The myth of "straight-acting"

By Christopher Rice

Originally published on Advocate.com September 24 2006 11:00 PM ET

Am I happy that
boy-band star Lance Bass has come out of the closet?
Absolutely. Am I happy enough that I’m willing to
overlook his comments regarding
SAGs—“straight-acting” gays? Absolutely
not. The quote from his People magazine interview:
“I want people to take [from my coming-out]
that being gay is a norm. That the stereotypes are out the
window.… I’ve met so many people like me
that it’s really encouraged me. I call them the
SAGs—the straight-acting gays. We’re just
normal, typical guys. I love to watch football and
drink beer.”

Sadly, Bass
hasn’t thrown any stereotype out the window here.
Making the claim that beer-guzzling homos now
outnumber mincing fairies just pits one stereotype
against another. And with his highly public background in
music and dance, Bass seems to have more in common with the
delicate theater majors he seems eager to distance
himself from than the country’s gay Average
Joes. But there’s a larger implication here: Is there
a silent majority of gay Marlboro men who are
constantly hidden from the eyes of the mainstream by a
conspiracy of fairies?

I seriously doubt
it. Instead, the gay male majority seems to be made up
of mildly effeminate men who now feel compelled to apologize
for or cover up any behavior that fits a gay
stereotype. They aren’t SAGs, but many are
desperately seeking a SAB—a straight-acting
boyfriend. Because just like the barbed-wire biceps
tattoo, the Von Dutch baseball cap, or the military
haircut, the straight-acting boyfriend is an accessory that
insecure gay men use in a vain attempt to make themselves
more acceptable to homophobes.

I should know:
After many failed attempts to become a SAG, I decided the
best course of action would be to date a series of them. I
haven’t experienced a worse type of homophobia
than the one that demands that I reject any potential
partner who bears any resemblance to—well, me.
Blessed was the day when I realized I was years out of high
school and still searching for a partner who might
impress my former classmates. Suddenly, I was
free—free to judge potential partners on the basis of
their manners rather than their mannerisms. I no longer had
to go to bed with homophobic jerks who had no idea
what to do once the lights were out. (Note to file:
“Straight-acting” implies an ignorance of the
mechanics of gay sex.)

That said, I am
suspicious of anyone who tries to ascribe a specific set
of behaviors to all gay men, regardless of whether those
behaviors involve beer or champagne. My personal
belief is that as societal acceptance of gays has
improved, gay men who naturally fit a masculine
stereotype and who might have remained in the closet without
suspicion in the past have decided to come out
instead, resulting in a more diverse-looking range of
gay men.

The question is
not whether this type of gay man exists. The question is,
Why should he be considered more valuable than your average
screaming queen?

He’s not,
of course.

My hope for Lance
Bass is that he will go the way of many other gay men
who have tried to define their homosexuality in terms of
what they’re not. I hope he’ll realize
that most of the stereotypes are fine just the way
they are and that it’s the ridicule of them that
needs to go “out the window.” Bargaining
with homophobes, be it by legislation or by acronym,
is very dangerous business. Just because you give them your
right to a limp wrist doesn’t mean they will
stop asking for your domestic-partner benefits. n