I teach a couple of college courses, which have been my delight and pleasure over the past couple of years: Men and Masculinity and Queer Theory. Without getting all academic, I'll say they both challenge students (and myself) to rethink what it means to be masculine, feminine, gay, straight, bi, lesbian, male, female and transgendered.
I feel like I've done my job if students walk away with a less static conception of gender and sexuality, which happens more often than not, and while sometimes cognitively upsetting to some students in the beginning ends up being infinitely freeing.
However, most people I encounter on a daily basis (dare I say more men than women) are stuck in rigid gender and sexuality roles that limit the expression of the full range of their energy, not because they choose to be stuck that way, but because culture dictates what is acceptable and what is not.
Most ancient spiritual traditions (I'm not talking about dogmatic doctrines here) discuss the importance of balancing the masculine and feminine in one's own psyche/energy system in order to move closer to the divine. For example in Hinduism the concept of Ardhangini is the idea that the woman is an equal part of the man and vice versa, and of course most people are familiar with the yin/yang dichotomy. In the Western world divinity has been segregated to primarily masculine characteristics (we can thank Aristotle for some of this).
Aristotle's basic shtick went like this: that which is lofty, removed, of the mind, static, light, transparent, disembodied, unemotional, rational and moves beyond sensual pleasure is divine, sacred and of God, these are the essence of "being" in his estimation. That which is is earthy, emotional, changeable, sensual, dark, intuitive, fluid and mysterious is seeking to become "being", but not quite there yet...in other words it is "profane".
This is the intellectual model that was used to build much of the Western world's religious precepts, through which many still live by today. Aristotle, for all his well meaning philosophy, didn't know he was setting the stage for the rationalization for the suppression of the feminine in the Western world.
The problem with these categories is that it limits the full expression of the divine from being expressed holistically within an individual's life. If you notice, those things that are profane we often associate with women, whereas (most) of those things associated with the divine are associated more typically with maleness.
In this sense, man truly created God in His image. The collateral damage of this is a suppression of the feminine in the male and the masculine in the female. This wasn't always the case, in fact many ancient embraced the feminine divine and revered the insights of female energy, and vice versa (some cultures still practice this).
An anecdote for good measure:
Indian mystic and spiritual master Meher Baba tells the story of the Mahoobi a Perfect Master in India who travelled with a band of traveling inter-sexed spiritual aesthetics between the 13th and 14th centuries. They were outcasts and untouchables but although they were untouchables they were revered as holy and a blessing or even a glance from them was considered most auspicious by many. The Mahoobi and the intersex disciplines in his group was essentially bullied by two affluent families in Lucknow, India, who resented the band of charlatans masquerading as "spiritually advanced souls" taking up residence in their town. Two boys (one from each family) were sent to disprove the power of the Perfect Master and one dressed normally as a boy and the other dressed up as a girl. They went to receive the Master's blessing to have a child, believing that his inability to bless the two boys with a child would disprove the Master's divine power. The master blessed the couple and sure enough, slowly but surely one of the boys (the one dressed as a woman) began to shift into a woman, and eventually gave birth to a son. Of course after that they did not doubt the power of the Mahoobi and embraced Him as a true spiritual Master.
Whether you take the above story metaphorically or literally its metaphor is noteworthy. (Although baba does give the time, place and names of the players in the above tale. Makes you think...)
Meher Baba discusses that the Mahoobi Perfect Master embodied the goal of the human journey in physical form because they had both masculine and feminine characteristics. Their spiritual power of the Mahoobi came not just from the fact that they were physically intersexed but had also integrated the qualities of both energies, which Baba stated was more important than the physical ambiguity of their biological sex.
The soul needs to experience the qualities of both energies in order to become whole. So according to many traditions (including many Native American, African, South American, Vedantic and Buddhist traditions) the soul must experience alternating lives of male and female incarnations, and everything in between (since there are more than just two sexes).
This alternating pattern of male/female lives ensures that the soul gains sufficient experience in both forms in order to accumulate the wisdom from each experience. In this way the most raging chauvinist would reincarnate as the most radical feminist. Until finally the masculine and feminine energies begin to balance out.
Sexuality plays an interesting role here because while we could state that gay or bisexual men tend to hold more feminine energy and lesbian or bisexual women have more masculine energy as a general rule (and is moderately correct) this is not always the case.
While sexuality may play a role in how much ready access you have to the opposite energy polarity this is not by any means a hard and fast rule. Many gay men are quite masculine energetically, while many heterosexual men can have noticeably feminine energy and vice versa with Lesbians.
So we should be careful not to pigeonhole these energetic states because that's what gets us into trouble in the first place. These energies (including the classifications of gay, straight, male, female, lesbian, bisexual, masculine, feminine ) all exist on their own continuum. So when we refer to these states we are pointing to a position on that continuum. Very rarely is anyone 100% masculine or feminine or gay or straight, despite claims otherwise. We all hold a particular percentage of these energies unique to our particular incarnation, so you could be 63 % feminine and 37% masculine, or vice versa.
Even biological sex can be quite ambiguous up to the birth stage. Medical doctors make determinations on sex assignments due to ambiguous genitalia (of which the parents are often unaware) much more frequently than many realize.
Once we begin to balance our masculine and feminine energies the rigid gender confines society places on us become less important to adhere to. The archetype of the "perfect masculine male" (which is contingent upon which culture you live in) can be experienced and embodied by the woman, and the archetype of the "perfect feminine woman" can be experienced by the male.
We often do this psychologically by finding partners that embody the masculine or feminine energy that we need to balance. Bear in mind that when I use the term masculine and feminine I'm not strictly speaking about sex (or what parts you have). A woman can embody extremely masculine energy while a male can embody extremely feminine energy. Nonetheless we will seek those energies that balance our own, either in friendships or relationships.
The unbalanced masculine person will be unemotional, callous, afraid of intimacy, disdainful of vulnerability, overly rational, cynical or skeptical, cold, angry or violent, have difficulty with fluid body movement (like dance), and overly materially focused.
The unbalanced feminine person will be overly emotional, hypersensitive, emotionally volatile, too vulnerable, experience ungrounded intuition, gullible, non-discriminating, unable to express anger, and physically weak.
Reading those two descriptions it seems as though they are caricatures of masculinity and femininity, but that's because they are. We've all met people who embody the more unbalanced traits mentioned above. The task is to integrate the opposite energies so that you can move toward greater holistic balance.
If you're a ax-wielding macho bearded guy who never cries and won't believe anything until you see or touch it with your own senses it may be a good idea to integrate some more feminine characteristics into your psyche. Not because you won't be highly successful and probably admired for your masculine virility, but because you will not have access to the full range of your human expression and eventually experience problems in one way or another.
Conversely some people are meant to hold the ideal masculine or feminine archetypes. By this I mean that one of their energetic roles is to embody the masculine or feminine as an example of what that energy feels and looks like. We typically find these exemplars attractive (Chris Hemsworth, Marilyn Monroe, Athletes, Female fashion models, etc). The problem is when we place intrinsic value on those ideals.
Some are meant to be more androgynous and embody the characteristics of both energies and example of what that energy looks and feels like when melded. There have been many famous examples of the archetypal androgynous such as David Bowie, Michael Jackson, Annie Lennox, Grace Jones, Prince, etc.
In the Western world we are either repulsed, freaked out or fascinated by those who seem to straddle gender lines. And while it can be entertaining, on a deeper level they make an important contribution in reminding us that the task for many of us is to balance these energies.
On a practical level being aware of, or balancing these energies, serves to allow us to communicate better because we will have unlocked both polarities and melded them into our communicative repertoire.
Many modern men would benefit from a more compassionate, emotionally resonant, active listening style of communication whereas many women have been highly criticized for being too emotionally expressive and relationally focused in communication and as such have been forced to develop or at least learn ow to adapt to more male communication techniques.
This is not to say that these modes of communication would be used all the time, or would even be preferable, but that there was the ability to access that state in order to build bridges in conversation.
The gist of all of this is be aware of the energy you hold, and what needs to be balanced. You may unlock potentialities inside yourself that you were not even aware of. And begin to heal parts of yourself that got lost in your quest to uphold a cultural standard is masculine, feminine, gay, straight, lesbian, male or female.