The Male Gazed: On Hunks, Heartthrobs, and What Pop Culture Taught Me about (Desiring) Men

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Featuring deep dives into thirst traps, drag queens, Antonio Banderas, and telenovelas--all in the service of helping us reframe how we talk about (desiring) men--this insightful memoir-in-essays is as much a coming of age as a coming out book

Manuel Betancourt has long lustfully coveted masculinity--in part because he so lacked it. As a child in Bogotá, Colombia, he grew up with the social pressure to appear strong, manly, and, ultimately, straight. And yet in the films and television he avidly watched, Betancourt saw glimmers of different possibilities. From the stars of telenovelas and the princes of Disney films to pop sensation Ricky Martin and teen heartthrobs in shows like Saved By the Bell, he continually found himself asking: Do I want him or do I want to be him?

The Male Gazed grapples with the thrall of masculinity, examining its frailty and its attendant anxieties even as it focuses on its erotic potential. Masculinity, Betancourt suggests, isn't suddenly ripe for deconstruction--or even outright destruction--amid so much talk about its inherent toxicity. Looking back over decades' worth of pop culture's attempts to codify and reframe what men can be, wear, do, and desire, this book establishes that to gaze at men is still a subversive act.

Written in the spirit of Hanif Abdurraqib and Olivia Laing, The Male Gazed mingles personal anecdotes with cultural criticism to offer an exploration of intimacy, homoeroticism, and the danger of internalizing too many toxic ideas about masculinity as a gay man.

About the Author

Manuel Betancourt is a queer Colombian culture writer and film critic. His work has been featured in The New York Times, BuzzFeed Reader, Los Angeles Times, Film Quarterly, Los Angeles Review of Books and GQ Style, among others. Manuel is the author of Judy Garland's Judy at Carnegie Hall (Bloomsbury Press, 2020), and a contributing writer to the Eisner Award-nominated graphic novel series, The Cardboard Kingdom (Knopf Books for Young Readers, 2018 & 2021).

Them, A Most Anticipated Book
Electric Literature, A Most Anticipated Book of the Year

"One of the Best New Books to Read in 2023." --Today

"Hilarious and provocative." --Melanie Curry, Cosmopolitan

"Betancourt's essays are thought-provoking, finely crafted, and hilarious." --BuzzFeed, A Most Anticipated Book of the Year

"A searing exploration of queer intimacy, masculinity, and homoeroticism . . . . Manuel Betancourt faces us with difficult truths and sharply honest storytelling about coming of age as queer people." --Tiernan Bertrand-Essington, Queerty

"[An] absorbing fusion of memoir and cultural analysis . . . A witty, educated, and entertaining analysis of the development of a writer's queer desire." --Kirkus Reviews

"Smart and probing essays . . . Betancourt's verve and wit elevate the prose, and the more personal entries are intimate and affecting . . . Readers won't want to put this one down." --Publishers Weekly

"Witty, erudite, and self-revealing . . . Readers seeking an honest portrayal of one gay man's voyage in the masculine imaginary will find a rich source of companionship." --Library Journal

"Manuel Betancourt crafts a style all his own in The Male Gazed: On Hunks, Heartthrobs, and What Pop Culture Taught Me About (Desiring) Men, a singular blend of cultural criticism, history, humor, and personal essays that sing, traversing continents, disciplines, and time--past, present, and future. Fascinating deep dives into carnal Almodóvar films, the iconic wrestling singlet, Ricky Martin thirst traps, and cartoon crushes are framed amid an unfolding coming-of-age narrative navigating queer and gender identity in Colombia and the United States. These pages sparkle with inherited pangs of pop culture nostalgia." --Emilly Prado, author of Funeral for Flaca

"In this sharp, sexy, and sparkling collection of essays, Manuel Betancourt leaves no rock-hard stomach unturned as he investigates how the most popular televised and filmic images of idealized masculinity are constructed, disseminated, and devoured by queer men, himself included. The Male Gazed is both history and his story: Betancourt deftly oscillates his critic's eye between the screen and the self too, reflecting on an upbringing in Colombia colored by swooning telenovelas and Disney's G-rated hunks, twinks, and twunks; on an adulthood in North America studded with friends turned lovers and lovers turned friends; on queer futures being made manifest in the present. Betancourt is a dream critic--as in, a fabulous scholar of dreams, of the desirous imagination." --Matt Ortile, author of The Groom Will Keep His Name

"A warm, personal dive into masculinity as it appears to us through pop culture. When Betancourt unpacks what it's meant to him to be a man, you can't help but trust every word." --Rax King, author of Tacky

"The Male Gazed goes deep on the perennial queer dilemma: Do I want to be them, or bang them? Grounded in film criticism, queer theory, and his childhood in Bogotá, Colombia, Betancourt dissects the heart-framed names in your grade school diary, from Hercules to A.C. Slater to Ricky Martin. In ten fascinating essays, Betancourt scrutinizes the unrealistic gender-based expectations embedded in nineties pop culture that millennials are still unpacking in therapy today. If Y2K-adjacent media ever made you feel weird about having a body--show of hands, please--you'll learn a thing or two about yourself from The Male Gazed." --Grace Perry, author of The 2000s Made Me Gay

"Manuel Betancourt's The Male Gazed is everything I want an essay collection to be: smart, funny, incisive, honest, and often very sexy, a bold and unabashed exploration of masculinity and queer desire through the lens of pop culture and obsession. From Disney movies, Ricky Martin, A.C. Slater and nineties fashion to Colombian telenovelas, anime, Almodóvar, and RuPaul's Drag Race, Betancourt examines sexuality, selfhood, performance, and the body, asking what it means to see and be seen, and how we often first find ourselves in movies and TV--in seeing our lives and desires projected onscreen. Through a deft combination of personal narrative and cultural criticism, Betancourt looks to the past to imagine possibilities of queer future, his essays serving as both confession and battle cry: that we might see masculinity in more expansive ways, 'to embrace the many multitudes it has always contained.' As a fellow queer kid of the nineties, obsessed with Disney and desiring of a masculinity I didn't know how to obtain, let alone name, I saw myself in this book. I'll be re-reading and teaching and passing it along for years to come." --Melissa Faliveno, author of TOMBOYLAND: ESSAYS

Publisher: Catapult
Pub date: May 30, 2023
208 pages
Format: Hardcover