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Faeries, Bears, and Leathermen

Men in Community Queering the Masculine

Over time, male homosexuality and effeminacy have become indelibly associated, sometimes even synonymous. In Faeries, Bears, and Leathermen, Peter Hennen contends that this stigma of effeminacy exerts a powerful influence on gay subcultures. Through a comparative ethnographic analysis of three communities, Hennen explores the surprising ways that conventional masculinity is being collectively challenged, subverted, or perpetuated in contemporary gay male culture.

Hennen’s colorful study focuses on a trio of groups: the Radical Faeries, who parody effeminacy by playfully embracing it, donning prom dresses and glitter; the Bears, who strive to appear like “regular guys” and celebrate their larger, hairier bodies; and the Leathermen, who emulate hypermasculine biker culture, simultaneously paying homage to and undermining notions of manliness. Along with a historical analysis of the association between effeminacy and homosexuality, Hennen examines how this connection affects the groups’ sexual practices. Ultimately, he argues, while all three groups adopt innovative approaches to gender issues and sexual pleasure, masculine norms continue to constrain members of each community.


“There is an artistic elegance to Hennen’s ability to provide a playful and ethnographically rich glimpse into the social worlds he travels through while at the same time adding to important theoretical debates in the sociologies of gender, sexuality, and queer theory.”

Wayne H. Brekhus, University of Missouri–Columbia

“Hennen is the first to examine systematically the relationship between effeminacy and gay male culture and to show how this has influenced the collective identities and sexual practices of gay male communities. His history of the social construction of homosexuality as effeminate is absolutely brilliant, while his rich ethnographic account of the cultural and sexual practices of these three communities is vivid and raw, providing powerful evidence of the author’s rapport with his subjects.”

Verta Taylor, University of California, Santa Barbara

"This is a rich ethnography that tells us much about masculinity, effeminacy and the different sex that men get up to. It is a must for all gender-scholar bookshelves."

Times Higher Education

"Hennen utilizes vivid ’thick description’ from his time spent in the field, as well as many illuminative excerpts from his interviewees, resulting in a fascinating, engrossing read. A most welcome addition to the growing body of research on men and masculinity, men’s studies, and queer studies."


"Hennen masterfully weaves together data and theory, pressing against the limits of the gender and sexuality literature. Rejecting theoretical orthodoxy, Hennen is free to use his data to speak back to, expand upon and reject the current reigning ideas that constitute gender and sexuality studies. . . . Hennen’s book is a winner. It is both emprically and conceptually rich, and at every turn informative, probing, analytically rigorous and provocative. It is also well written, free from the jargon-heavy, obstructionist writing style that characterizes much of the prose of the theorists with whom he engages. Hats off to Hennen."

Adam Isaiah Green | Canadian Journal of Sociology

"The ethnographic and archival data create a strong piece of empirical work that pushes forward gender and sexuality research--particularly the intersections between the two--in new and insightful ways. . . .The style of writing, particularly in the ethnographic chapters, makes the book widely acessible to students. With Hennen’s provocative arguments throughout the text, the book will certainly open up the discussion on a variety of topics about gender, sexuality, and the possibilities and mechanisms of social change."

Kristen Schilt | Sex Roles

"In Faeries, Bears, and Leathermen: Men in Community Queering Masculinity, Peter Hennen delves into how the assumed connection between male homosexuality and femininity impacts the lived experiences of gay men. [...] The book would work well in a graduate seminar on ethnographic methods. As noted earlier, Hennen dedicates a great deal of space in the book to talking through his methodological choices, as well as the emotions connected with participant observation research, a useful model for students beginning their first ethnographic project."

Springer Science and Business Media

Table of Contents


1. In Their Natures: Gay Men, Queer Men, and Gendered Strategies of Resistance
2. Girlymen: Cultural and Historical Perspectives on Effeminacy
3. Fae Spirits and Gender Trouble: Resistance and Compliance among the Radical Faeries
4. Bear Bodies, Bear Masculinity: Recuperation, Resistance, or Retreat?
5. Feeling a Bit Under the Leather: Hypermasculinity, Performativity, and the Specter of Starched Chiffon
6. Fielding Questions, Fielding Possibilities


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