Archive for the 'Being Gay' Category

You call him sissy and I’ll call him stronger than you

Thursday, May 5th, 2011

The language we use to process our thoughts is a silent determinant in how we frame the world.* So when english-thinking people try to understand gender-related personality traits, we come upon a wall of strong masculine-feminine duality with a haphazard set of words for everything in between. Queer, transgendered, bisexual, pansy, femme, butch, gay – there is no clean spectrum to frame our identity.

And it wasn’t even until quite recently that we broke free from a very strict dualistic dichotomy. Gay boys and girls struggling with their identity had no framework to find their niche. Many felt forced to pick the set of cultural norms for the opposite of their own gender, and those who resisted often struggled with hiding their sexual orientation even if they wanted to be open and out in the greater society.

Since the late-60s we’ve been slowly moving towards an acceptance and understanding of the greater gender spectrum. Just as we have unbridled ourselves to take on whatever kind of profession or interest we desire, just as women have fought to eliminate the male-heavy roles in society, we have become more comfortable with where we lay between completely heterosexual and completely homosexual, and completely masculine and completely feminine. But we still still struggle with it because it requires a great deal of effort to put into words how we think and feel about where we are along the spectrum. The vocabulary available to us is unevenly spread across the shades of identity.

What got me thinking about this problem is what seems like an increasing number of videos, posts, and comments online by effeminate gays defending their right to be who they are. Among gay men, there is a bias against the more feminine men and a greater demand for ‘straight-acting’ gays who have little or none of the affectations of a ‘sissy’ – lispy voice, hyper-attention to outward appearance and use of body stylings more popular with females, etc.

Note that all of the terms I used in that last paragraph are relative – ‘straight-acting’ has no permanent definition, and neither does ‘sissy’ – and the latter is being pulled into words deemed totally unutterable, such as where ‘faggot’ will probably be in a decade or two.

As I began trying to understand the issues revolving the role of effeminate men in gay culture, the reality, as usual, is vastly varied and subtle. Most obviously is the wide range of identity among gay men. There is no common trait with any of them except their attraction to their attraction to other men (providing they are not bisexual to any degree).

But the biggest issue is where a gay man is on their quest to be fully accepting of their own identity. Having a sexual identity different than most other boys just when everyone is having to deal with new and confusing feelings and thoughts is only a catalyst for merely feeling different – an unsettling problem that can persist for a long time after fully coming out to family, friends, coworkers, and everyone else who matters in life. In other words, you may be honest with yourself and others about your sexuality, but you must also accept yourself as a whole because you may not have gotten over the feeling of being different.

(If you even vaguely feel this way, I suggest reading The Velvet Rage by Alan Downs – and you may want to think about talking with a gay-friendly therapist.)

So what is happening is that gays in varying states of accepting themselves for who they really are, thrown in to the same socializing and dating pool as gays fully comfortable in their own skin, all dealing with gays still coming to terms with their sexuality, plus heterosexuals in their own wide range of acceptance and persecution. And within the gay community the ones getting the short end of the stick are effeminate men who are fully accepting of themselves but who have a hard time trying to find peace and companionship. This is the group who put up with the brunt of the bullying as a teenager, the ones who are often survivors of much pain and suffering, who have fought hard for any scrap of happiness. They are often strong and outspoken – and still have trouble finding acceptance in the community they and their forebears built. It should always be remembered that among those who fought the hardest for gay rights were often the swishing, lisping ‘screaming queens’ that defined the stereotype. It was the drag queens who fought back during the Stonewall Riots, and never forget that.

That should be enough to give one pause and to think about one’s own gender biases. Our culture still holds onto the idea that it’s the manly men who are the strongest and put up with the grunt work of life – but that’s as much of a myth as the idea that we are the gender we appear on the outside. One of the greatest discoveries of the feminist movement is the role of women in history. The half of the population who stayed home while the man worked, who didn’t strap on a gun and fight in wars – they were often the ones who pushed the men and who fought for what really mattered. As recent as the Iranian election protests of 2009 it was the women who were the bravest in fighting back against the oppressive regime.

Because the primary function of language is to communicate between humans, changing our ways of expressing gender will take time. Sure, a panel of experts could come up with a whole new way of discussing identity, but if no one adopt their decisions the change will fail. Realistically all we can do is lay groundwork for future generations to better comprehend the range of who we are by doing the best we can with the words we have and let the usual mutation of slang, idioms, and clichés push into a more accepting way of thought.


* For more information, see the Linguistic Relativity Hypothesis…or for something less dry, try “How does our language shape the way we think?” by Lera Boroditsky, or “Does Your Language Shape How You Think?” from The New York Times.

Working to end gay suicides

Friday, October 1st, 2010

I don’t place much value on protests, nor do I consider token donations to charitable causes as little more than an attempt to feel better about oneself. I do believe in action and, barring that, vocal support and standing by one’s convictions.

So.

Despite all the advances in gay rights and acceptance in the last fifty years, gay teens are still being pushed to suicide. And for every one that kills themselves, there are many more contemplating it. People of all kinds driven to suicide is a serious issue, but those who do it because of social stigma for an attribute for which they have no control over, it is all the worse because everyone in our society is to blame.

Being gay is not a choice. It is not immoral. It is not something that can be condemned by anyone professing to be a member of any faith or religion founded on love and kindness. What matters is your happiness and whether you are harming someone or they are harming you. If you are gay, lesbian, transgendered, or questioning and are being told otherwise by people you trust, you need to find other people to trust immediately. Easier said than done, I know.

“Be patient and tough; some day this pain will be useful to you.”
- Ovid

Life is hard. Very hard. We are given inadequate tools and too quickly forced to fend for ourselves. And those who are charged with raising us and teaching us were also given inadequate tools and may not give you the best in return. One must be forgiving but also must seek the truth.

Sexuality of any kind is fraught with issues. There’s awkwardness and confusion and exploration and some people are telling you it’s bad and others are telling you it’s good and sometimes you’re told it’s an important and a fun part of life but don’t worry about it too much.

One could look at coming to terms with one’s sexuality as a trial. It will be hard, and it may make you unhappy, but you’ll get over it. And if you can’t there are helpful people who can guide you to accepting who you are.

I know this because I am gay and I spent years untangling the subtle and not-so-subtle things said and done against me to make me feel like my sexuality was wrong, immoral, and woefully condemned. As far as I can remember I never considered taking my life as an option, partly out of egotism and partly because of an quiet but persistent voice saying something not unlike Ovid’s line. “You’ll get through this,” it seemed to whisper, “Life goes on and you’ll want to be around for the better days.

More importantly, we need gays who survived adolescence to help others along the way, because as more accepting as society may become, we all experience life afresh and need all the support we can get.

We also need people of all kinds to be angry. Angry that our young are taking their lives because of hatred and misunderstanding. Angry that persons of power and influence continue to be hypocritical over who can be loved and who is equal. Angry that the gay community is largely uninterested in helping, nay, fighting for our young members to survive. Be angry and use that anger to protect those who need protection and fight back against those who harm the weak.

I know it sounds hypocritical to espouse actions in a blog post, but I am doing my part to help those in need. I don’t want anyone to experience the mental prison I was pushed into, or worse. I am angry. I will fight.

There are resources like The Trevor Project that help those who are gay and contemplating suicide.

And if you need someone to talk to, you can email me (correspondence at budaeli dot com), contact me on Twitter, or leave a comment on this site.

Further thinking about the gay subculture

Wednesday, May 20th, 2009

Last week I wrote about how I see the gay subculture dying, and how it reflects a certain progress in our culture towards a lessening of the need for a distinct group for people of gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgendered orientations.

Josh emailed me this response that I want to share. Josh coauthors Jess and Josh Talk About Stuff and has written several times about gay culture and queer theory. Here he points out a few more things to think about:

You said: “A distinct gay culture is an anachronism today.” To some extent, I think that’s true; just like the so-called hipster subculture, the gay subculture has largely been absorbed into the mainstream and lost its primary function: to provide a network and cultural identity for a marginalized, unaccepted minority. As the straights continue to embrace the gays, I think we’ll see the gay subculture decline even more.

That said, I think that it’s important to note the ways that straight (or even just mainstream) media have incorporated, manipulated, and coded “gay culture” to market to this now-accepted group of people. Bravo’s programming most certainly caters to the gays; for instance, while walking to work today I saw an ad for their supermodel contest, and two of the three figures depicted were men in various states of undress. A supermodel show advertising shirtless guys definitely isn’t marketing to straight men, and its appeal to women is questionable. There’s a book I want to read called Gay TV and Straight America (by a Becker to whom I’m not related, heh) that talks more about the ways gay culture entered the mainstream lexicon, especially through the medium of television. An excerpt of a review:

Becker demonstrates that narrowcasting — frequently cast as something unique to the era of media convergence — has actually been a common practice in consumer culture, generally, and the television industry, specifically. And that happened well before the television audience erosion that characterized the late 1980s and early 1990s. Using trade press and economic scholarship, Becker details how the peculiarities of the post-Fordist U.S. economy, particularly the aims of the advertising industry, made targeted marketing an increasingly central part of the U.S. economic landscape from the 1970s on. And not just any kind of targeted marking, but particularly methods that focused on psychographic appeals to consumers. Becker meticulously examines the impact that these kinds of marketing strategies had on television via accounts in the medium’s trade press, scholarship on advertising, and various interviews with people working in those industries.

And the continued economic stability (and, in some cases, success) of the gay nightlife industry in the midst of the current recession points to at least a inkling of a “gay bubble,” by which gay consumers–the “pink dollar” or whatever it’s called–are able to maintain their lifestyles in spite of, and perhaps in response to, larger socioeconomic trends.

My point is that I don’t think the gay subculture has ceased to exist; rather, it’s been continuously used, incorporated into, and (as a cynic might argue) perhaps exploited by straight media channels. It’s easy to assume total media assimilation, but as the recent Miss California scandal and broader gay marriage debate have shown, there is still a big leap between what mainstream America is comfortable with, in terms of gay culture, and what we’d like to see mainstream America be comfortable with, and as long as that divide exists, a gay subculture will have its place in society.

The dying of the gay subculture (and why it’s a good thing)

Monday, May 11th, 2009

There really is a gaydar. The mistake that everyone makes though is that clues to a person’s sexuality can be gleaned from the way a person walks or talks or what clothes they wear.* Using those visual cues works only for those who are a part of the gay subculture. The home of musicals, dance music, and fashion consciousness infused with effiminancy and a non-sexual love of women. It was a place where gays could belong without being as harshly judged by bigots, and as a identity with which to find other gays. That culture is slowly going away as a distinct group, and that’s a good thing.

A distinct gay culture is an anachronism today. We’re living in the beginning of an age of marriage equality, where government accepts and provides support for one of the most common social constructs among humans, long-term monogamous relationships. There have always been heterosexuals who never had a problem with their gay brothers and sisters, but it’s increasingly becoming more acceptable to be openly and vocally supportive for their rights.

Some will lament this subculture’s passing, especially those who grew up to identify closely with it. However groups like this should be based around common interests and beliefs, not sexual orientation. If this subculture morphs into something that less aligned with a perceived gay lifestyle, it has a more legitimate reason to exist. This is already happening, with the unintended consequence of straight people having their sexuality questioned just because they like musicals or dance music or have a flair for design.

What this really means is that gays are becoming a more tolerated and even celebrated part of the greater society. The voices of hatred for those who are different is being drowned out by reason and tolerance. The most visible representation of this change is the counter-protests to the Westboro Baptist Church.

There still needs to be support systems for people coming to terms with their sexuality, but the need to belong to a specific social group is no longer necessary. It’s a good time to be gay and not want to fit any old-fashioned stereotypes.

And now for some random pieces of gay cultural history I’m itching to share (and they provide some extra perspective):

Judy Garland had a large gay following not just because she was a great singer, but the pain that she felt could be heard in her singing and she was a voice for the unhappiness most repressed gays felt.** Most of the effiminacy of gays from the 40s through the 60s can be attributed to gay portrayals in movies*** – gays could only appear as comedic elements or heavily coded to pass the censors. For a boy growing up in a small town with few visible role models, the movies were often the only way for many to find their identity.

Twentieth century gay subculture was defined by several important events: the Pansy Craze of the late 20s and 30s, World War II (it was the first time many gays discovered there were others like them, and the subsequent conservatism following the war brought invigorated repression), the political activism of the 60s and 70s, and the AIDS epidemic of the 80s. A set of slang, symbols, and philosophy of life developed that created a unified gay identity. This was crucial because of the cruel way American society treated gays and lesbians during the period; by having such a group to belong, it created a tremendous support system for a group of people trying to shake off the commonly-held belief that their sexuality meant there was something wrong with them. It was also an identity to align with, one that accepted people openly and judged more on their actions than expectations.

*So how does the gaydar really work? It comes down to non-verbal cues like where someone’s wandering eyes follow or facial expressions in relation to certain topics discussed, as well as verbal cues – the most obvious is the ‘pronoun game’ but there are others like an absence of certain topics (like chasing girls). Of course the easiest way to tell if someone is gay is to ask them and they give a straight answer (no pun intended) or you see them having sex with someone of the same sex, like yourself.

**If you haven’t heard any of Judy Garland’s later recordings, I suggest you check out Judy at Carnegie Hall or any of her later recordings of “Over the Rainbow” – the heartbreak is so strong it never fails to get me teary-eyed.

***For an overview of portrayal of gays and lesbians in movies, check out the great documentary Celluloid Closet.

Rights for everyone

Monday, November 3rd, 2008

There is absolutely no reason for there to be a debate over gay marriage. This isn’t like abortion where the life of an unborn child is at stake*. This is about living in a land of freedoms open to all the citizens of America.

Christians have no right whatsoever to be against two women or two men who love each other to join together in holy matrimony. If you worship God and try to follow the teachings of Jesus, he would not be happy with your treatment of your fellow brothers and sisters; he would be sad because you have a choice to treat others as you want to be treated.

This is not just a religious thing, we must all treat others fairly. We live in a country founded by people who were pissed off because they were treated like children and given no rights. And when we grew up as a country and confronted our own hypocritical treatment of ethnic and racial minorities, we took it upon ourselves to be accepting of everyone.

When I moved to Massachusetts over three years ago, it wasn’t because I suddenly gained the right to marry whoever I wanted. But I don’t want it any other way; at least all loving adults are treated the same by law here. It should be that way anywhere else in the United States.

On Tuesday, California’s citizens will be voting to keep the rights given to them by courts earlier this year. Even though most of us don’t live there, we need them to have the right of open marriage for everyone. Why? Because the more states that are in step with the rights granted us by the Declaration of Independence, the more that will follow. We all have the right to “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness” – that’s for everyone. In the end we’re all humans, and we’re all in this together.

Growing up in Iowa, I tried hard to surround myself with people who accepted me for who I am. People who I could tell that I was gay, and nothing would change. But there were always people who weren’t so accepting, because they didn’t know how to deal with it, or they were taught to hate. They may have treated me badly, but I forgive them. Acceptance takes time.

The treatment I received gave me a complex. I felt I had to bury my identity it to almost everyone for fear that things would change and I’d be treated differently. You had to either have known me for a long time, or be gay yourself to gain access to the knowledge. But fuck it. It’ll take time to be open but I’m not hiding anymore. You have no reason to hate me for being gay. You can hate me for not liking your favorite band or thinking you’re a prick, but you can’t hate me for something I have no control over.

It may be different for me because some day I may want to marry another man, but we all must stick up for each others rights. Boston is so diverse that nearly everyone I know is a minority of some sort. And it would hurt me for them to be treated differently. Some of their ancestors were unjustly persecuted and denied their rights, and I won’t let that happen again. It’s the same thing, though – do you really think we should be selective in treatment of law-abiding people who aren’t trying to hurt others? No.

Eight years of bigoted conservatism is more than enough.

It’s time for America to walk the walk.


I guess this post was about more than just gay marriage. Surprise!


*I was taught that as a man I have no say over abortion. It’s not my choice and never will be. Women are the only ones to make a decision on abortion, so I’m keeping my mouth shut!