Monday, October 20, 2008

Butch and Femme

Why are some gay men very obvious and effeminate and others you wouldn't ever know are gay, I mean, you can't tell one way or the other. I'm a gay man by the way. Anon.

That's a good question. And not an easy one to answer. There will be some who disagree with this, but I think the vast majority of gay men are not stereotypical, but that the more flamboyant gay men sort of "stick out" a lot more. Some people think that "fabulous" gay men tend to be out of the closet more than those of us who are less fabulous, but it's just as likely that fab guys or "femmes" or "queens" find it much harder, if not impossible, to pass for straight. I know a great many masculine gay men who are completely out of the closet, and I have even met effeminate men who say they are straight but later on admit they are gay. (Not to mention effeminate or "girlish" or "soft" men who may actually be heterosexual!)

Why the difference? Well, here's one theory for what it's worth. For a long time there was a debate as to whether homosexuality was something a person was born with or acquired over time (from the way they were raised, their environment, etc.). Nowadays we -- correctly, I believe - lean toward accepting that we're born gay. But the other traits we have -- those may come about because of the way we're raised or other environmental factors.

For instance, is it possible that feminine gay men are raised primarily by women, or are closer to the female members of their family? Is there an element of unacknowledged transsexuality in the more outrageously flamboyant members of the gay male community? The element of transvestism and female identification is what makes a small percentage of gay men become drag queens (there are also straight men who also like to dress up as women).

But here's the rub. I bet if a study were taken, we'd discover examples of masculine gay men who were raised strictly by women, and effeminate gay men who had a strong masculine father in their life. So it gets confusing.

To further confound the issue, how much effeminate behavior in "queens" is -- for lack of a better word -- "natural" to them, and how much is acquired? I have known gay men who are basically masculine but who are capable of "camping" it up, even becoming a bit swishy, when they feel like it. Most gay men have no desire to do this, of course, but sometimes a gay man will want in no uncertain terms to let everyone in the room know he's gay and that's the way he'll choose to do it, by becoming a recognizable stereotype. (I would prefer they just tell people they're gay but to each his own.) Or maybe the first gay men who befriended him loved to camp and swish and he has consciously or unconsciously mimicked them throughout his life.

To add a note of humor, let me tell you the story of "Bubbalina." This guy was the cousin of my first boyfriend, and both were from Romania. Bubbalina spoke in such a high, squeaky voice that on the phone people would assume he was a woman. I figured that was just the way he talked, he couldn't do anything about it, because after all why would he talk that way if he could help it? One afternoon I came to see my boyfriend, with whom Bubbalina -- as the cousin was called -- was staying. I heard a deep, gruff masculine voice behind the door to the apartment telling my boyfriend's dog to "go away, get out of the way!" as someone opened the door for me and I assumed that one of my boyfriend's friends was visiting.

But when the door was opened there was Bubbalina!

The minute he saw me his eyebrows shot up, his mouth opened wide, and he went -- in that high, screechy, feminine voice -- "Oh, hello, look who's here, so nice to see" ---

To this day I've wondered what the hell was up with that? He had a perfectly nice, positively baritone voice -- why did he speak all the time in that screech? Or did he only do it in gay bars and among gay friends and relatives? And why? Was that simply his way of being gay? Did he enjoy it on some strange, campy, peculiar level?

For all I know Bubbalina could now be a closest case with a wife and six kids and the butchest persona of anyone you've ever met.

If there's a moral to this it's that no one has all the answers just yet. The gay community is entitled to its delightful weirdos just as the straight community is. Let's celebrate our diversity, and -- butch or femme -- be kind to each other and not worry about everything too much.