Monday, September 03, 2007

"Are you Masculine or Feminine?"...Why can't I just be ME?!

Prepare yourself...I had to GO OFF on this topic!

Very recently, I had the pleasure of meeting former Chicago public school teacher, disciplinarian, and now educational speaker and writer Benn Setfrey. His book "Don't Shoot, I'm Coming Out!" functions as a sharply written, achingly wity, manifesto to gay men who deal with the stupid stereotypes and misconceptions of the heterosexual world. This brother gave us real talk about living life "out loud" with integrity, coming into one's sexuality with grace and pride, religion and spirituality, and he KILLED IT when it came to discussing positive black gay relationships.

HOWEVER, a few chapters made me GAG. In both "Gays to Men" and "How to Man Up", Sefrey stresses the importance of suppressing the overwhelming presence of effeminate gay men in our community, and calls forth older masculine gay brothers to step up and show these young gay boys how to be "real men". After reading those chapters several times and having a conversation with the author himself, I'm still bothered by those words. It seemed as if the author was putting down the brothas who have a bit swing in their step, opting to idolize the "straight acting" homosexual. This got me to thinking...

Why is their so much emphasis placed on what is "masculine" and "feminine" in the Black Gay Community? How do you distinguish between what is "masculine" and what is "fem"? And why is it that the "fem" dudes so very often get the short end of the stick when it comes to respect?

Setfrey points to a lack of masculine socialization many young black gay men receive in their formative years as a reason for blatant displays of effeminate behavior later on in life. While he may be onto something, I personally believe he is missing the mark. This (again) got me to thinking of my own development as a black gay man...

Thinking back, I guess I did exhibit some "questionably feminine" behavior. I was fascinated by hair, and I loved to play with people's hair. If the girls were outside playing double dutch or hopscotch, I got my turn too. I knew all of the "hand clap" games by heart, and even made it to number 35 in the "Slide" game. I owned a Popple, and loved that little mofo. And the kicker...I was a HUUUUUGGGEEE fan of Muppet Babies, Lamb Chop, and Pee Wee Herman.

But at the same time you would never find me congregating near the girl's bathroom smacking gum and mooning over boys. I was WITH the boys. Playing football in Tim Spicer's backyard. Going down to the riverbed to catch frogs and raise hell. Jumping fences. Hell, even watching straight porn with my brothers and older neighborhood boys (although now I acknowledge I was focused more on the D&B than the T&A, LOL). Having four older brothers, a present and active father, and living in a neighborhood of mostly boys, I was socialized in a very masculine environment. In the end, that had nothing to do with displays of my burgeoning "feminine" was all intermixed.

Over time, I've grown to honor and respect the vast DIVERSITY of the Black Gay Community. We come in all shapes and sizes, and it's a BEAUTIFUL thing. We have homo-thugs, athletes, dancers, leather bears, twinks, prettyboys, butch queens, fem queens, drag queens, trannies, lipstick lesbians, butch lesbians, divas, and average joes. It's not our fault that society at large has chosen to typecast us as lispy, neck rolling, diva-worshiping male queens and butch, super aggressive lesbians. Why should we submit to that oppression by forcing our young men to "butch it up like real men" and demanding our young women to "walk, talk, and submit like real ladies?"

What aspects of our masculinity really contribute to our MANHOOD? Is it the way we speak? The clothes we wear? The sports we play (or don't play)? Our mannerisms? I'd like to think that MANHOOD is more closely linked to our PRINCIPLES and INTEGRITY as men. To be a MAN is to honor, respect, defend, and love your family. To be a MAN is to serve as an uplifiting, positive role model for other men. To be a MAN is to address women with the upmost respect and appreciation. To be a MAN is to know your role, and stand firm in it. Who gives a damn if you occasionally queen out to Beyonce or kee-kee with the kids if you are handling your MANLY business?

My question is...if we as gay men are doing everything that a REAL man of principle and integrity should do, isn't that enough to validate and legitimize our MANHOOD? Why the fuck is it so damn important that we always dress, act, speak, and associate a certain way to be certified as "masculine" or "a real man?".

Mr. Setfrey, I'm a huge fan of your book and will say great things on your behalf. However, your "Man-Up!" message is ass-backwards. The persona of the flamboyant gay man is not the issue....well at least not the entire issue. Members of our community should not only accept flamboyant "effeminate" men, but GIVE THEM PROPS. Without the flaming queens, drag queens, and trannies, there would not have been a Stonewall Riots in 1969. Without them, Gay Pride celebrations probably wouldn't exist. And without the host of gay men and women living their lives out loud (with or without 'feminine' tendencies) and fighting for our rights, many of the supposedly "straight-acting" gay men wouldn't have a social or political leg to stand on. RECOGNIZE GAME and SHOW RESPECT, even if that's not how you get down. If you feel that the mainstream protrayal of gays leans to far to the queens, instead of bad mouthing the fems, call out the alleged "straight-acting" brothas and encourage THEM to step up their game!


kennyking78 said...

Wow Jammey!!! I could not have said it better myself.

The reason that there is so much emphasis on being a "REAL" man comes from the heterosexual model of life that many in the gay world try to emulate... I have a problem with that.

Thanks for this post. I love it when you "spit" your knowledge.

That Dude Right There said...

When I picked up that book, something told me to put it back down. So I did. It was a good choice.

I not sure why people look down so much on effeminate men, and frankly I don't care. I live by the policy that what someone else eats, won't make me shit. That being said, I try not to judge anyone on anything.

I saw a dude in partial drag this past weekend in Atlanta during pride. Dude had on some thigh shorts, denim shirt, high heels, bald head, and a goatee and was walking like Naomi Campbell. A few people mocked him, but most figured out that he was the definition of what pride was all about and gave him full support.

Darian said...

Bravo sir!!!! Very well said. I've seen his book at my local gay bookstore many times and each time I've passed over it for some I know why.

Reg said...

i guess the effeminate man is what's most looked at when people scoff at gay men. Sometimes as gay men, we try to separate ourselves as much as possible from the image that "straight america" sees as despicable, so we start to hate ourselves. This is not limited to sexual orientation, but extends to race (light skin-dark skin), and I can imagine other things.

We need to embrace ourselves - as feminine or masculine or both as we are.