The term ‘straight-acting’ invokes my ire in no small measure; it encapsulates so much of what is wrong with attitudes within and towards homosexual men. Firstly, it implies that there is a way that all gay men are supposed to behave and that it is somehow different from the way straight men are supposed to behave (excepting the obvious difference in sexual attraction); secondly, that you are pretending to be something you aren’t; thirdly, that there is something undesirable about being gay (ergo, gay-acting, whatever that is). It is a whole great basket of wrong, and I think that it speaks volumes about those who use it; deep down, it reveals shame and an inability to accept our nature.
I noted a considerable amount of activity on twitter last night surrounding the BBC3 documentary ‘I Woke Up Gay’ (trending as #IWokeUpGay). It told the story of a young man whose life changed in a very literal way; he rolled down a hill, hit his head and suffered a stroke. When he awoke, his entire personality had changed and he went from a 19 stone ‘lad’ to acreative gay man, now slim and with a (male) fiancé. What I tracked ranged from denouncing the poor guy as leaping into a stereotype that ‘did nothing’ for the image of the ‘gay community’, to being exceptionally supportive.
For stroke victims to emerge with different interests, talents and personalities is not unheard of, as the documentary indicated; you might even expect that when the brain is attempting to repair itself after that kind of shock, it might wire itself a little differently. Although the program was ostensibly about a man whose sexuality and personality changed quite literally overnight, I found the concept that the mind could rewire itself like that to be fascinating. I’m not even sure what that could mean for the Nature vs. Nurture argument (I side with the Nature camp).
Concurrently, and half a world away, @ChrisCrocker video blogged about his frustration at people’s attitudes towards him being a ‘Top’ in bed; he is a flamboyant character and would not conform to the ‘masculine’ stereotype. If you’re not au-fait with gay parlance, I apologise, but I’m not going to explain it here – Google is your friend. As he put it, just because his wrist might be limp sometimes does not mean that his dick is.
It was really this concept of masculinity and femininity that got me thinking. My mother was always quite critical of me, just after I ‘came out,’ for putting it on a bit; that ‘it’ being a slightly effeminate demeanor. She was right, too, I was affecting it; I was asserting my identity and trying to find my place in my new world. I’m certain that I do have the odd gesture or affectation that isn’t particularly ‘butch’, but for the most part I wouldn’t identify with either stereotype. For these purposes, I’m probably what some people would describe as ‘straight-acting’ (a term that encapsulates everything that is wrong with this issue, see above), though I hasten to add that I do not perceive myself as such.
Some people who are ostensibly ‘straight-acting’ all their childhoods don’t so much come out the closet as explode out; a complete personality change accompanied by lots of effeminate gestures and vocal affectations. Is that real? Were they hiding themselves all these years? Is it all an affectation to assert their new freedom to define themselves? Does it then become a part of their character by default?
I find myself wondering where this particular stereotype stems from. There was once I time when I would have said that I doubt very much that there is a hard-wired inclination towards finger-snaps and we are none of us born camp; I find that assertion harder to justify the more I give it thought. I do think that as children we absorb what we see around us and are likely to mimic behaviours with which we identify, I also wonder why it is that some boys I know have always had a slightly effeminate character, present in their childhood and still present now. If we are wired to be attracted to the same gender, does it not stand to reason that we might absorb characteristics of those around us who are attracted to that gender as well?
No-one questions it when a man conforms to the stereotype expected of him by society, it is assumed that it is ‘normal’. When someone deviates from that ‘norm’ then we respond critically. I accept that is part of human nature, to fear change, to fear what doesn’t fit within the neat little expectations we have of life, but that doesn’t mean I have to like it or accept that we should not strive to overcome it.
What twitter showed me last night is that there a lot of gay men out there who need to remember what we have been fighting for, socially and politically: the right to be accepted and treated equally by society; we have been fighting for tolerance and acceptance from those who view us as different. Is it not time we showed the same?