FEMMEPHOBIA & THE MASCULINE IDEAL
Gender Fluidity in the UK 2017
2017 will go down as a watershed in gender history. Teenagers are rejecting the binary choices of male or female, straight or gay. High street stores like John Lewis have removed boys and girls labels from their childrenswear department – everything is mixed together. Companies such as Channel 4 have installed gender neutral loos. Even Teresa May has announced new passports will no longer identify the sex of the passport holder. There is some tangible progress which is occurring around the issues of gender and self identification.
We’re moving into a new age, but this change will happen gradually as not everyone is on board yet. A recent article in one of the tabloids attacked a drag queen who was visiting primary schools to tell stories and sing (dressed in full drag) to the kids with the idea of normalising non binary gender roles and avoiding future hate crimes. Even a good friend of mine, who I thought was very liberal, posted the article on Facebook, commenting how disturbed she would be if her child saw this. I would say what’s the difference between a clown and a drag queen? Over emphasised make up and bright coloured clothes with the aim of entertaining and making people laugh. It’s a drag queen tying to entertain kids (I understand some people may be a bit surprised in a classroom setting) not a hate preacher who’s come to radicalise them. Kids are already rejecting established gender norms; it’s happening now, in 15 years they will look back on that article and be completely bemused. What was all the fuss about? In this case, it’s the views of the tabloid and the crazed parents which are behind the times.
Anyone over the age of 25 will not likely be affected by this gender fluidity movement. They are more likely to have led a life bombarded by society’s ideas regarding what male/ female gender roles and behaviours should be (the media, advertising etc.) Gay men just absorb what society drums into all men: masculinity is the only viable, attractive option that will make you accepted and get you laid. Feminine qualities (such as softness, sensitivity) will not. A man with big muscles will get more attention, more sex and more respect. Nobody could argue with that in this current time, where more men than ever have gym memberships. Just because Rupaul’s Drag Race has given feminine men a showcase doesn’t change anything on the ground. Those guys are still rejected by other gay men when they log onto their dating apps. Years of social programming takes years to undo. Take a time machine 40 years into the future and feminine gay men may well be the hottest thing around, but not yet.
Femmephobia is alive and kicking in the gay community. You just have to look on Grindr: ‘not into feminine/ camp’ ‘Masculine guys only’. Yes, gay men may well be projecting the hate they posses for their own hidden femininity (because society encourages them to hide it) but they are mostly just going along with the currents of society. It’s nothing personal. Since advertising began, men have been told to be like that big strong man on TV with the square jaw and the big muscles and also to desire to be with a partner like him.
The latest issue of Attitude magazine is devoted to ideas of evolving masculinity; popstars, musicians and performers encourage us to be ourselves and reject the ‘hetronormative’ gender norms. Why should gay men conform and assimilate ideas of masculinity when they have the opportunity to be outside of society and create their own rules? That’s an interesting concept, but, I think a lot of gay men who may have experienced bulling or isolation in their formative years (due to their sexual orientation) just want to fit in and have that normal life they were denied. Of course, many also stick two fingers up to conformity. It’s fine, the writers say, to wear make-up and express your femininity with your clothes and actions. I agree that everyone should express themselves however they chose. However, Jake from the scissor sisters camping in up on stage or sporting eye shadow on a photo shoot is very different from a gay man in high heels walking through Croydon town centre. At the moment, that would attract the wrong attention and even abuse because society has not caught up with the avant- guarde ideals created in the safety of central London.
Can a feminine man be attractive?
The magazine also conducted a survey of 5000 gay readers. 71% said they were turned off by signs of femininity in a man. I’m not criticising the magazine as I think the issue was very thought provoking and necessary, but, the message they are sending is ‘go forth and camp it up in your sequins but you will turn off most other gay men and be undatable‘. In 20 years things may be different, but for the moment, the only way a gay man can be considered attractive and datable/ lovable’/ f***able is to conform to society’s ideas of masculinity. I hate the thought of telling anyone to ‘act straight’, why should anyone act anything? But, it’s clear that ‘straight seeming’ gay men seem to have more fun, more sex and more attention.
Have Masculine ideals really changed?
I got a couple more contradictory messages from the magazine. Firstly, the advertisements: a double page spread advertising Aussiebum underwear (young, white, masculine, gym-perfect men on a beach), the back page advertises Moss Bros (a square jawed, broad shouldered, white model frowning) and an advertisement for Mardi Gras (tanned, semi naked, gym-toned men in trunks). Aussie bum know too well that replacing those manly guys with androgynous or effeminate models would harm their sales. The organisers of Mardi Gras know that the sexy male image will attract more gay men to the event (even if those men themselves are as camp as Christmas) than an image of a slimmer, less traditionally masculine guy. The advertising agencies know what sells to gay men and that formula will not be changing anytime soon. I don’t blame Attitude for using those ads, they have to make revenue. But, the second thing I noticed is the fashion editorial; a handsome, square jawed, muscled, white young man. As this is an issue questioning masculinity couldn’t they have chosen a model who conforms less to traditional gender norms? The signal they are sending out is sexy = white, muscled, young, masculine.
I agree with self expression and not conforming to masculine stereotypes if you feel that’s not you, but at the end of the day ‘homosexual’ means being attracted to your own gender, ie male. If you go off down the ‘androgynous’ or ‘feminine’ route, you are no longer going to be attractive to most gay men (many would proudly shout who cares?) That’s not to say nobody will be attracted to you; there are many ‘curious’ bisexual men, often married, who want to be with feminine young guys, because they can experiment with same sex but feel they are just dipping their toes in and maintaining their macho self image, not going the whole way with a big butch, hairy man. Same thing with transgender men and women – guys often want to be with cross dressers or trans women for sex but nothing more; they are just a sexual fantasy. Again, these men are often married and define themselves as straight. One of the biggest complaints coming from trans women is that they are fetishised by straight men; they are seen only as sex objects, not dateable or lovable.
Are you strong enough to express yourself?
The more practical problem about going down that road is that, in 2017 at least, you have to be very strong of character with a thick skin to dress or express femininity outside the safe zones of Central London. But there are brave gay men doing exactly that: risking their own safety to be true to themselves and express who they are, and they should be applauded and respected for they are the ones dragging society forwards, just by being visible. I have a friend from a Muslim country who came to live his life freely in London 20 years ago. Since leaving his country, there is a very small gay scene which has started to develop underground. I asked him how he could ever expect attitudes to change towards homosexuality in his country if every single gay man flees to London or Paris? Who will be there to change their parents/ grandparents and neighbours attitudes? He responded by saying he is not an activist or a trail blazing pioneer – he just wants to live a normal, happy life. After what he went though, he didn’t have the strength to try to change anything. I completely understand his view and, in his place, I would surely do the same thing.
What about the rest of us gay men who do not see ourselves as trail blazers ? There are important things we can all do. For example, question when you hear somebody implying a feminine man is funny (in a bad way), unacceptable or wrong – get others to question themselves. Don’t stand for any online comments or language which imply it’s not ok for a man to be feminine. You may recall a few years back, it was common to see ‘no fats, no Asians, no femmes’ on so many Grindr profiles, but that has pretty much disappeared now because it was challenged and outed as unacceptable. People changed their behaviour and realised they were (possibly unintentionally) being offensive and thoughtless. We all have the power to make changes in society and (for all you outrageously camp guys reading this in sparkly eyeliner) that’s the best we can do until someone invents a time machine.