Misogyny in Gay Kink

I’m a hardcore feminist and have been for my entire adult life (my lesbian feminist mother saw to that). One of the things that bothers me the most about the gay community is the amount of misogyny that circulates in it. We adore drag queens but we make lots of little mean jokes about lesbians and women in general. They’re ‘fishy’ and ‘gross’. But that’s not what I want to talk about right now. 

What’s bugging me right now is the equation of women with submission. This turns up a LOT in what I used to call ‘TUMBLR porn’. You know what I mean–the photo of a kinky image with some text on or below it. The place you see misogyny the most is with the idea that submitting to a man is an emasculating act and therefore a sub must be feminine. The sub is referred to as ‘she’, ‘princess’, ‘baby girl’, and so on. His dick is called a ‘clitty’. He’s shown in lacy underwear or stockings that we normally associate with women. And so on. 

Here’s why this bugs me: It implies that being a woman is automatically to be submissive, to be less than male. It assumes that gender functions as a hierarchy with men above and women below. So if you’re below a man, you must therefore be a woman. It denies the possibility of equality between men and women, and it denies the possibility of female dominants. It also positions male submission as being inherently unmanly, as a loss of masculinity. And it also denigrates transwomen, because they’ve moved from the inherently superior position to the inherently inferior one in terms of sex and gender. There’s also a whiff of internalized homophobia in doms who think this way–”I’m a man, and real men only fuck women, so when I fuck a guy, he must be the woman.” It also denigrates gay men whose gender presentation is less than fully masculine (and we all know how many Grindr guys insist on ‘no fems’–it’s right up there with ‘no fats’ in terms of stigma). And when you uncritically accept this binary thinking, it quickly starts to feel ‘natural’ that men should be in charge and women should just obey. 

This stigma of gay men as ‘failed men’, as ‘sissies’, ‘nellies’ ‘pansies’, and ‘limp-wrists’ was something gay men had to fight against in the 60s and 70s and 80s and 90s, so I find it sad to see how many gay kinksters seem to have embraced this idea in their erotic lives today.

What’s going on here is a whole lot of rigidly binary thinking. We kinksters are used to thinking about the dom/sub binary and the Sir/boy binary and the top/bottom binary. Those three broadly line up: dom/Sir/top vs sub/boy/bottom. (Let’s leave aside the fact that there are switches and dominant bottoms and service tops.) What’s happening is that we’re grafting on a fourth binary, the male/female binary, and assuming that the male part naturally goes with the dom/Sir/top end of the scale and the female part naturally goes with the sub/boy/bottom end of the scale. Ergo, if you are a boy, you must be feminine in some essential way. 

But that’s a false parallel. Submitting to a man doesn’t make you a woman, any more than a private submitting to a sergeant becomes a woman. When King Arthur’s knights swore homage to him, they didn’t become Gueneviere, they became Lancelot. When Robin teamed up with Batman, he didn’t become a girl, he became a junior Batman (and yeah, we all know they were fucking…). You don’t become a woman just because another man hires you to work for him. A cock locked in chastity doesn’t become a vagina any more than a man locked in prison becomes a woman. There are literally dozens of examples of social hierarchies that we accept as entirely masculine activities. But somehow, when it comes to sex, we assume that the person a man fucks has to be a woman. 

When I fuck, I don’t want to fuck a woman. I want to fuck a man. He might be a man who is accepting his subordinate status to me, and I may reinforce that status with verbal abuse, pain play, and so on, but I still want him to be a man. I want to feel his muscles under me when I’m making out with him, and I want to admire the masculine lines of his body as I sink my dick into his ass. When I torture a boy, I want to see that masculine struggle to manage the pain. I want to feel like I’ve conquered another guy when I use him. 

Obviously, everyone has their kinks. If your kink is getting off on feeling like your dom is feminizing you, more power to you. We don’t get to choose what gets our dicks hard, and I don’t want to kink-shame you if your kink involves being sissified. And maybe your gender identity is less than fully male and you like it that way and it lines up with your submission. If so, great! You be you. 

But I encourage you to take a deep look at the assumptions you’re making about submission and the place of women in society and see if there aren’t other ways you can conceptualize your power exchange. Don’t be one of those gay guys who builds his identity on denigrating women. 

6 thoughts on “Misogyny in Gay Kink

  1. There’s a lot to unpack with this and, as a woman, I appreciate your commenting on the implicit misogyny behind it. That said, I think it’s important, since it is an act performed by gay men for other gay men, to think about why it’s important to gay men, rather than the fact that the symbols and words used are drawn from a still misogynistic culture.

    I’m a lot less knowledgeable about gay porn that you are, so please correct me if I get this wrong. As preface, my read on gay porn is as a woman who’s been reading gay porn since I was in my teens, as that was the only access to kink at the time (I still remember finding some Tom of Finland drawings in my dad’s stash when I was about 10 and realizing that there were other people like me… and that I absolutely *had* to be a gay leatherman when I grew up).

    That said: I notice that I only saw a lot of reference to the sub as ‘bitch’ ‘cunt’, etc. after the 90s, and more as time has passed. As a result, when I read that, I read it as having more to do with gay men becoming more confident that they are indeed *not* actually becoming women when they bottom. Like most humiliation play, it’s only fun if the bottom knows that they aren’t really the worthless scum they’re playing in a scene. Things that cut too close to our real, central, and unaddressed fears are too destructive. The sub as being female-like becomes approachable as a dark area for erotic exploration only after it is no longer a place of true destruction for the bottom occupying that space.

    So, in all, I see it as a positive development for gay male porn (and gay male kink). After all, the mythical power of the feminine is indeed receptivity. The cunt is only ‘weak’ if you think of it as occupied by the stronger male cock, rather then engulfing and enveloping, and, dare I say it, devouring.

    Finally, with regard to “bitch” in particular, I find it hilarious that it’s used toward a sub in gay kink. I’ve been in a very macho, male dominated profession for most of my adult life… and I’ve only ever been called a bitch when I was powerful and strong. At this point I see it as a compliment.

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    1. Although I am aware that insults like ‘bitch’, ‘cunt’ and ‘pussy’ are specifically female words, they’ve largely lost their gendered meaning for me. When I use them to insult a sub, they somehow don’t feel feminizing to me. Not sure why. Perhaps I’m splitting a very fine hair here

      But the rhetoric of sub as feminized man is very common in a certain kind of gay porn and it drips with such contempt that it’s hard for me to think there’s no misogyny in describing a sub as ‘she’.

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      1. Sorry, I wasn’t entirely clear. I’m not saying there’s no misogyny in it. I’m saying that, like any other symbolic speech, it is less ‘creating’ misogyny and more using a set of symbols that are already there in the dominant culture to create a certain effect. Granted, it’s a less than reflective use of those [yes, misogynistic] symbols. When your sub in LGD states that he’s a ‘pussyboy’, he seems to be using a misogynistic idea drawn from the dominant culture, but in a way that is not really about the role of women, but rather his own ability to accept his receptive quality in a way that ultimately builds him up. Describing a sub as ‘she’ has the potential to have that same quality. However, part of what makes it okay in LGD but not in some other porn is the context that you give. It plays out in the context of a larger, caring relationship, and in a story where you have a female character that is positive and good. That’s lost in Fast Learner, for example, and if that was the only thing you had written it would appear a lot more misogynistic.

        As far as the genderedness of ‘bitch’, ‘cunt’, and ‘pussy’ in your use… I know you might have a hard time imagining this as a gay man, but could you imagine using those terms for a female sub in the same way you do a male sub? Would the implicit and explicit meanings transfer in the way you would expect as ungendered terms?

        I enjoyed the thoughtful essay. And thank you for your thoughtful response.

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      2. I see what you mean. Yes, I think it’s more tapping into existing ideas then creating new ones. I’ll have to think a bit more about it.

        Honestly, I have trouble figuring out how straight make doms and femsubs manage to do power exchange without it crossing over into something misogynistic. I’m very hardwired to treat women as equals. It’s a good thing I’m gay—if I were straight I’d have a lot more trouble with my sex life.

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      3. Yeah, there’s no escaping gender and power imbalances due to gender in our society. The Doms in the male Dom/female sub relationships, at least the ones I know and respect, have to do a lot of internal work around gender issues in what they do. For some guys, it’s a huge barrier to actually doing things the things that turn them on — that admission to self that “yeah, I’m a guy who likes to hit girls and put them in pain. But WAIT… I’m a feminist! I *can’t* be that kind of guy!”

        As you point out, though, there are inner and outer layers to what we do, and while on the outside these relationships look misogynistic, on the inside there is negotiation and mutual regard which, in my experience, far exceeds that of the presumptively egalitarian relationship that as often as not blindly plays out gender roles.

        One person I was talking with recently about this issue told me that when he visited Pakistan there was no male Dom/female sub kink in evidence (although there was female Dom/male sub kink). He attributed it to the fact that gender heirarchy (with the male as the dominant partner) was normative in that society. He concluded that one of the conditions of possibility for the construction of male Dom/female sub relationship as kink was a basically gender-egalitarian society. A woman cannot negotiate a subordinate role if she is by nature or law cast in that role.

        This is probably the best conversation I’ve had in a long time, by the way. Thanks.

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      4. I entirely agree about that last point. In a society in which hierarchy is the norm, it’s egalitarianism or the reversal of hierarchy that would be kinky.

        You’re welcome. I enjoy discussing this stuff

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