Viewpoint - Embracing Male Femininity in the Gay Community
Published: 26 June 2018 Tags: Femininity, Gay, #MyFemmeSelf, Hornet By James Harris
In light of the launch of LGBT social network Hornet’s #MyFemmeSelf campaign, James Harris looks at the importance of talking about the issue of femininity in the gay community.
There’s a hashtag going around, and it’s important that we talk about it.
#MyFemmeSelf is Hornet’s new campaign to fight toxic masculinity in the gay community. Problematic statements like “no fems,” “no queens” or “masc4masc” frequently used on dating apps only foreground the need to challenge the prejudice faced by camp, feminine gay men from members of their own community.
The association between camp, feminine qualities in men and male homosexuality is deeply ingrained. Consequently, camp/feminine men are often automatically categorised as gay (or at least placed on the ‘maybe’ pile), visible in a way that other, more masculine, ‘straight-acting’ gay men are not. This can attract homophobic attention, which is possibly part of the reason why many gay men feel the need to ‘pass’ as straight; to avoid being singled out as a target for abuse, judgement and discrimination.
However, the concept of ‘passing’ as straight (or even as a certain gender if you’re trans) is highly troubling; it implies that being both feminine and male, and/or homosexual is shameful and undesirable. It also implies that there’s an incompatibility between homosexuality and masculinity, that masculinity is an exclusively heterosexual male trait – which is inaccurate, because masculine gay men exist. As do camp, effeminate straight men. The term ‘straight-acting’ highlights this fallacy; to act as something you’re not is to hide behind a mask, to deny who you are out of shame.
But why hide at all?
Historically, homosexuality has been represented – and even ridiculed – as a comically camp cliché, and so, understandably, many gay men wanted to distance themselves from such restrictive, reductive stereotypes. Not that there’s anything whatsoever wrong with being camp or effeminate of course; we’re all different, and – as our own ‘ENOUGH’ campaign defiantly upholds – difference need not be cause to hate, but celebrate; variety makes the world a richer, more interesting place. The problem is that homosexual male campness and effeminacy was portrayed in such an unflattering, pejorative way that inaccurate negative connotations (i.e. weakness) developed around it.
Unfortunately, one extreme provokes another. Just as femininity is traditionally synonymous with submissiveness and frailty, masculinity has traditionally been intrinsically associated with dominance and strength. In an overwrought attempt to escape such negative connotations of femininity it appears that, many gay men (and indeed men in general) have ventured too far in the opposite direction, suppressing the feminine sides of their nature in the process. Which is a waste, because femininity is a wonderful, extremely valuable quality to be blessed with; it is its own kind of strength, and can be incredibly empowering.
There are many ways of being strong without being masculine.
Any gay men with even remotely prejudiced attitudes towards camp, feminine guys should ask themselves why, and answer honestly. They may discover that it traces back to their own internalised homophobia (yes that old parasite), an upwelling of misguided self-hate redirected onto others.
It’s ok not to be attracted to camp, feminine guys; we all have different tastes and preferences in what we find sexually or romantically attractive. However, to be prejudiced is another matter entirely, and is completely unacceptable. Plus, to automatically write someone off as a romantic possibility simply because they’re camp or feminine is not only a disservice to ourselves (we often find love in the most unexpected people – don’t limit yourself to an overly-specific ‘type’) it is a superficial, generalised assessment of complex individuals deserving of respect and deeper recognition. Not to mention that many gay guys love camp, feminine guys, and where you might not find a lover you could still find a friend.
We find it difficult to accept in others what we find difficult to accept in ourselves; where it should make us glad, instead, it often frustrates us to see others unburdened by the insecurities we are still disadvantaged by. Moreover, with frustration comes anger, and with anger comes hate.
Nevertheless, it needn't be this way.
Once we realise that femininity and campness aren’t flaws or weaknesses, that homosexuality is not cause for shame, that masculinity isn’t exclusive to straight men and femininity isn’t exclusive to straight women, that gender is more fluid than rigid binary norms lead us to think, we will stop discriminating against those we should be showing solidarity towards instead.
We all have a feminine side, myself included. Yet I’ve often been pleased whenever people presumed I was straight. However, this superficial reassurance is always short-lived, and not only misguided but unhealthy, hindering me from fully accepting – and embracing – my own feminine self.
Whatever your particular blend of sexual orientation and gender identity, you are enough just as you are.
I am enough. You are enough. We are enough.
Just as we are.
LinksLGBT Foundation’s ‘ENOUGH’ campaign