Nonconforming Gender Expectations by Anna Zabo

I don’t like gender boxes. Maybe it’s because I’m non-binary and personally dislike having to act one way or another, but I don’t think so. I tend to see people as wholes, as totalities. Whatever gender they are, that shouldn’t affect how they act or dress or behave. It can, because we do live in a world where gender is coded by behavior and dress, but it shouldn’t.

People are far more complex than anything binary. Pink is for boys and blue is for girls. Or is it the other way around? Depends on the era.

It’s one of the aspects of queer romance that I like—there’s a break from the expectations of gender. There’s a break from the binary.

But I sometimes find myself at odds, too, because sometimes I run across times when there are rules. Coding, as you will, to make characters fall into heteronormalcy, and man, it chaffs my buns when I do.

For example, it’s fine for twinks and femmes to be into pink or silly or wear makeup. But it’s not fine when a character that is not coded as femme does something that someone has decided belongs in the femme box. Oh, the outrage. The characters aren’t behaving “right.”

What exactly is right and correct behavior for adults? I spend a lot of my time around men in my job, and cisgender men at that. They act like people—meaning that there’s a wide variety of emotions and behavior. They can be tender. They can be frustrated to tears. They’re still men. I know a very straight cis allo military dude who giggles and coos at his cat. He’s still an adult man. His actions don’t make him something else—because he’s himself.

But a hot alpha man in a romance—even a queer romance—can’t be silly or have moments of uncertainty because then he’s not acting right. It’s weakening if a butch woman likes frills or anything femme for themselves. It’s all very heterosexual. Masc people have to always be masc people.

It doesn’t seem to work as much the other way—there’s not as much upset about characters that are seemingly femme being more masc from time to time. A femme woman can be strong and gruff and learn boxing. So can a femme man. Or someone NB. That’s fine and acceptable.

I know it’s an offshoot of this idea masculinity our culture has that’s…toxic. Masculine means strong. Tears are weak. Frivolity is weak. Joy and laughter and silliness are weak. Someone like Mr. Rogers is weak.

It’s just not true, and I hate to see that toxic idea of masc in romance, queer or otherwise. So help me out, dear readers. What are some books where masculine characters are allowed to break out of the gender box?


Anna Zabo writes contemporary and paranormal romance for all colors of the rainbow and believes passionately that happy ever afters are for everyone.  They live and work in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.

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Please note: all opinions and statements expressed are those of the author and not of Open Ink Press LLC or its affiliates. 

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