A Gentle Man, Not a Girly Man
August 15, 2013 3:26 PM   Subscribe

I'm a bisexual man looking to date bisexual and gay men. In the "what I'm looking for" section of my dating profile, I'm trying to describe the sort of man I'm attracted to, and I need some help.

Short question: What's the synonym for "effeminate" to use in this case? Is there a non-derogatory word that gay men use to describe what I've heard as "nancy" or "femme"?

Longer question: Is effeminacy even what I'm looking for? I like a gentleness, a sense that the man isn't trying to be macho or tough. But at the same time, makeup and mincing steps do little for me. In other words, I'm more attracted to Nathan Lane than his character in The Birdcage.

Keep in mind, I'm not searching for the perfect word in a literary sense. I'm looking for the correct argot to use when writing to gay men who are also looking for dates, sort of in the same way that "BBW" and "Height/Weight Proportionate" mean "fat" and "not fat" respectively in dating ads. So please don't unload a thesaurus full of synonyms for "feminine" on me without some indication of which ones are most likely to be properly understood.
posted by user c to Human Relations (23 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
Is it not okay to specify gentle, sensitive and elegant? Not sure that code words are what you need -- it would seem you want to be specific.
posted by vers at 3:36 PM on August 15, 2013 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: I don't know, maybe I'm overthinking it.

To use an analogy from ads by or for women, saying "I like fat girls" or "I like chunky girls" might have a different effect from "I like BBWs," and saying "I like obese women" will probably not go over well even if it's medically accurate.

I'm concerned that if I choose the wrong word I'll come across as creepy or oblivious.
posted by user c at 3:41 PM on August 15, 2013

" not looking for macho tough guys" seems like it would cover it.
posted by The Whelk at 3:56 PM on August 15, 2013 [1 favorite]

I'm not in the target demographic, and maybe the reference won't be understood by everyone, but I think, "I'm more attracted to Nathan Lane than his character in The Birdcage," is not a bad way to put it.
posted by juliplease at 4:02 PM on August 15, 2013 [5 favorites]

"Non-scene" is on the opposite side of the spectrum of what the OP is looking for and agreeing it might be kind of offensive.

"Sensitive" seems like the right avenue for me?
posted by Conspire at 4:04 PM on August 15, 2013

Best answer: Be careful with these things. Using buzzwords as a type of filter in online dating gets very sketchy very quickly. Especially in the gay community. That's how you end up with "no fats, no fems." So staying away from "no macho bros" is a good idea.

Certainly you're trying to go about this the right way, by phrasing this in the positive rather than the negative. But that's not without its pitfalls either. This is where casual racism rears its ugly head most often. "Only attracted to white/latino guys; it's just a preference." So however you ultimately phrase it, I'd avoid anything that subtly implies exclusivity or judgment of The Other as undesirable. Especially because effeminate guys are very frequently the victim of this kind of Otherization. "I am a guy who likes guys, so don't be a woman in a man's body." Even though you're looking for someone more in touch with traditional concepts of femininity, you don't want to go committing the same gendercrime in reverse!

I might take the approach of listing qualities you're looking for in a partner. Then you can say you look for "poise" or "gentleness" or "kindness" or "adventuresomeness" or whatever else you're looking for. Why not just describe your ideal. You have more than enough space. You can do it in a clever way that tells people more of what you appreciate about those qualities than just listing them off like a checklist on a Boyfriend Order Form.

"I am really attracted to men with a chic sense of style. Not a fashionisto, blindly following every trend at breakneck speed, but someone who really knows themselves and what they like. Gentle men who allow their kindness to be their strength are some of my favorites." Etc etc etc.

The problem with buzzwords - from a marketing perspective - is that it's so high level that it is pretty useless. It's the equivalent of the dreaded "I like to laugh" in dating profiles. Who doesn't like to laugh?!? How is that helpful?!? If you want someone to really understand what you're looking for, it's going to have to be more detailed rather than less.
posted by jph at 4:04 PM on August 15, 2013 [8 favorites]

Best answer: If your desire was opposite you should not say "no femmes". Femme guys are marginalized in the gay world. We love all that heteronormative bullshit. But since you are looking for one, saying "no macho guys" is not offensive.

But I think you should leave it out entirely. You would be amazed at all nelly queens who tout their masculinity. If they catch your eye give them a 30 minute coffee date and see how it goes.
posted by munchingzombie at 4:12 PM on August 15, 2013

Response by poster: Just to clarify: I like Nathan Lane more than his Birdcage character, but I like them both better than macho. I wouldn't rule out a guy for enjoying mascara and booty shorts.

What I'm saying is that I don't want to say "I like femmes," only to have someone "gentle, sensitive and elegant" (good words, especially "elegant") pass me over because he thinks I mean I want someone who wears platform heels and refers to himself as "Miss Gary."

I'm coming around to the idea that I should describe what I'm looking for, rather than trying to find a cookie-cutter buzzword. But please do warn me if there are offensive or misleading terms I should avoid.
posted by user c at 4:19 PM on August 15, 2013

Response by poster: Also: I didn't realize that femmes were marginalized in the gay world. I'm not completely ignorant of gay culture, but I'm not immersed in it either. That gives you an idea of why I'm kind of at sea here.
posted by user c at 4:21 PM on August 15, 2013

"I'm looking for a gentle guy. I am not looking for a tough guy."

I don't think the person you are trying to date would be offended by that language. What is the difference between a gentle man and a gentleman? Nothing but air.
posted by oceanjesse at 4:31 PM on August 15, 2013 [1 favorite]

I ran into a similar problem trying to describe qualities I (as a bi woman) find attractive to someone recently. What I settled on was: I am attracted to positive masculinity and femininity, comfortable and affirming expressions of gender, etc. To me, the extreme poles of gender expression (the negative stereotypes and bad cliches) feel inauthentic and less confidant than someone just allowing themselves to be. Someone who has their own style, who is gentle and compassionate and thoughtful, is immensely more attractive to me than anyone who falls into a "macho" or "girly" cliche; the latter can actually be something I find toxic.

It sounds like you have similar thoughts here. I think your best bet is to just try and explain your feelings as sincerely as you can; avoid looking for the perfect wording and just describe the qualities you find attractive.
posted by byanyothername at 4:44 PM on August 15, 2013 [2 favorites]

I think "gentle" is a good word. I think you might also think longer about what you actually want, i.e. do you want a guy who reads poetry, who takes care of animals, who is interested in aesthetics, who likes to cook, etc? In some ways, if you are able to describe characteristics you find attractive, that is more useful and eloquent than saying "yes effeminate" or "no macho" or some other buzz word.

Also, a fair number of people don't fall easily into macho vs. femme categories, insofar as they wouldn't call themselves "Miss Gary" but they don't crush beer cans on their big clone heads either. Which is another argument for using more words to describe the characteristics you enjoy.

Good luck dating!
posted by feets at 4:55 PM on August 15, 2013 [4 favorites]

"I don't care if you're 'masc' or 'femme' or whatever. Just be kind, gentle and compassionate" (or whatever your adjectives of choice are).

The first sentence makes it clear that you're speaking plainly — that this isn't a euphemism for some prefab identity, it really is just an honest list of qualities you like. Then you can go ahead and list those qualities and not worry quite so much about whether people will read too much into them.
posted by Now there are two. There are two _______. at 4:58 PM on August 15, 2013 [3 favorites]

Except he DOES care if he's "'masc' or 'femme' or whatever." OP specifically asked for a synonym for "femme." Sheesh.
posted by Wordwoman at 5:04 PM on August 15, 2013

posted by Now there are two. There are two _______. at 5:18 PM on August 15, 2013

Think of your perfect person and use their traits to describe. I mean you're going to have to be honest eventually why not be honest now?

I don't see anything wrong with "I like a gentleness, a sense that the man isn't trying to be macho or tough. But at the same time, makeup and mincing steps do little for me. In other words, I'm more attracted to Nathan Lane than his character in The Birdcage."

I think it's something you might see on a dating profile. And if they're offended by makeup and mincing steps then good news, they weren't the one for you! Because that's something you say :)
posted by one4themoment at 5:20 PM on August 15, 2013 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Well, I asked two somewhat contradictory questions: What would be a good synonym for "effeminate," and do I want to use that synonym. I assume the people who aren't giving me synonyms are answering the second question.
posted by user c at 5:20 PM on August 15, 2013

(PS if you see your quote on a dating site... I had your permission to use it as my own, right?)
posted by one4themoment at 5:21 PM on August 15, 2013

In keeping with the Birdcage theme, what about an Armand Goldberg reference? (Assuming Agador Spartacus isn't your type, of course.)

I would probably word it something like "gentle but not weak, confident but not arrogant, feminine but not effeminate"?
posted by gjc at 5:26 PM on August 15, 2013

feets has it. You want to describe characteristics or actions that you find gentle, elegant etc., because that will draw a more accurate pool of potential dates than if you ask people to self-assess. Nobody is particularly good at being objective about themselves.
posted by nanook at 7:33 PM on August 15, 2013

You've already got the phrases! "A gentle man, not necessarily a girly man" - "elegant, gentle and sensitive." "You don't feel the need to try to be macho or tough."

It's ok to list some character traits rather than trying to capture it in one. Maybe some of these will resonate? "nurturing" "stylish" "warm" "graceful" "sophisticated" "charming"

In online dating you want to keep it broad and describe someone that lots of people could imagine themselves as - to keep your options open.
posted by amaire at 7:44 PM on August 15, 2013

Yeah, always err on the side of broadness, especially about something that people might be sensitive about. I mean, what exactly do you gain from describing this with great precision? It's really easy to just not message back someone who messages you but is not your type! On the other hand, it's impossible to get back someone who is your type but was scared off from ever messaging you by something in your profile that came off as more judgmental than you were intending.
posted by ostro at 7:51 AM on August 16, 2013 [3 favorites]

I'm looking for the same soul as you OP. Personally I'd steer away from the shopping list of ambiguous adjectives and phrases with negative connotations like girly man.

Instead maybe write an imaginative biography of the person you want. Saying things like "kind to people and animals", "if he saw a blind woman he'd ask her if he could help", "classy to waiters" and "devoted reader of etiquette hell". Hopefully your description will resonate with someone really awesome. I think because you'll be writing in the same spirit as a poised, stylish compassionate man.
posted by CyborgHag at 8:45 AM on August 17, 2013 [1 favorite]

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