how much confusion?

When we were at the tat parlour recently me and Phil were having a conversation about gay men and gender. I know that sounds like half an introduction to some god awful seminar, but there’s a question here which I have been asking for sometime.

Basically it goes like this:

Out of the population of gay men, how many are gay, and how many have unacknowledged issues around being transgender?

The reason I ask this is because I have met so many gay men who seem to identify as men only ambivalently, and so many who seem to barely be able to hide what I can only describe as a “revenge against masculinity”. And if you are a man who loves men, that really doesn’t make any sense. If you’re not a man, there is nothing wrong with that. But if you are a gay man, then you are a gay man.

I know it is complicated. People confuse gender and physical sex. People confuse socially conditioned gender characteristics with a more deeply experienced sense of gender. People rebel in the process of finding themselves. No one’s sense of gender is as simple as it looks. But at the middle of it, deep inside there, there is something simple, and it is what makes you the man that you are, and gives you peace with your own manhood.

And I see a lot of gay men who are not at peace with their manhood. I also see a lot of gay men who are deeply emotionally unhappy, and while there are a lot of reason’s for that, being at war with your gender (or not realizing your actual gender) would be a contributing and sabotaging factor if it were present.

Another thing I notice with mainstream gay culture is a tendency to invalidate grounded and emotionally connected masculinity or femininity. We have butch and femme, and both seem to be based upon surface, performance, appearance and pretence. Yet in my experience both are asserted defiantly, as if there were no “real thing”. But the fact is there is, though it may take healing to get to it.

Back at the tat parlour we felt that there were probably quite a lot of gay men who had confusion between sexual orientation and gender. It’s reflected quite strongly also in traditional “gay culture”. Of course, with so many factors at play we really don’t know, but it’s a question, and I think there may be more to it than appears on the surface.

Greek theatre mask by — DerHexer (own source) [GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html) or CC-BY-SA-3.0-2.5-2.0-1.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

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16 Comments

  1. I can’t answer for gay men – yet! But as a transguy transitioning from a butch lesbian I will say it does take knowing your inner self intimately and radically changing how defining gender takes place in the mind. The gender binary has made most of us very generic. Girls wear pink, boys wear blue; for boys – only gay men have pierced ears/long hair; for girls – only lesbians ride motorbikes and so on. The completely misguided thinking is so ingrained within us that breaking the rules of binary is feared and feeds prejudice. I have known since I was 6 or 7 I am a man inside and lived most of my life battling to deny that. It didn’t take cock and balls to tell me the truth it took changing my thinking and accepting my manhood. Gender is not having the dangly bits or not, it is having the balls to be true to self. But accepting self is only the beginning, facing the world without cisgender privilege is daunting and terrifying, a fear fed by the very real horror stories of prejudice, transphobic hate crime and the actual processes the trans person has to go through.

    The binary system is what invalidates gender traits and for some reason homosexuality in either sex exaggerates that – which to me has always been rather odd but hey there ain’t much odder than the human being. A lesbian who feels ‘too masculine’ use the hate of the male as a way of disassociating from that and I suspect it is the same for the over feminine gay man. How many of us heard the comments ‘do you have to be so boyish?’ or ‘man up and stop beings such a sissypants?’ as children. Horrible I know they are, but worse they damage the child mind and scar into adult thinking. Be it sexuality or gender identity this is the battle we have to fight against. To make it stop change has to come in how we raise and teach children so they can be at one with whatever they grow up to be and not have to hide in gayness because they hate their true identity.

    Love and light dear brother xxxx

    • confusion is really understandable, as our parent society is illiterate in terms of gender understanding. The more conventional the ideas someone has accepted, the more confusing too, and you are completely right about the way we raise children being important. The confusion doesn’t help gay folks, transfolk, or gay transfolk though, and I wish that where there was confusion that it could be clarified and dispelled, to help everyone. But like you say, the stakes are so high for people, it doesn’t encourage self examination, and to reach a realization it has to become *thinkable* first. If you belong to a sexual or gender minority it is I think difficult to reach maturity and wholeness, it takes a lot because it is so unsupported and un-nurtured. I think that untangling sexuality and gender is one important thing though. For the dominant society we are an undifferentiated “other” (this is where I find terms like “queer” really unhelpful), but for our own development and maturation, we have to be what we most deeply find ourselves to be, and grow from there. Only then do I feel we grow truthfully and healthily. Whether “gay culture” supports or attacks that may be another question though, as I’m not sure how much gay culture actually feeds off an amount of confusion and the negativity that it exacerbates.

      hugs bro xx

  2. btw, I’m not talking about how “feminine” or “masculine” a man is, I think that’s a completely different thing to a person’s gender, and I am trying to refer to the experienced quality of gender of a person, ie whether they really, deeply feel that they are a man

    • You may have hit the nail here bro, society defines man and woman by how masculine or feminine they appear to be so much so that what we feel inside is pushed back and denied as not being acceptable. When it comes to homosexuality ‘the norms’ assume that one partner takes the role of the opposite gender and is less man or woman. In most cases that is totally not true.

      • I think not just mainstream society, parts of gay society seem confused and almost willfully obscure about matters of masculinity, femininity and gender. I’ve met some people who just seem to say whatever suits them at the time – one minute they’ll give a speech about how they are a man and so whatever and however they do defines manhood for them, the next minute they’ll be making exclamations about “men!”, like men were something different to them. You can’t have it both ways, one or the other (or possibly both) has to be an act. Similarly, the amount of “gay men” who while they seem to want to use men sexually, seem at the same time to deeply dislike men is really quite disturbing. One of the real troubles with socialization into “gay culture” seems to me to be that people can get away with, and normalize what is actually really very dishonest and maladapted behaviour. That doesn’t help anyone.

      • I know what you mean hence I am not part of the ‘scene’ and never will be. Having been a man-hating stone butch I can honestly say now it had naff all to do with men but everything to do with me being unable to accept my self as a man.

        To me the ‘scene’ has always been about following the herd and all being stereotypical of a our kind. And oh yes it is so easy to hide all sorts of nasties in that. Gay, and Trans for that matter, are not excuses to behave in a certain way.

        To me if one needs to follow the herd then really it is hiding something of self one cannot for whatever reason deal with. The question I see here – is ‘gay’ just about sexual preference or is there more to it?

  3. in so many ways Jeremy you are an exceptional person. When I was very young, back in the mid seventies, I thought a gay scene would be some kind of Whitmanic idyll out of Edward Carpenter or something. Wrong! lol. I also found it impossible to join a scene, until I joined a bear club at the end of the 90s, which was (if not perfect) an extraordinarily human window of possibility for a while, By and large though, I found other things to be as you said. I have spent so much time following my own path, which is part of the reason the internet is so great. But the reason I followed my own path was not something abstract or loftily idealistic, it was a need for a basic human standard, without which I could not see people treating each other with real respect, let alone love.

    Quite right about the hiding (and excusing) of nasties, and no, identity is no excuse.

    I think that’s a very interesting question about what “gay” is. What indeed is a sexual orientation? I think it relates to more than sex (though it includes the erotic very centrally), also relating to emotions and partnership bonding, and so to the possible shape of your whole life. It is who you can be fulfilled with in a complete relationship I feel. And it also relates to more than the sex of the person, or their body type. I think it does also relate to gender too (and I think we do not have enough terms for all the different variations and combinations of genders and bodies). But say if someone is cis-male and they have a relationship with a biological male who is actually a transwoman, it’s up to them how they define their relationship, but if the transwoman is not a man (and she clearly isn’t, even if she has a male body), I find it difficult to understand that as a gay male relationship, because it’s not a relationship between two men, and we are not just defined by the biology of our lovers, but also by the being we seek out and fall in love with. At least that’s how I’m seeing it, but I do think that we lack the language to express all the nuances of this.

      • I think gender is an important part of a relationship, an important part of a person’s gayness also, the gender of you and the person you love. How much does the body need to match? I think that must be something very personal. Attraction is very idiosyncratic, though there are definite physical characteristics that a person is usually attracted to, but still they are possessed by someone of the gender you are attracted to, not just the body. And then there is the character in with that.

  4. OK you said ‘let the feathers be ruffled’ – here goes with some heavy stereotyping and earning a few slaps along the way no doubt.

    What is meant by the term gay man? If a gay man is simply a homosexual man then that is easy to understand he is a man who loves and desires men- simplez! Unfortunately I think most people get an image of nasty spiteful little creatures bitching about clothes other people wear and the like.

    Transgender women – well that covers cds, tvs and transwomen. Again what springs to mind at the term is trashy tarts bitching about other peoples clothes and the like.

    It is easy to see how the two may get confused and how easy it is to slip into the gay world as a safe zone for the transgender, and probably vice versa, and I think that is often a subconscious act rather than a thought out one.

    I don’t think we will eliminate that confusion totally as gender maturity kicks in with sexuality at puberty, hence as a pre-T transman I don’t know what sexuality I will end up with as I still got go through male puberty. Right now I could possibly come out gay as I watch men a lot but is it being gay or observing male behaviour so I can assimilate them into my own behaviours so I can pass as a man more easily? I could be classed as ‘straight’ as I hang out with a very nice lady alot who accepts me as a guy without hesitation or trying to manipulate my transition. As a younger person that might be difficult to differentiate, as an older person I am open to all possible outcomes so do let myself think different things.

    Going against the herd is never going to be easy as it is a leap in the dark and can be very isolating and humans do not like feeling isolated.

    • I think in part it comes down to living under alien definitions. To a traditional straight society a tranny is a tranny (sorry for the language) and we’re all queer anyway, and we can all STFU and do what is expected of us, which is basically serve as fake men or women, sex workers, performers or some other kind of service industry, when we weren’t being killed. It’s easy to see how we could (accurately) find common cause and (negatively) internalize the projections, which not only degrade us, but also homogenize us as an “other”, This is part of my instinctive objection to the term “queer”, and I really don’t think it’s as smart as it thinks it is.

      I don’t think we will eliminate the confusion overnight, and there is enough ambiguity in human nature that some confusion will always remain, but what we can do is dismiss the projections that degrade us, even when they are reproduced stridently by people who claim to represent our “culture”, and seek respect and honesty from ourselves. The “gay community” stands little chance of drowning in the half inch of introspection that it allows itself, but if it could get a whole foot wet, and tell the truth afterwards, it would be a game changer

  5. I strongly agree with your observation. This gender confusion is what put me off to the “gay scene” when I came out over forty years ago. I identfy as a MAN and am interestex in other MEN. I didn’t see many gays like me when I frequented the bar scene and it was very off putting. Thank goodness I found the bear community when I needed like minded brothers.

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