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Why are some gay men calling themselves androphiles?

It’s been used by people who don’t feel that they have a place outside of what they consider ‘gay culture’, i.e... Lady Gaga

We’re fairly lucky to live in a world where most people know and understand that not all gay men like clubbing and Lady Gaga. I am not one of these men – I really, really like both – but trust me when I say that there are gay men out there who like things like chess, or origami, or even – shock horror! – football (and not just for the men in tight shorts). There is no universal way to be gay because we are all more than our sexuality – we’re individuals with our own interests, opinions and lives. Apparently, this message is still yet to make its way into the ‘androphile’ community, or at least to the members recently interviewed for an in-depth feature published by BBC3.

In the lengthy, nuanced article, various men describe their shared feelings of not having a place within ‘gay culture’ – which, apparently, just means they don’t like Miley Cyrus or Queer As Folk. One ‘androphile’ Henning Diesel said he doesn’t like “gay music like Lady Gaga, Ariana Grande, and Miley Cyrus”. Nicolas Chinardet is the man who made the word up in the early 2000s based on his loose knowledge of Greek. ‘Andro’ means male, or masculine, ‘-phile’ denotes attraction: therefore, ‘androphile’ can be basically defined as an attraction to men or masculinity. For Chinardet, it was an alternative identification which was less ‘clinical’ than homosexual and didn’t have the same connotations as ‘gay’ – the Gaga thing, remember?

Incidentally, we already have a word to describe female androphiles: it’s called heterosexuality. We also already have a word to describe gay men who want to sleep with men but strongly dislike ‘gay culture’: it’s called internalised homophobia.

It only takes a quick swipe through Grindr to show that ‘androphiles’ are everywhere; their words, actions and arguments are already well-documented, they’re just usually tagged under words like ‘femme-shaming’, or ‘misogyny’. Chinardet has essentially done what many gay men have done before him – in their own ways, they have all lashed out at lazy stereotypes, moulded their own image in direct opposition to the standards of masculinity weaponised against gay men and basically exacerbated homophobia, further dividing the community in the process.

Although it’s been ten years since the androphile ‘manifesto’ was written by notorious fascist Jack Donovan, the word has recently experienced a renaissance. The reason for its resurgence? The ‘alt-right gays’, who made headlines throughout the run-up to the US election and continue to prove what minorities worldwide already know: that being marginalised in any way doesn’t necessarily make you progressive.

The gay community has huge issues with racism, misogyny and, ironically enough, homophobia, but it was only when these men rallied together in MAGA hats and shit polo shirts that the world took notice. Chinardet seemingly didn’t notice that he had only buoyed the ideologies of these existing groups – when it was pointed out that his term had been co-opted by the alt-right, he responded: “I think I’m going to have to review my description… I want absolutely nothing to do with those people.”

There’s already proof out there that gay stereotypes are lazy, overarching and perpetuated throughout pop culture. I get it – honestly. It’s annoying when people want to make you their ‘gay best friend’, or presume you love fashion, or that you spent your late teens sniffing poppers on the basement floor of a gay sauna whilst being spit-roasted. Not all gay men are promiscuous, naturally femme or like fashion – again, the aforementioned shit polo shirts (full disclosure: I do care about fashion) are proof enough that stereotypes don’t work because people are complex.

But does it bother me that there are gay men who spend their weekends at orgies, can recite every designer under the sun or proudly hashtag themselves as #GBFs on Instagram? No. Like a lot of other gay men, I’m comfortable enough with my own identity to know that these stereotypes don’t translate into a universal ‘gay culture’ which I feel excluded from. I also know that gay masculinity and the search for it in a partner isn’t always necessarily a negative thing, nor is it always a product of internalised homophobia – it becomes that, however, when you actively enforce ‘preferences’ or vocally bash others that don’t fit your own visions of ideal masculinity. It can be all too easy to internalise homophobia in a world determined to beat you down and force you to ‘man up’ in response, but assimilation or further marginalisation are not the answer.

“Our sexual freedoms come as a result of noteworthy activists, many of whom were trans, gender non-conforming, or unashamedly camp”

The way to combat these lazy generalisations is to work to actually diversify the media in particular, and show that there is no one universal experience – queer people of colour, femmes and trans gay men can all be part of the ‘gay umbrella’, but the experiences they have and the problems they face are all distinctly different. Only when we start to hear and humanise these people can we understand that there is no universal gay experience – instead of inventing new words to distance ourselves from stereotypes, we need to be deconstructing the stereotypes as they are and proving that no one size fits all.

Still, it’s worth noting that the infamous ‘masc4masc’ brigade wouldn’t even have the freedom to spout their discrimination online if it weren’t for the work of femmes that came before us – instead of using dating apps, they’d be playing the dangerous cruising game, utilising the handkerchief code and hiding from policeman looking to bang them up (pun intended) for sodomy. Our sexual freedoms come as a result of noteworthy activists, many of whom were trans, gender non-conforming, or unashamedly camp – they repurposed initially negative stereotypes, doused them in glitter and issued a firm yet fabulous ‘fuck you’ to a society that didn’t respect their rights.

What’s most annoying is that the word ‘androphile’ could actually be repurposed into something useful and, paradoxically, progressive. Whether you like it or not (insert #triggered #leftie #snowflake meme here), language around queerness is expanding rapidly. There are non-binary, trans and gender non-conforming people who present as masculine but don’t use male pronouns – my first thought was that, if actually used in the context of gender ambiguity or androgyny, androphile could actually propel our understanding of desire further and expand the possibilities of gender and sexuality.

After all, statistics show that we are the queerest generation ever. Maybe, in the spirit of rebellion and, to some extent, resilience, we could try to do what we have always done in the face of homophobia – repurpose the term, which has been used by people seeking to distance themselves from queerness and only reinforce prejudice in the process – and, well, queer it.