When it comes to minority politics, almost every group has a parodied stereotype that the majority group uses to propagate a negative image. For African-Americans, it’s someone who acts “ghetto”; for feminists, it is the angry “man-hater”; and for the gay people, it is the limp-wristed, “flamboyant” gay man.
In the past few decades, the gay community has transformed from a closeted counterculture into a recognized minority population. This evolution has allowed the less evident gay men to feel comfortable enough to emerge from the shadows and live openly, or at least more openly, as gay people. Today, the visible gay man includes men who play sports, drink beer and are referred to by straight people as “gay, but not so flamboyant.” While this is a victory for the gay movement as a whole, it has led to a new type of discrimination within the gay community that fuels homophobia.
The flamboyant, the cliché, the stereotypical — otherwise known as the kind of men who didn’t have the luxury of staying in the closet because their gayness was just too big to contain. For years, these were the only types of gay men that mainstream society knew. Back then, closeted men openly ridiculed their peers while enjoying their gay sex on the side. But with all the social changes that we’ve been fortunate to experience, the ridicule remains, except now the formerly closeted men will often identify as “real” gay men who refuse to be lumped in with those loquacious, “flamboyant” queens.
I was recently asked to speak at a women’s rights symposium on how gay men are affected by anti-feminist beliefs. The discussion touched on how feminine gay men are often discriminated against within the gay community in the same way they are in mainstream society, and how the feminist movement is just as important to the so-called flamboyant boys as it is to women as a whole. The focus was on how a gay man, no matter how girly he may be, should never have to compromise or apologize for his character.
During our conversation, a young African-American lesbian asked me how to speak to a young “flamboyant” boy about how the “real world” will view him. She said that although there isn’t anything wrong with the way a feminine boy acts, he will run into difficulties when looking for jobs, going to school, and more. She wanted to know how to teach these young men to prepare for adversity — and possibly tone themselves down.
I was puzzled. As someone who couldn’t ever hide my bright pink slant, I knew there’s nothing you could say to a young gay child that would help him change his behavior. If so, I would have walked and talked like Rambo since the age of 12.
So I told the young woman that I didn’t know the right answer to her question and that I needed her help. I asked her what she would say to a young black girl to help her understand that some people may treat her differently because of her skin color or her gender. I asked her how she would balance affirming a young woman for who she is while preparing her for the reality of the world.
She replied that it was not the same because, unlike a flamboyant boy, a young black girl cannot hide her skin color or her sex. She said these young gay men can change their behavior in order to be better received by others outside of the gay community.
It is then that I finally understood what she meant. She wasn’t speaking about feminine boys who are labeled as flamboyant because of their voice, the way they walk and how they move their body; she was talking about popular gay culture. The drag queens and nelly boy culture of “hey girl,” and “queen, please,” that so many people, both gay and straight, use to dismiss gay people as trite and ridiculous. What she said was “flamboyant,” but what she meant was acting like a Lady Gaga impersonator at the grocery store or “sissying” that walk in the office.
What she was really asking me was how to teach a young boy to be professional when maneuvering through different populations. Yes, it is possible for a gay man to “flame out” with his gay friends and still function in corporate America.
As gay men (or any minority, for that matter) we learn when to act professional when navigating through different social circles and circumstances and when to let our hair down, figuratively and sometimes literally speaking.
But to speak about the more feminine gay demeanor as merely a flamboyant put-on that the lesser of gay men encompass is both homophobic and clueless. You may be born homosexual, but gay behavior comes from both nature and nurture.
There is no such thing as being “too gay,” “too black,” or too anything deemed a minority stereotype, because it comes from a place of authenticity and should be seen as a symbol of how culture can survive and thrive under the weight of oppression. No matter how butch or femme, gay men, lesbians, bisexuals, and transgender people should not allow anyone to criticize an LGBT person for being “too much” L, G, B, or T. Isn’t that what we’re really fighting for — the right to truly be ourselves? So why hide ourselves, or condemn others for doing so when it doesn’t hurt anyone?
It is a sign of growth that less obvious types of gay men are now comfortable enough to live out loud, but not if it is at the expense of the girly boys being silenced again. You can go back to the tacky closet you came from.
TYLER CURRY is the senior editor of HIV Equal, a comprehensive online publication dedicated to promoting HIV awareness and combating HIV stigma. To learn more about HIV Equal, visit HIVequal.org or follow Tyler Curry on Facebook or Twitter @iamtylercurry.