Just Another Nancy Boy
I can’t remember quite how old I was when I first watched The Naked Civil Servant, a biopic about the extraordinary Quentin Crisp (played by the incomparable John Hurt). I do remember that it was a revelation. Here, for the first time, was a hero to whom I could relate—a fabulous old queen whose bravery, whose manhood, lay precisely in the fact that he refused to conform to any widespread idea of what a man is. No matter how often he was insulted, how many times he was beaten up, how many men were afraid to be seen with him, he remained unapologetically himself. This is the struggle common to every nelly boy: to stay fabulous in the face of adversity.
To a baby fag like me, the archetypal nelly flamer is an inspiration. Not just because he exemplifies a type of masculinity that is different and taboo, but because he gets right under the skin of the brash, misogynistic types who spend so much time trying to live up to the cultural norm. He puts the fear back into homophobia-- the straight-and-narrow are actually scared of him.
Unfortunately, being narrow isn’t just for heterosexuals anymore. Every day, mainstream gay culture moves more towards being “straight acting.” The Holy Grail of this movement is to settle down, get married, and have kids—which is fine. Just because you’re gay doesn’t mean you can’t do everything that het people do.
Sadly, that includes being homophobic and heteronormative. The men who make up this mainstream gay movement today generally strive for “straight-acting” masculinity, or else live up to non-threatening, crowd-pleasing straight stereotypes of gay behavior (interior design, musical theater, fashion sense, etc.). This is a type of nelliness without the things that make nelly threatening. There is no challenge, no transgressive sexuality, no genderqueerness to this type of effeminacy. It’s not rejecting ideas of manhood—it’s about accepting the culturally given standard of what a gay man is like.
But even this watered-down, non-confrontational form of nelliness is losing ground. These days, the Castro in San Francisco is full of buff, beefy, bearded he-men, tougher than tough, harder than hard, who strut with Tom-of-Finland-style machismo from gym to bar and back again. It’s gotten to the point where nothing makes my gaydar reverberate like a pair of muscular biceps and a military crew cut.
And that’s really, really cool. Gay men have been saddled with the expectation that they must wear pastels and walk with a swish for far too long. It’s awesome that gay men have reclaimed homosexuality as an expression of extreme masculinity, which, indeed, is something that it can be. Because hey, what we really want is freedom for all forms of self expression… right, guys?
Unfortunately, one stereotype seems to have replaced another. “Castro Clones” are called just that for a reason. It is no longer acceptable for gay men in San Francisco to express anything other than the most rugged masculinity. If you don’t believe me, go to the Castro for a civil rights rally sometime, and watch as livid clone types pour out of the bars in order to yell at the banner-waving, slogan chanting drag queens to “fuck off.” Stonewall it ain’t. It ain’t pretty either.
Effeminacy just isn’t welcome in gay culture anymore. This is especially true in the leather community. How many men’s S&M events specify “Masculine gear only” and indicate that any presentation even verging on feminine is forbidden? (As far as I can tell, all of them.)