Homophobia within: the gay divide

Homophobia within: the gay divide


By Toppy Chanthavong

You’d know Spencer Parker* was gay from the moment you laid eyes on him. Perhaps, as a heterosexual person, his flamboyant presence would make you slightly uncomfortable. But it might surprise you to know that it makes some of his fellow gays uncomfortable, too.

The 25-year-old fashion student from Campbelltown is out and proud. He’s also “sassy” – and doesn’t shy away from being anything other than who he is.

But who he is doesn’t sit right with some members of the gay community – he’s been insulted on numerous occasions for being “too gay”. But what does that even mean?

“It means I’m not what they’d call ‘masculine’,” Mr Parker said. “I get told ‘men should be men’ a lot. And at first I got really down about it.”

According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics, homosexuals are twice as likely as heterosexuals to have anxiety disorders, and three times as likely to suffer from depression.

But when Mr Parker was younger and “more naïve” he didn’t expect his fellow gays to be a contributing factor to the hate he’d taught himself to deal with from a majority heterosexual society.

“The first time some other gay guy said something along the lines of me being too gay was when I was 11 and pretending to be the pink Power Ranger,” he recalled.

“I was a little stunned – like, why is he attacking me for being me? Especially seeing as he was gay too – just less feminine, I guess.

“It’s ridiculous . . . I’m gay, but just because I’m a different sort of gay than he is doesn’t make me any more – or less – gay than he is.”

Associate Professor in Communication and Media at the University of Western Australia, Rob Cover, has a research interest in the relationship between media, communication and gay identity. He thinks the fact that there are not a lot of different gay characters on TV is an issue.

“Gay representation on TV is statistically limited in terms of variety,” Assoc. Prof. Cover said. “And the state of it is there are still a lot of stereotypes at play. Gay characters are not in depth and are quite stereotypical, like the young gay character on Glee.

“In about 96 or 97 we started seeing more complex gay characters. But since 99 we’ve come to a bit of a standstill in that area. Not a lot has changed since then.”

Associate Professor Rob Cover

Assoc. Prof. Cover said the stereotypical effeminate gay man is still the most dominant portrayal of gay males on television – and it’s as much a hindrance for the gay community as it is a gain.

“We’re still seeing particular types of gay men and gender plays where gay men are portrayed as being like women,” he said. “I think it’s negative, but I think what’s positive is that there’s representation at all. It’s become acceptable for gays to be on TV.

“But there’s a certain frustration with the stereotyping on TV. When Brokeback Mountain came out it was initially heralded as [a breakthrough] . . . but [upon closer inspection] the characters were quite narrow and quite stereotyped.”

Assoc. Prof. Cover believes TV does influence and affect the gay community.

“When there was no representation [on TV] the gay community made up their own understanding,” he said. “But now how the gay community works – how we relate to each other – a lot of it comes from what we see on TV.”

Mr Parker can attest to this, but thinks the backlash on feminine gay men is unwarranted.

“Just based on me and my friends, a lot of [insults] that get thrown at us seem to come from somehow being blamed for the [flamboyant] gay characters on TV,” Mr Parker said. “I don’t get it at all. How are we responsible for how TV people create characters?”

Professor in Psychology at the University of Queensland, Dr Sharon Dane, has a research interest in gay psychology. She also believes the representation of gay men on TV is a double-edged sword – but says there is an authenticity to it.

“I think it’s both positive and negative,” Dr Dane said. “It stereotypes gay men [when] there are a lot of gay men who are more masculine . . . but by the same token, there are gay men who are genuinely feminine [and TV reflects that].”

Mr Parker said that the gay guys he knew liked to “whine about the portrayal of [gays] on TV”.

“They go on and on about it like they’ve just been insulted by whatever really gay character is on a show – because he somehow represents all gays or something and is doing, according to them, a crap job of showing straight people what we’re like,” he said.

But Dr Dane thinks there’s a reason for this line of thought.

“For those who don’t fit [into the stereotype] – for masculine gay men – it can be upsetting to some extent to have effeminate gay men be the dominant representation,” she said. “Masculine gay men are not in the media spotlight.”

Mr Parker concedes he can see how that might be a problem.

“I get that there’s a lot more of the type of gay guy I am on TV than the so-called straight-acting ones,” he said. “But there are some of those straight-acting characters too – like Kevin on Brothers & Sisters.”

Mr Parker also questions whether some of the masculine gay men who have insulted him are secretly hiding their own femininity.

“I do wonder if some of these guys who say these things to me are just afraid to be themselves,” he said. “Maybe they could actually be more flaming than they think I am.”

But Dr Dane said there’s no way to tell whether a gay man presenting himself as masculine is really feminine.

“They may just not be feminine – how can you tell if a gay man is suppressing femininity?” she asks. “He can just not be feminine – there are gay men who are feminine and gay men who are just naturally not feminine.”

Dr Dane said one of the reasons more masculine gay men would insult effeminate gay men could be because they want to seem “normal”.

Some in the gay community want to end same-sex handholding in public to be less ‘threatening’ to heterosexuals. Photo: Toppy Chanthavong

“If masculine gay men insult feminine gay men it can be because they are so worried about trying to present themselves as normal,” she said. “And the feminine gay men are [seen to be] undoing it.

“They want to be perceived as masculine and normal – they are saying, ‘don’t treat us differently, we just want to be like everyone else’. It’s the frustration in trying to change that [effeminate] stereotype so they take it out on [effeminate gay men].”

Dr Dane said most gay men were masculine and can understand where those who feel uncomfortable around more effeminate gay males are coming from – but that doesn’t give them the right to insult them for being who they are.

“A large percentage of gay men are not feminine,” she said. “I would say that 80 per cent of gay men are not feminine [in the stereotypical construct].

“And they know when they grow up in school there are negative connotations of being ‘female’ – you’re such a girl, a sissy, etcetera. They’re worried that’s what being gay is and try to get away from that.

“But feminine men have a right to be feminine men.”

Another topic of controversy within the gay community is gay marriage – where there is a surprisingly large minority who oppose it.

Mr Parker said he knows “a few” members of the gay community who have argued against it.

“I have friends who don’t care about it at all,” he said.

Dr Dane thinks there are two main reasons for this.

“Some gay people view marriage as a heterosexual institution,” she said. “They want to retain their gay identity – and by becoming married they view that as just becoming like everyone else.

“And some gay people will have a perception that same-sex marriage is going to make people hate them more.

“[But] in countries that have introduced gay marriage, people have not hated gay people more.”

Mr Parker said an ex-boyfriend of his didn’t like holding his hand in public – and was against any form of public displays of affection (PDA) between other same-sex couples.

“[My ex] said some gay PDA couples are just asking to be bashed – and should be,” he said.

Dr Dane said this mentality is probably due to the person not being “comfortable in their own skin . . . they wouldn’t want to hold hands, so they externalise that blame”.

“Among stigmatised groups such as the gay community . . . all through history when they feel threatened – people would say, ‘OK, I’m sick of this, I will go out and just be me’,” Dr Dane said. “And [then there are] those who say, ‘well, no, you’ll make them [heterosexuals] hate me’.”

So how can homosexuals expect a predominantly heterosexual society to accept them when they can’t even accept themselves?

Dr Dane had no concrete answer but said the situation “is improving – it’s a lot better than it was before”.

“It’s a slow process . . . it’s a catch-22,” she said. “If they’re not accepted people find it hard to accept themselves. If they are themselves, people dislike them. It goes around and around in circles.

“But [the bottom line is] people should be allowed to be who they are.”

A feminine gay man at a gay pride parade. Photo: Naonerd @ Flickr

Mr Parker agrees – and has a message for those who might find his mannerisms less than ideal.

“I think masculine gay men who have a problem with me and the guys like me are just insecure with who they are,” he said.

“But I am who I am. And some gays need to deal with that and stop hating.

“Hate from straight people is the reason the so-called ‘butch’ gays are so insecure about their sexuality in the first place that they feel the need to hate on those of us who are secure with our sexuality.”

Assoc. Prof. Cover, a gay man himself, said he’s seen a lot of discrimination against effeminate gay men.

“There is significant concern in the gay community about effeminate gay men,” he said. “[In my experience] too effeminate guys are not let into bars and venues.”

Though attempts were made to conduct interviews with some masculine gay men who actively dislike effeminate gay men, all requests were declined.

Mr Parker said he believes this is because a lot of masculine gay men like throwing insults from the safety of their computer screens – the internet is the perfect playground for anonymous homophobic slurs.

“Other gay guys trashed effeminate guys like [gay singer] Adam Lambert and [gay actor] Chris Colfer on websites like AfterElton.com and Livejournal [blogging] communities,” he said.

“There’s always a lot of hate for us on YouTube too – from supposedly ‘butch’ gays telling us to ‘man up’ on videos posted by us more feminine guys.

“They’re brutal – but cowards, obviously.”

* Not actual name – changed for privacy reasons.

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