It is a conversation that seems to be very popular within the gay community, and stir up heated emotions from both sides of the debate: “Are masculine gay men better than feminine gay men?” It seems wiser to be more specific and ask “Are masculine characteristics favorable to feminine ones?” One thing we can all surely agree on is that so long as we are human beings, we each have characteristics that are masculine and feminine; some individuals seemingly having more “masculine” ones or more “feminine” ones. And it seems to me that the gay community fights a similar battle that each group seems to face: “Is one type of person better than the other one?”
There is a climate in this world we must fight, which is that you simply cannot win. If you aren’t an incredibly masculine male (whether gay or straight) you are a sissy. If you are masculine, you’re a machismo douche bag. If you are a feminine woman who enjoys make-up and heels, you are an airhead. If you are a somewhat masculine woman, you are a butch tomboy. It seems that we assign such violent labels to people in an effort to feel better about ourselves. Like the woman who prefers her shoes flat and her face make-up free who criticizes the “barbie” across the bar… She is saying a lot more about herself than the “barbie.” And the woman who criticizes the “Plain Jane,” is shining bright light onto her own insecurities. No matter how elevated one might feel by this – it holds no value.
We see this type of violence in so many areas. One of the most disgusting examples is the red carpet. Each time award season comes around, we hear endless shade being thrown regarding what people wore, how their surgery looks, whether they are too fat or too thin, etc. Unfortunately, we are all guilty of it. Fat-shaming, for instance, is disgusting, as are comments directed to those who are thin to “eat a cheeseburger.” I was particularly mortified after this year’s Academy Awards to discover a headline from The Huffington Post, which read “Goldie Hawn: We Loved You Just The Way You Were.” The article did nothing but lambast Goldie Hawn for having opted for cosmetic surgery, and included quotes that she “looks like leather pulled too far, too much, for too long.” It seems, again, that you cannot win. Whether you opt for elective surgery, or choose to age naturally, you can rest assured that someone will have something violent to say about your physical appearance.
Society has made us hyper-sensitive to stereotypes. So long as we are being marginalized and under-represented, this reaction is understandable. We may become angry when we feel every gay man depicted on television is flamboyant and promiscuous, but this anger can fuel unwarranted discrimination toward people who are perhaps flamboyant and promiscuous. We must remember that greater society is slowly abandoning this idea that gay men are only acceptable if they are “straight-acting.” This antiquated idea that homosexuality in general is shameful and should be swept under the rug warrants rethinking. The truth is that gay people are just as rich and diverse as any other people, and should be represented as such. How could not-so-masculine gay men feel represented if we replaced them all with Vin Diesel? So long as we are valuing a society that is strictly hetero-normative, we will never achieve any sense of equality. We should, instead, embrace and respect all people, and encourage fair representation and equal expression.
What is unfortunate is seeing hostility from one gay man toward another. I cringe while browsing discussion forums, seeing gay men stating that they “don’t want feminine gays representing them.” How this statement could be interpreted as anything other than hateful is beyond me. Wouldn’t it be preferable to live in a society where all types of people are seen and represented? It is undeniable in our society today that people from all walks of life are feeling empowered to come out as gay. We’ve seen pro-atheletes like Tom Daley and Michael Sam breaking ground by coming out publicly as gay. We are seeing more and more gay and straight actors take on gay roles, representing a wide-variety of personality types. What we would be wise to allow ourselves to understand is that no human being is better than another – and the only people misrepresenting us are those who think otherwise.
It seems to me that within comedy, whatever approach you take, you will inevitably offend somebody. Separate from being politically correct, it seems that even when comedians who are outspoken advocates and allies of the LGBTQ community, there is a public outcry following every edgy joke that is made.
In a segment called “No More Mister Nice Gay” on the show Totally Biased with W. Kamau Bell, Guy Branum attacked the Comedy Central Roast of James Franco, blasting several roasters for the “gay” jokes that were directed toward James Franco, stating that “gay sex shouldn’t be funny, it should be hot.” He specifically targeted Sarah Silverman, stating “Using gay as an insult doesn’t make you look cool, it makes you look old. And Sarah, you don’t need help looking old.” (Authors Note: Would anybody disagree that Sarah Silverman looks far younger than Guy Branum who is five years her junior?) Also, I would have to disagree with Branum’s assertion that “gay sex shouldn’t be funny, it should be hot.” Can’t gay sex, much like straight sex, be both funny and hot, depending on the context? How does one making a joke about gay sex make it any less “hot” for you?
To recap, Sarah Silverman had one gay joke during her set, which went “I don’t think James Franco is gay or straight, I think he just can’t open his eyes wide enough to see who he is fucking.” Although comedy, along with every art form is subjective, I personally found all of her jokes to be funny, some of which were even racist or fat-shaming. I would say that I found the homophobic ones funny too, but there weren’t any. Did anybody else notice that Sarah’s joke wasn’t at all a gay joke… it was a joke about James Franco’s eyes?
Sarah Silverman has a long history with the LGBTQ community. Who could forget her Comedy Central show a few years back, The Sarah Silverman Program, wherein her neighbors and best friends were a gay couple? The show saw Silverman ironically tackling many issues, including homosexuality. “I learned whether you are gay or bisexual, it doesn’t matter, you know, because at the end of the day, they’re both gross,” Sarah joked as she pet her dog. Sarah has never been afraid to include jokes about the LGBTQ community in her set, just as she has never been afraid to make edgy jokes about race, religion, 9/11, little people, just to name a few.
Silverman has also been a long time supporter and advocate of the LGBTQ community. She has been very outspoken about this, telling The Advocate that she wants “gay marriage legalized with a big fucking apology for the past few years.” She has stated that she refuses to get married until gay marriage is legalized, and blasted liberal people who get married. “It’s like joining a country club that doesn’t allow blacks or Jews.” She frequently performs at fund raisers and benefits.
I feel this begs the question – should all art be void of gay material? Would it be better for the LGBTQ community for actors, comedians, celebrities, and artists to completely skirt around the issue of homosexuality? Or instead, should you ask yourself why you were offended by something? What is the fear in people making gay jokes? That through comedy, we are somehow setting our people back? Or perhaps, what is more likely, is that a certain joke touched on an insecurity of yours, and that is why you became offended. Isn’t making people laugh the impetus behind telling jokes? Perhaps sometimes the mechanism for doing so is being somewhat shocking or offensive, but the ultimate goal is laughter. And perhaps a particular joke isn’t your cup of tea, but does that mean that nobody should be able to tell that joke or even appreciate that joke because it hurt your feelings?
What I find offensive far more than a light-hearted, well-intentioned gay joke is homophobic legislation. It is not a joke that there are laws on the books preventing LGBTQ citizens from having equal protection under the law. While comedians make off-color jokes that some will find offensive for their own personal reasons, there are politicians with completely homophobic agendas being voted into office. That is not a joke. These are homophobic people being placed into leadership positions in our country, and we worry that a comedian might make a joke that rubs us the wrong way?
I cannot speak for anyone else, but I would personally feel terrible if someone in my life felt that they had to walk on egg shells so as not to offend me. I want to hear funny jokes, including the gay ones, and I want people to feel comfortable saying them. Rather than responding to buzz words, I would encourage people to look at jokes within context, assess the intention behind the telling of the joke, and give people a break. I can’t imagine being offended by a gay joke, but I will absolutely be offended by those who vote homophobic leaders into office.
“I knew you were gay as soon as you opened your mouth.” This was the initial response from almost every one of my friends when I came out of the closet back in high school. If it wasn’t my voice, it was my walk, my mannerisms or even my sense of personal hygiene (yes, apparently taking daily showers is gay now). Since elementary school, my sexual preference often came into question as soon as I spoke to people for the first time. Although the question transformed from “why are you so girly?” to “are you gay?” over time, the vulnerable feeling of being exposed I felt in response remained the same. I quickly developed a chronic case of shyness, constantly in fear that my voice would out me at any moment. I did everything in my power to be the quiet kid instead of the gay kid. This plan backfired in middle school when I quickly became known as the quiet, gay kid.
This paranoia about my voice has caused a lot of internalized homophobia and has left lasting psychological scars. Hearing my voice on a video or an audio recording is torturous. “Do I sound that gay?” Whether I’m in a job interview or casually meeting someone for the first time, my thoughts are fixated on how I sound rather than what I’m actually saying. Confidence is hard to find when you despise something within yourself that is so central to communication.
To be frank, this is the very reason why my “coming out process” was not the stereotypically freeing experience that people make it out to be. It irked me every time one of my friends laughingly claimed that she always knew I was gay. Are you saying this guise I dedicated my life to for over a decade was just bad acting? Of course I’m not ignorant enough to think that my charade was fooling anybody, but was my metrosexual character that unbelievable? Moreover, why did I feel a sense of validation when one of my friends was sincerely surprised by my sexuality? This type of internalized homophobia is very depressing to look back on. Even when I was out, I wanted to be seen as straight. I didn’t want to be anybody’s GBF (Gay Best Friend). Coming out was bittersweet because it gave me a freedom to express myself more honestly, but it also tacked a label on my identity.
Moving forward, I would like to further understand this loathing I have for my voice. I think letting go of insecurities is an important part of getting older and maturing. It would be incredible to see the limitations I built around myself to be torn down, but only I have the ability to do that. Part of me doubts that I’ll be able to reinvent myself– the same part of me that always tries to talk myself out of trying new things and meeting new people. The same part of me that hesitates to pursue new friendships and feels paranoid about being criticized. What I’ve learned so far is that nobody on this Earth is a more critical of me than myself. In order to become the proud individual that I claim to be, I know I must first accept what I cannot change about myself. Challenge accepted.
This post was inspired by the documentary, Do I Sound Gay?, by director David Thorpe.