Tim Küsters (29), Mr Gay Europe
"I became aware of the concept of 'masculinity' at a fairly young age; that set of behaviors, traits, and roles that society sees as 'typically male.' For example, that a man had to be tough, strong, and athletic. When I realized around the age of twelve that I was attracted to men, it didn't seem to align with that concept because 'real men' are attracted to women. Looking back, it's obviously strange that I connected the two - there are plenty of gay men who do conform to stereotypical societal expectations and are very rugged and tough - but as a young teenager, I tried to behave as masculine as possible to avoid being perceived as gay. I paid extra attention to my posture, stood wide, and made sure my voice sounded as deep as possible... all very exhausting. At the age of 18, I came out and gradually let go of caring about how others might perceive me. Today, I don't concern myself at all with how 'masculine' I behave - a vague concept, as masculinity ultimately is not about how you behave or how you look physically, but something you identify with, or not.
"As Mr. Gay Europe, I am very committed to mental health, and I often encounter ways in which these stereotypes can cause deep wounds. It's no coincidence that suicide rates are high among men and queer individuals. However, societal expectations around masculinity also play a role in the challenging adoption process for gay couples. This is partly based on the idea that a man cannot be nurturing, or that something would be lacking when two men or two women are together.
"Terms like masculinity and femininity have undergone significant evolution in recent decades. Today, we are increasingly in contact with people who transcend these binary approaches, and that's a good thing. We just need to let people be who they are and learn that this is not a fixed thing. However, there is also a backlash - even within the gay scene. Men who emphasize their so-called alpha position, exaggerate their strength, and, above all, do not want to seem 'soft.' There are also men who take pride in the idea that they are stronger or earn more money, especially in this achievement-oriented society, making it unfortunately difficult for some to let go."
Source: DeMorgen (National newspaper in Belgium)