Straight-Acting

In this piece written exclusively for The Advocate, Angelo Pezzote — advice columnist and author of the new book Straight Acting: Gay Men, Masculinity and Finding True Love — examines the gay community's obsession with the idea of being "straight-acting" and how destructive it is for gay relationships and one's psyche.

BY Angelo Pezzote

March 17 2008 11:00 PM ET

The strong and
pervasive American expectation that men should act like
men ingrains a belief among gay men that being "too gay" is
shameful and certainly not "manly." The way we see ourselves
is in part a reflection of the way others see us.
Growing up in a media-saturated culture that
constantly bombards us with messages of what a "real
man" is, many gay men ingest the belief that they're less
than "all man," which brings with it a significant amount of
stress. Dealing with this prejudice from the time we're very
little, some of us may even be traumatized, attempting
to cope in ways like unsafe sex, drugs, and alcohol
abuse -- and focusing too much on appearance --
that end up being self-destructive. Being stereotyped as
effeminate, it’s understandable that many gay
men would seek to present a normative masculine image
within their discriminatory heterosexist (straight) and
homophobic (masculine) culture in order to feel "normal" --
respected. Straight acting is a gay decoy -- gay
men’s camouflage. It’s buzz cuts,
tattoos, facial hair, military and sports garb, rock-hard
bodies, and more. It says, "I'm gay, but I'm not a faggot."
It attempts to level the playing field.

Take any gay
personal ad: "straight acting, straight appearing
only." "No fats, no fems." "Jock looking for same."
"Real men only." The list goes on. No matter how out we are,
the sly "gay shame monster" can sneak up on us, and at
times we may play it more mainstream and masculine to
pass and blend. It’s more comfortable. But the
tough, unfriendly straight guise -- and its buried
shame -- block gay men from building deep lasting
intimacy with one another.

If I feed a plant
poisoned water, it can't help but absorb some of the
poison. We too internalize society's heterosexism and
homophobia that surrounds us, thus
imposing limiting standards on ourselves. Those
standards are so prevalent that they become a part of
us, running our lives whether we're aware of them or
not -- whether we believe them or not. We may police
our own behavior by monitoring our appearance,
mannerisms, and behavior to be seen in a relatively more
positive light. When it suits us, we can tone down the
signals that we're gay even after we publicly
acknowledge it, muting our true rainbow colors. Acting like
chameleons, we're careful not to stick out too much, not
being too flamboyant. It’s easier because we
get less flack. Having evolved over many generations
of gay oppression, straight acting may in fact be a
leftover survival instinct imprinted on our collective
unconscious to keep us safe from harm if we're "too
obvious" -- in spite of relatively newfound cultural
acceptance.

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