Queer men and women: cultural differences

Throughout this post, I refer to queer men and women, but I understand that many of the people in question do not use the word “queer” for themselves. Let’s just acknowledge that and move on.

Here’s a little mystery that my readers can help me out with: What are the cultural differences between queer men’s and queer women’s spaces?

The differences are directly relevant to my life. I am gay, and I have hung out in many spaces for queer men. However, I am also active in online ace communities, which are predominantly made up of women. Occasionally, this causes a disconnect between the cultures I see online, and the cultures I see offline. For example, ace communities experience a lot of gatekeeping, wherein people try to say aces aren’t queer, or else reject the word “queer”. To me this has always felt like absurd internet nonsense, because my impression is queer men don’t engage in the same variety of gatekeeping at all. But the ability to dismiss gatekeeping as absurd is a kind of privilege. I want to understand the differences rather than dismissing them.

Obviously, one of the major differences is the difference between offline and online. But recently, I came to recognize gender as an important factor. I wanted to investigate this further by seeing what other people say, but all I found was a silly Buzzfeed article.  Clearly this warrants more serious discussion.

So, here are a few observations and impressions:

  1. The first item in the Buzzfeed article is about the scarcity of lesbian nights, and that sounds about right. In San Francisco, there are gay bars and clubs all over the place, but hardly any for queer women. This appears to cause queer women to police their spaces rather heavily, since their spaces are in short supply. In contrast, the attitude of many queer men is that the more people who are gay, the more space there is.
  2. I think queer men do have gatekeeping, but of a different variety. They have a way of pushing out people who aren’t sufficiently attractive, or who aren’t white, or who otherwise disrupt whatever culture they think is worth preserving. I have, in the past criticized rape culture in queer men’s spaces, and the most common negative response is of the form, “If you don’t like it, then leave.” Anti-ace gatekeeping also looks like that.
  3. Queer men and women face different kinds of hostility from society. Homophobia towards men often comes in the form of disgust: people recognize what we are, and don’t like it. Women, on the other hand, are often seen as performing queerness to get attention. See, for instance, the stereotype that bisexual men are really just gay, while bisexual women are really just straight. I don’t know so much about women, but among men there’s always the tension between men who own the stereotypes, and men who reject them.
  4. In general, queer women seem to be more social-justice-conscious than queer men. This is most dramatically demonstrated by the political fringes. Queer women have TERFs, queer men have an MRA/libertarian cluster. I mean, look at Milo Yiannopolous–when I found out he was gay, I was not the least bit surprised.
  5. As noted at the top, not all of the women and men in question identify as queer. But, the reasons are different. Usually when men don’t identify as queer, it’s because they’ve grown up seeing it used as an insult, and have a negative visceral reaction to it. Also, they say “gay” works just fine thank you very much. When women don’t identify as queer (at least on Tumblr), they say they are trying to protect other people who may be triggered. I find this ironic for a number of reasons that could fill out a separate post.

What do you think? Are any of my impressions incorrect? Any other ideas to add?


  1. agender says

    Labels in the making. Unnerving process, I know – I am old.
    AND the really ugly problem with gatekeeping/protecting safe spaces is the fact that nobody can predict anyone else´s behaviour with 100% precision. (Maybe not even one´ s own).
    I am still not good to cope with insecurity (of outcome, I never had any with intentions, and that made me weird in each group I dared to mention it) – therefore i can only wish this wave of people who seek their own way good luck!

  2. Mary Kame Ginoza says

    So, as a caveat before I comment, I tend to deliberately avoid a lot of women’s-only spaces for a variety of reasons (preferring mixed-gender queer spaces), so I don’t have direct experience with women-only queer spaces, just women-heavy ones.

    As far as the “avoiding queer to protect other people” thing, in my experience that’s not necessarily a queer women cultural thing, so much as a young people (or maybe young women thing? that’s also possible) cultural thing – when I’ve talk to older queer/gay/lesbian/etc. women (admittedly only a few) the main objection I’ve heard is that they don’t like to use it for themselves because they are used to seeing it as an insult, much like you mentioned for gay men. Whereas, younger people tend to object to queer on the behalf of other people mostly because “queer” is just so rarely used as an insult anymore, it seems like (For example, when I was growing up, no one ever used the word queer as an insult – it had been thoroughly eclipsed by “gay” as the middle school insult of choice).

    That said, there may also be a gender gap in who even has the experience of being targeted by “queer”, since the way non-straight men and non-straight women are treated tends is often quite different.

    Also, as far as general SJW trends, one of the things I notice in women-dominant spaces is that there’s (not surprisingly) a huge amount of time spent talking about the experience of “being a woman”, including a lot about sexism, feminism etc. – so if you go to something like a queer women’s discussion group it’ll be as much (if not significantly more) about gender/sexism/feminism as it will be about sexuality. I would think that queer men’s spaces would probably have a lot less of that, which seems like it aligns with what you are mentioning above – does that seem true to you?

  3. says

    Well, when queer men do talk about gender, it usually doesn’t turn into a conversation about feminism or sexism, because why would it?

    Yeah it’s funny, “gay” was the pejorative when I was a kid, but I don’t personally know any men who avoid the label for that reason.

  4. sennkestra says

    Oh, and one other thing that is interesting about certain types of queer women’s spaces: there’s a certain substantial subset of “queer women’s” spaces that are not so much “let’s gather as women” but “let’s gather away from men” (hence, “women’s” spaces that are more “women + trans people who identify as women + trans people who used to be women + nonbinary people + basically anyone who is not a cis-man”. I think that dynamic (where there is an emphasis on “getting away from” certain groups, rather than a focus on “gathering towards” some certain goal), most likely does have an impact on gatekeeping, though I’m still not sure exactly how.

  5. says

    That reminds me of the discourse on bachelorette parties in gay bars. They’re considered rude, and there are many anecdotes where the women are rowdy, or treat the gay men as novelties or eye candy. But most people agree that it’s fine for a few women to be there. The canonical example is when a gay guy brings his girlfriend for moral support. But also, in nearly every nightclub I’ve ever been to I’ve seen at least one f/f couple. Contrast with queer women’s nights, where I’m under the impression that I’m not welcome at all.

  6. Chrysocolla Town says

    My only experience with queer women’s spaces is a cishet-men exclusionary radical feminist okupa house, so i definitely see where Sennkestra is coming from. And i think their kind of gatekeeping is “any men that doesn’t look/act queer enough”. Not the most welcoming space for queer men and male-presenting nonbinary people, i’d say, and it also may make bi and het trans women uncomfortable, since the cishet rule also applies to partners (and to older children).

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *