Movie Review: The Butch Factor

The Butch Factor (2009)The Butch Factor does what a good documentary is supposed to do: it makes you think. It does so by asking a complex question, presenting a variety of different, interesting viewpoints and leaving you to form your own opinion. It asks the question: what is masculinity and how do gay men perceive it? Especially for this group it is a loaded question. There is social pressure for a man to be manly, and this can be extra tough on gay guys, as they are not seen as ‘real’ men to begin with. After all, sleeping with another guy is seen as intrinsically girly, especially the ‘bottom’ role if there’s anal sex involved – even though ironically no girls are participating. It makes gays more self-conscious about feminine traits they may have and can lead them to shun their more effeminate brethren for fear of being associated with them and losing the respect of their straight peers. The documentary crew talks to musclemen, sportsmen, regular joes, ‘sissies’ and to a female-to-male transman about what makes a man.

Does a ‘real’ man have to have muscles and physical strength and is that all there is to it? We’ve all seen pumped up guys who look butch right up to the point when they open their mouth and then a purse falls out. There are gay guys who look masculine at first glance but show feminine traits when it comes to body language. Is a real man just a regular guy, doing things a stereotypical straight guy does? Does it necessarily mean getting excited about beer, sports, being hairy and possibly growing a gut? Does it mean not following your own interest, going out of your way to conform to the manly standard, turning away all things labeled as gay or unmanly by others? Isn’t someone who is preoccupied by appearing masculine actually showing he isn’t confident about his masculinity to begin with? And doesn’t that insecurity in itself hurt his ‘butch factor’?

Is it about strength of character? The outwardly most feminine gay men, have no choice but to grow a pair as they can’t pass for straight and have to fend off the aggression that brings out in people. Being regarded as a ‘real’ man is never an option for them, though they have all the required parts and likely have more of a fighter mentality than most men who pump iron. Is your level of masculinity set at birth, something you just are or aren’t and can’t influence all that much? But then: is a transman who has been through hormone therapy and starts acting and thinking like a man not as masculine as the next guy, apart from the genitalia?

There is a lot of shame about femininity within the gay scene; not only do some seem to think that interacting with a feminine guy would suck the masculinity right out of them by association, but a lot of gay men – including the feminine ones – are attracted to stereotypical masculine markers and behavior, passing over the queenier of their kind. Possibly it’s because they are seeking masculinity in others that they fear they are lacking themselves. Then again, there may be something more biological going on, hormones being set to respond to masculinity on a primal level: no perceived masculinity, no arousal. However, that ‘perceived’ caveat is an important one. Is masculinity something you intrinsically are, because of how you look, move, talk, smell… or is it subjective, something you are judged to be by others on the basis of culture? And is it ultimately something anyone should worry about or should we just get on with our lives and be ourselves, regardless of how people perceive us? Watch this very interesting documentary and discuss.

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