Being Traditionally Socialized Men in Nontraditional Relationships

By Ozlo Simms | Posted Jul 23 2013 | 32 Comments  

I enter this dialogue as a young, black, masculine, gay man in a committed, deeply revolutionary and life changing relationship with another young, black, masculine, gay man.

My dude and I have spent much of the past two years laughing, learning and loving and just as much of the time crying (yeah I said it), closed off and confused.  We walked into this relationship with learned expectations. Our story survives an added dynamic of him coming to me (a man who has identified as gay for years) as a man from the “straight world” (I’m the first dude he dated). I had expected that any dude I got involved with would be completely open about sexual partners and memberships on those very familiar sex sites, while he had been used to being secretive and DL with his sexual partners. I expected to share all responsibilities with my dude while he expected to be in complete control. There is no question: we fought. Argued, screamed, stomped, you name it. 

Today, when we think back, we realize that we were not fighting because of a dissonance in personalities or denying an issue of incompatibility. We had discovered- through a lot of individual and couple work that we are still processing through- that we were fighting because of a discord between who we are (masculine, male) and what we want (long term same-gender loving (SGL) relationship); we were fighting because of how we had been socialized.  

The framework for this piece is located in Bobbi Harro’s “Cycle of Socialization” paper. In his piece, Harro argues that people are socialized by powerful sources that teach us behaviors, assumptions, rules, and roles that are considered “normal.” He also states that we are trained “how to be” in each of our social identities (in our case- black, male, gay/bi, and masculine) throughout our lives (Harro, 2000, pg. 15). 

The process of socialization inherits us; its purpose is to distribute privilege to some and disadvantage to others.  We are born into a system that survives on these attitudes and behaviors; through our practices of what we think it means to “be men” or “be masculine,” we perpetuate them. These attitudes and behaviors are pervasive, consistent, circular, self-perpetuating and invisible (Harro, 2000, pg. 15). In a word, traditional.
In the case of black, masculine, gay/bi men, we are socialized through the traditions of masculinity and maleness to dominate, be tough, be in control, and take/maintain power (which is a privilege in our society). As gay/bi people, we have been taught that were are social and psychological deviants and as black people we are taught that we are servile, docile and powerless. We are disadvantaged because of our queerness and blackness. As a result, we (like most people) are a combination of identities that are both privileged (male and masculine) and disadvantaged (black and gay/bi). We are at constant odds at how to use and distribute what little power/privilege we have (or feel we have).   
As black, masculine, gay/bi men, then, we struggle with and through many facets of our lives as we trail this path of being both privileged and disadvantaged. I argue here that of all of our life’s activities, no activity suffers more than our attempts at romantic relationships.

Same-gender loving relationships are nontraditional. Period. Yet, we attempt to be successful at them and we do so by framing the ways we interact with our male partners with traditional ways of thinking, acting and doing. Many attempts are unsuccessful because the traditions of being masculine/male and our desire for romantic relationships have been structured to support the normalcy of male-female relationships. When the “traditional” is fused with the “nontraditional,” we see relationships that end quickly, accept physical violence, have unhealthy communication, have no communication, are fraught with infidelity, lack of sexual excitement/exploration, have an abundance of anger and aggression, and lack of vulnerability.   

The socialization of maleness- What it means to be male and masculine- limits our perceptions and levels of intimacy with the men we date. We do not cry because “men don’t cry.” We do not share our feelings because “that’s what sissies and chicks do.” We do not “bottom” because “that’s what feminine dudes do.” Instead of speaking to our men/boys/dudes/partners from the loving spaces that our hearts are, we come at each other headstrong, aggressive and apathetic to each other’s feelings. We are taught to fu*k and fight, never to embrace one another when we need it most.   

If you, like my dude and I, desire a relationship devoid of all the negative traits mentioned above, while still accepting that you are naturally (as opposed to socially) male and masculine, then our first step is to understand that change occurs when we begin to empower ourselves by learning more about each other, unlearning old myths and stereotypes- traditions-, and by challenging the status quo (Harro, 2000, pg. 20).

Here are just a few tips that my dude and I have learned along the journey to becoming nontraditional masculine, black, gay/bi men in an nontraditional relationship:   

  • De-Socialize! The biggest obstacle to overcome in our relationships is how we have been taught to be ourselves. Challenge definitions of maleness and masculinity. Create your own definitions and define your own roles in your relationship.
  • Share the load! Power in male-female relationships has been distributed as “male leader, female follower (as the old saying goes, “Behind every good man is a good woman”).” In our relationships, however, we are two men and we know two people can’t lead, at least not simultaneously. Two men in a relationship should work on taking turns leading. Also, work on sharing power. Discover each other’s strengths and weaknesses and pick up where you should to make your relationship tight.
  • Communicate (from your heart space). Nothing is more incredible than two men disagreeing and talking it out in love! Work on speaking to each other calmly. Give each other the floor, your heart and your ears. When you speak, use “I” statements. I used to think it was silly, but these methods have helped my dude and I out of a lot of situations that could have been much worse.
  • (Lastly) Be Sexually Progressive! I can state, appropriately here, that I have not always been as free or comfortable with the nature of my relationship’s style of sex. I can also say that most of my reservation was connected to ideas of masculinity (see how it all connects?). Do new things together. Yes, it may be scary but that is a good thing. Showing that kind of vulnerability with a partner becomes the glue to your relationship.

One Last Thing:
I once learned that people solidify their behaviors by the time they are seven years old. Many, if not all, of us are seeking same-gender loving relationships in our twenties or later. Thus, the practice of “becoming untraditional,” is like teaching an old dog new tricks: It is very hard, BUT possible, and as long as you and your partner are open, patient, humble, and motivated, you will become the men you want to be.   

Adams, M., & Harro, B. (2000). Cycle of Socialization. In Readings for diversity and social justice (pp. 15-21). New York: Routledge.
What do you think? POST a comment sharing your experiences and reactions to this paper. Peace!     

About the Author

Ozlo Simmons is a writer, a researcher and a student. Based in Amherst, Massachusetts, he is determined to uncover the complexities of being black, male and gay. Rob has a special interest in social justice, black communities and religious/spiritual communities and he believes the road to success is questioning everything. He holds a Bachelor's degree in English & History and is currently pursuing a Master’s in Education.

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32 Comments Feel Free To Join The Cypher.

  1. LEE B | July 24th, 2013

    Love this right here man. 2 very masculine dominate dudes in a relationship will clash compromise is always key! Good article man!!! Kudos!

    • Ozlo Simms | July 24th, 2013

      Hey Lee B. Thanks for taking the time to read. What advice/stories/experiences might you have about compromise that could help the rest of our brothers understand it? I’ll be the first to admit: Compromise ain’t easy. How do we learn how to compromise?

      • LEE B | July 24th, 2013

        So, i was 21 at the time,first real relationship, dating a dude that was 9y/o than me , stubborn, hyper masc and very dominate. When ever we went out, movies,grocery store, drinks, what ever he would insist that he payed. His response would always be ” you a young dude in school keep your money”. It was a sweet gesture, I had a full time job so it was cool i had no problem paying, i actually wanted to foot the bill. Things begin to get one sided and i didn’t like that , but he would damn near cause a scene if i even tried to pay. To resolve it i had to really talk it out to with him. Let him know that it made me feel less of a man because i felt like i wasn’t contributing. Eventually it got better. He would still fight me on things, but we realized that it made him feel good to do things for me and vis versa. Two dominate naturally masculine men letting each other be the men we were.

      • LEE B | July 24th, 2013

        Also let me add that we talked about his past relationship and he realized it was just something he was used to doing,paying for everything. So it was something very small that could have caused turmoil in the relationship had we not discussed it and saw each others point of view.

        You know kinda that 45/55 or 40/60 kinda of stuff lol.

        • SB3
          African King | July 24th, 2013

          Your story was dope. I can see where the conflict can come in. No one wants to feel less of a man.

          • keith
            keith | July 24th, 2013

            If the financial situations of 2 partners are not equal, how does the higher-income partner assuming more of the responsibility for dates etc., contribute to the others’ feeling “less than a man”? I ask this question because I was on the low earning side in a relationship (while in grad school) and I was cool with contributing less. Now, I’m in a relationship where I am the higher earner and my dude always complains because I refuse to accept his help – even if there’s more month at the end of the money (ha,ha). I’ve been told before that it’s important to men to feel “like men”…am I weird?

            • LEE B | July 25th, 2013

              You are not weird, you just want to help out your dude. But if it makes him feel good to want to do things,let him take the reigns sometimes.

              It is an issue when you are used to standing on your own 2 feet, and taking care of your self. Even though i was 21 i was independent own car own crib. I didn’t want to be taken care of, I wasn’t a man child. At the end of the day though its an ego thing. People( especially masculine men ) need their ego stroked every now and again. It is just a give and take type of thing. You know, its about picking your battles.

  2. SB3000 | July 24th, 2013

    This was a great piece. I can relate to this 100%, though the bottom line in situations like this, is both partners being willing to take this approach.

    • Ozlo Simms | July 24th, 2013

      Right bro! It takes two! If it’s not too personal: how has your experience been as it relates to the topic? What kinds of things have you done that might be helpful for the rest of us in relationships? Thanks for checking out the post. More to come!

      • SB3000 | July 25th, 2013

        Well I spent 5 yrs in a relationship where both of us were exclusive with another man for the first time. We butted lots of heads over the years, which isnt the worst part. I think what made for so many more headbutts was the fact that as 2 men in an extremely DL relationship where EVERYONE just thought that we were BFF’s, we didnt have that outlet to get things off of our chests. There was no calling a friend to vent (at least not for many years). I think the turning point was when I started realizing how important it was to pick n choose my battles, and he simply, didnt.

        If both partners are masculine and in complete, full, undeniable ownership of their MANhood, then it is sooooo important for them to realize, accept, and acknowledge the fact that there’s no ‘woman’ in the relationship, and that they’re 2 MEN who have to treat each other as such.

  3. ptseti | July 24th, 2013

    Someone once said preserving tradition is a nice hobby like stamp collecting. We and I mean societies get it all wrong. We hold on to traditions like a security blanket and when the mind is secure it is also in decay. I maybe a non traditionalist but I agree with you- step out of your comfort zone and develop your own standards, your own tradition. Living your life to the traditions of society puts you in a rat race. The problem is …at the end of the are still a rat!

    • Ozlo Simms | July 24th, 2013

      ptseti- You’re completely right. Traditions make us feel safe and make us feel like things are right in the world, EVEN when those traditions hurt or are in conflict with what feels natural. Stepping out of those traditional places is hard, and there are definitely more people, places and things around us that encourage us to stay complacent, but if stay strong, stay focused and maintain then we may be more able to walk away from traditional ways of thinking. Thanks for your contribution!

  4. SB3
    African King | July 24th, 2013

    Ozlo Simms my brother… my hat is off to you. This article was dope. I have yet to be in a relationship since I’m still finding my way out of the closet in my early 20s.

    I will remember this man. Thanks for sharing your story.

    • Ozlo Simms | July 24th, 2013

      I’m glad you enjoyed the piece. Yea, I can understand what you mean by “finding your way out” and in your 20s. This is something that I am still working on. When you are finally in a relationship, don’t take my words for the end all be all…let it be the conversation starter that you and your dude can have. Yhall will figure out the rest together…thanks for the love…more to come bro.

  5. Ace of hearts | July 24th, 2013

    This was a great piece. I’m currently in a relationship and I’m my guy’s first relationship with another man and at first it was weird because he was more natural in not playing into traditional roles. It was different at first, but I will say switching off leadership an playing into each others strengths have done nothing but make us stronger. Thanks again for this post I really enjoy reading what other guys are thinking about.

    • Ozlo Simms | July 24th, 2013

      AOH- I’m glad you enjoyed it. Hey, that’s what we are all here for- to share our experiences so that we feel a little more supported in a world where we may not get the respect, love or support that we read. Thanks for being a part of this community.

  6. dre924 | July 25th, 2013

    Awesome piece Ozlo. My dude and I have experienced a lot of what you’ve shared in you article. In my case I was the “straight” guy entering into my first gay relationship. I had my expectations and my assumptions. My biggest issue was needing and wanting to be in complete control over everything, and honestly we were a disaster waiting to happen. It took time, trial and error, persistence, compromise, forgiveness, and love for us to really see, hear, and understand each other. This article is truly encouraging. Thanks

    • Ozlo Simms | July 25th, 2013

      Wow—it sounds like you know exactly what I am talking about. And the worst part is that the term “disaster” doesn’t really explain exactly how you felt during the turmoil of trying to figure out the relationship. I hope that you and your dude, whoever he is, are holding strong and making it work. We need more examples of black, masculine gay couples that can sustain! Thanks so much for sharing and for allowing my story speak to you.

  7. ControlledXaos
    Black Pegasus | July 26th, 2013

    “The process of socialization inherits us; its purpose is to distribute privilege to some and disadvantage to others. We are born into a system that survives on these attitudes and behaviors”

    ^^ This statement really struck a cord with me because it’s all so true. And while I agree with it, the fact that I’m ‘naturally” attracted to masculine men has little to do with “socialization”. (at least that’s how I feel about it).I can attempt to “think outside of the box” all day and night, yet it still won’t change the biological reaction I have to an attractive masculine man walking down the street or saying hello to me.

    Great article

  8. Drewski_ (formerly AndrewJS) | July 26th, 2013

    Crucial knowledge to live by!
    Officially one of my top favorite articles on this site.

    Thank yall a TON for this one…

  9. TheEdge
    COSHAMO | July 27th, 2013

    This story was very touching. It gave me insight to the world of gay relationships. Thank you for sharing. This could be a book. LOL….

  10. PAPIMARCOVIBE | July 28th, 2013

    very nice, answered oh so many questions of mine, usually i get my way all the time with no head butting, and my relationships have tended to be more out of sexual access, then emotional growth , spiritual context , or depth more then super specific rolls. i guess the squeaky will gets the oil,so knowing what i want, cultivation of a relationship with more depth then a shot glass, is the order of the day and makes my search for a soul mate more quantitative. thank you from the center of my heart peace.

  11. Exhibit REY | August 8th, 2013

    Very good read and I like how you refer to your significant other as “my dude” LOL. A part of this post that really intrigued me was when you said “Same-gender loving relationships are nontraditional. Period. Yet, we attempt to be successful at them and we do so by framing the ways we interact with our male partners with traditional ways of thinking, acting and doing. Many attempts are unsuccessful because the traditions of being masculine/male and our desire for romantic relationships have been structured to support the normalcy of male-female relationships.” This pretty much sums up why some (not all) SGL relationship don’t always last because as much as we always say we don’t live our lives through heterosexual eyes, we actually sometimes wind up doing so without even noticing it. Another key point you mentioned is “Share the load! Power in male-female relationships has been distributed as “male leader, female follower (as the old saying goes, “Behind every good man is a good woman”).” In our relationships, however, we are two men and we know two people can’t lead, at least not simultaneously. Two men in a relationship should work on taking turns leading. Also, work on sharing power. Discover each other’s strengths and weaknesses and pick up where you should to make your relationship tight.” YOU HIT THE NAIL ON THE HEAD WITH THIS ONE SIR!!!

  12. thebrainydrunk | August 13th, 2013


  13. Michael Broder | August 18th, 2013

    Just read this really nice essay and have not read all the comments, so apologies if this is redundant. I want to comment on this little bit:

    “Power in male-female relationships has been distributed as ‘male leader, female follower’ (as the old saying goes, ‘Behind every good man is a good woman’).”

    In addition to interrogating the power dynamics in our own relationships with our male partners, we need to reject traditional limits on other kinds of relationships, too. In other words, recognize that the “male leader, female follower” dynamic is sexist and oppressive against both women and men, and embrace feminist thinking right alongside your newly emerging ideas about same-sex relationships.

  14. PAPIMARCOVIBE | August 23rd, 2013

    sometimes i guess you run in to brothas that are more for lack of a better word a la carte. they want a friend but sex complicates that so you have friends that you are intimate with but sex is a place they won’t go, or you run into the brotha that is ready to co-habitate but not wanting to be monogamous so they want an open relationship, and then there is that brotha that does not want anything but access to sex on the regular and will be super sexually intimate but will share nothing else. i guess we are in that time of I. like I phone, or the I relationship. you only use the apps you want and leave the apps that you find no use for. except for dat brotha that just got out of the penn that is just trying to use a brotha for a roof and if your self esteem is real low you trick yourself into thinking you are helping him out but what you are actually doing is providing yourself a reason not to look or be in a healthy relationship. that is just my take peace.

  15. blackzw
    blackzw | August 31st, 2013

    I read the article. But it came full circle on reading the comments. It’s good knowing that you’re not alone.I have dated one of those dominant types that needs to be in charge of everything and they’re always right etc. This gave me better insight into the mindset. The comments, sharing all those stories. Thanks y’all.

  16. Rox808 | November 9th, 2013

    Dope article. Awesome advice. Now the challenge is finding someone who is willing to try it out with u. But that just isn’t attached to just gay relationships, its all. Amazing article man.

  17. cruzman | January 21st, 2014

    @ozlo Your essay def resonates with me. I love your parenthetical citations. lol

  18. DC.
    dc102293 | August 17th, 2014

    This article definitely resonated with me heavily. Because I’m a super traditional guy, like to the maximum. So traditional that some days I don’t know how I’m going to survive in the current gay dating world. lol.

    I have held onto my abstinence for years with the intended idea of saving myself for marriage, I want a guy who believes in god, is family oriented and has extreme morals and values such as me, etc. And While this may be great or even detrimental, it’s an ideology, I held onto for a long time, and I actually still hold onto as of today. The only difference is I apply this to a gay relationship. However, what this article made me somewhat realize, is that it’s quite difficult to apply something strongly traditional to something non traditional. The two are very in-congruent with one another. And that’s something day by day, I’m slowly starting to accept.

    And I’m now realizing that maybe the reason I was so firm of trying to hold those traditional views and values to a dating world where it almost non-existent, is because I always thought it would help the people around me including family come to accepting the concept of me being in a relationship with another man better. And also that it would make me feel that I wasn’t that much different from my heterosexual counterparts. Because for me, being gay is really not a big deal, it’s just something I consider to differentiate me from the next guy, like my race. And While I’m comfortable with my sexuality, I know that some parts along with some people in the world won’t always be.

    I think some traditional elements can still be applied to any future relationship I have. And some elements need to be reevaluated and/or removed completely because of how in congruent they may be. And I know my post is probably so off the wall from the rest of the comment posts on here, but I had to write this.

    I think through the years, I used to self-proclaim my traditional views, because I ultimately felt that people would be able to see how normal and great gay relationships could be as a small example from mines. But I’m now seeing I don’t have to self-proclaim or try so hard to showcase an image out there, because if it is the truth I live (which it is) then it will exude. So thank you for an amazing read and ultimately changing my insight on something grandiose beyond me, and allowing me to reevaluate certain mindsets I may have…. for the better!

  19. alton
    NYCforEVER | August 18th, 2014

    Unfortunately I have yet to have the privilege of being in a relationship with another masculine dude. All 4 relationships I’ve had, had all been with dudes on the “softer” side, so (with the exception of my last relationship, which was an anomaly LOL) I was always footing the bill, making decisions, and takin the “Man’s” role, which is kool don’t get me wrong, but after awhile I just started feeling like I was in relationships with chicks. As a masculine dude, I would like to be with a real dude and for shit to be 50/50. Like shit, sometimes I’de like for a muhf#$ka to offer to take ME out to dinner and a movie or some shit. Not because I wanna take the “feminine” approach to dating, I’m just tired of having to be the aggressor ALL THE TIME LOL. My cousin and my best friend offer no help in advice. Their rationale is…”you’re the masculine one, so effeminate men are going to naturally gravitate to you and expect you to be the “protector/provider”. Whatever, dude.

    • ControlledXaos | August 18th, 2014


      I have been taken out and taken out, paid for things, gone dutch, etc. A real partnership. So I expect that going forth.

      However, even then, no amount of masculinity can overcome indecisiveness mixed with some graciousness. For example, the ‘what to eat/watch/do’ conversations I had with my last ex where I am really like “Whatever.” And the ex is like “Whatever.” can have you in a rut.

      I have decided since that relationship ended to just take control. Otherwise, you’ll end up spending half the day figuring it out only to find out that the cool restaurant with the crab cakes special ended 30 minutes ago and now everything is twice the price. Not quite what happened to me, but you get the idea.

      I guess that’s the dichotomy of it all. You want to be able to be provided for and provide, give and take. I think most masculine guys want to have that. Men, still want to be men. Women know that they have to sometimes just step aside and let the bull run loose in the china shop.

      For gay guys though, it doesn’t mean “I’m the man this Friday and you da’ bitch. I’ll be the bitch Sunday.” But it’s give and take.

      Well, that’s been my POV. I realize that to get to this point, I’ve had to do a lot of reading from other’s POVs, reflecting on my past relationships honestly and looking at what worked and what didn’t, checking myself, identifying what I wanted, and understanding that the other person may not be where I am, either further or behind when it comes to these issues and if I want to deal with their lack of being where am or not and being to what the other guy’s POV is on his relationship views.

      As I’m in my late 30s now, I wish I didn’t have to pay for this knowledge and maturity with my youth.

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