Much has been made recently of comments made by Russell Tovey, one of the stars of HBO’s gay-themed Looking. During an interview with the Guardian, he said the following:
I feel like I could have been really effeminate, if I hadn’t gone to the school I went to. Where I felt like I had to toughen up. If I’d have been able to relax, prance around, sing in the street, I might be a different person now. I thank my dad for that, for not allowing me to go down that path. Because it’s probably given me the unique quality that people think I have.
While he has since called his statement “inarticulate,” it is easy to see why so many in the LGBT community found his remarks insensitive and outright homophobic. After all, how many of us grew up in similar circumstances where we often felt the need to hide our true nature from family members and friends in order to fit in with social expectations?
We live in a time when the effeminate male has become a bit of a pariah within the gay community. The standard for a desirable man is often described as “straight-acting,” and many guys are quick to point out they only want masculine, non-effeminate men. Because so many of us exhibit behavior that could be considered feminine, one has to wonder if this is symptomatic of self-loathing within the gay community.
I certainly wasn’t what one would consider a boyish child. Sure, I did my fair share of tree-climbing and the like, but I was just as comfortable playing Barbies with my sister or going shopping with a car full of women. As I got older, there were times when this kind of behavior was discouraged by adults, but most of the negativity I received as a child came from other kids. I absolutely despised being called a sissy. “Only girls play tambourines,” said one boy at church, much to my chagrin.
On the other hand, my maternal grandmother practically encouraged my girlish behavior by saying I should have been born female. She even gave me, my sister, and our two girl cousins matching dolls and strollers for Christmas one year, explaining, “I didn’t want him to feel left out.”
Even though I tried to alter some of what I thought were undesirable traits as I grew older, I never was able to morph into the idealized concept of masculinity. As an adult male, I still have characteristics that most guys would consider feminine. I cry easily while watching television. I love dancing like a slut to Beyoncé music. I worry incessantly about how I look. I’m pretty sure I have at least two periods a month.
But really, why do we care so much more when female traits are exhibited by a man than when masculine traits are exhibited by a woman? I suppose our patriarchal society can’t help but attribute power and strength to masculinity while relegating anything feminine to the weak and defenseless. It does a huge disservice to women when gay men allow themselves to be brainwashed into such a misogynistic way of thinking.
Human beings are complicated, but I wish we could evolve beyond our imperfect expectations of what we think male/female and gay/straight should look like. I wish we all could just accept ourselves as unique and whole persons without pressuring ourselves to become something we can never be.
“This above all: to thine own self be true, And it must follow, as the night the day, Thou canst not then be false to any man.” – William Shakespeare