Misogyny as the language of homophobia

When I was a college professor one of the only writing assignments I gave to my Dance Appreciation classes was the following: Write a two-page paper explaining how your major is connected to dance, and also why taking my class was not a waste of your time. Something that I wanted to drive home to my students was that everything in this life is connected. Everything. I can show you dance, but only you can show appreciation for how it benefits or enhances your world. That was my students’ task, and the life lesson I wanted them to take from me: There is no such reality as “useless information.”

With that in mind I want to look briefly at one of the ways in which gay men dismiss and abuse one another.

Before I begin, let me say that a short list of the people I love most and who most deeply inspire me or command my respect (in no particular order) includes my mother and grandmother, Janet Jackson, my dance partners and classmates, Jen, various queer performance artists and activists, and my cat. There are SO MANY others, of course, but I have a point to make here: Most, if not nearly all, of these beings I mentioned are women. I grew up, came of age, and became a trained dancer/choreographer in an almost exclusively female world. I love girls. I am very comfortable with them. I admire them very much. And so it is rather foreign to me that calling me names that feminize me should be insulting. The terms themselves aren’t nearly as infuriating as the intent behind them.

When gay men use she/her terms to each other in a friendly, joking, or coy manner, it is arch. It’s camp. It’s fun and funny. It illustrates the bond many gay men enjoy with their own fluid senses of gender and identity. When people use those same terms in a pejorative manner, however, something else comes into play. It is far too common a presumption that all that is not masculine must therefore be feminine, and (by extrapolation) unpleasant, dirty, stupid, or weak.

When gay men “diminish” me by calling me a queen, bitch, pussy, or diva (and when they use these terms in some kind of aggressive or dismissive tone), what they are doing is reinforcing the notion that since women are “obviously” less than men; and since gay men are “obviously” not masculine (and therefore feminine, and thus less than); and since gay men (who “must” be non-masculine) are thus “obviously” less than straight men, BECAUSE of a perceived “femininity;” then it is alright to treat other gay men with disdain (or conversely, to “reduce” gay men who have angered them by first making the target of their anger female), despite having the very attributes that are “repellent.”

What I want to say is this: Calling me names that turn me into a woman do not offend me. At all. Making comments that I am a “bitchy diva” or a “pussy, flaming queen” do not function. Although the people who use these terms against me (or any other man, gay or otherwise) may have scored some kind of point in their own minds, they haven’t really affected me. I love women. I don’t want to have sex with them, but turning me into one of them as a form of attack is a wasted effort.

Ultimately, the idea that “no one is free until everyone is free” is what is at stake here. And it’s true, since everything is affected by everything else. There is only one reality, and you can find (if you look closely enough) the degrees of non-separation between any departure and any destination. Issues of social equality are interconnected between women and the LGBT community. There are also many overlapping issues concerning race, age, health, and wealth. People who are marginalized can’t afford to invest in the idea that they will be empowered at the expense of another minority (or, in the case of women, disempowered majority). If you do not respect women, it is impossible to respect other gay men. Think on that.

And then consider why it is a false assertion to say “porn doesn’t matter.”

This we know to be true: The Earth does not belong to man, man belongs to the Earth. This we know: All things are connected, like the blood that unites one family. All things are connected.” – Chief Joseph

Author: Devon Hunter

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16 Comments

  1. Dare I say it? “You go gurl!” 🙂

    I really appreciate that you are shedding light on this important matter. I will NEVER understand why so many in the gay community like to eat their young. Whole. Trying to be gay where I live (and there are a LOT of gays here) is not so easy as I had expected it would be, not because of straights, but because of fellow gays who hold you at arm’s length and won’t welcome you into the community….

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  2. I think you hit the nail exactly on the head, Devon. The way some gay guys attack each other with feminizing “insults” has always reminded me of the way some straight guys fag-bait one another, and you’re right: it relies entirely on the speaker’s unspoken belief that there’s something wrong or lesser about being gay or a woman.

    (Historically, of course, it’s no surprise that mysogynist and homophobic language have such close ties. Most of the words use to disparage gay men originated as terms used to disparage women. Hugh Rawson provides an excellent analysis of many of these in his book Wicked Words).

    That the pissed-off codyites are resorting to such taunts can of course be no real surprise. It just shows, again, that in their mind, there’s something wrong with being perceived as gay, and it’s the same something wrong that lots of straight homophobes focus on: the gay man as a gender traitor, the gay man as less than a man. Typical and unsurprising, yes, but still very sad. It must be awful to hate a part of yourself as fervently as they seem to.

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  3. .

    .

    .

    Ladies and gentlemen, for those lurkers who need to be edified . . . THAT is what MANHOOD looks like. Stunning, beautiful manhood.

    Learn it.

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  4. @Devon

    “When gay men use she/her terms to each other in a friendly, joking, or coy manner, it is arch. It’s camp. It’s fun and funny. It illustrates the bond many gay men enjoy with their own fluid senses of gender and identity. ”

    I’m afraid I can’t agree. I’m well aware of my feminine side, but still I’m not a woman, so I don’t see why she/her terms are appropriate. Even as a joke, they negate gay men’s masculinity. And it can’t be a good thing when many homophobes still focus on the notion of “the gay man as less than a man”. You effectively agree with them!

    I also believe that gay men’s “fluid senses of gender and identity” are fluid partly because of homophobia. They don’t feel loved and accepted by straight men, so they feel less comfortable with the “he” identity. I wonder how the fact that you grew up “in an almost exclusively female world” affected your gender identity.

    “When people use those same terms in a pejorative manner, however, something else comes into play. It is far too common a presumption that all that is not masculine must therefore be feminine, and (by extrapolation) unpleasant, dirty, stupid, or weak.”

    Again, I can’t agree. When these terms are used in a positive manner, they invoke positive aspects of femininity. When the same terms are used in a pejorative manner, they invoke negative aspects of femininity. It doesn’t necessarily imply that femininity is universally negative, inferior, “less than”, etc.

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  5. Eugene: I’m not a woman either 🙂 I’m just not afraid of being “turned into one.” But I definitely see your point: There are people in the black community who make the same argument (to good effect) about racial slurs that are “owned” by black people. It’s one of those precarious balances, isn’t it? On the one hand you risk reinforcing inequality, but on the other hand inaction is inertia. When you encounter misogyny/homophobia, how do you treat it? How do you express your gay masculinity when it is undermined in this way?

    Also: You do make a good point about the negative aspects of femininity being evoked, but when a straight man calls another man a “pussy,” he is (in my mind) speaking to weakness, not jealousy or manipulation. Or do you disagree?

    I am curious as to what place(s) is the exception where women are not treated as less than men, either presently and/or historically?

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  6. The thing is, you easily go from “there’s nothing wrong with being a woman” (which is, of course, true) to “there’s nothing wrong with calling a man a woman” (which doesn’t seem true to me). As I already said, the latter negates your masculinity, and it’s something that, in my opinion, you should dislike. At best, I’m 40% feminine, so the word “she” simply isn’t appropriate. When a pizza contains 40% of cheese, do you call it ‘cheese’ or ‘pizza’? 🙂 I also wonder how many masculine gay guys are reluctant to come out because of the gay community’s fixation on “fluid senses of gender and identity”.

    Even more importantly, straight men have a feminine side too (for example, even on the anatomical level, all men have nipples 🙂 ). That’s why the dichotomy between gay men (“she”) and straight men (“he”) is false and counter-productive.

    And, yes, I was thinking about analogies in the black community, too. Perhaps, the most appropriate analogy is not racial slurs, but”acting white”. Some people in the black community seemingly believe that educated, successful and well-dressed blacks are “acting white”. To a certain degree, it may be true, but it certainly isn’t true enough to say it like that. The fixation on a superfluous stereotype as an organic part of the black identity certainly isn’t healthy.

    Similarly, I believe that some gay men have an unhealthy fixation on gender fluidity and flamboyance. Yes, to a certain degree, gay men are naturally more feminine, but it doesn’t mean that any expression of gender fluidity is healthy. For example, I have a naturally low, deep, masculine voice. But when I felt the worst about being in the closet and feeling rejected by the society, I inadvertently started speaking in a stereotypically “gay” manner (it actually made people laugh on two occasions). Since then, I came out to my parents, including my father. He didn’t have a problem with that, and, knowing that he loves and respects me the way I am, I gradually started speaking in my normal masculine voice – with no effort.

    Of course, I’m not saying that it always happens this way. But I do believe gay men’s gender fluidity isn’t necessarily the same thing as homosexuality.

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  7. Eugene – I completely understand everything you have said, and can even relate to a large portion of it; however, there is (underneath your words) a bit of the judgment that I find damaging. It is not anyone’s place to say that the way someone else expresses his masculinity is “unhealthy.” These flamboyant gay men could just as easily assert that it is you who are unhealthy for thinking them unhealthy. Ultimately, there are as many types of masculinity as there are men. Every single man finds his own way of expressing his maleness (which is connected to what you mention about straight men’s feminine sides). I think we are agreeing on most everything, with the exception that you seem to think gender fluidity is detrimental or problematic, and that I think it’s no one else’s business.

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  8. “You do make a good point about the negative aspects of femininity being evoked, but when a straight man calls another man a “pussy,” he is (in my mind) speaking to weakness, not jealousy or manipulation. Or do you disagree?”

    If you believe in gender-neutral standards, weakness IS a negative attribute, isn’t it? On average, women aren’t as strong as men. And if you believe in gender-specific standards, a man isn’t supposed to be as weak as a woman. Perhaps, the only interesting question is whether gay men should be judged by men’s standards or gay men’s standards.

    “I am curious as to what place(s) is the exception where women are not treated as less than men, either presently and/or historically?”

    I don’t think I share this worldview. It’s easy to pick and choose examples of “patriarchy”, but we shouldn’t forget that, in many cultures, men are (and were) expected to defend “women and children”. Millions of men have been forced to fight wars, losing their lives and limbs. Heck, if men had all the power, why couldn’t they marry each other? 🙂 No, I believe that gender roles, tradition and religion are more significant that “misogyny”. I certainly don’t think that men universally hate women.

    Essentially, women had been occupying the place between men and children – and it made sense in a less civilized society. They also had well-defined gender roles – and it made sense, too.

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  9. I’m not trying to be daft, but I don’t understand your line of reasoning at all. I have to cogitate on this to begin to understand what about it seems like faulty logic.

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  10. The problem is, one does not take offense at being called something that one is not. If someone calls me a tree, it is not offensive–it’s merely incorrect. One takes offense only when one is called something one is not that is perceived to be negative or derogatory.

    For it to be offensive for a man to call another man by a female pronoun, one of them at least has to believe that there is something negative or derogatory to being a woman or being feminine, or at the very least the listener must perceive that the speaker means to insult.

    When a transphobic person uses the incorrect pronoun for a transperson, it isn’t offensive merely because it’s wrong. It’s offensive because of the intention of the speaker–namely, to invalidate the transperson’s expressed gender.

    In a context where two gay men refer to one another using feminine pronouns, no such animus is intended. Absent it, there is no basis for offense unless one or both of the men genuinely consider women or femininity inferior to men or masculinity.

    A slight on one’s masculinity is not a slight unless one values masculinity more than femininity.

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  11. @Devon

    “It is not anyone’s place to say that the way someone else expresses his masculinity is “unhealthy.”

    I mostly mean that the _causes_ can be unhealthy (as evidenced by my personal experience). Gender fluidity may be a relatively healthy way to cope with unhealthy influences. I mean, a straight man who grew up “in an almost exclusively female world” would probably be more likely to express his masculinity in harmful, pathological ways (aggression, violence, crime, womanizing, etc.).

    “Ultimately, there are as many types of masculinity as there are men…you seem to think gender fluidity is detrimental or problematic…”

    I don’t think that gender fluidity is necessarily wrong, but I do think that it isn’t masculine. If you think that, for example, high-pitched voices are “masculine”, you’re deluding yourself. It’s unfortunate that a Sean Cody assistant told you not to talk “in a gay manner”, but it’s also unfortunate that you effectively agreed with his lame stereotype by saying that they “don’t like gay guys”.

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  12. @Dave

    “When a transphobic person uses the incorrect pronoun for a transperson, it isn’t offensive merely because it’s wrong. It’s offensive because of the intention of the speaker–namely, to invalidate the transperson’s expressed gender.”

    But that’s exactly what gay men do when they use feminine pronouns. They certainly aren’t women, they don’t dress like women, and they don’t feel like women (unlike transpersons). So they obviously invalidate each other’s masculinity. My point is that the society has been telling them that they aren’t real men for so long that they gave up and essentially agreed with the society – and it isn’t a good thing. Essentially, they have _internalized_ the “animus” you’re talking about – just like those “ex-gay” guys.

    “A slight on one’s masculinity is not a slight unless one values masculinity more than femininity.”

    I value homosexuality as much as heterosexuality, but only self-loathing could make me say I’m straight. The same logic works for gender.

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  13. Eugene – I definitely can agree with parts of this. Coping mechanisms are absolutely part of this entire situation. I can see your point as to voices; however, my calling them homophobic is part of a larger context. They would have portrayed me as bi, sought to erradicate my careers and arts training, and then created an environment where heterosexuality was privileged. I agree that high voices are not masculine in and of themselves, but if they are used by men, then the gender of the speaker demands that the high voice be some variation of masculine (since the speaker is male). I would almost posit that it is impossible for a man NOT to perform masculinity (of whatever type), since he IS masculine, even if not heteronormatively so.

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  14. “I can see your point as to voices; however, my calling them homophobic is part of a larger context. They would have portrayed me as bi, sought to erradicate my careers and arts training, and then created an environment where heterosexuality was privileged.”

    Oh, I surely agree that, to a certain degree, they are homophobic bastards. Also, they exploit gay men’s internalized homophobia, problems and insecurities.

    Still, I believe that you overreacted in a way that probably betrays your own insecurities. I mean, you have a problem with the fact that Sean Cody would have portrayed you as bi, but you don’t have a problem with insults (!) that turn you into a woman (!). Does it make sense? 🙂

    The thing is, porn actors are probably supposed to _act_. And Sean Cody guys actually told you that “straight guys sell better”. Are they raging homophobes or is it actually true? I guess it’s true. And I believe that there are many reasons why it’s true – from homophobic to neutral to “heterophobic”.

    Homophobic reasons are very understandable – gay men have been told by the society that gay men aren’t real men so they have a straight man fetish. It’s unhealthy, but let’s not pretend that gay porn is a significant cause of homophobia. It merely gives people what they want.

    Neutral reasons are also very understandable. Straight men are “hard to get”, so they’re more desirable. Heck, even attractive gay men (like you 🙂 ) are hard to get, but it doesn’t mean that you should be accused of perpetuating unrealistic standards. 🙂

    Finally, there are “heterophobic” reasons. You probably haven’t thought about it, but when I look at a very attractive gay man, I notice that he’s “boyfriend material”. I realize that we could live together and love each other until the end of times. And it naturally causes anxiety. On the other hand, a naked straight man is just a safe, comfortable fantasy. There is a natural “distance” between us that is perfect for porn. From my point of view, he’s just a product. A gay man is better than this.

    Just because heterosexuality is more desirable, doesn’t necessarily mean it’s “privileged”.

    Finally, I can’t believe that Sean Cody guys are militantly homophobic when they say that an actor like Paul Wagner (I don’t remember his Sean Cody alias) is openly gay. I mean, he could be a _very_ believable “straight” man. No, it has much to do with masculinity.

    “I agree that high voices are not masculine in and of themselves, but if they are used by men, then the gender of the speaker demands that the high voice be some variation of masculine (since the speaker is male). I would almost posit that it is impossible for a man NOT to perform masculinity (of whatever type), since he IS masculine, even if not heteronormatively so.”

    I’m afraid this definition of masculinity doesn’t make much sense. It literally means that women are almost as masculine as men (some women have low voices, they’re as strong as some men, etc.). No, masculinity/femininity has everything to do with prevalence. Low voices are masculine because men generally have lower voices than women, etc.

    It seems to me that your feminine upbringing compels you to conflate homosexuality with gender fluidity – even though you’re more muscled than most women and you can grow a sexy beard. 🙂 The thing is, you don’t have to be a “woman” to love women. 🙂

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  15. lol good, i’m glad i can be a gay man and love them too 🙂

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