Exploring the phenomena of anti-effeminate attitude in gay culture
One of the most puzzling and yet compelling aspects of gay life, is the apparent discomfort with effeminate men. This is not about some straight homophobic ignoramuses, but rather people within the LGBTQ community who actually express this type of self-hate. For me, the important thing is to understand why there is such dislike for “queens” and the implications of that dislike. Why does they have to show an anti-effeminate attitude like this?
There is a school of thought that postulates that gay people have got it all wrong. Rather than being uncomfortable around effeminate gay men, we should actively embrace them as being one of the best aspects of the LGBTQ community. For example, in some communities effeminate behavior is associated with greater empathy, a gentle disposition and all round goodness. A case in point is how maternal uncles are thought to be more affectionate than their paternal counterparts in some African cultures.
Challenging the functional prerequisites of patriarchy
Patriarchy has been advanced as a possible explanation for the apparent disdain towards effeminate men. The theory is that patriarchy values overt masculinity and clear demonstrations of testosterone-driven aggression. The overt male is the ideal and a show of potency. The same patriarchy devalues the role and attributes of women or the female gender in general. Therefore, the received wisdom is that most people would express a preference for either being men or alternatively developing the attributes of men.
In such a context; it is puzzling when men unilaterally and voluntarily give up their privileged position in order to take on the part of the implicitly despised female gender. It seems like a betrayal of societal values and assumptions. The resultant cognitive dissonance reappears as internalized sexism within the LGBTQ community. This has practical implications for the way in which people live the “gay lifestyle”. For example; the “top” is valued more than the “bottom” and the “butch” is better than the “camp”. These examples just go to show that homophobia is not restricted to the heterosexual community. It has long been recognized in social theory that internalized homophobia is often as harmful or even more harmful than its externalized version.
The fear of the self
To some gay men the idea of an effeminate member of the LGBTQ community reminds them of what they are going to be or can be if they do not hold on to their “masculinity”. It does not help that popular literature has often specialized in making fun of camp men. They are somehow deemed to be immature and hyperbolic. With the AIDS scourge; they became dangerous provocateurs, sleeping around and spreading the pestilence within the “more normal” gay community. It is really a hierarchy of deviancy with the passable straight at the top and the obvious gay at the bottom.
Effeminate gay men are sometimes perceived to espouse some of the least respected attributes of femininity. For example; they are characterized as being overly emotional and expressive. The subtle message behind these characterizations is that femininity is necessarily irrational and uncontrolled. Such a paradigm reminds us of the Victorian times when women who wanted to have an organism from their husbands were promptly diagnosed as being mentally ill (“hysteria” being the operative word); before being institutionalized.
Encroaching on the female heterosexual niche
If effeminate gay men anticipate sympathy and sisterhood from the feminist niche, they are in for a huge disappointment. A recent article I wrote titled “Why do lesbians and gay men find it so hard to get along: a sibling rivalry gone too far” examines the phenomenon of lesbian-gay mutual hatred. One of the issues at stake is the feeling that effeminate gay men are phonies who continue to oppress women by encroaching on their otherwise exclusive tuff.
On the other hand; straight men feel threatened and confused by effeminate gay men because they are clearly not women but behave in ways that are expected of women. The high pitched voices and limp wrists are of course caricatures, but they serve to highlight the underlying societal expectations of femininity. Transsexual people have been victims of assaults on account of straight men who get disappointed once they get down to business. What they imagined was a woman turns out to be not only a non-woman but also a non-man.
The desire to fix that which is unfixable
In order to emancipate effeminate gay men, we must first untangle the labelling and structural framing that characterizes feminism as being somehow defective or pathological. We must reject the notion that effeminate men are faulty and need to be fixed. The LGBTQ community is gradually moving away from accepting tolerance as the next best alternative. We want to have full acceptance without conditions. You should not have to look or act straight in order to become a respected member of society, let alone being comfortable within the LGBTQ community.
Moreover, we must challenge the assumption that effeminate gay men somehow desire to be more masculine in order to live their lives in peace. A case in point is the acceptance that it is perfectly alright for people to be situationally “camp” depending on what they feel like at a given moment. Gay people are not on a stage where they submit to conventions of behavior that are acceptable to the straight community. If and when we are able to overcome those negative propositions, then there will be room for effeminate gay men to enjoy their full place within the LGBTQ community.
The role of early socialization
The psychologists tell us that children are sexual between the ages of 2 and 6, certainly Sigmund Freud emphasized the role of early childhood in determining latent sexuality. Socialization gives validity, sustainability and permanence to socially constructed norms of sexuality. Hence, we are able to distinguish between normal people on one hand and the “Tom Boys” or “Sissy Boys” on the other. The clear message is that men must be men and women must be women. However, as our experiences have shown us; there is nothing like an objective homogenous normal in any society.
Each community and sub-community constructs its norms and values which will determine what is normal. There is even room for counter culture and emerging cultures. It seems a pointless exercise to insist that there is such a thing as a standard gay culture. We are all about embracing the different facets of the overall community. Indeed; one of the things that truly unites us is the common experience of oppression and social exclusion. Therefore; the gay community should always challenge the notions of traditional default socialization which seek to exclude the experiences of LGBTQ people or alternatively dismiss them as being illegitimate. Some Scandinavian countries are already removing strictures on traditional categorizations of male and female.
Remaining vestiges of religiosity
It is true that much of Western society is now comfortably agnostic or at the very least atheistic. However, that does not mean that the community at large is beyond the temptation to exploit the tenets of faded vestiges of pretended religiosity in order to justify its bigotry. It is quite something to witness serial adulterers complaining about the inherent morality of gay people and their subsequent recommendations for some of the worst forms of oppression directed towards the LGBTQ community. Religion, therefore, influences how we see, think and live. That means that we inevitably adopt its rigid definitions of what it means to be a man.
This is seen in many aspects of our daily lives. For example, the idea of two men having a child is frowned upon because it is assumed that someone has to work in the father’s role while the other takes on reproductive gender roles such as childcare. The revulsion at such gay partnerships is the feeling that children will be missing out on a mother’s touch since no self-respecting man would give up his position of authority for a subordinate one of a pretend-woman. It is examples such as these which have convinced many in the LGBTQ community that religiosity is not really our friend, save from a few notable revolutionary congregations such as sections of the Episcopal Church in America.
Making a difference yourself
I hope this article has opened your eyes to the constant denigration that seemingly effeminate men face, including from LGBTQ members. Indeed; there are instances in which straight people are written off as being “obviously gay” because they have triggered someone’s gaydar. Most of these indicators are just a sign that the prejudices of society are so embedded that they have ended up infiltrating the LGBTQ community.
You should start the process of challenging this paradigm by not patronizing or ostracizing the “queens” within our community. They are far from being the weak link. Instead we should celebrate them as wonderful members of the community who have much to contribute and are in any case entitle to live their lives as they see fit. This is not a struggle that the straight community is going to win for us because we have to take ownership of community so as to make it more welcoming to different people.