Defining a “Metrosexual Male”

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By Sam Killermann, cross-posted from It’s Pronounced Metrosexual

What does metrosexual mean?  What’s the difference between a metro guy and a non-metro guy?  Isn’t metrosexual just another word for gay?  Is your ringtone from Kimpossible?  These are questions I find myself answering on a semi-daily basis, and I’ll be answering them all and more here, now, in the first and only…

Most Comprehensive Blog Post about Metrosexuality Ever Written (probably)

There’s a lot more to metrosexuality than well-fitting jeans, plucked unibrow hairs, and beautiful, flowing hair.  Those are givens, sure, but it goes a bit deeper.  Heck, there’s even a bit of history behind the whole ordeal.  Let’s start with that.

So there’s this guy named Mark Simpson.

Back in the early 90s, writer (and my friend on TwitterMark Simpson, coined the term “metrosexual,” a combination of “metropolitan” and “heterosexual.”  He wrote:

Metrosexual man, the single young man with a high disposable income, living or working in the city (because that’s where all the best shops are), is perhaps the most promising consumer market of the decade. In the Eighties he was only to be found inside fashion magazines such as GQ, in television advertisements for Levi’s jeans or in gay bars. In the Nineties, he’s everywhere and he’s going shopping.

And so it was started.  The idea that a guy can care about fashion, be concerned about his appearance, and not be gay, and that we should be okay with that.

Simpson has since written a few books and several other pieces on the subject and is seen by many as the grandfather of metrosexuality, but that’s not what I want to talk about (you can read more about all of that on Wikipedia).

Simpson and I disagree on what it means to be metro.  What I’ve experienced through talking with others and performing my show isn’t, in many ways, what he describes to be metrosexuality.  There’s a lot of overlap, certainly, but it’s not apples to apples.  One conflict revolves around the ideas of consumerism and narcissism.

Metrosexuality [not-equal-sign] Consumerism/Narcissism

Metrosexuality, as it stands now, as I experience it and many other metro dudes I’ve talked with experience it, is a term used to describe something very unlike what it described when Simpson coined it.  I’m not wealthy, I don’t live in the city because this is where the best shops are, and I definitely not the best consumer market for anyone (other than perhaps to the people who make Pez–I freakin’ love Pez).

Metro is about looking good, and many people who are metro are likely narcissistic, but you can have one without the other.  I, for example, believe that my metrosexuality is rooted in insecurities in my appearance.  Being called “basketball head” by my family, while hilarious in hindsight, probably didn’t do much for my self-esteem.  That, and the love-handles I boasted as a kid (read: still have) surely didn’t help.

But Simpson argues that a metro male likely falls into one of two categories of narcissism: he’s in love with himself, or he loves the idea of what he might someday become.  The latter certainly applies to me, as I hope to find peace and love with my appearance someday, in that after-school-special, psychologically-healthy kind of way, but I would think that to be the case with most everyone, metro or non-.

Metrosexual [equals sign] Well-Groomed

The one thing you can say that applies to all metrosexuals out there is that we are a well-groomed bunch.  We are intentional about our hair (head, face, chest, and otherwise), understand that a coordinated outfit is better than a matching one, realize that certain shoes are better-suited for certain occasions, and similarly realize that certain demeanor is better-suited for certain occasions (e.g., sloppy drunk tends to work better at bachelor’s parties than it does at work banquets).

We like to look our best.  We present ourselves well.  This is derived from many areas: respect/appreciation for fashion, hopes to make a good impression, or simply because we just like to look good.

“Sexuality” is the big misnomer. Metro is about gender.

The term “metrosexual” is inherently flawed, and it has been since its inception.  This is my biggest issue with the Wikipedia entry, and with the history of the word.  As heteronormativity becomes less and less relevant, describing a man who primps himself and is more concerned with his appearance than other straight men becomes troublesome.  It’s adding to the problem, reinforcing a connection between sexuality and gender that need not exist.

Further, and more importantly, it’s encouraging the that a metro guy is a straight guy who has “gay” characteristics (well-groomed, well-dressed, etc.).  This is problematic because the well-groomed well-dressed gay man is a positive stereotype, but a stereotype nonetheless, and even positive stereotypes are potentially harmful.

Sexuality and Gender: Apples and Oranges

A metrosexual male isn’t just a straight guy who dresses “gay.” Sexuality is about attraction (who are you attracted to, physically, romantically, spiritually), while gender is about expression, identity, and biological sex.  If you want to read more about this, I broke it all down in my article about gender.

We are taught to assume particular roles in society and express ourselves in certain ways based on our biological sex.  If you’re born with ovaries and a vagina, you get a pink room, dolls, and an easy bake oven.  If you’re born with testes and a penis, you get a blue room, an action figure, and another action figure.  As a boy grows up, he’s expected to become a “man.”

Men don’t care about their appearance.

Men like working in the mud, getting dirty.  Men don’t care if their socks don’t match their pants, or if their striped tie clashes against their plaid shirt.  Men don’t need wax for their hair, they only need wax for their car.

I don’t even have a car, but I have no idea what I would do with my hair without a light wax or a texturizing paste.  But do you know how hard it is for me to say that?  There’s a lot of pressure for me to be okay looking like Tobey McGuire’s portrayal of Peter Parker in Spiderman, when I’d much rather look like Joseph Gordon Levitt’s character from just about anything he’s been in (excluding 3rd Rock from the Sun).

Being metro is all about breaking gender roles.

It makes many people uncomfortable to hear about a guy who takes more time to get ready to go to dinner than his sisters do.  Some get weird watching a man turn in a mirror to make sure a new pair of jeans aren’t saggy in the butt.

Men can want to look good in jeans, too.  That’s not reserved for women.  And straight men and gay men and bi- men can all wait in line for a fitting room with a 34-, 32-, and 30-inch pair of jeans, hoping they fit the 32, knowing they should probably by the 34, and only holding the 30 the same way someone orders a diet coke with their whopper: because it feels nice to dream.

Gay men can be metrosexual, too.  There.  I said it.  Better put, all gay men aren’t metro by default, as the term often leads one to believe.  A metrosexual isn’t just a straight guy who dresses “gay.”  That places the same pressure to look good on gay men that is placed on straight men not to.

A few last thoughts

We’re all still figuring this stuff out.  There’s a lot of grey popping up in-between the blacks and whites that existed for so (so!) many years.  The concrete is wet, so it’s easy for us to leave our mark.

And I think we should leave our mark.

Define these things for yourself, in your own terms, and it will give you a better sense of where you stand.  Are you comfortable with a guy plucking his eyebrows, or matching his socks to the bandana he’s wearing to accent his shirt (two things I did last week)?  Are you okay with gender roles dissipating?

Can you live without the categories?

Until we all can, terms like metrosexual are helpful in making sense of things.  I am a metrosexual male.  I always have been, and I likely always will be.  And I’m proud to say it.

Sam Killermann is a writer and performer who uses those skills as an ally to advance progress in the realms of LGBT equality and social justice. He tours the country speaking to college students about stereotypes, prejudice, and oppression, and writes for this site when he’s at home in Austin, TX. Read more of his work at It’s Pronounced Metrosexual and visit his website, samkillermann.com.

 

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