Alex Blaze

Gay men 101: I don't know nothin'

Filed By Alex Blaze | October 17, 2008 3:00 PM | comments

Filed in: Living
Tags: gay men, LGBT

Bil went out on a limb a few months ago and admitted that he doesn't know enough about transgender people. It started several great discussions, and not just about trans people, but also about the privilege involved in asking a minority to explain itself and about how we define ourselves as a community.

Well, it wouldn't make sense to stop there. While mainstream representations of queerness tend to revolve around gay men, there's no reason to assume that everyone who identifies as L, G, B, T, or Q knows everything they want to know about gay men.

And there's no reason to assume that every gay man understands every other gay man. The behavior of people who share my sexual identity never ceases to surprise me.

So consider this an open thread on gay men with no stupid questions. And maybe the gay men who read this site will be kind enough to answer and illuminate.

I'll put my foot in my mouth and start, since Bil was kind enough to do that on his trans 101 threads: Why so territorial, gay boys? It seems like half the problems I have with gay men start with them thinking that something of mine (money, work, body, sexuality, health, etc.) belongs to them.


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I'll follow up on Alex's question on territoriality with a question on a similar subject: Why do gay men keep seeing one another as threats and obstacles? One would think that a shared experience of oppression would develop in gay men a refined empathy for others, and yet I've found that as a gay man, the one demographic to usually throw you into the volcano for sacrifice is not the stereotypically oppressive heterosexual, but rather our own.

I've found that quite a portion of gay men like to take part in a sadistic form of entertainment called "reality TV". So many are filled with glee at the televised putdowns, when our community keeps rallying about our social bullying. So many of us contribute to the entertainment industry, fanning the flames of a culture which keeps its individuals feeling physically and emotionally inadequate. Why? Why is it that people perceive Bravo as cateing to a gay audience, and yet such "catering" consists of vapid fashion shows composed of selfish, malicious individuals with a dangerously inflated sense of competition?

Isn't our community about diversity and self-fulfillment? Isn't our culture broader in spectrum, representing all sorts of individuals? What about charities? What about political activism? What about sports? What about GLBT families? Why does this hegemony on queer representation continue to exist?

If you want intelligent programming directed towards queers, the only thing I've found on TV has been In the Life. I remember when I was much younger their late-nite show was the only validation of my identity that I got. Sure, there was gay stuff on the internet, but it wasn't TV!

Besides that, I hear you on the destructiveness. The times in my life that I've been the most directly and needlessly insulted has been by gay men. And it's less a "I just say what I think" and more of a "I need to tear you down."

I think a lot of that has to do with some pretty poor self-image out there among gay men.

Anthony in Nashville | October 17, 2008 4:57 PM

This has the potential to be an excellent thread. I'll try to keep my comments short.

As to the question of why the diversity of gay men usually isn't reflected in the media, I think there are a few reasons:

1. Although people may claim to be increasingly comfortable with gays, I think people (gay and straight alike) are most comfortable seeing gay men in certain roles: the catty queen, hairdresser, gym/club bunny, perhaps the angry activist, victim of homophobia, or oversexed guy. We can't embrace fuller representations of ourselves because too many of us are still uncomfortable with ourselves (think of the premium placed on "straight acting") and don't have mentors to show us how to be a mature adult, so we have a hard time relating to another and spend too long in an extended adolescence.

2. Marketing - most gay-oriented media has bought into the myth that gays are white, upscale and highly educated, so people of color and less affluent gays are deemed "bad for business." Some of that is also related to the idea of "putting our best face forward" for straights, which I think reflects the more conservative tone gay culture has taken since the mid/late 1980s. Sometimes I wonder if "the community" is as committed to diversity as its leading institutions claim, because if you don't fit one of the "accepted" categories, you are frequently not welcomed.

That is why there are so many subcultures of gay men: leather daddies, bears, twinks, "same gender loving," faeries, etc.

Being relatively new to the gay culture (I came out two years ago after 18 yrs of marriage), (and btw - is 'culture' even the right word? 'scene' doesn't seem right either; 'life' maybe?) I found that this is a very diverse group indeed. You've got the Bears, the Twinks, the Twunks, the Leathermen, the Fems, and I'm sure a couple of dozen other subcultures I'm missing. And while they share the common thread of homosexuality, that seems to be about it for commonality. And that is often not enough to form a cohesive bond between the groups when it comes to unifying towards a common goal.

I've seen very little interaction between the groups in social settings (with the possible exception of Milwaukee's awesome PrideFest). And I guess this makes sense, in the same way you would not expect NASCAR fans to hang out at the opera.

Are we expecting too much from the 'gay' label? So many people look for a coordinated homosexual front on social and political issues that I am beginning to think is unrealistic. I think our diversity by definition precludes that. I think we could do more to educate 'teh gays' on the civil rights issues that we are facing now and in the next ten years, and hopefully develop more unity in facing those issues.

But I don't know that you'll ever have a unified gay contingency any more than you would expect to have a unified male or female contingency on anything. Being gay gives you one aspect of yourself in common with another gay man. But only one. And there are so many pieces that go into defining us, to expect that one piece to be the penultimate in definitions is unrealistic.

I love that comment. I think we often do expect too much from the "gay" label. And when someone doesn't meet our expectations, we often lash out.

Anthony and marc, thanks for the thorough responses! I do find that I might be guilty of fervent idealism.

Yeah, its about diversity - Ralph Lauren, Duckie Brown, Calvin...

Where are you getting the idea that there isn't a fair amount of sporting, activating, culturing, and giving going on? It may not measure up to the requirement of that other gay blood sport - political correctness, but it goes on.

People perceive Bravo as catering to a gay audience, because they do. Yeah by and large it is the same audience that reads Out and Genre, and surfs gay.com. These gay guys are part of diversity too.

I'll be the first to admit that I'm a Bravo fan. While Alex and Bil were delivering the play by play on the debate finale', I was happily watching the Project Runway finale'. Leanne taking the top prize was certainly more relevant to my life than watching two people giving a 99th gloss on their stump speech. Alex and Bil were far more interesting and relevant to my life than the debate.

When I was younger I marched in the street, testified before the city council, and state commission on x. I made phone calls, and wrote letters like there was no tomorrow. Today I write a check when I can, and watch Project Runway and take spin classes. That's part of diversity.

Thinking of vapid fashion shows, how is my watching Bravo and reading Genre, Out, and Men's Vogue fanning the flames of anyone else's feelings of physical and emotional inadequacy? In my mind's eye I'm a Tom Skerritt who has a thing for 24 y.o. swimmers/waifs, who won't give me the time of day because in reality I have the body of the Pillsbury Doughboy. I could get all inadequate about it, whine to whoever will listen, or I could sign up for spin classes at the Y.

I think you will find that if we spent more time taking responsibility for our own inadequacies (and doing something about them) the hegemony on queer representation would cease to exist.

As far as the threats, obstacles, shared oppression, and volcano throwing go, I don't see it. To begin with, I don't see myself as particularly oppressed. I face some fundamental unfairness - some of it gay related, some of it not. Most of the gay men I know don't see themselves as oppressed. And as far as the refined empathy goes, name me one minority group that you can't say the same thing about.

Oh, my bad, the oppression part is a bit of an alien concept to those in a gay metropolis.

More to come later; I'm currently stretched on time.

Manhunt has over 40,000 members (I am not one of them), however this is the largest "queer community" in the world and we know what that is about, sex. Even bigger numbers than BRAVO watchers who like supermodels.
I want to see a political movement with voting power. Unfortunately, gays are like cats, they can't be herded.

Alex, thank you so much for this thread! My partner and I have a love-hate relationship with other gay men and find that most of our friends are lesbians. I spent today in a coffeeshop in the Gayborhood (the gay section of Philly) and notices so much of what folks mentioned. I want to love gay men in the way I love other Latinos and other Jews.

(To greg: you asked name me one minority group that you can't say the same thing about. Perhaps there are some people who do not like other members of the community but not to the extent of gay men).

Does this mean I will like them, understand them, want to be in the same room with them? Nope but it does mean, for me, that I have gay men's back, that I honor them and will support their journeys. I once had an African American female colleague who told me point blank "y'all gay people don;t support each other, you don;t have each other's back." She is right.

It seems that we only like each other if the person has something they want. Greg, you mentioned that you like the 24 y.o. swimmer but you are a doughboy. Why not like other dough boys? The construction of what is handsome in Out, Advocate, Logo is so skewed. Yes, I think David Beckham is hot but I think Cedric the Entertainer is too.

We need to start questioning why the competition, the hatred of each other, the cattyness.

When I was living with Alberto this past year in Paris, one of the things he prided himself in was not being "pédé Marais" ("pédé" means queer and the Marais is the gay neighborhood in Paris). We lived about half and hour away by metro but still managed to visit frequently enough...

Of course, pédé Marais is a state of mind, not a location. Alberto kept on wanting to visit the gay neighborhoods when we visited other cities (like in Munich and Dublin), and we always ended up with the same impressions of people. I guess there's a type who lives there throughout Western culture.

And we don't have each other's back. It probably comes from the fact that people of a racial or ethnic identity are born into their group, and we usually come into ours later in life, generally motivated by sex.

I remember a discussion in a queer religiosity class I took a long time ago, and we were discussing whether queer churches (like MCC) would exist after mainstream religions become more accepting of queers. A well-meaning straight girl said, "Of course! It's like an ethnicity, and people want to worship with people who are like them."

Um, no. The minute mainstream religions open themselves up to queer congregants, the gays will stay with their first tribes, not the one they formed because they needed to.

Alex, the mainstream religions are open to queer congregants BUT with extra caveats and conditions.
Gay men do actually have each others' backs but in smaller fusions of self established "families" that grow stronger over years. Fort Lauderdale is a good example of this. The older gay men here are very supportive of the guys in their "family".
Younger gay men are preoccupied with the dictates of their bodies and the natural male urge to aggression, hunting and the pugnacious instinct that is the mark of species survival. In natural selection, the "nature boys" wandering in the woods and blinking their long eyelashes end up starving or freezing but not reproducing (or even writing much good poetry).

The minute mainstream religions open themselves up to queer congregants, the gays will stay with their first tribes, not the one they formed because they needed to.

I couldn't agree more with that statement. Everyone seeks acceptance and who's love is the biggest? God's. In a heartbeat the MCC churches will fold.

I am not totally sure about that, since gay children will still be born into fundamentalist families, and children in moderate Christian families attending nominally welcoming denominations are still likely to get shaming from pastors who view gays as having unfortunate defects and parents who worry about what their friends will think. I think that a general change of heart and embracing of equality in 80% of the population is unlikely to occur in America, because of the need for scapegoats. American LGBT children will face being disappointments if not disgraces to their parents for at least another generation. Part of MCC's mission is to help deprogram these ex-fundy gays.

And MCC is becoming a world church, with open (and maybe covert) congregations in exceedingly hostile countries, where the "mainstream" churches, in order to save their own hides or because they want to stay "respectable", turn away from LGBT people.

Chris wrote:


It seems that we only like each other if the person has something they want. Greg, you mentioned that you like the 24 y.o. swimmer but you are a doughboy. Why not like other dough boys? The construction of what is handsome in Out, Advocate, Logo is so skewed. Yes, I think David Beckham is hot but I think Cedric the Entertainer is too.

I know you're trying to offer a helpful suggestion. Can you see what might be interpreted as condescension in your suggestion? It is almost as if you said, hey tubby how dare you desire a thin boy - learn your place. You are in effect reinforcing the construction rather than subverting it.

The funny thing is, as much as I enjoy those magazines my sense of desirability isn't defined by them.



"Where are you getting the idea that there isn't a fair amount of sporting, activating, culturing, and giving going on? It may not measure up to the requirement of that other gay blood sport - political correctness, but it goes on."

Representation. Where in heaven's name have you gotten the idea that somehow gay geeks, gay jocks, and gays not of the entertainment inclination are represented similarly to the entertainment and fashion gays?

Bravo does not cater to a gay audience; it caters to gay men who like entertainment and fashion. Big distinction. I find any channel hard-pressed to claim that it caters to a "gay audience". LOGO, !here, and its European equivalents seem to be the closest match to such a statement, assuming they strive to diversify their programs. Reality TV, sports, culture, technology, etc. from a GLBT perspective.

"Thinking of vapid fashion shows, how is my watching Bravo and reading Genre, Out, and Men's Vogue fanning the flames of anyone else's feelings of physical and emotional inadequacy? In my mind's eye I'm a Tom Skerritt who has a thing for 24 y.o. swimmers/waifs, who won't give me the time of day because in reality I have the body of the Pillsbury Doughboy. I could get all inadequate about it, whine to whoever will listen, or I could sign up for spin classes at the Y."

Femenine boy finds dating in queer culture to be difficult; the culture emphasizes masculinity as sexy. Feminine boy could whine to whomever will listen, or he can completely derive himself of an appearance he attaches to his identity. He can drop his mannerisms, he can cut his hair very short, and he can develop a rather muscular body. Do you find nothing about this shallow and stifling of diversity?


Bravo, LOGO, !here, and so on are not social service self esteem agencies. They are businesses that cater to their customers. Same goes for Out, Genre, and Men's Vogue. The various sub-cultures get the media they are willing to support.

Do feminine boys (guys) have a difficult time with dating in gay culture? I don't identify as feminine, so I don't have an opinion based on personal experience. It might be informative to hear what someone who sees himself as a feminine male has to say on the subject.

Oh, please, you're speaking as if entertainment and fashion queers were the only ones that would bring forth financial success if a market for queers was available. Nothing could be more inaccurate.

And I do love how you keep on painting the unrepresented side as insecure whiners; it is easy to do so when your side's readily represented.

Concerning feminine men, have you been living under a rock? See those models in Out and Genre? All masculine. These are the ideals of attractiveness that people buy into, and this is what they will expect on their mates.

I'm not saying that the entertainment queers are the only possible success story. A market for queers is available. It is available to those who support it. We live under a capitalist system, the economy will provide what people are willing to pay for.

As far as insecure whiners go, you're the one who brought up physical and emotional inadequacy in the first place. If you don't like your life, do something about it.

Concerning under and over represented sides; don't talk about my side unless you know what my side is. Not much representation for 50 year olds with thinning tops and expanding middles who work in the non-profit sector for modest wages. Just because I appreciate the entertainment /media queers does not mean I am one of them.

Under a rock? Hardly. Yes, I've seen all the models in OuT and Genre. Yes, they're all pretty to look at. And yes Ronnie from Make Me a Supermodel is way pretty to look at. Some of them are masculine, others not so much (remember the Calvin Klein heroin chic models from a few years ago?). And you know this negatively impacts the dating opportunities of effeminate guys from personal experience, or is it theoretical reasoning?

[...] If you don't like your life, do something about it.

[...]

Some of them are masculine, others not so much (remember the Calvin Klein heroin chic models from a few years ago?). And you know this negatively impacts the dating opportunities of effeminate guys from personal experience, or is it theoretical reasoning?

Hi Greg,

I realise that you've made a much more appreciative reply to Alex below about your own conception of masculinity, but I have great reservations with these earlier statements. Since the issue highlighted here about American gay community is largely cultural (reflected in media representations), then I think it's somewhat facetious to either reduce to simplistic autonomy or empirical data arguments.

Not to speak for Lucrece and others, but most comments here centre on what seems to be an inescapable media presentation of gay personhood that people build and gain feedback in the construction of their own identities. While it is not completely impossible to "do something about it", I like to appreciate the fact that not everyone is in that unique position to "do something about it" from thin air and without repercussions. Social acceptability is typically a strong human desire, and there're clearer models to readily adopt from these popular media machines to achieve that social status. I'm glad you feel the unspoken privilege to have unobliged to succumb to those models--more power to you.

I might be reading you wrongly here, but what sounds like a contention against Lucrece's possible "theoretical reasoning" seems misplaced. I don't think Lucrece's too far from being on-point in unravelling the media connection to the gay disconnect by "theoretical reasoning". Thomas Rochon and Naomi Wolf are two popular cultural critics whose works within theoretical frameworks expose the advertising exploitation of women's liberation movement to sell commodified versions of what the ideal woman chooses herself to be. The corollary is that there're limited 'approved' alternatives for gay men as well, especially when these have currently been pegged with (mistaken) political currency.

As far as social sciences go, empirical data serves only to lend weight to any thesis without definite predictions. I'm not sure what you seek to achieve by questioning Lucrece's stand? Will 20 commenters agreeing with Lucrece's point be sufficient to support the claim, or do you need a poll of all TBP readers? Or should we start a research programme to analyse this question with a larger and more comprehensive sample? To save all of us some time, I did a cursory search to produce a package of 4 academic journal articles (yousendit.com link expires in 7 days) for your consumption. Two of them discuss the effects on contemporary American urban masculinities by marketed ideals, another touches on the opposition between Queer Eye and StraightActing.com representations of gay men, and the last a thesis on anti-effeminacy in gay culture. Take from these what you will.

Lastly, if anecdotal evidence were anything to go by, then allow me to add myself to the sample that finds effeminacy a real stumbling point for the dating scene. Of course, seeing as how I'm neither American nor residing stateside (I'm Singaporean, residing in Melbourne, AU), plus I'm asian, maybe I'm not the right sample either. Which is oddly apropos for a post about how some people are better samples than others.

Hi Mark,
I appreciate what you're saying about theoretical constructs. I've read some of the material in one place or another. I understand how it works. For the most part it is helpful. However, in this series of "no stupid questions" articles we've been leading from personal experience.

When someone makes the statement that being an effeminate male is a stumbling block to dating, It is more meaningful to hear it from the personal rather than the theoretical.

I may have been a little unfair to Lucrece in the way I've tried to bring that out. For that I apologize.

I admit that countering the "approved" gay alternatives isn't easy. The younger gay generation is making a pretty good stab at it though. I can't count the number of myspace pages authored by young queers who say some version of "this is me and if you don't like it, FU."

I really liked your last paragraph. I think anecdotal evidence in a forum like this is probably the best way to go. I find it particularly important because I'm apparently one of the few who is drawn to guys who are shall we say, un-butch.


I find it particularly important because I'm apparently one of the few who is drawn to guys who are shall we say, un-butch.

I'm with you, Greg. :)

I remember when I was first using online dating sites, and PlanetOut was the "respectable" site in Indiana. You had to answer if you were and if you were seeking someone masculine, feminine, androgynous, or "all over the map."

About half said they were masculine seeking masculine, the other half was some combination of "androgynous," "all over the map," and people who refused to answer.

I met my first bf through that because he said he was "masculine" looking for "feminine." Personally, I'm about as androgynous as one can get, but I knew I had to talk to the one person unspoiled enough by gay culture to check off the "feminine" box.

Years later, I found his profile again when I moved back to Indiana. He had joined the "masculine seeking masculine" team on gay.com, and even wrote something in his profile like "If I wanted to date someone feminine, I'd be straight."

So unattractive, but then I realized that he was basically seeking the same thing both times: to reaffirm his own masculinity. Originally, he thought that if he was seeking someone feminine, that would make him "the man." And later he learned that in contemporary American gay culture, that's not how we do it.

Either way, he was a McCain supporter before the primary elections even started. So take his opinion for what it's worth.

I really appreciate your story. I have to tell you though, that it is creating a bit of an existential crisis of gender for me. For the last hour I've been trying to write about masculinity and can't come up with my own definition that works from one sentence to the next.

I'm a gay man who completely enjoys being a man. I don't think of myself as masculine in the "chest thumping" sense, and I don't think of myself as feminine. Androgynous isn't a term anyone would use to describe me either.

So I guess I'm wondering how someone who thinks of himself as androgynous or feminine feels about being a guy. Actually I'm pretty curious about how most gay men feel about being a guy.

to your last comment, gregc: i was brought up as a boy, turned into a man; later on came to the conclusion that all those years of fantasizing had meaning, and recognized myself as gay.

i am no less a man than when i thought i was 100% heterosexual. i am no more a man, either. my manhood has never been one of those "macho" styles - i am simply a man. i enjoy sports - both watching and participating. i have children and i enjoy teaching them to grow up to be men - i'm not teaching them about being gay, nor am i teaching them about being straight. if, indeed, gay is genetic, then that will work itself out in their lives. i don't know the answer to that, but based on my own struggles, i certainly don't want to push them in any particular direction. societal roles pretty much dictate how they'll be perceived, but it is how their self-perception matures that will determine their leaning.

i identify as masculine. being gay does not make me feel less a man than being straight would. do i have proclivities that might make others think i am less masculine? i imagine i do; but what others think of me is their problem, and not mine.

There is something I would like to know about gay men. I like most of the gay men I meet, and feel that I have a natural affinity with them because we're both queer -- but they don't seem to feel the same way. I'd love to have some gay male friends, but I feel as if many of those I have met are quite uncomfortable with transsexuality. Any suggestions for how to overcome this barrier?

It is kinda hard to build a friendship around common queerness. Try to relate around some other common interest, then the queerness becomes just another part of the intricate texture of your friendship.

Also you can incorporate some of your new potential gay guy pals into a social setting by having an informal and very mixed cocktail party to celebrate something interesting and fun - the NYC Marathon for example. Host or attend a signing party for a gay author you enjoy and casually mingle. The more people are able to relate to you socially, the more they will see you as a person.

Why are so many gay men so fucking sexist?

Guilty. I'll admit to struggling some times, but not from the "I hate women; they stink" type of sexism.

I said this to Jerame a few years ago and he nearly clubbed me over the head. But it's how I've lived most of my life. I don't hate women. I don't dislike them. I like men and tend to interact with more men - cruising, chatting, in bars, at work, etc - because I'm gay. It's not that I dislike women, just that I tend to forget about them. It's almost as if they live in a separate space.

I tend to be a little girly myself. (Some would say more, some less.) I never thought of that as a sexist attitude, because I'm girly too. Since I'm not as "masculine" as the regular straight or gay guy, I tended to think of women as bigger versions of my own femininity. And, after all, I liked myself, so I must like women and therefore not be sexist.

I even told him, "I'm gay. I can't be sexist. It's impossible. I'm half girl myself." *sighs* He quickly corrected me (we argued about it for weeks) and, if I remember correctly, also instigated Bruce into a few conversations too.

It's part of the reason why I put up the post about trans rights and sexism. Sometimes I truly don't get it; I've not spent time thinking about them. I'm glad I do think about it though, I often find myself being sexist when I would never have noticed before.

I see gay men as sexist even more than racist or always spatting with other gay men.

I think perhaps, the most off-putting thing straight people can say when inviting me to socialize is that "You have to meet (insert name here), you'll love him, he's gay too." As if my gayness was my only criteria for friendship.

I think that's not only a common assumption, but one that plays into the sexist attitudes that have been discussed here. Lumping people, based on one assumption about them, together and making judgments about them based solely on that assumption. We're all guilty of it in some way, I'm afraid. Fortunately for me, I have many women friends who make sure I know when I'm doing it.

There are so many things that make a man a man, in fact I keep rewriting this post when I think of a new point. It's a very difficult question.

I suppose the only way to answer it is subjectively.

I think a man is a man if he's loyal, if he's true to himself, be he androgynous, butch, or, as most of us, somewhere in between. If he's honest, and stands up for not only himself, but those he cares about too.

I don't need a big muscl-ey guy, I need a guy who's going to be standing right next to me in 30 years no matter what. That's what makes a man truly a man. He can be standing there in a skirt, as long as he's there. I need a man who's more interested in the strength of my character than if I gained 20 pounds when I turned 50. I need a man who's not going to interpret a bad day as the end of the relationship. Maybe I think what makes a man, is being an adult.

And as for territory Alex, I don't get it either. But I do have to wonder if some of it isn't in response to the way some men have been treated as they grew up. If the only way to survive socially, and often physically, was to use that acerbic wit, and acid tongue to keep others at bay. Sad, but I think it may be defense mechanism.

I've only dated a few men in my life, but the common thread was that they had a hard time letting someone in. It's hard to unlearn those habits.

I'm not girly, I'm not comfortable with it in myself. I ride horses, a bicycle, and make pottery. I teach theater, and work part time for an auto parts distributor. Yet I'll sit and weep openly while listening to Gotterdammerung. Go figure.