Last week I watched the documentary “Do I Sound Gay?” The film looks at the phenomenon of gay men who tend to have feminine sounding voices and speech patterns. I was hoping for an in-depth look at culture and speech from an academic perspective but instead I saw the filmmaker’s heavily personal struggle with low self-esteem after a break up. One pet peeve was that the filmmaker constantly used the term straight acting rather than masculine which is a small but very telling difference in terminology. It wasn’t until the end of his film journey that he realized that not all straight guys are masculine and vise versa. Confusing straight acting and masculinity marginalizes straight men as much as it does gay men. Overall I found the subject matter of the documentary thought provoking but the film itself just wasn’t what I was hoping for.
Place: A kindergarten classroom
The teacher calls for all her students to line up single file for recess. Girls in one line boys in the other.
Un-named boy: “Hey Joey, shouldn’t you be in the other line with the girls? You’re a girl aren’t you?”
Ever since I can remember I’ve always been effeminate. The scene above is real and those types of situations happened to me on a regular basis starting at a very young age. Back then we didn’t know what gay was so all of my behavior was labelled as “girlish.” I was a little girly-boy who covered his walls with pictures of Jordan from New Kids on the Block and sang along to Girls Just Want to Have Fun. Regardless of the label it was made crystal clear to me that whatever I was didn’t belong with all the other boys. All of this tends to sound a bit melodramatic but I tell you only to illustrate the fact that people have been telling me I was gay long before I knew what the word meant. And they were right. In fact I look back on my childhood with happy memories and being called out for being flamboyant was actually a tremendous gift. It forced me to take an honest look at myself at an early age because there was no hiding or denying it.
Watching Do I Sound Gay made me curious about the real life manifestation of masculinity since it’s a territory that I’m general unfamiliar with. While most people live somewhere in the middle of the spectrum there are those of us who tend to fall at the farther outer edges. I’ve heard arguments on both sides of the coin. Butch gays complain about guys who are overly effeminate and effeminate gays lament about the overly butch. The funny thing is that the complaints are usually the same from both sides. Each group is so far at opposite ends of the spectrum that they have trouble understanding why the other side is so extreme. They say things like, “No one is really that butch/effeminate. They’re just acting that way for attention.” Personally I don’t think it’s a conscious act but rather a natural reaction to life’s hurdles.
During our adolescence and teenage years it’s difficult to figure out who we are when we feel inherently different from everyone around us. As puberty hormones take over we’re filled with a swirl of constantly changing emotions that only clouds our view. We have no idea who we want to be so many of us start to form our identities based on who we don’t want to be. For me that meant valuing my gayness because I didn’t want to be like the butch jocks that always made fun of me. Conversely guys who were uncomfortable or afraid of being gay might have gone running toward hyper masculinity as an escape from themselves. I took a moment to think about all my friends who are very masculine and I had a sudden realization that of all the gay men I know the butchest ones were all married to women in their past. It suddenly made sense to me that the most masculine guys were once married because at some point they tried and succeeded at hiding who they were. They were running away from homosexuality the way I was running away from masculinity and I had a sudden understanding for their struggle.
What I learned was that none of us are perfect and we shouldn’t judge others too harshly because in most cases we’re just as guilty as they are. There’s nothing wrong with being masculine or effeminate as long as you are being authentic. My boyfriend Russ is a good example of someone who is authentically masculine. He’s played sports his entire life and when we met he even drove a pickup truck. He looks and sounds like the picture of masculinity until the Wicked soundtrack comes on. If he hears Defying Gravity on the radio watch out because he knows every word and he’s going to sing it out loud. On my part I’ve also tried to broaden my horizons and no be so one sided. While I’m not good at playing sports I’ve found enjoyment in watching them from the stands. I guess that’s my biggest advice you can take away from this post. Whether you fall on the butch side or feminine side of the fence don’t be afraid of the opposite side. If you’re masculine don’t be afraid to let loose and queen out every once and a while. For my fellow effeminate brothers I challenge you to not be so stereotypically angry toward sports or outdoor activities. Be original because you’re bitchy Facebook post making fun of sports is a tired and warn out joke. When we close ourselves off to a whole side of life for no reason we end up only hurting ourselves in the long run. Strive to be who you want to be not who you don’t want to be.