As if the alphabet soup of LGBTQIA+ wasn’t long enough, some gay men are tacking on another ‘a’ on the end: androphile.
Androphile comes from the Greek - ‘andro’, meaning man and ‘phile’ denoting love for something, but when you drill down into its meaning, it feeds a concerning trend of self-loathing terms men are using to prove their masculinity and escape the label ‘gay’ and its perceived connotations.
Most sources trace the term’s etymology back to a small personal blog post written in 2004 by Nicolas Chinardet. In the post, Chinardet explained his original intent in coining the term:
“This was a half-serious, admittedly slightly pompous way of trying to be both neutral and punctiliously precise in that description of myself. I cobbled the word from my fragmentary knowledge of Greek. I felt ‘homosexual’ often had a clinical connotation, while one possible definition of the word ‘gay’ covers a range of interests that I didn't share: i.e. the stereotypical, more frivolous side of gay culture. It wasn't a rejection of this side of the culture, just acknowledging that this wasn't part of my experience. I am simply, as I often joke, a bad gay.”
The problem with neologism (coining new words), though, is that others can take your “half serious” lexicon and evolve, morph or distort it. That’s why language is so fascinating; it’s always moving.
For Chinardet, though, it has moved in an uncomfortable direction. Sections of the gay alt-right have embraced the phrase to their own nefarious ends. It has led him back to ‘gay’: “Following the discovery the word is now favoured by all sorts of (to my eyes) unsavoury characters, ‘gay’ will certainly remain my descriptor of choice for the foreseeable future.”
One self-declared androphile is Henning Diesel, 37. In a piece for the BBC, he explains why he rejects the ‘gay’ label: “Gay is part of the LGBT+ world that I never see myself as part of - gay music like Lady Gaga, Ariana Grande or gay TV and movies like Queer As Folk.” He describes his personality as having “typically male characteristics like courage or diligence – very traditional aspects". Worryingly, he adds: “It includes violence, too.”
In 2006, ‘Androphile’ was the title of right-wing polemicist Jack Donovan’s book, subtitled: 'Rejecting the Gay Identity, Reclaiming Masculinity'.
Experimenting with the lexicon around describing your sexual orientation is always evolving and often loaded. Another term for those rejecting ‘gay’ is ‘g0ys’. The website g0ys.org describes itself as “ground zero in the ungay paradigm shift”. Here’s how they explain the g0y movement and its rejection of ‘gay’ as a term, on their website: “G0ys perceive the imagery and stereotypes promoted from WITHIN the so-called ‘gay-male community’ to be repugnant to our sensibilities of masculinity and respect. We reject anal sex as dirty, degrading and damn-un-masculine.”
Picking through the vitriol, there’s an interesting trend happening here. The term ‘queer’ was reclaimed away from a homophobic insult and co-opted by the left at a time when gay identity politics was finding its voice. Those on the more radical left rejected ‘gay’ as too capitalist, too ready to assimilate with the mainstream and too associated with all the problems of mainstream capitalism (those at the bottom - living in poverty, people of colour etc were shafted by the dog-eat-dog mentality). For them, ‘gay’ represented culturally dominant whiteness, maleness, the middle class, consumerism and all its unfair hierarchies.
Speaking to Paul Baker, professor of English Language at Lancaster University on the origins of ‘queer’ as a reclaimed word, he states: “‘Queer’ was reclaimed by academics and activists in the early 1990s. There was a shouty defiance about ‘queer’ too – it wasn’t just pride, it was political activism and opposition to homophobic government policy like section 28 (the law which made it illegal to ‘promote’ homosexuality in schools). It was a disruptive and anarchic response to conservative forces at that time.”
Now, with the g0ys movement, exactly the same is happening on the fringes of the right. The left swapped ‘gay’ for ‘queer’; the right have ‘g0ys’ and ‘androphiles.’ The g0ys movement webpage states this starkly: “We show how the ‘modern gay movement’ has shamed M2M affection as it was hijacked by pornographers, perverts, sociopathic-personalities and fascists all with agendas that attempt to link themselves with same-gender affections—by suggesting that it's all part of the same ‘movement’.”
These terms are repackaged cousins of “masc4masc” or “straight acting” - terms men used, often on hook-up apps, to distance themselves from gay culture and assert their masculinity and their narrow desire for it.
People can, of course, label themselves however they like, but the concerning trend here is the slippery slope of self-loathing and derogatory language. Androphile, masc4masc and g0ys imply the same thing: the fetishisation of the the patriarchal pedestal, where any semblance of stereotypical 'feminine' traits are outcast as unattractive, affected and, by implication, shameful.
It overlooks the gender spectrum and rewards men for polarising themselves at the supposed desirable end of it: masculine, with masculine actions, habits, and interests. It's reductive and diminishing for both those who self-define as it, and those it seeks to distance from.
It's a bitterly disappointing lexical trend when ‘gay’ has already been mutated by playground bullies and homophobes as a diminishing street slang insult for anything inferior or unwanted. As a gay community, shouldn’t we be challenging that, rather than joining in?