From time to time, I get into a discussion that goes more or less along the following lines: there’s pressure on straight men to be masculine, and there’s pressure on queer men to be feminine, and both are equally bad. Or: some queer men will reject you for being too femme, and others will reject you for being too butch. Or: you are just feminine because it’s expected of you as a queer man; you’re just conforming to the stereotype and either putting on a show for the straight people or trying to impress other queers.
Not to be too blunt about it, but I’m always forced to wonder which planet these people grew up on. Where in heaven’s name is this mythical pressure on any (cissexual) man to be feminine? Where have they ever seen it? What evidence or experience can they possibly point at to back up what they’re saying? Who do they imagine I am impressing by being this way?
Let me tell you what pressure I had in my life to be femme, either before or after I came out: none.
Quite the opposite. I have been encouraged, or expected, or coerced, one way or another, to be masculine throughout my life. All cissexual men are. The best I could hope for was a relief of the pressure in one circumstance or another – there is never a reversal.
And far from stopping after I came out, let alone reversing itself, the pressure to be masculine as a gay man has been particularly acute. It began with the additional scrutiny of my gender presentation that my dad brought to bear after I came out. Heaven forfend I should carry an umbrella crooked over my arm, or get my ears pierced (which led to the supremely uncomfortable conversation opener, “I think that we should talk about how this will make people perceive you, as a homosexual…”)
But it’s in our community too. God, is it ever. Anyone who’s ever waded through gay personals ads and the barrage of “no fats, femmes, or druggies” – “seeking masculine man only” – and on and on, with no countervailing “no butches”, “seeking effeminate men only” – or listened to the conversation in certain bars, where discussions of femme men or any particular femme man reach levels of vocabulary otherwise heard on the subject chiefly in army bases or Bible camp – or heard the petulant rants about how effeminate gay men project a “bad image of our community” or “reinforce the stereotype” – can’t help but snort derisively (but demurely) at the idea that there’s some sort of squadron of Femme Troopers stomping on any queer man with the misfortune to like monster trucks.
This is something fairly frequent, actually. Very often in discussions of oppression, someone will posit some sort of equal and opposite oppression: “people of colour are just as racist against whites,” for example. This leads neatly to the idea that somehow the privileged class is the really oppressed group. (Or course it won’t be true, and it needn’t even be supported by anything. It need only flummox one’s interlocutor long enough to allow one to escape from the uncomfortable conversation.)
Or it might be a reflex on the part of someone who needs to believe in the myth of a just universe: sure the oppressed group is oppressed, but they must on some level deserve it, either because they attract the attention or because on some subtle level they oppress right back. Or it might simply be assumed to be the case as the basis of some “we’re all guilty, why can’t we just get along?” platitude, which unfortunately glosses over the very stark power imbalance in whatever situation is being discussed. Or the speaker might just be plug-ignorant of the situation – never far from possible.
In the topic at hand, a recent online discussion suggested an additional possibility. A commenter was suggesting the kind of equal-pressure-to-be-femme notion I’ve described. As the conversation continued, it became clear through his comments that he was confusing the stereotype that queer men are femme with a mythical pressure on queer men to be femme – mixing up “is” and “ought,” in other words.
Of course there’s a stereotype that all or most queer men are femme. It comes from the fact that for a man, to be femme and to be attracted to other men are both seen as gender transgressions, so they’re thought to have to accompany one another. There’s also confirmation bias: an average citizen who meets a femme queer man will take him as confirmation of the theory; non-femme queer men are invisible, and femme straight men are presumed not to exist. (Whether there are actually more femme men among queer men than the population in general, I have no way of knowing and will leave for another day.)
And I think some queer men make this basic mistake when they mistake an exterior stereotype that queer men are femme for a mythical enhanced preponderance or power of femme men in the queer community. And, alloyed with the reasons I’ve described above, the myth of the Femme Trooper becomes a paradoxical arrow in the anti-femme quiver, aimed at us by members of our own queer community.
Femme video of the week (rapidly turning into “Femme music video of the week” — these things happen): Calgary-born Vancouver artist Peter Breeze sets the screen on fire with his track “X-Rated Angel”, involving lots of queer hottitude, overpowering femme magnetism, extreme eye makeup, and capes. Good grief.