"Straight Acting." Its just another box to throw people into. Ourselves and others. We've debated this term ad nauseaum in the LGBT community, and yet, here it is. I sign on to gay.com, and its in the headlines for every guy 'online now.' Its on Craigslist whenever Roy tells me to look at some ad someone we know put up. ITS IN MY FRIENDS' VOCABULARIES. No kidding. Here is an exchange:
"Should we call NaNaNa to hang out too?"
"Ugh, you actually like him?"
"Yeah? What? What's wrong with him? He's funny!"
"Yeah, but he's so, like, flamey, you know? Can't he be a bit more straight acting?"
"God he is so hot."
"Yeah, that's a healthy piece of real estate right there."
"I've gone out with him twice, and his biceps are just like huge!"
"I'm definitely filing him into the 'spank bank' for later."
"And the best part is, he wants to be a cop, and he's really straight acting."
I HATE the term 'straight-acting.' Absolutely despise it. I've been called 'straight-acting' before (I know, most of you are saying, "yeah right," but its true I have) and Its made me ANGRY. I don't see this as a compliment. If anything, I see this as an insult. Because when you call me 'straight acting' you're saying: "yeah, ok, you'll DO. I'll let you in my club... conditionally."
These terms: "straight acting," "flaming," "fem," "masc" create a sort of queer caste system that becomes less about personal tastes, and more about power and hierarchy. Its one thing if you're romantically looking for someone more or less masculine. We are attracted to who we are attracted to. Then again, I had a friend who would NEVER consider anyone who was 'queenie.' I think that may be limiting, and you could be ruling out a potentially fulfilling relationship because someone came off as a little too swishy on the phone for 3.5 minutes.
Beyond sexual attraction or Craigslist postings, however, these terms end up coming up MORE often in conversations when discussing someone's character, rather than their fuckability. There is a totem pole of acceptability when it comes to your perceptible sexual orientation, and being OBVIOUS is clearly at the bottom.
Unlike straight men, we gay men use all sorts of stereotypical minutiae to judge one another's 'level of masculinity.' In order to meet the threshold, you have to do this this and this. After high school, that sort of drops out of the straight male social order, as they start becoming focused on creating real, solid relationships with their girlfriends, fiances and wives, and spend less time worrying about what 'the guys' think. There are a few who seem focused on how masculine they and their friends are for the rest of their lives, but I have my suspicions about those ones.
Then there's us. We constantly rank the masculinity of one another, using ourselves as the middle-point. "Oh, he's so butch because he fixes his own car, and I could never do that." or "Oh, he's such a queen because he works at a gay bar, and I would never do that." Mind you, I'm actually referring to the same friend of mine with both statements. See how contrived this system is?
Because we use ourselves as the basis for this assessment, the system is completely arbitrary! If you had some sort of radioactive explosion and Ted Nuggent suddenly became gay and started rating how "straight acting" everyone was, most of the community wouldn't be good enough for him. Yet, at the same time, there would still be big nelly bottoms who would look at Old Fred Bear and say "Cat scratch fever? What a QUEEN!" Its all arbitrary. So what's it for?
Rather than being a definitive statement about whether or not someone meets some sort of empirical criteria, its just a coded way to say "I think I'm better than you."
I think that by classifying gay men as "straight acting" it implies this: You have two types of gays 'straight acting' gays and non-'straight acting' gays--right? So when people use "straight acting" how do they use it, "Oh, I don't want to hang out with him, he's so straight acting!" or "Oh, I don't like a lot of gay guys, but I like you Mark, because you're not straight acting like the other ones." No. Its used like this, "WGM looking for same, total top, into cuddling, effing, whatever, straight acting, NO FEMS. For tonight." or "You're the only gay guy I hang out with, and its because you're not a flamer like the other ones. You're straight acting."
So WHICH ONE is rated better--the 'straight acting' gay. Look at the words: STRAIGHT + ACTING. So its not Mark acting like Mark, its Mark ACTING like a straight guy. What does that mean, anyway? What it REALLY means when someone uses that is STRAIGHT is BETTER THAN GAY. YOU WANT to be STRAIGHT ACTING, because in a sense it means you're not ALL THE WAY GAY.
The language sets up a social hierarchy where straight is indelibly at the top of the totem pole, 'straight acting' is below that, and those "FLAMERS" are DEFINITELY below that. So gay men become self-conscious about being "TOO GAY," because that would be bad. Lower your voice, don't walk to fast, don't use hand gestures... because that stuff is gay, and gay = inferior. You don't want to ACT GAY, you want to ACT STRAIGHT because STRAIGHT = SUPERIOR.
But what does that mean. I know straight men who sing and dance in Community Theater musicals, I know straight men who cut hair, who design clothing, who karaoke, who farm, who drive trucks, who landscape, who work in factories, who are mechanics, who are businessmen, who are counselors, who drive taxis, who love Madonna, who are football players who dance ballet. They are all STRAIGHT, so which one am I supposed to ACT like to be better than GAY?
I think STRAIGHT ACTING is secret code for people who have a problem with homosexuality--both gay and straight. They don't want to allow themselves to like all gay people for whatever reason.
For gay men, its usually an acceptance issue. They're USUALLY not out to EVERYONE, or those they are out to, they fear that they will loose their support at any moment, so they are constantly worried about becoming TOO GAY for them.
For straight people, there's all sorts of reasons. They want to be able to say that being gay is NOT ok... and yet then they meet a gay person that they want to like and be friends with. So they need some sort of way to explain this. Well if GAY = BAD and STRAIGHT = GOOD, then even though they're gay, as long as I can say that they're STRAIGHT ACTING, then we can pretend they're not part of the rest of the group and then we can accept them. They belong to the GOOD group not the BAD group.
Notice how gay men who use this term almost OVERWHELMINGLY will use it to describe themselves no matter how SWISHY they ARE! I've met some of the highest pitch/softest voiced boys ever who wore goatees and called themselves "Straight acting." Its because they say "As long as I'm 'straight acting' I'm not part of the bad group, and my friends and family will still love me."
To some of you it will come as a shock and to some of you who have known me longer or in a more varied context it will not, but I do pass rather well. I used to pass a lot more, and even took the "straight acting" quiz once to see how well I would do...
But as I began to accept my sexuality, I began to also embrace and love it. Not only that, I also began to embrace the rest of the community. I saw how hurtful divisive language can be for people. I also found out that I am far happier when I give myself permission to be whoever I am--butch or sissy--when the mood strikes me.
If you've been with me to C-Street, Spiral, Backstreet, X-Cel, GiGis, Gold Coast, Male Box or Pronto--and that is the ONLY context you know me in, you'd wonder how the hell I could ever pass. But you should also know I get great joy from those moments when I am just following my instincts, and not worrying what people think.
That's a lot of why I think a lot of people won't get up on The Box with me. I think they're worried about what people think--that they're bad dancers, that they're too fat, that they're not dressed well or that they don't want people to think they're TOO GAY.
But you ARE, Blanche, you ARE GAY!
You should not worry about trying to ACT this or ACT that. You should be who you are and have safe and considerate fun. Life is very short, there's no time to waste my friends... Live your life, and experience all of the joy that is contained in that life! Don't alienate others and yourself with divisive language, thoughts and actions. You could be throwing away a potentially beautiful connection!
TOAST TO THAT FRIEND OF MINE WHO WORKS AT THE GAY BAR AND FIXES HIS OWN CAR! WAY TO IGNORE GENDER STEREOTYPES! I'M PROUD OF YOU!