What we’re watching
In Moonlight, masculinity is portrayed as rigid and aggressive among the behaviour of young Black males in Chiron’s teenage peer group. The expression of hyper-masculinity among Black men has often been a factor in peer acceptance and community.
Being a homosexual within the Black community, on the other hand, has been associated with social alienation and homophobic judgement by peers, because Black gay men are seen as weak or effeminate.
In the film, Chiron is placed in this divide as a Black gay man, and alters his presentation of masculinity as a strategy to avoid ridicule, because homosexuality is viewed as incompatible with Black masculine expectations.
As Chiron grows older, he recognizes Moonlight explores the difficult issue of growing the need to conform to a heteronormative ideal of up black, male and gay Black masculinity in order to avoid abuse and homophobia. As an adult, Chiron chooses to embrace the stereotypical Black male gender performance by becoming muscular and a drug-dealer.
Moonlight explores the effects of this felt powerlessness in black males. As McCraney explains, coping with this feeling often coincides with attempts to overstate one's masculinity, in a way that can easily become toxic. He says one unfortunate side effect of leaning into masculinity too much is that men no longer want to be "caressed, or nurtured, or gentle."
Chiron's choice to value masculinity over the desire to be loved or caressed becomes evident in scenes like his first gay sexual encounter with Kevin. However, Chiron does not view the desire to form a homosexual bond as being compatible with his desire to claim his masculinity, and this false dichotomy is the source of much internal tension and strife in his character throughout the film.