Thursday, January 24, 2008

In Defense of the Opponent's Queen

Paul posted a comment in my last post defending "Queens" that caused me to write a reply that became long enough to be a post itself. His comment is here. Basically he was asking why some gay men become outrageously flamboyant, and hinted at the damage they do in the public eye (that, or I read too much into things :-), but it’s true, nonetheless). So:

I see it this way. While most folks easily enough fit into traditional categories of male and female, there is a gradient between in every dimensions: self identity, genetics, physical appearance, orientation, and so on. All of these can and do vary independently, even though some do tend to correlate with others. For example, a disproportional number of effeminate boys will grow up to be gay men, though many gay men aren’t near effeminate and not all effeminate boys will be gay men.

You can get all sorts of combinations, from individuals who are anatomically and genetically both sexes to 100% straight men with a pronounced flair for girly stuff. I know a male to female post op transvestite who always knew she was a woman, but nevertheless ended up with and has never felt anything but the traditionally male sexual orientation towards women. She was basically a lesbian mind in a man’s body; talk about trouble finding a partner.

Why are people like that? Many reasons; I don’t know for sure. People just have such differences by chance of nature or nurture; it really doesn’t mater which. Some guys simply feel most in their own skin when they look as pretty as Judy Garland. Other guys identify with Russell Crow, and still other guys identify with Alan Turing and are attracted to Russell Crow (What are you looking at? ;-)). I get that it’s difficult to wrap one’s mind around some of these permutations. I’ve felt such difficulty from both sides. Personally I find concern for topics like fashion to be trivial concerns, I don’t get transvestitism, and Lord knows I’ve clashed with my more fabulous gay brethren. I know first hand they’re tough by making enemies of some :-).

Before I discuses the negative aspects, I want to say I do know many wildly effeminate gay men who’ve taken far more honorable roles in society than I or most, in their familial or charitable commitments. Though not my thing, I’ll not nearly fault that guy for wanting to put pink designer sunglasses on his bleached hair, or dress in drag when he goes out. He gets my respect, if not my direct understanding.

There are, of course, guys whose life has turned into a self focused cycle of finding a new way to be shockingly and outrageously gay, showing it off to the public, and then often numbing themselves in bars. I imagine those men are the men you, Paul, are referring to? Such gay men definitely exist--it’s not only a stereotype. I know they politically hurt my family in a round about way. Still, I’ll give them a wide berth. When we were in the vital transitions of adolescence, they were often the ones taking damage, while I was taking cover. My more masculine demeanor let me hide, ironically, and I don’t know who I’d be today if I took on some of the challenges most gay men must before I was ready.

I think those trials set them on their path, made them feel they had to advertize their orientation in neon as a defense from rejection. I know it sounds counter intuitive, but when you've been hurt by a homophobe you loved, like a parent, I can see how you'd want to advertize who you were so loudly that no homophobe would touch you with a 10' pole. You want all to know you're gay so you can't get close enough to someone who'd reject you for it.

I have much respect for the effeminate gay man who made it to healthy adulthood despite his obvious bully-provoking difference in adolescence. But for the other effeminate gay guy, the one who ended up self abusive, outrageous, defensive, and self focused I still have respect. Simply, there but for the grace of God go I. While I do often publically disagree with such men (and they don’t agree with me and my life either), and while I will and do find myself fighting them and their negative political effect on my home, I can’t deny that they beat a path for me at one point. They took some of the brunt off of my young self, until I could carry it myself.


MoHoHawaii said...

I have met a lot of gay men over the years (I think I may take the "longest out" award on the gay bloggernacle). Among the guys I know there is a real range on the butch/femme continuum. My conclusion: some guys are butch and some are... not so butch. Like you, I think it's pretty much innate. It's some knob on the genetic male/female control panel.

When I was younger, I kind of cringed when I encountered a nelly guy. Over time, as I got to be friends with guys of varying butchness, I cringed a lot less. At this point, and it's taken some years, I like the entire spectrum of fabulosity.

I have a good friend who is unmistakably gay (the voice, the mannerisms, etc.). Apparently, this is just the way he popped out. He told me that people told him he was gay before he even knew what the word was, basically his whole life. He never even had to come out to his parents. (He also grew up in rural Idaho and got the crap beaten out of him in school.)Basically, he never has to come out. People know instantly. He's adapted and done well, with a very nice, high-paying tech job and a (more masculine) boyfriend. My friend is a thoughtful, kind, fun guy and I feel lucky to have him as friend.

If you're like this, take heart. You don't have to be butcher than you are. Just relax and be yourself or as close to that as you can approximate.

If on the other hand you're an astronaut who played varsity football, cut the queeny guys some slack. Or even better: ask one out on a date.

Scot said...

I’ve somewhat shared the same journey. I once felt resentful to such gay men. It didn’t help that with my first contact with the gay community I was repeatedly called “straight acting,” as a pejorative. I’ve also cringed at thinking how they alter public opinion. For such past misplacement of blame and resentment, I wanted to express my appreciation here.

The butch/fem divide is really ridiculous and something the gay community must and is, to my view, overcoming.

Paul said...

Yes, I know there are all types. And isn’t that great!

Clearly all gay men are not effeminate. Nor are all effeminate men gay. Heck, three of my straight friends are also three of the most nelly guys I know (even though I do wonder if one of them might be hiding something).

The real question that I was trying to ask was about motivation for behavior.

I believe that there’s no stronger drive during adolescence than the desire to find a place to fit in. Do you want to be like your friends? Your parents? Do you want to be like someone famous?

So, where are the role models for “st8-acting” masculine gays? Or gay leaders in politics? Or in business? Or in sports? Or in education? How many gay teachers are out and proud?

Fortunately, Real World & Road Rules have helped mainline gays. I truly commend them for inclusion.

Will & Grace has been good. But neither Jack nor Will can be mistaken for the most butch man in NYC.

I think the first movie I saw where gay parents had kids was Birdcage. Hardly a “normal” suburban environment. (I’ve never seen La Cage aux Folles.)

Plus, what’s a 14-year old gay guy supposed to think when he hears the way the media talks about toe-tapping politicians in bathroom stalls?

My point, I guess, is: we’ve got a long way to go to avoid limited stereotypes and to promote acceptance.

(I had never though of your theory of kids acting like queens so no one would have to ask them if they’re gay. Interesting.)

Scot said...

Oh I agree, Paul.

Role models? Not many. My gay hero was, again, Alan Turing, but look how even he ended. Not a good model, and he had qualities to be avoided too, along with what I respected. Gays are just waking up into the light of day again. I’d not be near content with Will and Grace, but it gets better with each year. I mean, even in Utah, we now have out gay people as prominent elected officials; 3 in the legislature. It’s much better than it was when I was a kid.

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