GAY FEMININITY & ACCEPTANCE
A few months ago, I wrote an article about racism on the gay scene which caused quite a stir. I’m glad that many gay men questioned their attitudes (conscious or unconscious) towards gay men of colour. That awful phrase, which used to be so common online, ‘no fats/ no fems/ no asians’ has been outed as unacceptable. But I now want to examine the middle part of this line: no fems. Turn on Grindr and you will see phrases like ‘masculine for masculine/ I hate camp/ masculine men only‘. These are personal preferences and, obviously, gay men are attracted to masculinity or they wouldn’t be gay. But, there is something deeper here; some confusion which needs to be addressed. A gay man who happens to be slightly feminine can still be intelligent, funny, sexy and make a great partner (sexual or otherwise) so why would he be rejected by so many without a second thought? What’s going on here?
Firstly, mainstream gay culture demands that gay men are straight acting or risk rejection. It is as if there were a factory production line rolling off armies of gay robots who are all expected to ‘act straight’ and repress any hint of femininity, beef up at the gym and walk like a real man. But this fascist-like ideology is missing one vital point: both men and women possess a mix of masculine and feminine traits, personalities and behaviours. The most loving and devoted mother can also be Alexis Colby in the board room and the most enormous body builder/ doorman/ tough guy can cry like a baby when watching a soppy film. It is unrealistic to expect any man, straight or gay, to be uniquely made up of masculine traits and that is a good thing. We all exist somewhere on a scale of 1 to 10 (1 being totally masculine and 10 being totally feminine) and even that scale can change depending on our mood. Wherever you are on this scale is perfectly fine and acceptable. Diversity is good; a society made up of different colours, personalities, backgrounds etc is more interesting than uniform robots all trying to fit in and be homogenous. The ideal situation is that gay men accept who they are and become happy with that and let go of the need/ pressure to conform.
But most gay men are uneasy when it comes to expressing their femininity or even acknowledging they have any. Traditionally, our society looks down on men who act in a girly way. They are scolded, bullied and derided until that femininity is truly hidden and repressed. A gay man who opens any gay magazine is bombarded with images of big muscles and over emphasised masculinity. On top of that, if he tries Grindr then he will see again and again ‘masculine is good, masculine men get more sex and are more acceptable’. So, considering all that is it any wonder that gay men feel they have to put on a ‘straight act’ in order to be accepted? The problem with putting on any act is that firstly, it takes a lot of energy to keep up and if you slip up then you will be outed and secondly, acts don’t fool anyone anyway. Can you imagine Graham Norton trying to act butch? It wouldn’t work and I am pretty darn sure he doesn’t feel the slightest need to do that as he accepts who he is (in fact he has made a lot of money from it).
We also have to remember that what we hate is others is really just a reflection of what we hate in ourselves. When a gay men says he hates feminine men, he is really saying that he hates the femininity within himself. No man could ever be masculine enough to satisfy a person who has issues accepting himself. When you learn to love and accept yourself, everything else will fall into place and the desire to be with this super masculine man could even evaporate as you learn to accept and love other traits in others. What is so bad about femininity anyway? Some feminine traits such as being caring, loving, sensitive, charming are actually very positive.
Which brings me to the next false premise which keeps slipping up gay men: femine and camp are not the same thing. These two words are often interchangeable, especially when being used as insults. But campness is a crude, exaggerated act ; think Alan Carr or a drag artiste on stage. A women cannot be camp – it has nothing to do with femininity. Yet, gay men often see these separate notions as the same thing. No gay man is naturally camp as it’s a big effort to put on such an act. Alan Carr would be exhausted if he had to continue his stage persona full time (think of all the cutting humour and exaggerated expressions). While femininity in a man (or woman) comes from within. It is not something that has to be acted; it’s just there. Society is fine with a camp man on stage entertaining, but less so when he is behaving like that in everyday life. This could be because it is unnatural and lacks authenticity; at the end of the day it’s an act that somebody is using to hide their real self. I personally feel uncomfortable and a bit drained when I’m with somebody who is putting on a show. The distinction here is that a man who is just feminine, to any degree, is fine to be himself. People can tell when someone is genuine and at the end of the day, what’s important is what kind of person you are, how you treat others and what qualities/ intelligence/ skills you possess. Femininity is just a small part of who you are and not something that people will hold against you. There is a much bigger picture here.
Another issue is that gay culture is so sexualised. Men are very visual and mediums like dating apps feed into that perfectly; you have one photo to impress the world so that generally means posing topless in a mirror flexing your biceps and sucking in your tummy. Even if somebody invites you to go for a coffee to make a new friend there is an underlying expectation that you have big muscles and work as a lumberjack in your spare time. Gay men need to stop seeing each other as potential sexual partners and more like diverse, interesting human beings. There is no reason why a very feminine gay man cannot be a wonderful friend to you. Despite what we are being sold and what we tell ourselves, It is not all about sex.
So I would ask gay men to consider what they are saying or putting online, what reasons are behind wanting to be or be with masculine men. How accepting of your own feminine side are you and could you see gay men who are not straight acting under a new light?