Dear Sierra Mannie,
The first thing I would like you to know is this. When I pick up the phone and call any sort of customer service line, the stranger on the other end invariably assumes they are speaking to a woman. This does not happen to all gay men, of course, it happens to me. And this does not have as much to do with my sexual orientation as it does my gender expression.
The second thing I need you to know is that I can’t change who I am. I know you may suggest, as you did in your article, that gay men can simply ‘hide’ who they are. Perhaps I should lower the pitch of my voice artificially? Butch it up? Let me assure you, I tried that for the first twenty years of my life, and it came very close to killing me. I can’t hide who I am, nor should I.
While there were parts of your article I agreed with wholeheartedly, this assertion was one of the parts of your article that was particularly hurtful. Passing, whether we are talking about passing for white, or passing for straight, should be a thing of the past.
Now when that customer service rep realizes that I am, in fact, a man, they profusely apologize, as if being confused for a woman is something shameful and embarrassing; as if the part of me that is feminine is shameful and embarrassing.
It is a sentiment that has been shared with me all my life, long before, in fact, I even knew I was gay. It was the way I swung a bat in little league; the way I danced when I was carefree; my hobbies; my love of music, etc … The message I got from society was always the same. I needed to man up; act more like a man, not be such a ‘fag’. The message I got from society was that the part of me that was feminine was weak, and wrong, and frankly bad.
This is a result of the pervasive sexism that exists in our society. This is what it makes it dangerous for a gay man in drag to walk down the streets alone. This is what causes the many hate crimes I have witnessed here in my home town of Washington DC. Mentioning this is not an attempt to make a comparison or ranking of one oppression with another. I mention this simply so that you consider the fact that perhaps some of the oppression you experience is related to some of the oppression I experience. Homophobia is a weapon of Sexism.
The third thing I want you to know is this, when I invoke the spirit of any strong woman, whether it be Nina Simone, or Hillary Clinton, or Beyonce. I am celebrating the fact that one can be both feminine and be strong. Which empowers me to believe, against almost every message I hear in mainstream society, that I myself can be both feminine and be strong; that the part of me that is feminine should be celebrated along with the rest of me.
Now I know, as you write, you believe that as a gay man “I do not get to claim womanhood.”, and I can agree with that statement. Here’s the thing though, I do get to claim me. I get to claim me exactly as I am. And I don’t fall squarely into the camp of ‘womanhood’ or ‘manhood’. Gender is a spectrum, and many of us fall somewhere in the middle.
I wish you could see this, and I wish you could understand that the oppressions we experience are interconnected, as we are interconnected. Maybe then you would not be as dismissive of gay men as you were in your article.
Fourth up, and I really need you to hear this one, many of the expressions, sayings, mannerisms, and culture that you claim white men have appropriated from black women …. well a lot of it never really belonged to to straight women to begin with. It originated from LGBT culture, and predominately the Black and Latino Gay scene. Do a little research and look into Ball Culture. Watch Paris is Burning or Tongues Untied. Learn where all those expressions come from.
Here is a quote from the Ball Culture Wikipedia Page. “In 2006, Beyoncé Knowles told a reporter from The Independent “how inspired she’s been by the whole drag-house circuit in the States, an unsung part of black American culture where working-class gay men channel ultra-glamour in mocked-up catwalk shows. ‘I still have that in me’, she says of the ‘confidence and the fire you see on stage … “
So I would ask you to consider Sierra, who exactly is appropriating who? Can you really attack gay culture for using the very mannerisms Beyoncé borrowed from us to begin with? Even more, I would ask you to consider whether the word appropriation really applies in this situation where there is mutual love and respect and acknowledgement.
Again, Sierra, there were parts of your article that made sense, but overall, I think it reflected a limited understanding of gay men (of all races and ethnicities). Perhaps you will take some time to consider, and realize we have more in common then you think.