I’m a campy, limp-wristed queen. Phew, I’m glad to get that off my chest!
Not that this was some sort of big secret. Just take a look at me and I’m sure you’ll clock my gayness in seconds. “What’s your gayness got to do with effeminacy?” you ask. But let’s face it — the majority of people have evolved to see gay men as effeminate. It’s as if the words “gay” and “effeminate” have become synonyms. This could be due to various factors like media representation or cultural dynamics. When men like me are patronized for being “so gay,” it’s implied that we’re behaving like women. It’s clear that heteronormative society can’t see beyond its male gender restrictions, in which men are expected to be macho, emotionally unavailable, ball-scratching stereotypes.
This narrow-mindedness toward gender expression bothers me. I’m fed up with the raw deal we effeminate men are given by everyone. I’ve come to realize my feminine attributes are my strengths and that I shouldn’t shy away from expressing them. It’s been a turbulent journey filled with questions, anxieties, and eventual personal acceptance to get this somewhat secure mentality. With that said, here are some of the experiences and realizations that have shaped me.
I became aware of my effeminacy at a prepubescent age. At 10 years old, I stood out like a sore thumb at primary school with my high-pitched voice and Asian ethnicity in a class of predominantly white classmates. I was frequently made aware of my “girly” voice and mannerisms by my little peers. Yes, kids are cruel, and I dealt with it. But what stuck with me were the gibes about my feminine voice. I developed a speaking complex, worried I’d be labeled girly if I opened my mouth.
I quickly realized it wasn’t considered “normal” for a boy to sound this feminine. I questioned my two older sisters about why I sounded like a girl. They simply reassured me that it was all in my head and all little boys and girls sounded and behaved alike. Though it was a comforting answer, I wasn’t really convinced. Having been brought up in a house of prominent women, I’d naively questioned in my mind if I had caught my girly ways from one of them.
At times I would embrace my femininity. After school, I would slap on my sister’s lippy and prance around my bedroom in high heels. It felt freaking awesome. But eventually my sister found out and I was given a lecture about how boys weren’t allowed to wear makeup and that I shouldn’t touch her shit again. I was left mortified and confused. It didn’t seem that long ago that my sisters comfortingly told me that boys and girls were similar. But now I was abruptly given a contradicting message that boys should behave like boys. This felt repressive. For me playing with makeup and female clothing was an avenue to express what I now realize is my inherent femininity.
At home my 10-year-old feminine self was fawned over — I was considered cute. But when I was 15, my mother in particular didn’t like what she saw. “Walk like a man!” “Boys can’t wear that!” “Stop acting like a girl!” “Why don’t you like sports!” — these were common taunts shot my way that continue today. The truth is my mother is embarrassed by me. Especially about what other people will think of me and how that reflects on her. I‘ve always sensed my mother wished I mirrored the effortless masculinity of my father. After all, my father’s masculinity is all she has ever known to expect from the male species, and I’m sure my effeminacy was strange to her.
The truly strange thing is my prized masculine father has never brought up my effeminacy or gayness. This has always puzzled me. I’m not naive enough to think he doesn’t see it; rather, he’s a pro at ignoring it. I think my father sees me through inverted binoculars. My femininity isn’t in focus for him, contrary to my mother’s view, where she can read the writing on the wall.
I’m not upset at my mother for knocking my self-esteem. As messed-up as it sounds, her criticisms were from a place of love. She just wanted me to fit into society and be accepted. Societal acceptance is a big deal in Asian families, not to mention the importance of having a son. I learned as a teen that a son is considered a blessing (or savior) who carries on the father’s lineage and brings home a big paycheck. On the other hand, girls are considered burdens that need to be married off quickly.
It seems masculine heterosexual men have muscled right to the top of society’s hierarchy. Women and nonconforming men like me are often casualties of this infrastructure. I’ve realized that if this hierarchy doesn’t break down, narrow-mindedness toward gender identity will remain.
On reaching my 20s, I came out as gay. I threw myself into the scene looking for acceptance. I found it by the bucketload, and it was liberating. However, under the surface it’s clear that many gay men tend to look down on their effeminate brothers. They moan that we let the gay side down and that we perpetuate a shameful stereotype. Effeminate men are generally desexualized and labeled repulsive on hookup apps. Let’s just say you will never see Grindr profiles yearning for “fem men only.” This type of discrimination appears more prominent and openly acceptable than sexual racism.
We’ve all heard of the term “straight-acting” — a phrase commonly used within our community to describe men who are masculine enough to pass as straight. This term is deeply depressing to me. Why are gay men still pandering to the straight male image and its supposed masculine sex appeal? This macho male image is inescapable and glorified everwhere. I suspect effeminacy-policing gay men are holding on to heteronormative values they were brought up with. I can empathize that this narrow mind-set isn’t easy to shake off. But it still reeks of internalized homophobia and misogyny.
Yes that’s right, misogyny. To state the facts graphically, I’m a man who many years ago came out of a woman’s vagina. If my attributes match those of my female creator, is that really so awful? But I see a bigger elephant in the room. The truth is many men throughout the world continue to disrespect women and their rights. I feel this injustice has trickled down to effeminate gay men. Perhaps when women are truly respected and considered equal to men it will finally be celebrated for men to be effeminate.
I’ve gone through struggles being an effeminate man — tirelessly worrying if I’d be accepted by both straight and gay peers. I’m now at a point where people’s opinions don’t matter. I’m striving to be authentically me, and a great part of that is accepting my femininity. On that note, I raise my limp wrist in salute to my fellow effeminate gay men and I hope to empower them with the following two words — you’re fabulous!