Straight-Acting

By Angelo Pezzote

Originally published on Advocate.com March 17 2008 11:00 PM ET

Maybe you just
want more gay friends.

Maybe you're
single, a great catch, and have tried everything you know to
find true love -- and still nothing’s working.
Perhaps you're fed up with "the scene" and wondering
if there are still any good men out there. Maybe you
worry you'll never find Mr. Right and be alone forever.
Perhaps you're filled with envy every time you see a happy
gay couple.

Maybe you're in a
relationship and looking to feel closer to the man
you're with. Perhaps you're tired of having the same
argument. The passion in your relationship may feel
like it's long gone. At times you may even wonder if
you're with the right guy, but you don't want another
failed relationship.

Straight Acting: Gay Men, Masculinity and Finding True Love (Cover) | Advocate.com

Maybe you can't
quite put your finger on why it seems so hard to find a
meaningful relationship that lasts with another man. You
know you want deeper intimacy in your life. You're
just not sure how to get it.

At times you may
think of things as if something's missing. "How do I
make a gay relationship work?" "I'm tired of the bars,
partying, and one-night stands." "Is it all about
sex?" "I'm sick of all the attitude." "How do I meet
more guys outside of the steam room?" "I'll always be
single." "Why does it seem impossible to meet a man
for something more?" "No one wants me." "When do
things get better?" "Something’s just not
right."

Don't spend
another day racking your brain and beating yourself up. Want
to know what's getting in the way of you and your man?

It’s
called straight acting.

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.

It doesn't matter
whether a guy is really masculine or not. What matters
is the perception that he is masculine. Problem is, you
can't really say "I'm gay," and "I'm straight acting"
in the same sentence. It’s an oxymoron.
Straight acting is engendered by gay shame. I don't
think that straight acting is bringing us into equality as
much as it’s moving us back into an extension
of the closet -- the closet of masculinity. By
offsetting our inherent "gayness" with masculinity,
we're not really progressing socially and assimilating into
mainstream culture as much as we're actually doing a type of
social conforming -- in which case we're really moving
backward -- away from self-acceptance.

The problem isn't
being masculine. It’s when we use masculinity to
cover our gay essence. To stamp out the sissy inside
we learn to dislike, having to protect ourselves from
severe ridicule, physical harm, and emotional
rejection. Masculinity is not an essence. It’s not a
part of who we are. Masculinity is a set of social
expectations based on one’s being male. For
instance, American men are not the same as European men.
Masculinity is how males are socialized to behave -- how
we're influenced to express our maleness in our
culture. It’s our gender expression.
Masculinity is learned, and it can be unlearned.

The solution? Our
focus needs to be on embracing our inherent gay nature
and fostering self-love. It’s not about what’s
wrong with you. It’s about what’s right
with you. There is nothing shameful about being a gay man.
When you're confident and accept who you are, it doesn't
matter what other people think. You don't have to be
effeminate if you're not. You just have to be the gay
man you are without any facades.

By understanding
what’s keeping gay men apart, we can come together,
finding one another’s hearts.