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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.)

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Masculinity and Nelly Men

Well stated, Asher. This is the kind of discussion that needs to be extended, probed, and examined like never before!

It is true that there are subcultures within the so-called gay community that raises red flags for the man who is uncomfortable with his own sexuality and the exterior way(s) he and others exhibit it. It's been my own personal experience of feeling uncomfortable standing next to a drag queen or a man who is extreme in the ways he embraces his femininity that tells me that I haven't arrived at self-acceptance yet. There are some men who seem to enjoy pushing their own expressions of masculinity into my face and dares me to do something about it. And, there are men, leather, nellies, gym rats and so on who care less whether or not their form of masculinity is "acceptable" and care less about proving anything to anyone.

I do find it unsettling when someone tots in their profile that they are "straight acting"! Is this not a form of internal homophobia? Is it also true that the nancy who says "fuck you" as they flaunt their sissy ass at me is also simply exhibiting heterophobia? Or, the gay man, who degrades women and cringes when the subject of licking pussy comes up, demonstrates a lack of his own acceptance?

I enjoy the look, smell, and feel of leather. I do find it off-putting when the man wearing his leather, head to toe, acts as if he dares anyone to speak to him! Or, the muscle guy who can't get big enough and has to prove to the world that he is a "man"! Or, the sports guy who is constantly telling everyone how much he enjoys sports! What about the man of 60 or 70 who will only speak to a man in his 20s or 30s? Ugh. What are so many of us trying to prove? That we are acceptable?! That we want to "fit in" to some form of community?!

I do think it is about fitting in and being accepted. We seem to go to great lengths to be a member of a cliche, a member of some form of community, where we can blend in acceptably and be told "you're one of us". We want to be loved! And, sometimes we seek love in all the wrong places and pay a hefty price for it. We lose ourselves in the process.

The issue of "Masculinity" and "Men" needs a forum where we can actually talk with each other and listen to one another, to bond with each other on a vulnerable, intimate level of acceptance. When's it going to be created?! Gay Pride Day is an illusion today. It does not focus on pride from within. We're still focusing on the externals and not on who we are as masculine or as men who have something creatively powerful to offer each other and hets as well. We're missing the boat being satisfied with 'conformity' rather than uniqueness as well as creating a community where we can simply be ourselves.

Yeah!

Asher, you just keep hitting the nail on the head!
I read this piece with delight, admiration and awe.

Thanks for another lucid,

Thanks for another lucid, thoughtful and interesting commentary - I do enjoy reading your pieces.

Hmm.  I like the post in

Hmm.  I like the post in general, but I'm wary of assertions that subcultures ought to change their identity, even in the service of being more open.  I think subcultures can be allies and friendly, but I'm not sure that a given subculture ought morally to open up its <B>identity definition</b> in order to be friendly etc.

 

Leathermen are a good example of this.  I attended a talk last year in which a speaker summarized three studies with their own theories about why gay dudes get into the leather subculture:

1) They fetishize leather,

2) They're into SM,

3) They want to express a hypermasculine identity.

 

 These three theories all express important aspects of gay leather, I think -- the subculture incorporates <B>all three</b> of those aspects.  And maybe that means that a gay dude who's into SM, but doesn't want to be hypermasculine, will have to go somewhere else to do his SM.  I'm not sure there's anything wrong with that in itself.  Where it starts being wrong is where leathermen stop considering themselves allies to non-hypermasculine SM queers (or whatever else). 

I do agree with that. I think

I do agree with that. I think it's fine to have spaces devoted to that type of masculinity. However, I think it's strange that it's pretty much impossible to find a place for gay S&M that doesn't require hypermasculine presentation.

 Also, I do personally know a few leathermen who may not actually have a particularly hypermasculine identity, but realize that they need to present that way in order to access the spaces they want to be in.


In any case, I think something needs to happen to make S&M more accessible to gay men who don't fit the leatherman mold, whether that means certain spaces relaxing their standards for admission or the creation of new spaces altogether. Personally, I favor the latter option.

 

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Asher Bauer
February 19th, 2010
Asher Bauer's picture
Asher Bauer is fast becoming a fixture in the San Francisco kink community, and intends to stay that way. He has worked as a Queer Educator at LYRIC (Lavender Youth Recreation And Information...