As the mainstream image of what a gay man 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. Society now understands that gay men can be just like the rest of mainstream society as our rainbow fades to more pastel. Our community has a new cast of gay heroes, putting our most chiseled, scruffy-jawline face forward for everyone to see. With gays represented by movie stars like Wentworth Miller and 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 the gay culture, although it might not come in the form of bulging muscles and bass voices.
Unlike their masculine counterparts, effeminate gay men don’t have the luxury of hiding behind a butch facade until they are comfortable with coming out of the closet. You know the type. They can learn the choreography to the latest pop song faster than you can learn the lyrics. In high school, they had to make a beeline to their car the minute the bell rang to avoid the worn-out name-calling, bullying, or even violence. The Bedazzler was, is, and always will be their best childhood friend. Yes, these queeny gays maybe were born with a serious masculinity deficiency, but that is exactly what makes them the epitome of strength.
As someone who has always straddled the line of 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; I had a muscular build and a sort of all-American, generic white boy appeal. That was, of course, until I opened my mouth. I sounded more like a chipmunk with a lisp than the boy who just made the game-winning play on the soccer field. Eventually, it was the only thing people noticed.
Even after I accepted my sexuality, I struggled with my femininity. I spent hours in the gym, building my body and trying to emulate the idea of what men 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. This 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 the paramount strength for all men to strive for, then gay men by definition will always be lesser than their hetero counterparts. As gay men, we know that there isn’t one definition of what man is defined by. Hell, we are living proof. So to discount or stifle any feminine characteristics that we have is a slap in the face to our own culture and an admission to others that there is something to suppress. The gay men who can’t help but radiate glitter from every orifice are the ones who propelled gay rights into the mainstream. As we get closer to becoming more integrated with heterosexual people, it is important that we do not allow any segment of our own pool 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 men are equal to the darkest of skin color, while the men who can most closely assimilate to mainstream culture share the same privileges equal to the fairest of black skin. This is a construct that is placed on both groups by a segment of society that demands we be most like “them.” Those who exist furthest from their litmus test of worth garner the least of the ruling party’s love. As proud gay men, we should demand within our own community that the measure of femininity 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 into the norm, you are the true heroes of the gay movement. It is to these men that we owe the freedom to be the exact type of gay men 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 boy as I need to be and as much girl as I want. That is strength.