Recently I have been participating in a ongoing conversation regarding masculinity, homosexuality, and self expression, with some self-defined earthy men and radical fairies. The dialogue began with a veteran lamenting his feelings of disconnect with gay culture.
Tired of dealing with the "bitches and boys," he was asking where in gay culture is it safe to be a non bar-hopping club kid. Identifying as a man's man, his concern was a perceived inability on his part to meet guys who want to hang out with other guys. No fems, no freaks, just guys.
In short time the dialogue turned tense when fem men, took offense at others stating they felt trapped by the limited range of gay stereo types. Commenting on his lack of desire for effeminate, highly groomed men, or those involved in leather/butch drag, he wondered when will it be O.K. for gay men to just be men. On the fringe of mainstream of gay culture myself, I am encouraged by this line of inquiry.
Believing gay identity to be a reflection of the culture in which it is nurtured, I see the issue as being one of homosexual men trying to adapt to preexisting cultural constructs. If all the media shows is images of swishing queens and vain pretty boys, is it any wonder young homosexuals imprint on those archetypes? Of course not.
Homosexual identity as always been shaped by heterosexual acceptance.
Heterosexist by design, American culture does not allow for ambiguity. At some time it was decided homosexuality made you less than a man, and therefore not masculine. And the heterosexist world view is based on opposites, so if not considered masculine, the only other option was femininity. To find any social acceptance one had to be straight or "gay," any variation could get you killed.
Culture is the story we tell ourselves. Television is the way America tells stories. Television has yet to present a masculine, well centered, happily situated man, rural or otherwise, as a protagonist. For the past 100 years U.S. media has represented homosexuality as an abnormal lifestyle, often dark and dangerous. It still does. By the time television and modern media came into being, there was a tacit agreement that gays were something to fear or laugh at.
Since the Stonewall riots, and the emergence of gay culture, homosexuals have played their prescribed roles, as odd outsiders always ready for a good laugh. For those men willing to play into the stereotypes and adapt to prescribed cultural norms, tolerant acceptance is a least possible. Still not accepted by mainstream culture are homosexuals who choose not to adopt constrictive gay stereotypes for themselves.
When homosexual men are included in the story telling it is usually to entertain with cutting wit and silly antics. From Oscar Wilde to Liberace, Paul Lynde and Truman Capote, effete, fashion forward, gentlemen, are the model of what is acceptable in polite company. The foppish dandy character was recently perfected by Sean Hayes with his portrayal of Jack McFarland on Will and Grace. Notice how far we haven't come in the past hundred years.
Gay liberation now involves freeing homosexual men from the narrow constraints of accepted gay identities. Men who want to be identified as homosexual without making it a lifestyle should be able to do so without the fear of being ostracized or violence. Homosexual youth should be allowed to dream of careers as professional athletes, cops, firefighters, soldiers, and other forms of employment deemed masculine.
As long as mainstream culture continues to deny the normalcy of homosexuality, homosexuals will never see themselves as normal. That hurts, and has a tendency to lead to all sorts of destructive behavior. So instead of a parade of tired stereotypes designed to shock and sensationalize, It's time we embraced the full nature of our being.