Sunday, January 3, 2010

That's so gay

I've started watching The Decorating Adventures of Ambrose Price.  It's shown on HGTV in Canada and has been picked up on Logo here in the US. Ambrose Price is an interior designer whose dream is to make it big and become Canada's Martha Stewart.  Each episode he has some sort of project; for example, on one he was helping out a group with their fund raiser and wrapped a bunch of presents that were being auctioned off; so, he went around and consulted with various 'experts' in the art of gift wrapping.  I actually learned quite a bit, such as how to wrap odd shaped boxes - I just wish I had watched it BEFORE Christmas.

It's an entertaining show; but, Ambrose Price is quite flaming in his mannerisms - which got me to wondering:  Why do some gay men act . . . well . . . so gay?

First off, I think stereotypes often exist for a reason - there are certain inherent characteristics, mannerisms, etc. that are more prevalent in gay males than in the general male population (I'm sure the same is true for females; but, I have no experience in that area).  Certainly no gay male possesses every gay stereotype; but, being gay does seem to make it more likely that you have some stereotypical gay attributes.  We refer to these as OGT's or Obviously Gay Traits.  For example, I'm pretty straight acting overall - but I have zero interest in sports and I enjoy cooking.  That's not to say that doesn't describe some straight men - but those characteristics are more common among gay men.

But, beyond that, I think there is a cultural aspect to being gay. For one thing, once we accept ourselves as gay, we may feel less inclined to hide our less manly attributes.  In fact, it can even become a point of pride to have some talent not commonly found in straight men.  I think also some gay men may tend to attenuate some of their gay traits beyond their normal levels; perhaps even taking on certain mannerisms that they don't possess inherently.

Is this a bad thing?  We have a diverse culture consisting of many sub-cultures.  For example, (not trying to sound prejudiced) we can often talk to someone on the phone and determine that they are black just by the way they speak.  That's not a bad thing - it just is.  Black culture includes certain speech patterns that are not commonly found among non-black folk.  I'm not referring to ebonics, just in the way certain words are inflected.  Personally, I think it can be a good thing when a person takes on a certain pride in their heritage and culture.

Can the same be true of gay culture?  There are certainly mannerisms, speech patterns, etc. that we associate with being gay - Is it wrong for us to talk a certain way, walk a certain way, act a certain way?

What if we're an active card carrying Mormon (or any other non-affirming faith, for that matter), is it wrong for us to take pride in our gay culture, our gay heritage?  How does this jive with the statement in the God Loveth His Children pamphlet which says "It is not helpful to flaunt homosexual tendencies or make them the subject of unnecessary observation or discussion."

I've had people note of some of my domestic capabilities by joking about me "making a good wife" or some of my lesson/activity preparations by joking that I'm "putting relief society to shame".  I used to be offended by such comments - now I take them as a compliment.  But, does that mean my tendencies have risen to the level of "unnecessary observation or discussion?"  To be a good Mormon man should I be downplaying my less manly characteristics?  I'm not suggesting I'm going to - I'm just wondering if that's what good gay Mormon boys are supposed to do.  Is it OK for me to keep doing the things I do as long as people don't know that I'm gay?  Is it only when people know I'm gay coupled with my actions and mannerisms that I become a topic of "unnecessary observation or discussion?"

It really gets confusing - because some things that the general society defines as less manly are hailed among Mormon men - such as public displays of emotions (i.e. crying) or musical abilities - while others are strongly discouraged in Mormon culture, such as long hair on boys or boys wearing earrings.  Furthermore, we focus on masculine behavior for our male youth.  It's not hard to imagine some adult young men leader encouraging a boy who has an effeminate walk or talk to be more manly.  I'm envisioning the effeminate Mr. Humphries on the British sitcom "Are you Being Served" who would lower his voice to say "Menswear" upon answering the phone to sound more manly.

So, where is the line depicting what is acceptable gay behavior in Mormon circles?  And, perhaps more importantly, where should that line be?  Can I attend church acting and talking more like Ambrose Price?  Or would that cause "unnecessary observation or discussion?"  What does that even mean?

It is this thought process which lead to January's Polls - what stereotypes do we see ourselves possessing? This could also be an alternative theme for January:  Are these stereotypes deserved?  Why or why not?


Quiet Song said...

I have a problem with these types of occupational and interest stereotypes and I explained it over at my blog under the post "This Gun For Hire-Female Bodyguards."

Having tried, and succeeded I believe, in raising my children with the self-confidence to pursue careers that match their God given talents and interests, regardless of cultural stereotypes and sexual orientation (two are pursuing non-traditional occupational roles for their gender based on their interests), I still find these discussions perturbing.

I would also note that in the Culinary "profession," men dominate the field.

Hetero DH has a bent toward interior decorating and a particular style when it comes to home furnishings, but he would never think of it as such. Our choice of our current home with all its wonderful idiosyncrasies is a reflection of him much more than me, although I have contributed. This is true even though I am the more artsy of the two of us.

As to your question though, it seems that there is a bit of a cultural inversion going on right now. Is there now an implicit standard that to be an "authentic" gay person in the marketing sense of the thought that requires one to package their brand in such a way that their "gayness" is communicated?

J G-W said...

I would assume that the advice from the pamphlet refers to talking about it or making an issue of it in Church -- not about suppressing personality traits that come naturally to us. What you are talking about is simply being open to the fullest expression of our humanity, which for all men and women, gay and straight, would include both masculine and feminine traits.

Grant Haws said...

"Once we accept ourselves as gay, we may feel less inclined to hide our less manly attributes."

I think that remark is very important because I've heard some people comment on how someone will come out and all the sudden start "acting" gay. But in truth, before they came out they were acting straight, and now that they are out they don't need to worry about appearing gay because everyone knows that they are.

Within gay culture itself though I find that there are "gay-ness" expectations. There seems to be gay men that value the more flamboyant and feminine side of the spectrum, while others only value the hyper-masculine side. It seems sad when a minority like us starts dividing up and looking down on eachother by pushing our fellow gays into subculture stereotypes like twinks, leather, bears, etc. and judging based on those subcultures.

In the end most of us fall somewhere in between the extremes and at times find ourselves acting too gay or too straight for those around us. The best way is just don't worry if you are acting too much one way or another, and just allow your natural inclinations lead you to where you are.

Anonymous said...

I can't remember my "identity" for these blogs. I found you through "" as I am the "wife"--separated 14 years as of today (although he lives here in his motor home now--that should identify me to all the other gays and ex-wives who read here who know me--there may not be any). I find your blog very interesting. I haven't read a lot yet, but plan on reading more of it.

I just finished reading your post about going to affirmation and your wife seeming upset. I'm going to need to read more of your story before I make any comments. My story is "Colleen" on wildflowers--I go by cl2 most of the time and post on recovery from mormonism quite regularly. I consider myself an exmormon because of what my "ex" and I have been through in regards to the church. My story on wildflowers is up until about 7 years ago. I am now in a straight/straight relationship with the guy I could have married at age 21--a nonmormon. My "ex" and I have a very good relationship and I am friends with his most recent partner and a lot of his gay friends.

I've enjoyed reading what I have so far and will be reading more in the future.

ControllerOne said...

This was a great topic. I loved Grant's comment about "acting straight". I never thought of it that way, but going back to my high school days, I realize THE most important thing was to make sure everyone knew you were straight.

Since I accepted my sexuality, I have been less secretive about my OGTs such as enjoying musicals (I loved Annie as a kid until I realized that it wasn't manly) and sappy movies, Steel Magnolias for example). Steel Magnolias is a perfect example. I had a straight friend who was very embarrassed when he admitted liking the movie. Very adamant that he was not into "chick flicks" but this was a one-off exception.

On the other hand, I don't have a lot of other OGTs. As a child and teen, I didn't really play sports. But that was more insecurity than anything else. As I got older, I played a lot of basketball (albeit badly) and still watch quiet a bit of it. I don't have particularly good fashion sense, although perhaps better than most men. I actually had an older sister come up to me at Church once and compliment me on dressing well for a single guy. Oh, if she only knew back then...

But, at the end of the day, let's face the fact that there are cultural norms for all groups. It is how we function as a society. Mormons have norms, Catholics have norms, Californian's have norms, folks from Utah certainly have norms (no offense!). There are as many different sets of expectations as there are colors, cultures and religions in the world.

Why would we expect the homosexual community not to be the same?

Frank Lee Scarlet said...

Great topic! I've thought about this before, and I agree with Grant. I think that, in some ways, out people have as much pressure to conform to gay stereotypes as closeted people to straight stereotypes. Either way, it's easy to get pushed around by people's expectations.
As for the GLHC reference, I have always taken issue with advice that tells us to hide our true selves and pretend to be something we're not. It implies that who we are is shameful, ignominious--not exactly a psychologically beneficial mindset.

Anonymous said...

"Once we accept ourselves as gay, we may feel less inclined to hide our less manly attributes."

One of the most liberating things about coming out is that I no longer worry about nor hide the fact that I am not the most masculine guy in the world. What's the worse they can do - accuse me of being a f*ggot?

It doesn't hurt that nowadays I consider being thought of as gay as a compliment instead of an insult.

It's interesting that nowadays without even trying I feel more masculine then I ever felt all those years before when I was trying so hard to be masculine.

And not only that but now I am finally able to accept being perceived by others as being masculine. Before I use to say, if only they knew. Now they know and still find me masculine.

The irony is that nowadays I often wonder about more masculine behaving men. I wonder if they are not being themselves or even maybe hiding something such as being secretly gay, bi or transgendered.

In other words, I have become the new norm by which all others are judged.

And then I laugh at myself for being so silly but then this whole topic of masculinity can often be so silly.

What is not silly is that a couple of my effeminate friends through the strength of their character have proven to be more manly than all the masculine men I have known.

Which I guess means that being masculine and being a real man don't always go hand in hand.


cj said...

I am a TA for a Sociology of Gender class here at BYU and it has certainly made me think about things we label as being appropriately masculine or feminine characteristics or activities, as well as stereotypically gay behavior, and the certain role that has emerged for gay men in society.

I have come to the conclusion that the way we "do" gender is based predominantly on performance. We perform a certain gender identity role, the one that we mostly identify with.

Most of the gender roles are culturally specific. Certain behaviors/mannerisms may be appropriate for men in some cultures but in others the same activity may be for women. For gay gender roles/behavior, these also varies from culture to culture.

Also from a sociological perspective, the role that is consistent across cultures(heterosexual men being the highest in the hierarchy) has to do with who has the power. Heterosexual males have the power in virtually every society. I have a theory on why some gay men choose to perform effeminate roles, but it would take too much explanation here.

I also don't think there is anything wrong with it being a performance. We "perform" roles all the time, including Mormon culture roles. Performing gender can be liberating, and some gay men find themselves in a gender role they can feel comfortable with, rather than our cultural hegemonic masculity in North America (strong, plays sports, aggressive, etc.)

I just think it is important to realize that gay behavior is something of a performance, and if a gay person doesn't fit into the particular gay role, then they should not think they are not "gay" enough.

I don't know if anything I wrote just made sense, but it made sense in my head. :)


cj said...

Oh yeah. What I was really going to talk about at first was about this quote:

"From our premortal life we were directed into a physical body. There is no mismatching of bodies and spirits. Boys are to become men --masculine, manly men --ultimately to become husbands and fathers." Boyd K. Packer

This quote bothers me, and while I agree with the last phrase, that God intends us to have families (what kind of families is up for debate) I don't know what "masculine, manly men" even means. Does he mean masculine in the North American sense--to all become a version of Brad Pitt--or does it mean model of masculinity in New Guinea, or China, or Denmark, all of which involves completely different characteristics. What is masculine or manly depends on where you are.

What homosexual attributes you "flaunt" also depends on where you are in the world.

I think that the many church leaders are starting to realize this, and so are deemphasizing stereotypes of homosexuality.

El Genio said...

I think what Grant said is spot on. And I really really hate that phrase from God Loveth his Children.

Scott said...

I'm also very much against gender-based stereotypes and the insistence that men act one way and women act another.

I've also disliked the statement from Elder Packer that CJ quoted, though I've tried hard to be charitable and dismiss it as the relic of an earlier time (it's from over 30 years ago).

That got harder to do last week when the new materials for the Young Women's Personal Progress award were announced. In describing the materials Elaine S. Dalton (Young Women General President) gushed over the color of the Personal Progress booklet--pink--saying:

"We are excited about the color of pink, because we think these young women are pink. They resonate to the softness and the femininity of that color. We want them to understand that they are soft, they are unique, they are feminine and that they don't have to be like the boys."

In my opinion, calling the young women of the church "pink" and "soft" is as bad as insisting that young men should be "masculine, manly men". Are they too soft to participate in sports ("like the boys")? Should I stop expecting my soft, pink daughter to shovel the walk when it snows? (That's a masculine job, isn't it?)

I suppose I've wandered slightly off-topic, as the original post was about gay stereotypes. But in truth, I think the world would be a better place if everyone was simply allowed to be who they are, without any artificial constraints being placed on them because of what they are.

playasinmar said...

My suggestion is to try not to get wrapped-up in word-by-word terminology that only exists because the church is trying over-hard to sound nice.

Anonymous said...

I'm going to ask you--because I've really enjoyed reading your blog. It has given a whole different perspective of the gays who do stay married, who try to make it work. It was really what I HOPED for in my marriage. There should never be ONE SIZE FITS ALL in any situation.

First--I want to address gay stereotypes. My ex can fix anything. He keeps our old cars running forever and ever. He laid our floor, put in the tankless water heater, put on the roof, painted the house--he doesn't fit any gay stereotype--except he loves men. He couldn't dress himself fashionable if he tried (I dress him). AND he certainly can't decorate. He can cook, however.

BUT, right now, my ex is out in his motor home having a date with a married mormon gay man. Shouldn't I be up in arms about this? This is the thing I hate the most--the deceit, the women who are hurt by this situation, but, at the same time, I have a lot of empathy for the men (I didn't always). Soooooooooo--what is the feeling (I hope someone answers) of those who are gay, mormon, and married. Do some of "you guys" cheat on your wives? I can tell that enigma doesn't--and I applaud you.

I have read a lot of -L- 's writings, too. (Can anyone post the SLT article?--I read it, but didn't know he was in it and it is no longer available.)

Thanks in advance. cl2 (That is C L 2) as in chlorine.

Abelard Enigma said...

Anonymous (CL2) - for me, the idea of gay stereotypes is that they are attributes, characteristics (whatever we want to call them) that are more common in the gay male population than in the general male population; but, that doesn't mean that any particular gay male possesses any of the stereotypes - nor does it mean that straight males are devoid of any gay stereotypical traits.

As I indicated, I'm pretty straight acting myself. I'm handy around the home - I've done electrical work, plumbing, painting, carpentry, etc. I've tiled floors, built shelves, yada, yada, yada. I could go into stores like Home Depot and Lowes and spend all day wandering around getting ideas for things I'd like to do around my home (ok, maybe that last one does make me sound a little gay). I certainly missed out on that gay fashion sense - for me, comfort trumps fashion.

As for your ex - to be honest, my first thought was "is he on a date? Or is he hooking up?" I certainly can't tell you how you should feel - but I think you'd be perfectly justified to be upset over it. No matter how much we may want it, we can't have it both ways - we need to pick a team and stick with it. Whenever there is infidelity in a relationship - somebody is invariably going to get hurt. In this case, it appears that the wife of your ex's married gay mormon friend is the innocent victim. I just hope that your ex had the sensibility to formally end his relationship with you before seeking out other relationships.

As to your question: Yes, some married gay guys do cheat on their wives - but so do some married straight guys. For me, cheating is cheating - and, sexual orientation and/or the gender of the person you're cheating with is irrelevant.