from their personal tastes to specific comportment behaviors to adopting a feminist ideology. Regarding taste, for example, these straight men essentialize gay male culture, associating it with wine, not beer, having a neat and clean house, not a messy one (pp. 69—71). As they do this, some men reclaim straight status and privilege by saying “no homo” in order to distance themselves from actual gay men while still embracing “gay” aesthetics (Brown 2011).
However, the empirical evidence used to illustrate this argument shows that hybrid masculinity practices can also challenge homophobia. Some straight men non-defensively incorporate gay aesthetics of being stylish or engaging in acts of kindness as positive even though they are stereotyped as gay for embodying them (Bridges 2014, p. 67). One distinction to draw, then, is that many, if not all, of these straight men aim to reclaim straight status and its accompanying heterosexual privilege, but some of them do this without invoking homophobic practices that enforce sexual prejudice and inequality. However, as straight allies to LGBTQ+ people, they may still center their allyship activities on their own personal psychological needs rather than the needs of the queer community (see Grzanka, Chapter 27 of this volume). In sum, the conceptual value of hybrid masculinities underscores the persistence of homophobias in a post-closeted cultural landscape, where LGBTQ individuals and representations of them are variably integrated into social life, media, and legal policies.
Other scholars explore inclusive masculinity and straight men’s sexual flexibility; the thesis of this work is that pro-gay discourses or anti-homophobias are on the rise among a younger generation of heterosexual men (e.g. Adams 2011; Anderson 2009; McCormack 2012). For example, McCormack (2012) researched the decline of homophobia among straight boys in high school in England where he found that straight teenage boys intellectualized their support for gay equality, generally avoided using homophobic language, and were friends with openly gay students (2012, pp. 73—84). Likewise, Andersons (2005, 2009) research found that white, heterosexual male college cheerleaders often become less homophobic when they befriend gay men on their teams. Anderson also observes gay-friendly attitudes among a college fraternity that recruits gay members (2009, pp. 121—123).
Male sexual flexibility has only recently become a theme in the changing social dynamics between straight and gay men and their cultural discourses (Anderson 2009; Savin-Williams 2017). According to Anderson and Robinson (2016), straight men do not tend to change identity labels based on their same-sex sexual encounters as do women. Therefore, they consider straight men who have physical and sexual intimacy with men as “sexually flexible” rather than “sexually fluid.” In their work together for this volume, Anderson and McCormack show that same-sex kissing among straight college men may be less about sexual fluidity and more about a decrease in the stigmatizing of same-sex sexualities broadly. The physically tactile relationships between straight high school boys neither raised suspicion of these boys as gay nor led to homophobic derision from their student peers (McCormack 2012, pp. 79—82), nor did same-sex kissing among some college men lead to homophobic retribution by peers at the university level (Anderson, Adams, and Rivers 2010). We should note that although this research on straight men’s inclusivity and sexual flexibility indicates a pattern of decreasing homophobia accompanying the increasing visibility of gays and lesbians, it does not capture the regional variability found in the United States in places like the Bible Belt (see Barton 2012; Gray 2009), nor does it recognize the subtle forms of homophobia that persist among seemingly progressive straight men as documented by Bridges (2014) and Dean (2014, pp. 111—123) and more conservative Millennials (Risman 2018).
Straight masculinities occupy a paradoxical status in many western societies today. On one hand, there are formations that challenge and contest sexual and gender inequalities in everyday life and support more inclusive legal, policy, and institutional developments. On the other hand, straight men continue to deploy homophobias and sexisms to maintain masculine and heterosexual privilege, recoup status, and preserve their position in hierarchies of dominance. The empirical studies evidence this paradoxical claim in how they illustrate competing claims in their attempts to define the contemporary landscape of straight masculinities as challenging inequalities or reinforcing them in new ways. Although we view each study as having merit and purchase for advancing our understandings of straight masculinities, we underscore that these studies taken as a whole highlight more of a micro social interactional focus among specific groups, institutions, and cultural discourses. The empirical research in the field tends to lack a macro assessment of the status of straightness at the level of law and other social institutions.
The kaleidoscope of straight masculinities in contemporary western societies today evidences homophobic, non-homophobic, and anti-homophobic discourses and cultures. Of course, age, race, and generation, among other factors, shape and change these dynamics but they do not mean the total absence of homophobia. Still, the preponderance of non- and anti-homophobic practices, discourses, and cultures is a clear and emerging pattern.