I’d like to believe I am a lot of things.
I believe I am empathetic. I believe I am supportive. I believe I am a feminist. I believe I am pro-equality. And thus, I believe I am ‘woke’ – but not woke like all the other woke men out there, I giggle (which automatically makes me like all the other woke men out there).
I’ve called out misogynists. Nipped sexist jokes in the bud. Broken gender norms (and a few plates) in the kitchen. Walked my kid sister to school. Schooled boys who catcall and letch. Literally pushed past drunken men to create safe spaces for my girl friends at bars. Stared men down who stare at women. Given lectures. Taken notes. I’ve supported my women friends. Revered them. Put them on a pedestal. My relationship with all the women in my life can thus be summarised as one giant love letter. I support, and as kids today would say, I ‘stan’ women. I could be the poster boy for feminism.
So you can imagine my surprise when this happened a few months ago at a friend’s birthday party:
‘Jeez, it’s just a compliment,’ I rolled my eyes at the birthday girl, when she dismissed my (obviously uncalled for) remarks about her dress. I had called it ‘skanky, but strong and opinionated skanky’. It was supposed to be a joke, and I was perturbed that she didn’t find it funny. How do I know?
Because she called me a word that most gay men hate to be associated with: a misogynist. Me, a misogynist? I don’t think so, lady. How could I, a self-aware, self-conscious, raging homosexual be even mildly misogynistic? I don’t look like one, do I?
‘…And gay men love women. I love women,’ I thought to myself, citing the fact that around 98 percent of my friends were female. You remember the bit about the love letter, don’t you?
I later caught myself calling a female driver a ‘little bitch’ under my breath (side note: I now stick to gender-neutral abuses, such as ‘irresponsible maniac’) to realise I might have a little problem.
That’s the thing about casual misogyny. It’s a disease without symptoms. There are no flu-like signs. No aching in the bones. No wheezing and whooping. No constricted breathing. It doesn’t come with a dedicated WebMD page (and even if it did, you would confuse it with testicular cancer), or even a prescription.
It’s everywhere, and you, my friend, like me, are most certainly suffering from it too. Gay male privilege is a thing (especially since the cis-gay man is the ‘straight white male’ equivalent of the queer pyramid), and often it feels like our minority status grants us the get-out-of-jail-free card for casual misogyny (for example, Grindr ‘preferences’). It’s our community’s best-kept secret.
I used to think it was my responsibility as a self-loving gay man to make disparaging remarks about the dressing sense (and often, appearance) of my female friends. Being salty is being endearing, I thought. If I am not honest with a woman who I so obviously love, how will she find herself? How will she become fierce? How will she become strong? Independent? A diva?
Because from Madonna to Ariana, from Beyoncé to Britney, from Sridevi to Kareena, we love ourselves a diva – as long as they are perfect.
And just then, when you begin to scratch the surface, you find that there are many shades of sexism unique to gay men. It’s a problem that’s always swept under the proverbial carpet, because that’s the thing about gay men and how difficult it is to identify our misogyny: We can infiltrate the thinnest of cracks, because we are supposed to be ‘brothers in arms’.
But do we really embrace the sisterhood in all its entirety?
An important example is in the wave of profiles on Grindr (and other gay dating apps) that describe themselves as ‘Masc4Masc’, comically butching up their image to get into bed with others like them. Similarly, Scruff’s ‘Most Woofed’ section is pure gold – a grid of hairy, bare-chested men in various states of undress, dousing you with their masculinity. It’s the same everywhere. Femininity, whatever that may be, thus becomes a dirty word – a slur that means ‘lesser’. Weak. Alien. Different.
As a gay man in his 30s, it makes me wonder to what extent I’ve stunted my own femininity – even if I might have done it unsuccessfully – just so I could fit in. Do I walk a certain way that I shouldn’t? Do I talk a certain way I shouldn’t? Do I behave a certain way I shouldn’t? What about my fluid arms and my fluid gait? Most importantly, what about my fluidity?
It’s sad that so many of my peers feel the same way. Gay men of a certain age and nature are being increasingly daunted and disgusted by the feminine – unless it’s safe, or a joke, or a reality show like RuPaul’s Drag Race. Is it right?
Not in the slightest.
Internet quotes will tell you to ‘Spend time with women, strong women. Women who cheer you up and cheer you on, women who teach you, women who support you. Spend time with women who will make you laugh, women who have opinions, and women who will call you on your bullshit. Visit ugly places, pretty places, dangerous places and strange places with them. Eat, laugh, make merry and be silent with them.’
What do they not tell you?
To put yourself in their shoes. To be them. To embrace them. To treat women as equals, not assets. To respect (and revere). To laud (and love). To support (and take a stand for). And what if I don’t?
Just tell me to go make a sandwich.