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Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Flamers

A little while ago I read a remarkable blog post, from a blog which shall remain nameless. In it, the blogger described how he'd been approached by a effeminate (but very muscular) guy. This guy suffered from a -- shock! horror! -- lisp. Repelled, our intrepid blogger assaulted the "queen" and then vomited. There followed a diatribe against feminine guys.

A psychiatrist or psychologist would surely find the whole episode remarkably revealing. To me, it indicates a very strong internalised homophobia. Ah, many will reply, but what if you don't find effeminate men sexy? Well, what of it? If it had been a straight guy responding to a gay one in this way, the conclusions would have been obvious. It would have been seen as a gay hate crime. And let me make it quite clear: I'm not saying that you have to have it off with someone you find unappealing just to be politically correct. Some blokes prefer busty brunettes, others brunets with muscly pecs. Each to his own. But to hit the other guy and then vomit? C'mon! Whatever happened to Sorry, I have a headache?

So why do I call it a kind of (internalised) homophobia? Because what is going on here is a comparable to what happens in race-obsessed societies. In apartheid South Africa, the "whites" were the most desired, the "blacks" the least. The "coloureds" (mixed-race South Africans, who ironically spoke Afrikaans*, the language of the dominant "white" minority) were considered superior to the "blacks" but inferior to the "whites", and the "whiter" your skin was the higher your social standing. Manufacturers of (dangerous and ineffective) skin-whitening pastes and hair-straightening liquids did a roaring trade. Self-hatred brought on by the perverted values of society.

But how is this relevant to the spectrum of gays from queens through to clones? The most acceptable gays (to gays and straights) are those who can "pass". They're "masculine" and "straight-acting". When last did you see an ad in the hook-up section of the personals columns for a "gay-acting" partner?

It's not for nothing that one of the biggest story themes on Nifty is about straight guys turning gay. There are all sorts of reasons why this trope is so powerful to us, and I'll talk about them in a later post, but one of them clearly is that a despised and discriminated-against sexual alternative is embraced by the "real man" (gays, by definition, cannot be "real men"). A straight man turning gay validates us. And the machoer, the straighter, the more masculine the other man is before he turns to the dark side, the better. Hell's teeth, even in my own writing, I use these archetypal stories. In Footy, a straight man falls for his gay best friend.

The least acceptable gays are the "femmes", the "queens", the "gay-acting", the "flamers". When straight society talks disdainfully about "homos", this is mostly what they mean. Effeminate men are despised by most straights and gays. And it's worth asking why. 'Just because' is not an answer. Consider how many gays wish that drag queens would keep away from the gay parades. "They perpetuate stereotypes" is the politest comment I've heard. Why is it more acceptable for a woman to do "manly things" than for a man to do feminine things? Why is it OK for women to wear pants but not for men to wear dresses? Why is being a macho sportsman (even if from time to time you have a mutual blow job with your teammates) acceptable but being a male ballet dancer not?

Think of all the gay icons. Gays are turned on by construction workers and tradies, marines (but not, curiously to the same extent by other kinds of soldiers), cowboys, firefighters, bikies and the leather-clad, policemen, and of course, sportsmen. One can understand the attraction in each case, especially for sportsmen, who must be fit, healthy and muscular just to follow their calling. But so much of the attraction is for a kind of off-hand, totally self-confident, unthinking maleness. Men who don't gel their hair, who don't wear designer label undies, who sprawl in a masculine way in front of the TV to watch the game, who emerge filthy from under a car they've just fixed (competence is a very male virtue), who don't wear deodorant or aftershave. Real men. The kind of men we want to be. So, since we are homos not straights, we indulge in the equivalent of skin-lightening creams and hair straighteners. Even the term "clone" is horribly revealing.

The irony is that I myself am not immune to the attraction of these archetypes. And that I had to spend a lot of time and thought to getting over my own internalised homophobia which made me despise myself because I wasn't real man enough, and made me deeply uncomfortable with flamers. But the first step to coming to terms with this is to recognise it for what it is.

I'm sure I'll get heaps of emails and comments, saying stuff like "but that's just what I like/dislike, it's not homophobia." Fair enough. But the question is: why do we have these likes and dislikes? Our personal values don't happen in a vacuum. They are affected, coloured, driven by societal values. We must understand, because if we end up disliking ourselves because we don't conform to some outdated sexist stereotype than we will just get hurt. Effeminate gay men are us, too. Flamers have feelings. Until they/we are whole-heartedly accepted, gay liberation will not be complete.

[This is the third of a linked series of posts. The previous two are Darl and Homophobia and Behaviour Modification. These articles I wrote for Wilde Oats also consider some of the issues I touch on here: The End of Gay and Gay, Then and Now.]


The Village People, making fun of the stereotypes.




*the first book written in Afrikaans was written in Arabic script to convert the "Malay" (Indonesian) Muslim slaves in Cape Town in the early 19th century. Ironic that their creole of Dutch became the language of the apartheid regime. Now there's self-hatred for you! And apartheid is pronounced apart+hate. Easy to remember.

6 comments:

Adam P said...

Difficult to argue with some of your contentions, Nigel. I do note, however, that the beautiful men you post here on occasion embody--without exception--that abhorrent archetype you're lashing out against. ;-)

Nigel said...

You intrigue me, Adam. You mean you can tell just from the picture whether a beaut guy is a flamer or not? ;-)

Hunter said...

Rather than posting at the group, I thought I'd leave this here.

A fairly simple explanation occurs to me. Men who love men love men -- and that means our cultural determination of what makes a "man."

Forty years ago, we had no real role models: gays were not real men, so they had to be effeminate, which also goes a long way to fueling the stereotype. (Not that that's an accurate perception -- there were plenty of "normal" gay guys in the 50s and 60s. They just weren't immediately identifiable.) Now we do have those models --- even athletes are coming out. Flamers -- i.e., effeminate men -- are now even further marginalized than they were.

I have to admit that flamers do not attract me -- my first impulse is to say "Will you just calm down for a minute?" And then I remember that in my teens I was a little effeminate -- I didn't know any other way to be. Never underestimate the degree to which role models impact your identity.

PietB said...

Doesn't this come under the heading of "Don't judge a book . . ."? I've lived in or near San Francisco -- and heaven knows it doesn't get any gayer than SF -- for something like forty years and I will testify that some of the strongest (and yes most masculine) men I've known over these four decades have been flaming queens, while some of the most ineffectual, unhandy, helpless guys were leather daddies. And you haven't seen a catfight until you've seen two leathermen get into it on the Opera House steps. I think too many of us allow ourselves to make snap judgements and then don't revisit them.

Nigel said...

Hunter's comment:

When I was growing up I didn't know there were "masculine" gays. Because those guys "passed", so they only gays one knew about were the effeminate ones. So yes, that came to be the stereotype. It still is, often, in TV and films and in the general cultural consciousness.

Piet's comment:

You are exactly right about the cliches. People are too complex to be locked into a closed box. And it's amazing how good it feels to set aside the prejudices and just enjoy others for what they are. One of the most 'femme' guys I knew was an aggressive (and very satisfying) top in bed.

Hunter said...

Piet, Nigel --

No argument -- I think that was really part of what I was trying to say. And yes, one of my early boyfriends came across as a dizzy queen -- and was tough as nails.