Wednesday, January 18, 2012

What Does It Mean To Be "Too Gay"?

Not too infrequently I hear someone complain that another person is “too gay.” They have no problem with gay people, they are sure to emphasize, but they get annoyed by those that are “too flamboyant” and act like stereotypes of a gay person. Just because you’re gay, doesn’t mean you have to act like that, they argue. On the surface, these arguments may sound somewhat reasonable.

But what they are really saying is that, while they don’t mind what people do in the privacy of their bedrooms, they do have a problem with people transgressing gender norms. For example, I have heard people say that they prefer when gay people act “normal.” They cloak this preference in altruism by insisting that they just want gay people to seem like any other average person, rather than stand out as social deviants. But this line of thought rests on the assumption that “normality” should be measured by adherence to gender stereotypes.

I think that, deep down, what really bothers people about “flamboyant” gays, is that they turn our binary system of gender on its head. People are okay with men sleeping with other men (although being gay is about much more than sex), but they are not comfortable with men talking, walking, sitting, laughing, dressing, or expressing themselves in ways deemed “feminine.” The real telling thing is, people don’t seem to get quite as agitated by lesbians acting "too lesbian" or masculine. They don’t seem to have the same concern about lesbians appearing “normal.” And this is the sign that gender roles are at stake. For, it is always perceived as more shocking and abhorrent when members of a dominant group act like subordinates, than when the oppressed mimic their oppressors. The latter is seen as the natural aspiration of an underclass. Which is why there is greater stigma on men taking female roles than the reverse.

It is just as silly to dislike someone because they are “flamboyant” as it is to dislike a person because they are gay. Why not make judgments based on common interests and views, sense of humor, and character?

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