As the mainstream image of what a gay man is continues to morph into more of a hero and less of a victim, we continue to cast our most handsome, athletic and masculine men in the leading roles of the gay movement. As our rainbow fades to pastel, society now understands that gay men can be just like the rest of mainstream society. Our community has a new cast of gay heroes who place our most chiseled, scruffy-jawlined faces forward for everyone to see. From TV stars like Wentworth Miller to athletes like Jason Collins, the world now knows that we can be strong and manly and fit right in with the rest of the boys. But there is a different kind of strength that has always existed within gay culture, although it might not come in the form of bulging muscles and bass voices.
Unlike his masculine counterpart, the effeminate gay man doesn't have the luxury of hiding behind a butch façade until he is comfortable with coming out of the closet. You know the type. He can learn the choreography to the latest pop song more quickly than you can learn the lyrics. In high school he had to make a beeline for his car the minute the bell rang so that he could avoid the worn-out name calling, bullying or even violence. The Bedazzler was, is, and always will be his best childhood friend. Yes, these queeny gays may have been born with a serious masculinity deficiency, but that is exactly what makes them the epitome of strength.
As someone who has always straddled the masculine/feminine divide, I desperately sought to play up my butch qualities and minimize my fairy wings as much as humanly possible. Thankfully I excelled at sports and had a muscular build and a sort of generic, all-American-white-boy appeal -- until I opened my mouth, of course. I sounded more like a chipmunk with a lisp than the boy who'd just made the saving play on the soccer field. Eventually it was the only thing that people noticed.
Even after I accepted my sexuality, I struggled with my femininity. I spent hours in the gym, building my body in an effort to emulate the ideal of what men supposedly should look like. I stopped applying my coveted bronzer and shaved my head like a G.I. Joe. I even opted for a more understated wardrobe over the tight, bright T-shirts that I secretly loved. But the nasal voice and extra bounce in my step were inescapable. No matter what I tried, I always received degrading comments and snickers about my disposition, but not from the straight community. These came from gay men.
A girl can only take so much. I have learned to embrace and enjoy my feminine qualities just as much as my masculine ones. If masculinity is paramount, something that all men must strive for to be considered "real" men, then gay men, by definition, will always be considered lesser than their straight counterparts. We gay men know that there isn't one definition of what a "real" man is. Hell, we are living proof. So discounting or stifling any feminine characteristics that we may have is a slap in the face of our own culture and an admission to others that there is something to suppress. The gay men who couldn't help but shoot glitter out of every orifice were the ones who propelled gay rights into the mainstream. As we get closer to becoming fully integrated in the larger society, it is important that we not allow any segment of our own community to suffer in the process.
The measure of a gay man's femininity in a heteronormative society is much like the measure of an African American's skin color in a society of white privilege. The most feminine of gay men are the equivalent of the darkest-skinned of African Americans, while the gay men who exhibit the most masculine qualities enjoy privileges like fair-skinned African Americans do. These phenomena are the result of expectations placed on both groups by segments of society who demand that we be like them. Those who fail these litmus tests are least valued by the ruling party. As proud gay men, we should demand within our own community that masculinity not be an indicator of worth, and that we respect each other regardless of our differences.
To the queens who have been beaten up, marginalized and mangled for refusing to cave in to the norm, you are the true heroes of the gay movement. It is these men to whom we owe our freedom to be the exact type of gay man that we were made to be, and nothing else.
So even with my nasal voice and knack for choreography, I realize that I am as much of a boy as I need to be, and as much of a girl as I want to be. That is strength.
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