Here begins my musing on some tropes that frequently recur in my writing!
The trope that has become increasingly important to my work in recent times is what I’ll call the Soft Masc— a male character with a presentation that is fairly normatively masculine, but with a preponderance of personal qualities that were traditionally coded as feminine. Most of the important men I write these days are some variation on this, as I find myself particularly interested in that particular personality type.
The two foremost examples I’ve got are my two most prominent male leads, Nathaniel from Mrs. Hawking and Aidan from Adonis. Nathaniel is from a Victorian superhero story, while Aidan is from an alternate history matriarchal Ancient Roman epic. Tom, the lead of my 1930s mystery The Tailor at Loring’s End, also fits that to some extent. In contrast, another prominent male character I’ve made recently is Robin from my modern-day techno-thriller interpretation of Robin Hood. I’ve also written Justin Hawking recently, Nathaniel’s brother, though he’s not a protagonist.
Here is an analysis of how these characters either fit or subvert this model of Soft Masc character.
A key component of when I write this sort of character is that they are almost always sensitive and in touch with their feelings.
Nathaniel is considered to be highly emotional for a man of his time and place. Though not free of socialization to stay controlled and to not discuss uncomfortable things, he has strong feelings that he talks about more often than is typical. He is deeply sensitive to the moods of the people around him, even if he can’t fathom the cause. He suffers greatly when the people he cares about are in conflict, particularly when they’re angry at him, and feels strong compulsion to manage their feelings. Above all else, he seeks approval, particularly from those he worries he hasn’t gotten it from. He is known to cry under great emotional duress. His interpersonal abilities are paramount, and he places a lot of stock in his relationships.
One of Aidan’s key traits is his emotional vulnerability. He is in a great deal of emotional pain due to years of assault, and is written to be cast not just in the manner of a traditionally feminine emotional landscape, but as a long term sexual assault survivor who is trying to work through his trauma. He also is full of feelings and sensitive, but often lacks the language, or opportunity, to talk about what he’s going through. He is used to repressing reactions of out necessity for safety and coping, but has no personal reservations about showing his vulnerability.
Tom’s sensitivity is treated as his superpower. His ability to read people and detect what is going on with them below the surface is his chief skill in navigating interpersonal relationships, making friendships, allies, and trust bonds, and in gathering the information he needs to solve the mystery in front of him. Like Nathaniel, he has strong interpersonal skills.
By contrast, Robin is Tony Stark, basically. Talented, exceptional, self-absorbed, arrogant, provocative, attention-seeking, addiction-prone. Only difference is he lacked any of Tony’s inner self-loathing until life gave him a good smack down. He is not good at noticing or paying attention to the feelings of others and has to challenge himself to develop in that way.
Justin is along a similar vein to Robin, except lower key and less toxic about it, without the addictive personality.
Nathaniel is considered attractive and good-looking, in a normatively masculine way. He is somewhat personally vain and has a strong interest in fashion, a feminine-coded quality, but to the effect of a very attractive and normatively masculine presentation.
Aidan is in fact a PARAGON of masculine beauty. (I like my pretty boys, and that’s the kind of pretty I like.) He is treated as an object of value in the manner exceptionally beautiful women are in the real world. But for all that Aidan’s beauty is extreme and in high focus, as is more typical of feminine beauty, it is not something that’s important to him personally, and he does nothing to cause or maintain it, as is often typical of men.
Tom Barrows from The Tailor at Loring’s End is nice-looking if nothing particularly out of the ordinary, but knows how to dress to absolute best advantage— indeed, his profession and the great interest of his life is the making of beautiful clothes, for men and for women.
Robin Locksley from Hood is hot, fashionable, and extremely vain— but again, his appearance is fairly normatively masculine. Justin Hawking is the same.
They all have traditionally masculine gender presentations, as that is my personal aesthetic preference, though body types vary. In my imagination, Nathaniel is tall and lean. Aidan looks just like Captain America. Tom is fit and cute but unimposing. Robin is a hot douchebag who works on his body. Justin is a stockier version of Nathaniel.
To be continued!