How Black Boys Turn Blue: The Effects of Masculine Ideology on Same-Gender Loving Men
By Courtland Douglas (Psychology Graduate Student, Texas Southern University) & Erlanger Turner, PhD (Assistant Professor of Psychology, University of Houston-Downtown)
What Do We Mean by the Term “Same-Gender Loving”?
They say, “Black boys turn blue in the moonlight”. In the Oscar winning movie Moonlight, the story follows character Chiron as he develops into a man. What’s interesting about Chiron’s story is that it mirrors that of countless other African American men. Chiron is simply not allowed to “be” – he’s bullied for being “Little,” beaten because of his demeanor, and denied the opportunity to safely and freely explore his sexuality. It is indeed under this distress that Black boys turn blue.
Chiron is a same-gender loving man. “Same-gender loving” (SGL) was first coined by Dr. Cleo Manago to describe African Americans with same gender attractions1. It encompasses African Americans who experience exclusively homosexual or bisexual attractions and sexual interactions. Same-gender loving has been used to redefine the terms gay, lesbian, and bisexual. In doing this, Manago challenges the assumed link between sexual minority identities and the stereotypes that accompany them.
Masculinity and SGL
Pascoe (2003), in his study of heterosexual masculinity, called for greater examination of the complex ways that young men negotiate masculinity, rather than discussion of how to categorize the types of masculinity (e.g., jock, player, effeminate). According to various scholars2,3, in traditional masculine ideology, men exemplify certain characteristics and behaviors:
Men are aggressive and physically strong
Men are self-reliant and responsible heads of the household
Men are emotionally restricted
Men have non-relational attitudes towards sex
Men avoid femininity, which includes concealing their emotions
Men view heterosexuality as the normative sexual orientation
Men aspire to success and achievement
According to Levant and Majors (1997), African American men embrace traditional masculine ideology to a greater extent compared to other ethnic groups in the United States. Therefore, the heterosexism – negative attitudes toward homosexuality and gender non-conforming expression – pervades the African American community. A recent study4 in the Journal of Black Psychology notes that in the Black community, gender norms portrayed in popular music may increase ideals of hegemonic masculinity which is defined to include traits such as competitiveness, emotional restraint, risk taking, dominance, non-relational attitudes toward sexuality.
Research identifies the disdain of homosexuality and avoidance of femininity as beliefs of traditional masculine ideology. This influences the ability of SGL men to meet masculine standards. For some, their identity and gender non-conforming expression contradict traditional masculine ideology. SGL men who don’t conform to traditional masculinity may have their manhood questioned by their ethnic peers. Subsequent persecution may prompt some SGL men to forego exploration of their sexuality and gender expression. Pleck (1995) identified these patterns of persecution and trauma as trauma strain, which negatively affect the psychological well-being of SGL men.
Similarly, being able to perform masculinity successfully can harm the mental health of SGL men. Pleck asserts that the fulfillment of certain male gender role norms can have negative consequences such as being inherently dysfunctional—dysfunction strain. For example, SGL men who internalize traditional masculinity may have a reluctance to express emotions, which may prevent the development of intimate relationships. However, for some SGL men, adhering to traditional masculine norms may serve a protective function. Traditional masculine ideology has helped mold the expectation for how African American men should behave. So, adhering to male gender role norms increases their chances of successfully navigating social environments (e.g., work and school) without persecution.
Additionally, research finds that African American men are more likely to self-identify as bisexual than other ethnic minorities5. Identifying as bisexual may serve a dual protective function for African American SGL men. The identification arguably allows them to validate their same gender attractions, protecting them psychologically, while grounding themselves in their masculinity protects them socially. This further complicates our understanding of how individuals navigate social contexts as a result of their intersecting identities.
Mental Health and SGL Men
The literature often finds that attempts to adhere to traditional masculine ideologies are associated with decreased mental health functioning6,7. Ethnic minorities who identify as SGL frequently experience a sense of never being part of any group, which may leave them at greater risk for isolation, feelings of estrangement, and increased psychological vulnerability8.
In 2013, a meta-analysis of 25 studies5 revealed that the lifetime prevalence of depression and anxiety disorders was at least 1.5 times higher among lesbians, gays, and bisexuals. Furthermore, African American men who experienced homophobia from the heterosexual community and their friends reported more negative psychological effects5. Choi and colleagues reported that perceived homophobic disapproval and rejection by an immediate circle of heterosexual friends harmed psychological well-being for sexual minority men of color more than harassment related to sexual orientation.
What Helps with Coping for SGL Men?
Engage in healthy personal habits (e.g., eating, exercise).
Identify a safe space to discuss your identity and seek supportive relationships.
Avoid engaging in risky sexual behaviors (e.g., unprotected sex).
Avoid using substances to cope with negative thoughts as it could lead to more negative psychological and health outcomes.
According to Greene (1994), individuals learn about negative stereotypes and homophobia before they know they are attracted to the same-sex. Therapy can help explore sexual identity and self-acceptance.
Group therapy for SGL men: Group therapy can provide a safe space to explore issues surrounding SLG men’s intersecting identities while fostering solidarity among group members. Here, members can negotiate their identities as African American and same-gender loving men.
Therapy goals to overcome internalized homonegativity: Homonegativity has been defined as negative societal attitudes about non-heterosexual attractions, behaviors, and identities that are internalized by homosexuals.10 Homonegative messages can be internalized, causing a decreased sense of self-worth. Therapy can deconstruct internalized homonegativity and expose its origin as the external attitudes of society. SGL men are then able to use their own values to shape their views of themselves and reframe their sexuality as a positive or neutral aspect of their identity rather than a negative one.
1Lassiter, J. (2016). Effective strategies used by African American same gender loving men in promoting health and well-being. In L. D. Follins & J. M. Lassiter (Eds.), Black LGBT Health in the United States: The Intersection of Race, Gender, and Sexual Orientation (pp. 169-184). Lanham, MD: Lexington Books.
2Levant, R. F., Hirsch, L., Celentano, E., Cozza, T., Hill, S., MacEachern, et al. (1992). The male role: An investigation of norms and stereotypes. Journal of Mental Health Counseling, 14(3), 325-337.
3Pascoe, C. J. (2003). Multiple masculinities? Teenage boys talk about jocks and gender. American Behavioral Scientist, 46(10), 1423-1438.
4Mahalik, J. R., Good, G. E., & Englar-Carlson, M. (2003). Masculinity scripts, presenting concerns, and help seeking: Implications for practice and training. Professional Psychology: Research and Practice, 34(2), 123-131.
5Levant, R. F., & Majors, R. G. (1997). An investigation into variations in the construction of the male gender role among young African American and European American women and men. Journal of Gender, Culture, and Health, 2(1), 33-43.
6Avery, L. R., Ward, L.M., Moss, L., & Uskup, D. (2017). Tuning gender: Representations of femininity, and masculinity in popular music by Black artists. Journal of Black Psychology, 43(2), 159-191.
7Choi, K. H., Paul, J., Ayala, G., Boylan, R., & Gregorich, S. E. (2013). Experiences of discrimination and their impact on the mental health among African American, Asian and Pacific Islander, and Latino men who have sex with men. American Journal of Public Health, 103(5), 868-874.
8Pleck, J. H. (1995). The gender role strain paradigm: An update. In R. F. Levant & W. S. Pollack (Eds.), A new psychology of men (pp. 11-32). New York: Basic Books.
9Wilson, B. D., Harper, G. W., Hidalgo, M. A., Jamil, O. B., Torres, R. S., Fernandez, M. I., & Adolescent Medicine Trials Network for HIV/AIDS Interventions. (2010). Negotiating dominant masculinity ideology: Strategies used by gay, bisexual and questioning male adolescents. American Journal of Community Psychology, 45(1-2), 169-185.
10Greene, B. (1994). Ethnic-minority lesbians and gay men: mental health and treatment issues. Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, 62(2), 243.
Courtland Douglas earned his Bachelor of Science degree in Psychology from Louisiana State University. He is currently pursuing a Masters of Art in Psychology at Texas Southern University. His interests include Black masculinity, LGBTQ issues, and mental health.
Erlanger A. Turner, PhD, is a Clinical Psychologist and an Assistant Professor of Psychology at the University of Houston-Downtown (UHD). Dr. Turner’s research focuses on access to child mental health services, health inequity, help-seeking attitudes and behaviors, and cultural competency in clinical practice. He is the Director of the UHD Race, Culture, and Mental Health Research Lab and is also a blogger for The Race to Good Health. Dr. Turner has served in numerous leadership positions throughout APA and APA Divisions. He currently serves as Chair of the APA Board for the Advancement of Psychology in the Public Interest (2017-2018) and as a member of the Behavioral Health National Project Advisory Committee for the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Office of Minority Health. He is a member of the American Psychological Association and the Association of Black Psychologists.
Image source: iStockPhoto.com
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