The Myth of Gay MachoThe Myth of Gay Macho | | AlterNet
By Richard Goldstein, Village Voice. Posted June 26, 2002.
Consider the disco-era clone, with his costume shrieking blue-collar butch. He was a creature of reaction to the playground trauma, wearing his masculinity on his sweat- shirted sleeve. But his attempt to claim the trappings of masculinity had an unintended (if predictable) consequence. Straight men fled from the attire gay men had borrowed from them in order to look manly. If gays liked their jeans tight, straights liked them baggy; if fags wore white briefs, real men switched to boxers. So the clone look perpetuated the problem it was meant to cure.
Not to the virtually normal, though. Their battle cry is "Reclaim your gender!" This redemption involves a disavowal of any behavior that doesn't jibe with the male code. "I'm all for the cult of masculinity. . . " Andrew Sullivan has written. "Last time I checked, that was a major reason I thought of myself as homosexual. But when hyper-masculine men tart themselves about like homecoming queens, the entire concept of masculinity is negated." Exactly.
Not every homo wants to recover his right to be a man. Plenty of us are glad to let that cup pass from our groins. But for Sullivan, these genderfuckers are "a very small minority" within an otherwise virile community. In fact, he claims, most gay men "embrace their gender."
There is no gay norm, virtual or otherwise. But some types are more acceptable than others. The real question isn't whether gay men are naturally macho, but why we feel compelled to wear that face in public. The answer has everything to do with status.
The homocons' solution to the playground trauma is not so different from the clones'. They want us to stop acting like faggots. Hang with straight men, join a rugby league, take testosterone if you have to, and fercrissake stop empathizing with the victim and start identifying with the aggressor. This self-help program points to a major difference between the gay left and right. Liberationists don't want to reform gay behavior; they want to change the system that needs faggots in the first place.
The world that queer radicals would create is one where no man needs to butch up to fly right. Masculinity would be something every male possesses, not a test every boy must take. Gay men would be free to follow their hearts without sacrificing prestige--and so would straights. After all, macho is a wound for everyone. It isn't just about boys bonding and dads passing their cojones along to their sons. It's also about boys brutalizing each other to establish a hierarchy based on fear of the feminine, and fathers injuring their sons for failing to make the grade. It's about mothers repressing their daughters, and butch girls suffering through the female equivalent of the playground trauma: the prom from hell.
What would guys be like without the compulsion to man up? Some would meet the Sullivan standard--because they want to--but others would fall gleefully by the wayside. Some women would feast on He-Men, but others would relish the chance to bed a studly sissy. Homo- and heterosexuality would not cease to exist, but these categories would become far more individualized. Gender would be a journey, not a destination. The flexibility that colors gay sexuality, gay culture, and even gay politics would no longer be a source of shame. The hummingbird would be free to fly.
Like freedom, flexibility is contagious. That's why it's mocked, menaced, and manacled. The unfinished business of gay liberation is to break these chains. Only then will we know what it really means to be gay.
Richard Goldstein's new book, The Attack Queers: Liberal Society and the Gay Right (Verso), appears this month.