Tuesday, October 20, 2009

The Whole "Queen" Thing

I'm a gay guy, but I confess that I don't get the whole "queen" thing, and especially not the drag queen thing. You can slam me if you want, but that's how I feel. What is up with those guys? Anon.

I'm a little confused here. I assume you're a butch or non-stereotypical gay man -- most of us are, in fact -- and you don't understand why some gay guys are queeny? I'll proceed from that supposition. [I'll confess right now in the interest of full disclosure that some queens can drive me right up the wall, while others I find warm, friendly, gay-positive and altogether terrific. But that's true of the butch numbers as well. ]

Most if not all "queens" are gay but most gay guys are not queens. For reasons that have never quite been determined, a certain percentage of gay men are stereotypically effeminate or "swishy" to a certain degree. This may run from a mild softness or slight girlishness on occasion to full-out screaming queen mania that's on all the time.

If there's a gene to determine sexual orientation, as some studies suggest, is there also a gene to determine whether or not a gay person is butch or femme? Somehow I doubt it. I think effeminacy in men is an acquired trait. In other words, it has to do with how and by whom a man is raised and with his environment. Then again -- and here's where things really get confusing -- there are queeny gay men who have strong male role models, who are not surrounded and raised by women, and who grow up in atmospheres that aren't especially "feminine." So who knows? So let's just say that effeminacy can be an acquired trait but may not be in all cases. [And let's not forget -- Saturday Night Live jokes aside -- that there are undoubtedly effeminate heterosexual men. Not just straight-identified, but straight.]

But now we come to drag queens, men who dress up as women. In general, if these men are gay we call them drag queens; if straight -- and yes, there are heterosexual men who like to dress up as women -- we call them transvestites. In any case, most gay men are not transvestites and have zero interest in dressing up as women.

For one reason or another some gay men -- and perhaps some straight men as well -- identity with the opposite sex to such a degree that they feel in part female. This is different from a transsexual person, who can be an actual female trapped in a male body or vice versa. Undoubtedly there are TVs [transvestites] and drag queens who are unacknowledged transsexuals. An extreme identification with women can lead a man to spend much if not all of his time in drag and in a female persona. These guys may feel unattractive and colorless without the female finery; getting in drag helps them get out of their shell and develop a personality the way that imbibing a few drinks does for other people. And, strange as it sounds, this may be completely unrelated to their sexual orientation. [And some men find sexual gratification in dressing up as women.]

This is why you don't "get" drag queens. Because it isn't a gay thing as such at all. Drag queens are a part of the gay community, but they have their own special needs and purposes that most gay men can't especially relate to at all.

As for queens or femmes -- gay men who are stereotypical but aren't necessarily interested in dressing in drag -- a lot of times they pick up their flamboyant gestures and behavior by mimicking the more "outrageous" gay men they they first meet when they come out. A lot of swishy behavior is just acting, camping it up. A snide homophobe may think that beneath every butch number there's a queen but the truth is that sometimes it's just the opposite. Some guys act effeminate simply because that's what they think gay guys do. If they get involved with the more masculine side of gay culture, they may drop the whole swish thing, although if they're old enough it may have become such a large part of who they are that it becomes impossible to change.

But as I've said before, butch or femme, we're all gay brothers, each with our own unique way of expressing ourselves.

Macho or swishy, drag queen or leather king, sports fan or Broadway enthusiast, we don't necessarily have to "get" each other.

But respect each other we must, for divided we will definitely fall.

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