The Myth of Gay Macho

Beyond Butch Lies the Real Planet Queer

Not to the virtually normal, though. Their battle cry is "Reclaim your gender!" This redemption involves a disavowal of any behavior that doesn't jibe with the male code. "I'm all for the cult of masculinity. . . " Andrew Sullivan has written. "Last time I checked, that was a major reason I thought of myself as homosexual. But when hyper-masculine men tart themselves about like homecoming queens, the entire concept of masculinity is negated." Exactly.

Not every homo wants to recover his right to be a man. Plenty of us are glad to let that cup pass from our groins. But for Sullivan, these genderfuckers are "a very small minority" within an otherwise virile community. In fact, he claims, most gay men "embrace their gender."

Homocons cite a certain survey of sex ads to bolster their contention that most gay men are basically butch. This study found that nearly all men who place personal ads in gay papers describe themselves as masculine. What's more, most seek the same traits in a sex partner. If this were really the case, femmy guys would be sitting home alone, which they certainly aren't. Soulful sissies, flaming creatures, ripe papis, and beamish boychicks all get their share. The stud muffin is a recognizable type in the gay community, but he isn't the norm. There is no gay norm, virtual or otherwise. But some types are more acceptable than others. The real question isn't whether gay men are naturally macho, but why we feel compelled to wear that face in public. The answer has everything to do with status.

RuPaul notwithstanding, macho men do better in the world than their effeminate brothers. The confidence that comes from social success is the major reason why they are sexy. If sissies were honored for their spirit and rewarded for their beauty, many more gay men would advertise themselves as femmes. Instead, we struggle to keep the evidence of our flexibility in check. The result is a widespread terror of intimacy, since that means letting your butch guard down.

The homocons' solution to the playground trauma is not so different from the clones'. They want us to stop acting like faggots. Hang with straight men, join a rugby league, take testosterone if you have to, and fercrissake stop empathizing with the victim and start identifying with the aggressor. This self-help program points to a major difference between the gay left and right. Liberationists don't want to reform gay behavior; they want to change the system that needs faggots in the first place.

The world that queer radicals would create is one where no man needs to butch up to fly right. Masculinity would be something every male possesses, not a test every boy must take. Gay men would be free to follow their hearts without sacrificing prestigeóand so would straights. After all, macho is a wound for everyone. It isn't just about boys bonding and dads passing their cojones along to their sons. It's also about boys brutalizing each other to establish a hierarchy based on fear of the feminine, and fathers injuring their sons for failing to make the grade. It's about mothers repressing their daughters, and butch girls suffering through the female equivalent of the playground trauma: the prom from hell.

What would guys be like without the compulsion to man up? Some would meet the Sullivan standardóbecause they want toóbut others would fall gleefully by the wayside. Some women would feast on He-Men, but others would relish the chance to bed a studly sissy. Homo- and heterosexuality would not cease to exist, but these categories would become far more individualized. Gender would be a journey, not a destination. The flexibility that colors gay sexuality, gay culture, and even gay politics would no longer be a source of shame. The hummingbird would be free to fly.

Like freedom, flexibility is contagious. That's why it's mocked, menaced, and manacled. The unfinished business of gay liberation is to break these chains. Only then will we know what it really means to be gay.

Richard Goldstein's new book, The Attack Queers: Liberal Society and the Gay Right (Verso), appears this month.

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