We’re our own worst enemies. That can be true when referring to ourselves or to the communities in which we belong.
Let’s set aside the self-hate and consider gay community’s enduring target within: the effeminate gay man. An October 2017 “Masculinity Survey” of 5,000 gay men by the British magazine, Attitude, revealed that 71% are turned off by effeminate mannerisms in other gay men. As well, 41% felt that effeminate gay men give the “community” a bad image or a bad reputation.
When does it end? I remember long, long ago—that is, before online dating and hooking up—when men who wanted to broaden their search beyond the bar scene took out personal ads in freebie news-ish publications. You could scan the page until you got to MEN SEEKING MEN. That’s when lonely hearts (or two-timers) stopped talking about pina coladas and getting caught in the rain and became more direct. “No femmes”. (These same great catches often said “No” to fats and Asians.) The defense was always, “Nothing personal.” (How is that not personal?!) “I’m just being honest.” God knows what other endearingly open comments might come out over dinner or that foreplay-inducing bottle of Bud.
We’ve evolved only slightly since then. Rather than being directly offensive, the single suitor (or two-timer/member of open relationship) states online that he’s a “masculine”, fit, white guy, seeking the same. It remains clear who should not apply for an amazing opportunity.
We spent decades in hiding, sticking to closets and darkened bars. In more public places, we walked alongside boyfriends with ample space between us, often saving our open hugs for the fun girl who was always happy (and available) to join us.
We spent the more recent decades demanding to be heard, first for advances in the fight over AIDS and then, when that fight miraculously ebbed, pushing for anti-discrimination legislation and marriage equality. The AIDS crisis weakened us while making us braver and bolder at the same time. Desperation, heightened each time another lover, friend or acquaintance died, made our closets seem silly. Silence and fears about being shamed, ostracized, fired and disowned gave way over time.
Oh, what progress we have made! So now that we’ve achieved such gains in public acceptance, 41% of us wish the more effeminate among us would toe the line. There are some behaviors that still need to be controlled, honed in…closeted. Your high-pitched voices and limp wrists are ruining our reputations! (And to think I posted three selfies of my abs after my gym workout today. Sure I got a lot of “Likes” but that hip swish of yours is killing me.) So bad for the reputation. And, to that 71% among us, such a turn off.
We pushed hard for acceptance. It came faster than many of us older gays (i.e., over 35) could have imagined. But apparently the acceptance is not for all of us, at least when we look within our community. It’s maddening but it’s not surprising. Many gays continue to struggle with low self-esteem, even self-hate. How fragile is acceptance? Are straight people only sounding evolved to be politically correct? What about all those red states? What about when I wander from the city? Self-hate and fear often manifest outwardly and, by golly, the femmes are just embarrassing. I’m not like them. Really, I swear.
Back in my ancient coming out days of the late ‘80s and early ‘90s, I monitored my voice and mannerisms. There was that pesky pinky that liked to stick out as I gently sipped a lite beer. (More limes, please.) My wrists, if not limp, were as thin as the daintiest of women no matter how many sets of dumbbells I curled. My primary object was to “pass”. It’s ironic that so much of coming to terms with being gay was preoccupied with acting straight. Please, let us have made real progress since then. Please let us be who we are. We’ve extended our community from “gay and lesbian” to a growing alphabet of terms and identities. So why haven’t we grown in our understanding and acceptance of the “G” itself?
If anything, there should be greater respect and gratitude to the more effeminate among us. “Passing” was never an option for them. While the rest of us hid, they bore the brunt of slurs and hate crimes when prejudice went largely unchecked. They heard the snickers behind their backs and felt the shunning in their earliest years. How shameful that they might continue to be outcasts in our own community.
We have co-opted positive terms like gay and pride and we’ve flown rainbow flags to represent our diversity. Let us check our own prejudices and endeavor to truly welcome and accept all the colors and incarnations our flag is meant to represent.