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Gender-Policing 'Jokes' Are Costing LGBTQ+ Lives

Jason Wimberly

Gender policing? Ever hear of it? Let’s talk about it.

I recently got into a social media scuff with an acquaintance over a comedic video she starred in. The video short stars a woman on a date with a man, and the “funny” part of the video is that she is trying to determine if he is gay or straight based on his clothing and job. Her reactions in the video are those of shock and disgust, often scrunching her face into a grimace that would be appalling in real life as a reaction to a stranger’s clothing. Especially on a date.

You see, beyond the overall judgmental tone of the video being so 2000 and late, the man in the video is in fact gay, so the “funny” parts according to the actor and producer are that they are leaning into the stereotype intentionally of what a gay man is thought to look like. Completely unaware that they are deciding what is correct clothing for a person based on their sexual orientation.

That is a big problem, and sadly when I confronted my acquaintance about it she told me she would not listen to my messages imploring her to take down the video, and she was shocked I cared so much. When I further pushed her to explain what was funny about the video, she referenced the dated character of “Pat” on Saturday Night Live and likened the character to that. Let’s be clear, in 2020 a gender-ambiguous character like “Pat” would no longer be allowed on SNL because of the inappropriate tone, but I digress, let’s dive into this one a bit more.

The first shock-and-awe moment intended to make us laugh is that the man on the date removes his coat to be wearing the same top as the woman. Shock. Horror. A man in a woman’s blouse instantly means he’s gay? Why is that funny? She couldn’t really answer.

The second big shock is that he works at Claire’s accessories. She instantly mocks him and scrunches her face as if she got a bad whiff of something. Because a man working at a jewelry store is so gay, haha.

The video continues, but you get the point.

You see, as a feminine gay man, I have been gender-policed almost since birth. We all are. Blue is for boys, pink is for girls. It is literally ingrained for most from the time we enter the world. But that doesn’t make it OK, and it certainly shouldn’t make it the subject of comedic relief.

I was so petite in my youth, teachers would often mistake me for a girl on the first day of school. Most gay men sympathize with being called “ma’am” on the phone at some point. I remember when it happened I would then lean into it, pretending to be a woman, so that I wasn’t embarrassed when I had to admit, “I’m a boy, I just sound like this.”

Even to this day as a trainer who works in media, I am told often that I am too gay or too feminine for certain roles, auditions, or opportunities simply because of my appearance. Those ideas of what a man should look like have been accepted for centuries as the norm. Luckily, I’m as thick-skinned as they come. I had to be, because I didn’t look like the other boys and I enjoyed feminine things. I became a professional ballet dancer and years later, I started wearing heels as part of my profession, walking on runways for NYFW in sky-high stilettos. I am in fact a raging homosexual, but every other male dancer in my company was straight as can be. They often lamented how hard it was to be in a profession they love and constantly judged and mocked because of it.

We find out in the video that the man is in fact gay, so his silky matching top and choice to work at Claire’s are “explained,” and yet there’s still no comedy to this. It’s as if the video sets out to determine what is acceptable for a man to wear, and if it’s not, then he must be gay.

Harry Styles recently caused a huge conversation by wearing a petticoat in Vogue. A whole online movement of “Make men look like men again” was born and letters of disgust poured in. The important thing to remember here is that the clothes we wear are just that. Pieces of fabric that make us happy, or comfortable, and they do not need a justification to anyone, and they certainly should not be used to judge a person’s sexual orientation. There is no rule on how a gay man should dress, nor should there be on what a straight man can wear, or any human for that matter.

Gender policing does real harm. Suicide is the second leading cause of death among LGB people ages 10 to 24. LGB youth are fives times as likely to have attempted suicide as opposed to heterosexual counterparts, according to the Trevor Project. Over 6,000 homeless teens roam the streets of Los Angeles nightly, often vilified and kicked out of their own homes for being gay. Those kids are nearly 10 times more likely to commit suicide than straight teens their same age. Additionally. hate crimes are on the rise across the globe.

I should make a point to say that there were dozens of positive comments on this video. None of the commenters were wearing a silky blouse so I’m not sure if they’re gay or not, but I was the only one who spoke out against the content. Of course, when I shared it on social media those in my network instantly realized what was wrong with it.

Who does this antiquated way of sussing up one's sexual preference hurt the most? The one’s who can’t hide it, like me. I was never passable as a straight person, not once in my life. When I walk into a room I am instantly judged or made assumptions about based on my appearance. I’m gay and you can tell, but what about the ones not out yet, or still struggling with their own self-realization? I was strong enough to get through it and in fact, it is what made me who I am, but not everyone is and that's why this sort of “comedic” stance on gender policing needs to stop.

Any person gay or straight can wear a shirt designed for a woman.

Any person gay or straight can work at Claire’s if they wish.

Any person should be able to dress how they please, without fear of being judged or persecuted for their sexual preference.

I consider 2020 to be the year of revelations, where old antiquated ways of thinking are finally falling behind. As recently as June this year, for the first time ever, LGBTQ+ people have workplace protection in all 50 states thanks to a Supreme Court decision. Before then, over 15 states could fire you for being gay. Obviously, lots of work is still to be done.

So while videos like this one on Instagram may seem funny to you, I implore you to stop and think about why you think it’s funny. To the woman who prompted this article, I hope you read this. You told me you wouldn’t and that you don’t care about my opinion, but I hope you change your mind. I believe what we focus on expands, so let’s throw away these lame-ass stereotypes and focus on acceptance. Whether you’re a man who loves to wear ball gowns or a woman who lives in men’s clothing, it doesn’t make you anything but a human wearing a piece of fabric. 

Jason Wimberly is a Los Angeles–based celebrity personal trainer. His signature method "Wimberlean" has attracted followers like Jane Lynch and Selma Blair. Follow him on Instagram and Twitter.

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