So. I have a dilemma. Possibly a moral conundrum. Which y’all can help with. But I can’t possibly get to that point without first making a confession. Despite previously, on more than one occasion, making it crystal clear that my DNA does not include the gay gene for show tunes, in my sophomore year I was in my high school’s fall musical. Wait. It get worse.
As many groups of untalented youngsters have in the past, we put on a poorly executed version of The Sound of Music. I was cast in the role of the eldest von Trapp boy, a bit part really that would have been no biggy except that I’d left the portal to puberty far behind by that point in my young life and sang, though fortunately in key, in a deep base. That role basically works as part of the choir except for during the song Do Re Mi where a one note solo occurs composed of the second to highest note in the octave. Several times. No problemo except that the other kid playing the only other male sibling role still had not sprouted hair. So it was my bass on stage with a line of sopranos. In harmony it would have been a nice effect. Singing out a crystal clear unaccompanied note two octaves below everyone else, not so much. Not that that was quite as noticable as that one of the ‘kids’ was Asian, but that’s theater. At least at the high school level.
Now in my defense, I was not drawn to the drama club because, well gay high school kids tend to be drawn to the drama club. Nor, as you might otherwise expect did it have anything to do with some stud already in the drama club whom I wanted to bed. Instead it was part of a carefully crafted scheme to get through an entire year of high school without ever having to crack a text book or actually sit at a desk. You could only be in one of the two plays put on each year at our school if you took drama class. That was one class, one credit. Actually being in the play was considered another class. And another credit. I had a movie appreciation class that meant watching old black and white movies and then giving an oral report on the flick, and a literature appreciation class that some brainiac decided meant reading whatever book(s) you wanted over a semester with your grade dependant upon the total number of pages read. I polished off War and Peace in the first two weeks and never had to attend that class again. Another credit and a nice upswing in my GPA.
Being on the swim team counted as P.E., so there was another class credit, and a freebee credit was thrown in for being on the varsity team. (And for the record though I’d swam competitively for years, I joined the team in high school because there was a stud already on the swim team whom I wanted to bed. So you weren’t that far off the mark.) And I had a part-time job that earned three credits for ‘work experience’ even though I was fired before the first quarter had barely gotten off its feet. So my show tune/musical experience really had nothing to do with being gay, but rather with being a schemer and appreciative of California’s progressive educational system. Having to stand on stage and sing out that single note in Do Re Me more than paid for all the free non-class time I managed to scam from the system.
So that explains my familiarity with a minor song from a well-known musical. Catharsis is supposedly good for the soul, but I don’t feel that good about my confession. That I can easily delete your snarky comments helps temper that pain.
How Do You Solve A Problem Like Maria? – which I really think Jay-Z needs to sample some day – basically lays out the dilemma of dealing with someone’s natural inclinations in a world where they are not appreciated or accepted. In the Sound of Music’s case it was Maria’s willfully exuberant soul caught in the staid uptight world of a nunnery. Julie Andrews, who played the part of Maria in film and was the world’s little darling, later gave graphical definition to the soul of that song by flashing her tits in one of her husband’s movies. I digress, but the memory of seeing Mary Poppins’ mammaries still haunts me to this day and that, more than appearing in a high school musical, had more to do with me turning out gay I’m sure.
The point of that song, though not necessarily the line about carrying moonbeams around in your hands, brings me to my dilemma. And that has to do with guys, gay or straight, who exhibit effeminate mannerisms. Or screeching queens as they are sometimes known. If camp is a natural part of your makeup, along with a fondness for wearing makeup, as a PC gay man I should be firmly in your corner. And I do believe that it is important as gay men for us to be proud of who we are. Both individually and collectively. On the other hand, if being flamboyant is an act, a learned behavior in some misguided attempt at identifying as gay, then I’m justified in finding those guys a bit off-putting. So it is once again a question of nature vs. nurture, but with a slight (though not flouncing) twist.
At one time it was common in personal ads to note that you were, and/or were looking for a guy who was straight acting. Eventually the gay PC police started hurling little balls of hate at anyone using that phrase, claiming it was derogatory in its definition and use. No one ever offered a suitable alternative, the idea evidently being that you were not supposed to make those kind of judgements about other gay men. It still occasionally gets used, still occasionally crops up, and someone invariably takes the user to task for it.
It may not be PC, but some of us are naturally attracted to non-effeminate men just as some of us are attracted to the flamers. I don’t see the problem in being clear about your intentions. I don’t see the problem with avoiding some little queen falling madly in love with you and then getting their little heart crushed because that’s just not what curls your toes. If it is okay to say we like or do not like gingers, for example, why is it not acceptable to define our preference on masculinity? Some say doing so is homophobic. But I know what that word means. And while I am attracted to straight acting guys, when there are but two penises in bed the last thing I want is for one of them to start acting straight. But I digress. Yet again.
Years ago I had a boyfriend, a newly minted gay man who quickly began sharing my bed and house. Soon after we got together, he came out to his sister, which wasn’t a problem because she had the good taste of being a dyke. Not long after that he came out to his brother, which also went smoothly because bro too was gay. Not to mention a hot little stud which presented a different dilemma entirely. That left two other brothers, the black sheep of the family. Meaning they were both straight.
With firm plans of us spending our golden years together, Ray, my boyfriend, decided we needed to take a trip to the mainland so I could meet the rest of the siblings. The dual purpose of the trip, so that he could come out to them, was left as a surprise for me. BTW, I usually refer to that ex as Psycho Ray, and that might give you a small glimpse into the reason why. As disastrous as the trip could have been, the straight brethren had previously enjoyed the coming out experience, twice, and handled it well. One of them commented that he was surprised because Ray was always so moody he’d never expected he’d be gay. Not the best of lines, but it demonstrated how unimportant who Ray chose to sleep with was to them.
The Big Moment dispensed with, we all went out to dinner together with far more boyfriends at the table than a single female sibling called for. Dinner was good, and so were the few rounds of after dinner drinks. Enjoying our evening together we moved on to coffee. For some odd reason – he’d never done so before – Psycho Ray extended a dainty pinky outward every time he brought his coffee cup to his lips. More of an effete than effeminate gesture, regardless, the third or fourth time he did so, without thinking, I reached over and cured his little finger back into his palm where it belonged. Evidently everyone else too had noticed Ray’s new found gesture and they all burst out laughing when I corrected it. Fortunately he wasn’t in one of his moods and laughed too.
Now I do not believe that gesture was part of him, deeply hidden for years and finally able to spring free. Why he decided it fit his new image as a gay man I can’t say. I don’t think his fondness for being effeminate had anything to do with the fact that he took to being a bottom like John Travolta takes to a full body massage either. But over the next few months he added more and more effeminate mannerisms to his repetoir until he hit the level that was comfortably gay to him. I don’t think you could argue that his was anything other than a learned behavior. And a practiced one at that. Case closed. Problem solved. Except.
I have two nephews with whom I had a discussion about their use of the phrase, “That’s so gay.” Too young at that age to really know what gay meant, they’d picked it up at school and used it for anything a bit different or odd. Neither used it in an intentionally negative manner, nor was it meant to cause harm. Sometimes, as gay men, we take offense too easily. Sometimes making a mountain out of a mole hill is not the right call. So, we talked it out and agreed it was cool to use the phrase – because every kid they knew did – about things, but not a good idea to use it about people. That decision (kids are soooo easy to lead) satisfied their need to be just like all the other little rug rats while laying a foundation against using words towards people that cause harm.
So a few months later I was surprised when while bitching about having to spend the day at their cousin’s house – a kid around their age – that they said they hated being forced to play with him because he was so gay. I started reminding them about the rules we’d agreed on and the older one quickly corrected me saying, “No. We mean he really is gay.”
They are not little homophobes. Their complaint was in not wanting to spend the day playing with dolls and having a tea party. And I can’t say that I blame them. I got to meet the kid the following week and sure enough, even at the age of eight, he flamed brightly. I mean on an effeminate scale of 1 to 10 he ranked at about 50. A little girl wearing a tutu and playing princess for the day would come off butch compared to this kid.
I talked to my brother about the kid – he knows the family better – and there are no queen-like relatives, no friends of the family who camp it up, no close neighbors for the kid to emulate. This was several years before that little gay boy on Glee debuted his act, and Charles Nelson Reilly had quit his witty, officially not gay, gay daytime game show act years before. Whether that kid would grow up to be gay or have a deep seated love for vagina, his flamboyancy was a natural part of him. So back to nature. At least as it applies to being effeminate. Kinda, sorta. And there’s the rub.
The other day I posted a Gay of the Week article about Kristian Ipsen. The boy flames. Those who have been reading this blog for a while know my Gay of the Week posts tend to feature a hottie who more than likely isn’t but who gay boys all over the world fantasize is. The actual gay ones get covered in my Out This Week posts. Those who are but haven’t admitted it yet get snarky comments buy seldom a post of their own. Like Travolta. And Cruise. I don’t know if Ipsen is gay or not. I could not find any damning evidence one way or the other anywhere on the ‘net. But that he is busy carrying moonbeams around in his hand is obvious.
So here’s my question, here’s the dilemma I can’t quite come to a firm decision on. And maybe whether it is nature or nurture, a natural part of a person or an affected behavior, really doesn’t matter. Regardless of how much my nephew’s cousin’s parents love him and think everything he does is adorable, it is not possible that they can be so blind to not notice what everyone else picks up on within seconds of meeting the kid. And regardless if Kristian is gay, straight, bi, confused, or undecided, it is not possible that his friends, coaches, and parents can be so blind to not notice what a billion people watching him perform at the Olympics immediately picked up on. Wouldn’t it be better, in both cases, if someone in his life who loved him took the initiative to say, “Um, dude, you need to man up and quit flouncing around like a little princess.”
Wait. Don’t hate me. Yet.
Let’s assume for a minute that Ipsen is gay. Because if he is not I don’t think there is any question that someone should have spoken to him by now. If he is – unlike Matthew Mitcham who flames brightly in his own right – Kristian has decided to remain in the closet, or at least not openly address his sexuality. That’s a difficult act for a public figure to pull off. And despite the importance I feel visibility is to gaining equality and acceptance, even as a celebrity known the world over now, he has that right. And yes, there are 100% straight men who are effeminate too. But, if he is gay and wants to deal with that issue privately and at his own choice of time, displaying the mannerisms that the majority of people in the world equate with being gay seems to be counterproductive. Young, hot, single, attractive male celebrities almost always face gay rumors. When people bypass the rumor stage and accept it as a given because you personify camp, you got a problem. Whether you are in fact gay or only act as though you are. Even more so when you are gay and are trying to hide that fact.
If that little eight-year-old kid is going to grow up to be a gay man, wouldn’t it still be better for his parents to help him tone down his natural tendency to act up? Not to hide who he is so much as to allow him to have the ability to blend into the crowd. In a perfect world whether you were gay or straight, straight acting or the world’s biggest queen, no one would care and it would not make a difference. But in the real world that kid is going to face prejudice and discrimination his whole life. There are going to be opportunities he never gets the chance to take advantage of, hassles he will face that otherwise he’d never experience. It seems to me, in both cases, the answer is clear. But then it isn’t is it?
If being effeminate is who you are, if it is not a misguided act but rather your natural way of walking, talking, and moving, and especially so if you are in fact gay, then isn’t it better to be true to yourself, to be proud of who you are in whatever form that takes, rather than bend to the ideal norms dictated by society? Can I say you should be proud to be gay, that you should be visible and stand up and be counted so that others realize we are legion, that we are everywhere, and at the same time think you’d be better off hiding a part of yourself?
Perhaps, both ideas can be accommodated. At least if you are openly gay. Maybe then if your natural inclination is to live life large, the backlash for doing so isn’t as great. Or maybe being out means there is at least one less hurdle to stumble over daily. But tthen that does noting for those who are not planning on being open about who they are.
So how do you solve a problem like Maria? Ignore it? Applaud it? Try to change it?
What sayth you?
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