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Illustration Florence Guan

Why should I be ashamed of being an effeminate gay?

A recent survey revealed that nearly half of gay men think effeminate gays are an embarrassment to the community

As a 24-year-old gay man I’d like to think that the most difficult days in finding acceptance are behind me. That isn’t to say that I don’t still get the odd slur like “faggot” yelled at me every now and then, but for the most part I am surrounded by people who accept me as I am. However, an unsettling new survey – conducted by Attitude for its Masculinity Issue – suggests that this isn’t the case.

Out of the 5000 gay men surveyed, a staggering 71 per cent said that they had been actively turned off by a prospective partner because they had shown signs of femininity. If that wasn’t bad enough, 41 per cent then went on to say that they believed effeminate men gave the gay community a bad image. Right. It’s a troubling pattern that goes hand-in-hand with the group of gays who would prefer to be called androphiles, because they don’t like “traditionally gay” things like Lady Gaga. Who knew shaking my ass to “Poker Face” at G-A-Y made me an embarrassment to homosexuals everywhere?

All jokes aside, from my own personal encounters of internalised homophobia, this sadly doesn’t come as much of a shock to me. Growing up, my own mother – in an attempt to protect me – would often say “don't act/walk/talk like that”. That being the unspoken word replacing ‘camp’ or ‘feminine’. For years I was so ashamed of my own feminine qualities, that when on dates I would say very little or speak quietly because I was worried my voice would give me away. Even now, I find myself trying (and failing) to butch myself up when surrounded by extended family members, or straight men I am unfamiliar with. And while you may be thinking ‘boo hoo it's all just because nobody wants to sleep with you’; these conversations are dangerous.

“Who knew shaking my ass to “Poker Face” at G-A-Y made me an embarrassment to homosexuals everywhere?”

After years of reading Grindr profiles with slogans like “masc4masc” and “no fats, no femmes, no Asians” – the other two statements are a whole other discussion in themselves – I decided to not use apps like them, to benefit my own mental health and self-esteem. But the effect of constantly being fed the message that femme equals bad is hard to ignore. There have been multiple occasions where I have been told that I was “more gay in person” than I appeared on the app. Unsettling, considering I am gay.

I am not completely shielded from it even when off hookup apps like Grindr. A quick flick through my explore page on Instagram shows groups of carbon-copy muscular, hairy, tattooed groups of often scantily clad men out in da club or partying on Fire Island. Even our porn isn’t safe. Besides the obvious ‘Gay 4 Pay’ and strange obsession with turning straight men, spoiler alert: the majority of actors are masculine men who are muscular, dominant and aggressive, while their twink (a young, skinny and feminine gay) counterparts are often stupid, whiny and nearly always submissive.

Things aren’t much better in the media either. Gay celebrities like Matt BomerZachary Quinto and Colton Haynes are often heralded in lists of “gay men you’d never know were gay”, while inane articles on gay websites that roundup the best celebrity butts rarely ever include gay men. On the flipside, overtly feminine names like Alan Carr, Gok Wan and Graham Norton are nothing more than “fabulous” company. All of whom have been open before about their struggle with dating.  

Sure, it is great that Attitude has brought this issue to light, but that isn’t to say that gay men who agree with the 41 per cent will change their mind or even see the error of their ways. And even though editor-in-chief of Attitude, Matt Cain, wrote articles for both the Guardian and the Telegraph expressing his dismay at the results of the survey, the irony wasn’t lost on me that Attitude’s 2017 Man of the Year was Nyle DiMarco – a traditionally handsome, masculine-looking model who self-describes his sexuality as “fluid”. In fact, all of the previous winners of the award – Wentworth Miller, Liam Payne (he doesn’t even go here!) and Tom Daley – all fit into that mould to some extent.

While some might argue their aversion to femininity is just a ‘preference’, the knock-on effect it is having globally is hard to ignore. You shouldn’t need reminding that gay men are still being rounded up to be tortured and killed in Chechnya. One victim told us how he was imprisoned simply for wearing a bracelet and having a bag a “straight man wouldn’t wear”. If that weren’t enough, jokes made Trump about Mike Pence wanting to “hang gays” are terrifying. It’s far more likely that those who would act violently towards gay men would target the feminine over those who have the privilege of being able to go under-the-radar as a heterosexual man.

Even so, I’m not mad at gay men with privilege. Thanks to unashamedly feminine gay men like my hero RuPaul, I have come to realise that being effeminate is not something to hide. Rather than just being a sassy sidekick who will wave their finger in your face while flicking their imaginary wig, I can still be strong, weak, funny and intelligent – just like every other complex human being.

As for the-femme bashers, it’s pretty straightforward: you can drink as many pints as you want, call everyone ‘mate’, even shame every feminine gay man you come across but you will never find an ally in the homophobic. You are gay. And the last time I checked they weren’t making exception for guys who have “straight acting” in their Grindr bios.

So if you’re going to be gay, at least try to be fabulous.