Gay men like me need to start acknowledging our misogyny problem

I used to think it was my obligation to make disparaging remarks about female friends’ appearances and outfits. Especially if they weren’t glam enough. Elsewhere, RuPaul’s Drag Race and its parody of bitchy, competitive womanhood does nothing for me

Jamie Tabberer
Thursday 27 July 2017 14:01 BST
RuPaul in drag in 2014
RuPaul in drag in 2014 (Rex)

In January, I wrote an op-ed for LGBT site Gay Star News called “Why gay girls have it harder than gay guys”.

I thought the piece innocuous, self-explanatory; that most people’s reaction would be “No sh*t, Sherlock”. Spoiler alert: I was wrong.

“No one bats an eyelid if two women walk down the street holding hands,” wrote one critic.

“Lesbian sex has never been illegal and punishable for one thing, as gay sex still is in some countries,” extrapolated another. “Is he serious?”

Lesbianism is still in fact illegal in Qatar, Oman and Tanzania, among others. Meanwhile, corrective rape occurs everywhere from South Africa to Jamaica to the UK. But I understand his point.

Today marks 50 years since the Sexual Offences Act 1967, or the partial decriminalisation of homosexuality, to be more accurate.

Among the celebrations I, for one, am surprised to learn the change in law didn’t technically affect women. It was actually same sex sexual activity between men that was previously illegal.

But does this mean gay women had a head-start on their male counterparts in the path to acceptance? Hardly.

Gay Men's Chorus of Washington drowns out religious bigots at Pride march

I boiled my aforementioned argument down into five points. How few public spaces there are for lesbians compared to gay men. How underrepresented gay women are in popular culture (in TV, for example, lesbian characters are often killed off). How gay women are objectified by straight men in a way gay men aren’t by straight women. And how, thus, most lesbian porn is made for the male gaze.

Then there’s the misogyny of gay men ourselves.

“But gay men love women,” I thought to myself, citing the fact that 80 per cent of my most cherished friends are women. “And after all, my misogyny is subconscious.” I later caught myself calling a female cyclist a “bitch” under my breath. (I now try to stick to gender neutral insults, like “tosser”.)

It was actress Rose McGowan who first alerted me to gay male privilege, with her explosive quotes on a podcast with Brett Easton Ellis in 2014.

“[They’re] as misogynistic as straight men, if not more so,” she said. “You wanna talk about the fact that I have heard nobody in the gay community, no gay males, standing up for women on any level? There is Sharia law active in Saudi Arabia, there’s a women about to be stoned – I have not heard [AIDS activist] Cleve Jones discuss her, and nor will he.

“I think it’s what happened to you as a group when you are starting to get most of what you fought for. What do you do now? What I would hope they would do is extend a hand to women.”

Rather, if you scratch the surface, there are many subtle shades of sexism unique to gay men.

When Stephen Fry described his friend and Best Costume BAFTA-winner Jenny Beavan as a “bag lady” at last year’s ceremony, I shuddered with recognition. I used to think it was my obligation to make disparaging remarks about the appearances of female friends. Especially if they weren’t glam enough.

Because from Marlene to Madonna to Ariana, we love ourselves a diva – until they’re no longer perfect.

I’ll never forget the disdain with which a gay guy I know critiqued Artpop-era Lady Gaga. “I’d rather have a nice figure to look at,” he spat. This is someone who used to dress as her. Who, to my knowledge, is sexually attracted solely to men. His dismissal was purely aesthetic.

Elsewhere, RuPaul’s Drag Race and its parody of bitchy, competitive womanhood does nothing for me. I’m of course considered a freak by many for this, so I tolerate its existence. But I draw the line at the use of “fishy” to describe suspiciously convincing queens. Surely this, like so much drag humour, is from a bygone era?

Finally, look at the ubiquity of “masc4masc” descriptors on dating or hook-up apps, whereby users cartoonishly butch up their image to get laid. Scruff’s “most-woofed” feature is pure comedy. To my eyes, everyone looks the same. Femininity, whatever that is exactly, is a dirty word, meaning lesser. It’s exiled.

Advocate contributor Ben Kawaller sent the whole thing up last month, writing about feigning masculinity with a simple hat trick. “It turns out, throw a baseball cap on this thirsty theatre queen and voila: she’s masc!” he exclaimed.

His piece made me laugh, but it also made me sad. My 16-year-old self certainly wouldn’t get far on those apps, with my love of studded chokers, glitter and bangles up to my elbows. In the years that followed, I wonder to what extent I’ve stunted my own sense of femininity – however unsuccessfully – in an attempt to fit in.

True, the trailblazing queer youth embrace the trans movement and gender fluidity (the latter currently in vogue, but categorically not just a trend). I’m now a gay man in my thirties, but I still often wonder where I sit within gender’s infinite framework.

But I sense my peers going the other way. Gay men of a certain age and disposition are becoming increasingly repulsed and scared of femininity – unless it’s safe, a joke, a release valve in the form of a reality show.

Filling out the government’s LGBT survey this week, I surprised myself by answering the question “How comfortable do you feel being an LGBT person in the UK?” middlingly. Half a century on from Sexual Offences Act, many of the battles are won, but we have so much further to go. And until gay men start recognising our misogyny problem, true equality will elude us forever.

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