“No Fats, No Femmes, No Asians”: Brace Fellow Karsten Rynearson ’22 Examines Hegemonic Masculinity in Gay Community

“No FFA,” short for “No Fats, No Femmes, No Asians,” is an abbreivation that pervades Grindr, the world’s largest social networking and online dating app for gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer people. The phrase is also the title that Brace Student Fellow Karsten Rynearson ’22 gave to his presentation on the effects of hegemonic masculinity in the gay-male community. 

According to Rynearson, gay men are considered conventionally desirable if they possess whiteness, financial prosperity, and a hypermasculine body type. In his presentation, Rynearson detailed the various kinds of masculinities and the hegemonic structure they form.

“There are hegemonic masculinities, which have legitimized superiority over other masculinities. There are complicit masculinities, which to some degree benefit from their adjacence to hegemonic masculinity, and hope to sustain the system of hegemony. There are marginalized masculinities, which are discriminated against due to factors that are external from gender. For example, not being able-bodied could be an example of something that would make someone a member of a marginalized masculinity, because ableism is so widespread. And also subordinate masculinities, which are constructed as inferior and aberrant to hegemonic masculinities, and often their exclusion and oppression is legitimized under the same system that legitimizes the hegemonic male supremacy,” said Rynearson. 

As a result of hegemonic masculinity, Rynearson found that immense pressure exists in the gay community to have a body that conforms to hypermasculine beauty standards. Rynearson noted that such pressure leads gay men to develop eating disorders and turn to cosmetic surgery and steroids.

“We need to dismantle hegemonic masculinity’s emphasis on masculinity and the resulting beauty standards to save gay people’s lives and to end, especially, the prominence of disordered eating and the deaths of these gay men, not to mention the exclusion of fat gay men,” said Rynearson.

According to Rynearson, effeminate gay men are further excluded from the gay community because their departure from the hyper-masculine ideal causes others to perceive them as less attractive. 

“It’s just really disappointing the ways in which gay men have internalized the feminine stigma of gayness to such a big degree… Feminist does not equal submissiveness. The impacts of this on femme men are just total erasure [of] femme members of the gay community as a whole,” said Rynearson. 

Illuminating the discrepancy between historical cartoons depicting Chinese immigrants in dresses versus Black enslaved peoples as masculine, Rynearson identified how race can act as the arbiter of what is masculine. 

“Both of these historical oppressions are affecting the gay community now. East Asian gay men are continuously oppressed on the grounds of perceived femininity, and Black gay men are fetishized due to their perceived hypermasculinity. This fetishization is also an objectification for white pleasure,” said Rynearson.

“Fetishization is not acceptance… A system that does not allow people to be themselves because it is so obsessed with them representing a stereotype of their race cannot be allowed to continue due to its blatant racism,” continued Rynearson. 

Rynearson hopes for a better, more inclusive future for the gay community, urging those who have privilege to advocate for those who do not. 

Rynearson said, “I think that we are not post-liberation until Black gay men, until fat gay men, until femme gay men, are treated with the respect and dignity they deserve. I think that we are not post-liberation until misogyny, fatphobia, femmephobia, racism, all these systems of power are absent in their entirety from the gay community. I think we are not post-liberation until nobody ever says the sentence, ‘No Fats, No Femmes, No Asians.’”

Saida Ibragimova ’22 noted the way in which Rynearson incorporated real-life examples into his research. According to Ibragimova, she was able to feel a genuine enthusiasm in Rynearson’s tone. 

[Rynearson] was very active and emotional, he was very excited about what he was talking about, and the audience could feel it… I also loved that he interviewed people, so it was real data, real stories, and that was something that struck me. I didn’t know anything about that before,” said Ibragimova. 

Louis Bernieri, Instructor in English, was Rynearson’s faculty advisor for the project. Bernieri commended Rynearson’s extensive research and his effort on the paper despite the challenges of the pandemic.

Bernieri said, “[Rynearson] has woven a really rich tapestry of personal experience, theoretical analysis, cultural critique, and social activism. His research goes to the heart of much of what is playing in America today—patriarchy, racism, the commodification of our minds and bodies. Most importantly, Karsten offsets a path towards healing for the gay community and for all of us.”