Steven Cheslik-DeMeyer

The Rise of the Straight-Acting Man

Filed By Steven Cheslik-DeMeyer | December 05, 2010 5:30 PM | comments

Filed in: Media
Tags: Guardian, Kevin Troughton, masculinity, straight-acting man

Kevin Troughton, in an essay in Tuesday's Guardian,288.jpg declares that effeminacy in gay men, a sad vestige of our oppressed past, is on its way out. Sighting a pathetic stereotype of a queen in his provincial gay bar prompts a bit of grand theorizing on masculine and feminine behavior in homosexual men with the conclusion that "'[m]asculine' gay men are in the ascendancy."

Troughton lays out a sweeping hypothesis which rests totally on the (unstated, unquestioned) assumption that there is a natural state of man, which is essentially masculine -- a word he does not define -- and that, left alone, we will return to it. Feminine men are aberrations.

Troughton's problem is a poverty of imagination. He suffers from the white, middle-class disease: a tendency to assume that what is true of me is true of everyone. Instead of recognizing that there are many ways of being heterosexual and many ways of being homosexual, he tries to make a case that effeminacy in men is a twisted artifact of more fearful times, that men are normally masculine, and that "camp" (that is, feminine) behavior will disappear as we are all folded into one homogenous mainstream:

It occurs to me, suddenly, that there seem to be fewer of these very feminine types around these days. Most of the gay men I know or see around me aren't camp at all: you wouldn't pick them out as gay at work, in the supermarket, or even at the hairdressers. A small city like mine, where the gay scene amounts to one bar and a men-only ballroom dancing class, is perhaps not the place for flamboyancy to flourish. But this is fairly typical middle England, the sort of place where millions live, and it has become pretty much a camp-free zone.

I don't know what he's comparing to what here. Yes, maybe there aren't many limp-wristed queens in his provincial gay bar these days. But there didn't even used to be gay bars in small cities. I suspect he's right that, in general, there are more regular Joe-types in gay bars now, what with the whole bear thing. Guy guys feel more at home in a simulacrum of a sports bar than they would have felt in the kitschy gay watering holes of yore (though, I don't know, I've encountered plenty of big sissies in flannel shirts at "bear bars"). But here's a thought: you used to see more effeminate men in gay bars because they were the brave ones, the ones who couldn't hide it. "Straight-acting" homosexuals, the ones who could pass, stayed in their small-town closets, married women, and found others like themselves not in bars but in truck stops and park bathrooms.

What's changed of course is that homosexuality is becoming less stigmatized -- and the least stigmatized if you are stereotypically masculine. So now Troughton and all his straight-acting homos feel safe hanging out in gay bars where they can frown and tsk and pity the poor queen at the end of the bar who doesn't know she's living in the past, that it's okay to lower her voice now and spit and say "bro," grow some facial hair and wear a baseball cap because that's what natural men do.

Troughton's statement that effeminacy is a "relic of a time when gay men risked prosecution and when a lisp and a limp wrist were a relatively safe way of communicating your sexuality to other men" is the silliest thing I've ever read (and I've read a lot of bullshit written by reactionary homosexuals lately). Since when was it safe to be a mincing queen? Since when would the kind of flaming queen he describes ("[i]ndulge your most extreme stereotype of the effeminate gay man, and you won't be far off") fly under the radar of straight people?

Troughton might want to take an anthropology class. There have always been masculine and feminine men, in societies with and without oppression of sexual minorities. And the fetishizing of straight or straight-appearing men in gay circles has a long history. What's new is that the regular guy-types are more comfortable being visible in these more tolerant times. But some men are just girly and can't help it.

In modern cities, they congregated (along with straight-acting men who enjoyed their company) in bars I would guess for the same reasons anyone congregates in bars: conversation, companionship, laughter, music, the chance of a sexual connection. That's why the bars used to be full of lisping faggots. Not because the bars were safe. If they had been safe, all those you'd-never-guess-I'm-gay homos would have been there, too, instead of cowering behind their wives or hovering over a glory hole.

I'm sick to tears of this new timid homosexual which Troughton represents, afraid of diversity, afraid of femininity, afraid of their own difference, afraid of their own shadows. Coming out used to be bold and terrifying, not for the faint-hearted. Evidently, it doesn't take as much guts as it used to.

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I'm with you on this, Steven: (a) Troughton doesn't know what he's talking about if he thinks male femininity is caused by homophobic oppression, and (b) "Straight-acting" gay men are not on the ascendancy -- they are just finding it easier and easier to come out, as the benefits of coming out increase and the social penalties decrease.

Does "straight-acting" include what a guy does in bed? ... I'll bet a lot of those new "straight-acting" guys who enjoy looking down at effeminate twinkies also enjoy lifting their legs in the air, and if you do a poll of the guys hanging around in the bar, you'll find that the raito of tops to bottoms hasn't changed that much.

A world without sissies is like a day without sunshine? That's where so much of the creativity and brilliance in the gay community springs from. :-(

I saw that column earlier this week. Yeah.

I loved the parts about how femmy gay guys can't get laid. Yes, hook up sites are filled with profiles that say "masculine only," but some of my best friends are femmy gay guys. They get laid a lot. It doesn't seem to matter when they actually meet people, it's just the label that's maligned.

So the author has a reason to worry: they're still reproducing.

Yes, the author doesn't see many queens in his small city because such places are still pretty unfriendly to queens (as evinced by his own, unprocessed internalized homophobia). So the queens have done what they have always done: lit out to the big city, where there are kindred spirits.

Haters got to hate, I guess. But let them pass their self-loathing judgment. The only faces those frowns are putting wrinkles in are their own. The only tummies that disapproval is putting ulcers in is their own.

Masculine, butch, sissy, effeminate are all such vague, relative terms anyway. I certainly wouldn't self-identify as masculine, though I know guys who do identify that way that would raise some protests if one were to compare us side-by-side. But what should it even matter? Its so sad that people get caught up in this self-conscious merry-go-round.

There is no masculine, there is no effeminate. They're all lies. Insecure people make up these silly rules as they go along and there is no real reference point, no real rubric. Every insecure gay man that I've ever known thinks that every other gay man they've never met is less masculine than they are. But when they meet other gay men, they're shocked that they're not cartoons, and say things like "I like you. You're not like other gay guys, you're not all flaming."

How DARE you!! I've been burning bright all night, and you haven't noticed??? I NEVER!

Its all hogwash. I don't understand why we all need so many BOXES for everybody? What are we moving? I mean, it is the holidays, but please!

gregorybrown | December 6, 2010 11:39 AM

Troughton's writing like a big fish in a small fishbowl, and spinning his own fantasies into Truths. The world--the queer world and the others--would be poorer if everybody stomped around acting like some yobbo. fortunately, some gays ARE yobbos and some are Fabuloso and most are something expressive of who they want to be. Eschew the drabness of Straight Acting only.

And what are the implications for "gay acting"--that is, soft voiced, gentle, expressive--het men, who like books and cats and treat women decently and like to dress well and dance like squids?

Great read! It is all too important to let centrisism (sic?)slip by without calling it for what it is; another form of bigotry all too many of us find it so easy to convince ourselves that our way (belief, hopes, fears, use what ever descriptor you want here) is THE only way. WASP as an acronym may cover some of our crowd, but by no means all!

In fact, when you get right down to it -- a centric position is usually responsible for much of the hatered and strife we see going on. The T-Bagger is positive he is right, while the conservative is sure he is. The Muslim assumes authority, the Christian believes he has it, and the Jew is confident in his beliefs.

There is absolutely (!) nothing wrong with an effeminate male, or a masculine female, or a gender queer, intersexed, trans-whatever! Don't assume we all have to fit in some hypobinary system.

jill.gaulding | December 6, 2010 3:49 PM

Yep, I recognize "the assumption that there is a natural state of man, which is essentially masculine" in Troughton's article. Equally offensive is the implication that masculinity (however defined) is preferred, and "camp" and "girly" are insults. I guess Troughton thinks gender hierarchy is natural too.

Thanks for this great response post and for pointing out what's too often forgotten.

Renee Thomas | December 6, 2010 5:07 PM

Good gawd Troughton you're your own worst enemy . . .

(besides-johnny weir, chris crocker, Emo......)

You trashed the original article without bothering to either read or comprehend what the man was saying, and shame on you for so doing.

He presented a fairly sympathetic and thought-provoking read, and because it clashed with your activist orthodoxy, you trashed it—which more or less totaly destroys your credibility.

Spelling destroys yours.

Actually, I thought this was a fairly lazy-written article for the guardian. Little research was done. He cites speech therapist studies into "lisps," but actually that's wrong. The studies are on "sibilant" consonants, a lisp is very different, and isn't something typically only associated with gays (although its common for the uneducated to mistakenly label a "sibilant s" a lisp.

The article is lazy, and lazier still is the bias behind it.

Camp isn't just effeminate, it's also ironic.

Men that pride themselves in being straight acting are dull, whether they're gay or straight. No sense of humour.

But here's a thought: you used to see more effeminate men in gay bars because they were the brave ones, the ones who couldn't hide it. "Straight-acting" homosexuals, the ones who could pass, stayed in their small-town closets, married women, and found others like themselves not in bars but in truck stops and park bathrooms.

Amen, brother.