Musings on Life for the Queerly Inclined

Archive for January, 2013

He Didn’t Just Objectify Me, Did He? – Gay Men and Misogyny

Heads up, everyone: this is an angry post and it’s a hurt post.  If you aren’t up for dealing with that right now, this is your chance to exit.  That being said, I wanna address an issue that is incredibly important to discuss, yet gets written off as no big deal: misogyny in the queer community, specifically on the part of gay men.  I’ve been thinking and talking about this a lot recently and have gotten mixed responses.  Mostly, the gay guys I’ve talked to are totally unaware of this problem and don’t see how their own behavior fits these patterns.  Ugh.  Women…eh, reactions range from “OMG I KNOW I HAVE SO MANY STORIES JUST LIKE THAT” to “Are you kidding me?  There’s no way it could be that bad.  They’re gay–it’s not like that.”

Oh but it is like that.

[TW: body policing, casual misogyny, and sexual harassment/unwanted touching]

Groping and commenting on others’ bodies (unsolicited, without consent) is a huge problem, regardless of whether you claim to be sexually attracted to that type of body or not.  This happens especially in the case of gay men feeling entitled to women’s bodies.  In a society in which gay men are stereotyped as feminine, they’re both damned for that (“good men are masculine”) and celebrated as experts on femininity.  Since women are supposed to be feminine (cuz we all gotta be gender-conforming, amiright??), gay men are presented as having authority over how women should dress, act, modify our bodies, etc.  Think of the gay bff or fashionista stereotypes.*

What does this mean?

Body policing.  Comments that are not only unwanted, but are potentially incredibly harmful to our body images, self esteem, and mental health.  Touches that, if initiated by straight men, would immediately be identified as sexual harassment.  A lot of misogyny.

Not Sure I’m Following You…

I’m not gonna go into a whole spiel about how and why this happens, trying to convince you that it’s a problem.  If you’re confused or not familiar with this subject, I suggest you check out two articles:

  • Gay Men’s Sexism and Women’s Bodies” by Yolo Akili – posted last November on The Good Men Project.  I was so excited to find this.  He explains the problem well and I’m always relieved to find folks in privileged positions doing a good job educating our own.  Writing as a queer man of color, he also touches upon the added oppressive dynamic of white men feeling entitled in any way to the bodies of women of color.
  • “Why Do Gay Men Keep Touching My Boobs: The Autostraddle Mini-Roundtable” – Autostraddle writers pick up where Akili left off.  This actually turned into an incredibly interesting (and, it seemed, healing) conversation on Autostraddle.

I’m so glad to see other people discussing the problem of gay men’s sexism prominently and to find shared experiences with other queer women (see: Autostraddle’s comment section, which is mostly devoid of derailing BS posts).  Honestly, it’s something I face a lot, and I’m not always around people who get what I’m talking about.

So…What are you talking about?

  • “You need more makeup.  Here, let me do it.”  DID I ASK YOU TO GRAB MY FACE?  FUCK NO.

  • “Why are you wearing makeup?  You don’t need that.”  Umm HELLO NOT DOING IT FOR YOUR APPROVAL.  I wear makeup for myself, regardless of when you think it’s appropriate.
  • So many anti-vulva/vagina comments.  Vaginas don’t have to be your thing, but disparaging remarks are not needed.  Bodies with vaginas aren’t inherently disgusting, thank you very much, nor are we desperate for your approval.

    Gabby from Autostraddle
    : “The comments are always quintessentially linked to what my/our vaginas might smell or look like. (Sidenote- if you don’t eat it, devour it, lick it off your fingertips, then don’t even for a second make a comment on that shit. Maybe if you did then you’d have the right to say something.  Maybe then you’d describe it as tasting like fresh cantaloupe or smelling like every good secret reason you’ve been late to class this week…)”
  • “I’m totally gay, but it is kinda nice to put your penis in one [a vagina].”  Wow, thanks for reducing bodies with vaginas to just vaginas…or, as they’ll now be known: NPRs (nice penis receptacles).  Note: being told this as a queer cis woman was exceedingly awkward, among other things, because he said it as though I should be grateful that someone was–in the same sentence–telling me he was totally not attracted to me, but that my body was good for something anyway.  Great.
  • Frequent comments against queer women, especially lesbian women. “I used to be beautiful, but now I look like a lesbian!”  Note: gay men seem shocked when I call these remarks out; I’m not really sure why.  Is it because they’re reading me as straight and are surprised that I care about queer women?  Is it because they think women–femme women particularly?–are passive and won’t cross them?  Are they totally oblivious to everything?

  • At a former job, a supervisor and a coworker–both gay men–speculated loudly about what my pubic hair looks like and whether or not I trim it.  They were standing right in front of me.  They laughed.  I didn’t say anything because I was so taken aback that I didn’t have a clue what to say.  Just be cool, otherwise they’ll think I’m super uptight.  Remember, they’re gay men so they don’t really mean it in a sexual way so it’s totally fine, right???  

  • All of the comments about my boobs.  All of the comments.  I have very large breasts and gay men (among others) tell me this frequently–in varying amounts of detail–as though I didn’t know.  Thankfully, there’s usually no attempted touching, perhaps because I give off a “touch me and I’ll break your fingers” vibe.
  • Calling me babe.  At work.  The first time they meet me.  When I’ve made it clear I don’t respond to that word.  I’ll be the first to admit that I’m definitely into affectionate nicknames.  But unless we have a rapport in which we’ve established that that’s okay, just stick to my name.  For the record: babe is never okay for me.

  • A (queer guy) ex would play with my boobs in this really negatively objectifying way, like they were toys that weren’t actually connected to my body, like I didn’t have so many feelings connected to them (emotionally as well as physically).  I never found a way to tell him how much this bothered me, cuz ya know I was obviously being irrational, right?  He couldn’t be objectifying me, I mean we’re both queer and he was my intimate partner and HOLY SHIT SO MUCH BULLSHIT.
  • Calling people bitches all the time.  As a term of endearment.  As a put-down.  Just stop, okay?  Just because you’re gay doesn’t make it magically okay for you to refer to your friends/your coworkers/your cats as “all my bitchez.”  Did you miss the chapter about that actually being (potentially) really offensive, reductive, and hurtful?  See also: don’t fucking try to reclaim slurs that aren’t yours to reclaim!

What to do?

Regardless of your sexual orientation and gender identity, check yourself!  Where do you fit in these examples?  Have you experienced or witnessed any of them?  Do you perpetrate them?  Gay men: as individuals, many of you are marvelous and dear to me.  But as a group, do not assume you and I will be best friends, simply because we’re both feminine or because you’re gay.  As you might imagine (after reading all this), I’m pretty fucking wary of you.  That doesn’t mean I will bite your heads off immediately; it means I will be guarded around you until you demonstrate that you have your shit together and are aware of yourself and the space you take up.  Check yourselves and check your friends.  Deal?

* Obviously not all gay men are feminine or into fashion.  Yes, those are stereotypes and yes, stereotypes are confining and need to be broken down.  That’s another (related) conversation.  If you post comments about being a gay man who’s not obsessed with fashion, you might be completely truthful, but you’re not being helpful.  You’re derailing the conversation.  You don’t suddenly become not oppressive just because you break stereotypes.

** I clearly wrote this from my perspective as a femme queer woman.  I can’t speak for masculine-of-center women and non-binary folks, but my perception is that there’s a different sort of bullshit that goes down there, more in the vein of “why would you be a woman (or a person ever perceived to be a woman) and be masculine?  You’re wasting your femininity (cuz women are inherently feminine, right??).”  Ughhh so many problems.  I have all of the love for butches, masc-of-center, and gender non-conforming folks.  Y’all are beautiful, handsome, and endlessly snazzy.  Here is my adorable face, just for you:

Femmespiration and Femme Wins

This is the post full of femme awesomeness.  Y’all may have noticed that this is a recurring theme, but here’s where it takes center stage.  Why?  Because I have spent way too much time in queer communities and spaces that were/are riddled with femmephobia–in which I was made to feel really insecure about my gender presentation, or felt compelled to dress down all the time to avoid attention, or was constantly told (implicitly and explicitly) that femme was pretty much worthless and if I truly wanted to fight the patriarchy I’d present myself in a masculine way.  Ughhh so much BS.  (Need further explanation?  See: 87% of this blog.)  As a way of retroactively counteracting some of this negativity, I’ve decided to make a list of femme-positive moments.  Most are directly from my life; some I’ve observed.

Note: this is not a checklist of things required in order to ID as femme, nor is it a list of things that all femmes relate to, nor is it my entire conception of femme.  It’s a scattered collection of fun moments that I associate with femme or that exemplify how I do femme.  So, here goes…

  • Seeing other femmes out and about and smiling at one another.  Especially when we’re both reading queer theory on the train.
  • Nail polish with huge chunks of glitter in it.  I like to call this “don’t fuck with me” glitter.
  • Heels: some haters pity me for my apparent lack of awareness that I’m wearing tools of the patriarchy on my feet.  Fuck that~~if I’m in 3″ heels, I walk taller and you’ll be able to hear me coming from down the street.  Heels are powerful.
  • Enormous purses: why yes, I do carry a huge ass Mary Poppins bag at all times.  Laugh all you want, but when you need water, band-aids, medicine, tissues, pens, gum, hand sanitizer, sunblock, gloves (the wool kind or the latex kind), lotion, a bottle opener, books, etc., you know I’ll have them.
  • Realizing that that plum eye shadow really does compliment the gold eye shadow and accentuate your eyes perfectly.
  • Fuchsia lip gloss: I maintain that this is the key to improving any day.
  • Magical jacket: it’s sheer, translucent, green, blue, leopard-print, and chunky zippered all at once.  I know this sounds like an impossible combination, but it’s actually the best thing ever.

Magical jacket
(Oh yes, this is my face.  It’s been a while~~hello.)

  • As a femme cis woman: breaking stereotypes of what queer women are “supposed to look like.”
  • Glitter.  Did y’all here that?  GLITTER.  This is basically my life motto:

(source)

  • Rejecting the notion of “high maintenance.”  I hear this thrown around all the time as a criticism of femme folks.  Femininity is deemed superfluous and superficial; by extension, femmes are viewed as super demanding/unreasonable if we spend a lot of time/energy on our physical appearance.  Fuck that.  If I spend over an hour sitting in front of a mirror doing the most elaborate makeup for a party, I don’t need your approval.  If I bring a bigger suitcase than you because I needed to pack bunches of scarves and shoes (while you brought a pair of jeans and two extra shirts), my choices and opinions aren’t magically less valid.  I just intend to wear different fabulous outfits every day, while spewing my still informed, intelligent, valid opinions.  You’ll look fierce in your jeans and tees; I’ll look fierce in a never-ending series of fabulous shoes. 

(source)

  • Re-imagining femininity on our own terms: defined by our own values and desires, not the kyriarchy.  Resisting the pressure to be white (or at least light-skinned),  slim and also hourglass-shaped, able in all ways at all times, passive/quiet/unopinionated, dressed in ways that require large budgets, etc.  I love seeing and hearing about how other femme folks navigate these pressures and still look and feel fly.
  • Huge flowers: in our hair, pinned on our clothes/bags/shoes, on jewelry, painted on our nails, painted on our faces, etc.
  • Poofy skirts.  They’re the best.  Pencil skirts are the other best, as are huge bell-bottom jeans.  Cozy sweatpants are the other other best.
  • Sequins.  ‘Nuff said.
  • Coincidental fabulousness: that time when my shirt, lingerie, and phone case were all leopard-print, and I didn’t even notice til I was almost out the door.
  • Not being forced into or ashamed of femininity–(re)learning that it can be awesome/fabulous/wonderful/powerful/sharp/full of pizazz.
  • These shoes:

photo_7

  • The story behind that picture: taken on the last day of Femme Con 2012.  I was talking to a new femme friend (and recent Seven Sisters grad~~woot woot!) when suddenly this dapper person races across the lobby to us with a camera, pointing excitedly at our feet. “Can I take a photo of your shoes??”  We looked down.  I was wearing the peep-toe wedges; she’s got the combat boots.  They’re upholstered in exactly the same fabric.  We had no idea.  By this point, we’d been in a workshop together and had been standing next to one another for about ten minutes, never realizing that we were wearing matching shoes.  *Commence OMG squeals*
  • Later realization: that was the first time I’d experienced a masculine-of-center person making a beeline for femmes to compliment our style, rather than the other way around.  Perhaps this seems insignificant or surprising to you, but for me, it was definitely a wow moment of “oh yeah, my gender presentation is valued and appreciated by people besides myself.”
  • Shared experiences: connecting with other femmes and finding words for things you didn’t realize you were struggling with, so now you have a name for that thing that makes you so mad/frustrated/confused/joyful that you weren’t able to articulate before or were afraid no one else would understand.
  • These shoes:

Glitter heels

I own these shoes.  Bonus: I just finished a show for which I wore them every Thurs-Sun for a month.  Holla.

  • Huge shout-out to all the femmes of color!  Y’all are so gorgeous and your styles so fierce and your words so inspiring.  I say this not because I think you need my validation, but because I know that in some queer spaces, femme is most readily visible on white bodies.  In white-dominated queer spaces, we (white folks) often overlook QPOCs and marginalize your experiences.  I’m sorry.  I try my best to recognize when this happens/might happen and to do something proactive about it.  Always a work in progress, but I’m striving to be your ally.
  • Fascinators: Kate Middleton isn’t the only one rocking them; that’s all I’m saying.
  • Femme flagging: y’all get so creative!  I’m impressed.  Femme folks are going all out with strategically pinned flowers, jewelry, handkerchiefs in hair and on shoes/belts/wrists, and oh my god the nail polish.
  • Metal spikes and studs on clothing/shoes: rock on with your tough selves!
  • Cupcakes: baking them, eating them, cupcakes as patterns on cloth, looking like a cupcake personified~~it’s all good.
  • Shout-out to femmes of differing abilities and body shapes/sizes!  Obviously our heteronormative society has a certain set of beauty standards.  Beyond this, queer communities have developed standards of beauty/attractiveness that often perpetuate the same oppressive norms that we’re theoretically fighting.  Fuck all that.  This goes back to my point about defining femininity for ourselves, on our own terms.  Seeing people do this–however they’re doing it–is inspiring and beautiful.
  • Politicizing rhinestoned corsets
  • Mixing colors/patterns and not being afraid of being over the top.  As we learned from To Wong Foo, Thanks for Everything! Julie Newmar 

Larger than life is just the right size!

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