Nathan Cornell (Greensboro, NC)
Since years before the enforcing of the Hays Code ‒ a set of movie production guidelines which forbade “any inference of sexual perversion” (i.e homosexuality) in film‒ feminine men or “sissies” have been an on-screen euphemism for gay characters; a trend which still persists in popular media and the minds of gay men and straight people alike. This now widely accepted notion of what “gay” is has created countless problems within the gay community.
While femininity is not necessarily rare in the gay community, it is beginning to be seen as a negative trait; men are plastering their profiles with phrases like “no fems” and “masc 4 masc”, and calling themselves “straight-acting” as if being heterosexual is the same as being manly, and therefore being gay is to be feminine. This kind of thinking is very dangerous in a community always pushing for unity and respect while breaking down binaries and stereotypes alongside the rest of the LGBT population. The growing divide between the masculine and feminine parts of the gay community, and the concept of “straight-passing privilege” (being seen as masculine enough to not be immediately assumed gay) have done nothing more than create a sort of improvised hierarchy within the community placing the manliest of the bunch at the top, the feminine members at the butt of every joke, and leaving those in the androgynous middle pressured to choose a side.
But the sissy stereotype and the masculine-feminine divide also affect the way the outside world sees our community.
I remember a day, about a year ago, in one of my junior year classes when we somehow stumbled onto the subject of homosexuality and gay students at our school and in our community. I remember how almost every student who would try to crack a joke would put on a limp wrist, a high voice, and a “sassy” tone to imitate what they perceived “gayness” to be, and, of course, everyone else would laugh and try their hand at the mockery. However when certain names would slip into the conversation, people wouldn’t think twice to shout out; “But they don’t act gay.” Now by this point I can’t help asking myself “what did they mean by that? He doesn’t like shopping? He doesn’t have a high voice? He doesn’t like glam pop? What on earth is acting gay?” Now, these months and months later, I know that the straight-person’s perceptions behind “acting gay” are as simple as “acting feminine”, and that while the traits I mentioned are neither good nor bad traits, the assumptions behind them, and the historical context of men acting feminine being hilarious on the basis of being embarrassing, have driven many gay men to a point of adopting a hyper-masculine façade in order to escape the “sissy” image.
I can also recall a queer friend of mine watching another openly gay boy bounce from person to person through a room socializing in his normal manner, and my friend then remarking; “Gays like him are why we get made fun of.” This remark took me a hot minute to process. I just couldn’t understand how anyone in a community that faces enough hate already could attack one of his own. Just seeing this effeminate boy be himself ‒ something we all want to be able to do comfortably ‒ was enough to make this then-friend of mine upset enough to remark that the boys femininity was embarrassing to the whole community.
The growing distaste for the effeminate in our community is plaguing us and serves only to further divide and distress every member. If we truly wish to achieve the familial unity we crave, we have to rise above the misconceptions our heteronormative upbringings have instilled in us and realize that all portrayals of masculinity, femininity and any blend of the two are all perfectly valid manners of self-expression for a gay man to channel, and that denying another man’s expression of himself for the sake of easier coexistence with the straight world is not the way to go about reaching equality. Every gay man (and woman) deserves the right to express him or herself however he or she feels comfortable without any hate, especially none from within their own community.