CW: References to Homophobia, Homophobic Language
What is the word people use right before your name to describe you?
Are you “footy John” or “tall Harriet”?
Now bear with me a moment, but I honestly could not think of a more offensive way to describe me than as ‘gay Nic’.
Call me a homophobe, sure – I’ve been called it plenty of times before – but it’s a bit more complicated than that.
I too am gay. I identify, however, as part of the silent majority who do not feel the need to continually flaunt their sexuality and instead, I see it as just another part of my identity. This, therefore, is why I would be so offended if the word people used to differentiate me from others, was ‘gay’.
I have had the upbringing that would make some gays shiver, and the rest of the silent majority smile. I boarded at an elite all-boys private school in Melbourne and had such a fantastic time. I was highly involved in the school, held a leadership position, played sport three times a week, had a great group of male friends and, still enjoyed the occasional fringe benefits that came from living in the boarding house.
I may not have been ‘out’, I rarely experienced any homophobia. Now I’m definitely not suggesting that homophobia did not exist at my school, “faggot”, infact, was the number one insult going around. In my whole time at school, however, even though I lived in a highly conservative and, at times, backwards boarding house, I was only called a faggot once, which I quickly received an apology for.
So why was I not targeted for my sexuality more often I hear you ask? The reason is simple enough to explain – I was close enough to the ‘str8 acting’ spectrum that it actually took people quite a while to work out I was gay.
Everyone seems to be quite familiar with ‘femme’ (although they may not use the word). This is a widely accepted stereotype – think ‘yas queens’, lisps and loose wrists – rendering these males overt and easy to pick as gay. In comparison, gay world has come up with the label ‘str8 acting’, which exemplifies more masculine traits and strongly contrasts with being ‘femme’.
‘Str8 acting’, by definition, implies that you can’t be gay without being feminine, as the ‘acting’ implies some sort of veneer – both of which I strongly disagree with. There is a much needed reformation in the use of the word ‘str8 acting’.
There seems to be this misconception that being gay and being masculine are somehow mutually exclusive concepts, and this is where the silent majority or ‘str8 acting’ gays come into it. I love playing sport, I love cars and I love hanging out with the boys – I always have – and from my experience as a member of the silent majority, these ‘str8’ traits are something me and all my friends – ‘str8 acting’ or straight – have in common. This leads me to the conclusion that these traits are not ‘gay’ or ‘straight’, but rather, just traits in general as opposed to something we should assign to a sexuality.
The inherent paradox of being ‘str8 acting’ is that you could potentially never ‘come out’. If you don’t conform to the ‘femme’ stereotype, and society has trouble identifying that you are gay, there is a perception that you would actually be creating more stress for yourself by choosing to come out.
I could always catch a look of slight surprise in strangers’ faces when I referenced my boyfriend, or noted that when in public most people would assume we were best friends or brothers. This suited me fine – not because of internalised homophobia, but because my sexuality isn’t my identity and, therefore, should not be completely overt and constantly on display.
Now, I definitely don’t have anything against ‘femmes’. I understand that I am in a very privileged position. Due to the fact that my sexuality is not overly obvious, I have rarely experienced public homophobia, and I know ‘femmes’ experience a lot more stigma than I myself have.
The stereotype, however, that all gay males are Meryl Streep-loving sass queens with loose wrists and lisps, actively discourages the silent majority of gay males, who don’t share these characteristics, from coming out, simply because they do not want to be grouped into this perceivably pejorative stereotype.
So, to all my ‘str8 acting’ pals out there, do your fellow silent majority a favour and come out, challenge the stereotypes, and know that the one word used right before your name to describe you will never be ‘GAY’.