I guess I’d never really thought deeply about my take on masculinity until a conversation recently when the subject came up. Masculinity in the LGBTQ+ and kinky communities is a beautiful and confusing thing. We have the incredible body of work (see what I did there?) of Tom of Finland and the objectification of the idealized male form, along with bodybuilding and muscle worship, and we have the testosterone-fueled homophobia that piggybacks the male coming of age experience. And let’s not forget the internalized homophobia of the “masc 4 masc” crowd.

I think it’s time to recognize that a musclebound body is not the same as masculinity, nor should it necessarily be. In recent years I can think of two muscular cast members of Rupaul’s drag race franchise: Kameron Michaels (U.S., Season 10) and Kween Kong (Down Under, Season 2). Both of these queens drew attention to a beautiful intersection between musculature, poise, elegance, and beauty. And who could forget masculinity poster boys Patrick Swayze and Wesley Snipes’ brilliant dragtastic performances in To Wong Fu?

My boy Rob is as naturally masculine as they come. He enjoys powerlifting. He rebuilds engines for fun. He would live in basketball shorts and tank tops if he could. I think what attracts me to his masculinity is how absolutely effortless it is. He’s also a gentle and loving guy who named the stray outdoor cat he adopted “Kitty Girl” – a cat whose gender we don’t know, by the way. But seeing as Kitty Girl is an orange tabby, odds are 80% or more that there’s a penis involved in the anatomy.

My husband Zak has a naturally masculine body. Strong, broad shoulders, body hair on body hair, and a huge white beard. He sings show tunes all day, has a wrist that is perpetually adorned by a collection of silver bracelets, and a pride flag in the shape of the Apple logo on the back of his calf. He likes to put on nail polish sometimes, and wear clothes that fit close and show off his body. Zak is a beautiful fuck you to standards that insist on making a choice between masculine and feminine.

When it comes to my own (masculine) attraction, I find myself attracted to natural masculinity. What that means to me is that I am attracted to the traits surrounding masculine energy when they just happen without any forethought or intention. An easy swagger without pretense. If I have to tell you how masculine I am, or how masculine I want you to be, there’s a good possibility that I’m going to be playing a role instead of embracing who I am.

Roleplay is fun, but there comes a time when I want to know who you really are, and I think we’ve become subconsciously poisoned into thinking that we have to be either masculine or feminine. Where is that in the rule book of life? Masculine does not mean strong. Feminine does not mean weak. We can exude both masculine and feminine energy, even at the same time.

Let’s take a lesson from our genderfluid siblings and understand that our expression can evolve, and it can even change from one day to the next. Does it make me less of a dominant if I show up to the dungeon party wearing nail polish under my leather gloves? To say yes would disenfranchise the many incredible femmedoms out there who exude the most powerful dominant energy while wearing stilettos and corsets.

The BDSM, leather, and kink communities have always been a place of safety for those of us who felt other. Why then, must we deliberately exclude otherness in our ranks? I challenge us to be better than that, and to toss the outdated masc 4 masc concepts into the same dumpster with “no fats, no femmes” and “I’m not racist, I’m just not into black dudes.” Embracing others in living their own authentic lives is not going to degrade or diminish yours. No one needs you to tell them that you don’t like the way they look or present, just move on and let people be who they are without the unspoken expectation that they owe you something.