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The softer side of masculinity

He’s known for an uncensored online presence. But writer Fabian Hart hasn’t always been so comfortable unmasking himself.

Fabian Hart writes candidly about fashion and beauty as means of cultural expression. Over the last decade he’s worked for various prestigious fashion publications, both mainstream and niche. Dissatisfied with inflexible male stereotypes in the fashion media, today he largely self-publishes on his own platform fabianhart.com With Snore, he discusses coming to terms with his sexuality as a young man from ‘conservative’ southern Germany and how representations of men in the media are only just beginning to soften. 

What did masculinity mean to you in your younger years?

It was all of those things a real man did. We learnt it like this: you play football, you don’t whinge, you work out, you drink beer. That sounds like such a cliche, but up until today the binary of traditional masculinity and femininity have been the guidelines for how we should feel and act.

How were you taught this image?

By school, sport, films, magazines, politics. Men were the makers, the leaders, the aggressors. Even though we couldn’t have had the traditional role division at home, because my mother died when I was one year old, my father was always more of the provider than the caretaker. He is a sensitive person, but in his generation social competence was something for women, most men had never learnt how to involve themselves in these sorts of things. That’s just starting to change now. My driving instructor always said to me I should drive like ‘a real man’, because I was always very careful. I spent most of my youth trying to be ‘one of the guys’.

When did you begin to question what you’d been taught?

When I was 19 I moved to Cologne. As someone from a small village in Baden-Württemberg, where everyone knew everyone, Cologne felt very ‘Berlin’ to me. Although it was really over ten years later in Berlin, that I really started to have the courage to challenge those assumptions. But it was in Cologne that I really stopped checking myself in constant fear of being unmanly. I started to work in music television, came out as gay, wore different clothes, and dared to be a guy the „wrong way“. Cologne’s queer scene showed me that you are only safe from the social concept of masculinity when you are in certain spaces. Gay events were safe and fun, but that was a huge contrast up until that point in my life.

"I spent most of my youth trying to be 'one of the guys'."

Was this the turning point when you began to feel more comfortable in yourself?

I never felt that there was a definite turning point, I slowly began to shed the old Fabi. Cologne was so liberating for me: the anonymity and new beginning, it was new and foreign, it was as different as I had become from my old self.  For years I hated being different and blamed my sexuality. As a gay guy, I first had to free myself from that internalised homophobia. For example, it took a long time to stop being flattered when someone would tell me that I didn’t seem gay at all. Everyday oppression doesn’t just come from the majority. Minorities use this oppression too, trying to somehow become a part of the normative majority. For example, the terms ‘Masc for Masc’, ‘’No Homo’ and ‘Straight Acting’ have been a huge part of gay identity. Back as a kid when I lived in Baden, I used to change the radio station whenever they played Freddie Mercury. I knew that he had died of AIDS and I knew that I didn’t want to end up the same way. As a young guy who had recently realised they were gay, it was terrifying. Being openly gay, or doing things that were considered gay, feminine or womanly, have long been a social striptease, even up until today.

Who did you identify with? Who would have been your role models?

In school and during university I often admired self confident guys. It’s not an easy thing to decide whether you’re one of them or not. I was never bullied or left out, even though I’d never kicked a goal or brought a girlfriend home. Instead I had my way with words, I was the entertainer and respected for it. Later in Cologne and also during my studies in Hamburg, I was still always attracted to the ‘typical guys’. I always thought that it was some form of homesickness, a memory of the guys back home. Only later did I understand that it’s like that for a lot of gays, because for our whole lives we had to convince others that being gay is normal, that we’re not dangerous, that we’re not a threat to the masculine order. Often, we try to disguise ourselves as the exact thing that we are not. Just because you don’t fit the traditional image of a man, doesn’t mean you’re not attracted to that image. Because of this, I think many gays transform themselves into the men that they are attracted to. An irrational sexual identity problem.

"Being openly gay, or doing things that are considered gay, feminine, womanly, has been a social striptease up until today."

You’ve worked for both mainstream and alternative magazines during your career. Did the representation of men vary between them?

On social media there’s a huge tendency towards exaggerated masculinity. Biceps are the boob equivalent. In niche print magazines the male image is more diverse. During my studies I worked at an independent fashion and beauty magazine in Hamburg, a realm that was always said to be ‘for girls’. I really enjoyed working there because I was allowed to be niche. I wrote about artists, designers, musicians who were all different. Not because they were queer, but because they thought differently and did things differently than the people in commercial magazines.

How did you experience men’s issues in the professional sphere?

A couple of years ago I joined a big publisher known for their prestigious publications. As a writer in the fashion department, I found it hard to find subjects from the fashion world, excluding designers, who were conventional enough. I once interviewed the musician Rufus Wainwright and was told that his answers were too gay. Even though on the runway things were allowed to be creative and daring, because it was ok for the designers and stylists to have a different understanding of masculinity, the texts themselves had to be ‘relatable’, yet heteronormative. So it was always just adventures, cars, watches and cocktails. And then at a certain point I couldn’t stand it anymore.

"On social media there’s a huge tendency towards hyper masculinity. Biceps are the boob equivalent."

Have you you seen any changes in male beauty standards over the years and how this is shown in the media?

On social media you do see topics like mens care and fashion playing a bigger role for men. Alongside the emancipation of women over the last 40 years and the hard-earned autonomy that they have won, men’s roles have changed – they are no longer the providers by default. Instead of fearing that the patriarchy will be overthrown, why don’t men start thinking more about themselves and their own wellbeing? For me, the hype around men’s care is a reaction to this. Having time to care for yourself, and to look after yourself, is a gain. ‘I don’t have time for it,’ isn’t an excuse anymore.

You have a very robust, literally ‘hard’ body, that fits with the tradition male image. And yet you’ve become  most well known from showing this so called softer side on social media and on your blog. What image of men do you want to show through your work?

We always think that we’re so incredibly far ahead, so modern and liberal and tolerant, but what if a guy walks down the street in a crop top, or he’s just had a heartbreak and needs to a cry? Say, for once, that you like pink, or admit that your tattoo actually really hurt. My social media and FabianHart.Com are a balancing act between an expected and a more jarring manliness in order to stretch our comfort zones and tolerance. Not only with pictures where I’m showing my bicep or where I’m wearing a face mask, but also through writing about pseudo-acceptance or about why I just simply need to cry. To show your soft side, you have to be tough. My wish is that everything men do would be, by definition, manly. Regardless of whether I sleep with women or men. Could we all agree on that?

"To show your soft side as a man you have to be tough."

Fabian sleeps on the Mattressmuun Original mattress

 

 

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