Well, I did it: I’m masc now. For years I languished, a decidedly cheaper cut of meat, reeking of homosexuality, powerless to satisfy anyone in the market for a real man. Then I became masc, and the men who once ignored me now treat me like a queen.
It started last Halloween, when I went out dressed as a Mets player — no one player in particular; I am not sure I could name a Mets player. Sammy Sosa? Is he one? — and I ended up dancing with someone far better-looking than I deserved. (Falling in love with him instantly, I made the mistake of not inviting him home that night, and we never got past a dinner date the next week — last time this lady plays hard to get, I assure you.) While that night did not bring me lasting happiness, it did generate a photo of me wearing my costume. When I saw it, I knew I’d struck on something major: it turns out, throw a baseball cap on this thirsty theater queen and voila: She’s masc!
I’ve been wearing a baseball cap ever since. Crucially, a backward baseball cap — when I wear it forward I evoke a pasty dad trying to avoid the sun. With one simple accessory I can imply a whole set of qualities utterly foreign to me — like, for instance, a knowledge of baseball beyond the plot of Damn Yankees. When I’m in a baseball cap my aura is less “Please, God, someone love me” and more “I’m a guy and I like guy things, like the people who play on the sports team on my head.” It’s not important that in reality I have as much allegiance to the Mets as I do to, say, Rite Aid; what’s important is that when you look at me, you see a man. It’s a fantastic illusion.
I promise the effect is not just in my imagination. Some time ago I passed a woman on the street while wearing my hat, and she smiled at me in a way no woman had ever smiled at me before: with interest! I have to say, I found it far from unpleasant. Another time when I was wearing the hat a woman smiled at me like she wanted to please me. I suddenly had an acute awareness of my patriarchal privilege — thrilling! Even my friend Allie, who I appreciate mainly for her powers of ridicule, is on board with this hat. She once told me, approvingly, that it made me look like a goyische frat boy. It was the closest I can remember feeling to another human being. (It is true that in addition to lending me an air of heterosexuality, this thing also covers my Jew hair, thus passing me off as more widely palatable. I’ll take that deal too, sister!)
I find the baseball cap has a subtle effect on the way I carry myself — sort of like how my mother’s nightgown always used to give me a lightness of foot about the house. When I’m wearing the cap, I feel I am slightly less mouthy, unwieldy, and terrified of my surroundings. The other day I was wearing it in the kitchen of the shared workspace I belong to so I don’t spend all day in my room touching myself, and a gorgeous guy I’d never met wandered in. I couldn’t glean his orientation, but he initiated conversation, which means that surely some part of him was at least open to building a family with me. Thank God I had my hat to soothe me through the entire 30-second encounter. You’re just a couple of dudes, it was telling me. Just two dudes hangin’ out at work. Who’s unworthy of intimacy? Not you, man! When I went to shake his hand goodbye, I noticed that my arm was bent slightly outward, kind of like you’d position it if you were going for a fraternal clap on the shoulder. I beheld the crook of my elbow, feeling alive with male energy, and the guy — Matthew, my perfect Matthew — shook my hand and said, “Nice to meet you, man.” I have not seen him since.
I am hardly the first homosexual to figure out the baseball cap trick. In fact, West Hollywood, where I live, is so full of gay men in baseball caps that before I realized this was a trend, I often wondered where all the gay men were. Some of these guys, sure, are legit “masc” — they’ve always worn baseball caps or are at any rate not consciously trying to tone down their gayness. If it’s straight-acting you’re after, those are the ones you really want to get to know, and you’re probably sick of salty queens like me milling around impersonating them.
I’ve come to suspect, however, that many of the people explicitly seeking “masc” partners are really just looking for a little role-play — more specifically, a chance to enact the fantasy of landing one of the normal, sporty boys from our formative years. If you can only look the part, that can be enough to get your foot in the door. Once he lets you in it’s just a matter of saying very little until you’ve had your way with him; then you can let your hair down and talk Sondheim. Hell, I once jerked off with a drag queen who’d described himself online as “masc for masc.” And you know what? We both fucking sold it.
Sure, there are guys who will only settle for the real deal — men who seem so straight they don’t even need costume pieces. These fundamentalist chasers of masculinity are, of course, deeply irritating, but I find it helps to think of them with pity — can you imagine casting so narrow a net?
The way I see it, if the prizing of “masc” men is enough to make you feel unworthy — as it has surely made me feel unworthy — the solution may very well be to take a cue from Grease: Make yourself appear to be the thing they think they want, and do your very best impression of the man you might have been. You’ll still be the man you always were.
BEN KAWALLER is a writer living in Los Angeles. He has written for The Advocate, Salon, New York, and FourTwoNine.com. Follow him on Twitter @benkawaller.