I am writing this, largely, in response to Tracy Clark-Flory's recent article at Salon.com on men and "slut-shaming." She defines slut-shaming as "any behavior meant to punish someone for their sexual appearance, behavior or reputation." The views expressed in her article, for the most part, rejects the notion that men can be slut-shamed in the same disempowering fashion that women can be, and that slut-shaming men doesn't come with the permissiveness towards violence against men as it does against women.
Mostly, I agree with her take, and with the views of the experts she quotes. But I think those views are only 92% correct in that they are only true for the 92% of men who are heterosexual. For the 8 % of men who are gay and bisexual the view that slut-shaming doesn't have a similar impact on men as on women doesn't hold true. Slut-shaming has been the number one weapon used against gay men in the sphere of politics as we seek our equality, and in the realm of criminal justice as we seek justice against those who commit hate crimes against us. And there's another area where slut-shaming hurts gay men: among other gay men.
Follow me below the great orange squiggly for a discussion on slut-shaming used against gay men by our homophobic adversaries, and by other gay men.
Gay men may desire the same advantages of manhood as heterosexual men, but gay men simply do not occupy the same social status and same social space as straight men. I always cringe when I see a write-up about male power and advantage because as a gay man, I simply am not privileged to those things. It doesn't matter if I am as butch as Clint Eastwood talking about "Halftime in America" or if I am as flitty as Chris Colfer in the role of Kurt Hummel on Glee, I simply cannot be grouped with heterosexual men. Even if we passed every gay rights law imaginable at this instant, it may be decades, if ever, that I would be afforded the cultural advantages of manliness. In a sense, this diary is asking for a qualification when pundits and intellectuals comment on male power and privilege: make sure you say "straight male power and privilege."
I may not have always been able to articulate it, but since I was a child, I've always noticed that when it comes to being a sexual minority the females have it best. My sister was often complimented for being a tomboy, whereas I was always belittled for taking any interest at all in feminine things. This isn't just the case in the heterosexual world, mind you, this is the case in the gay world as well. Sissyphobia is rampant among gay males, even, at times, among effeminate males in some sort of internalized sissyphobia. Gay men have no problem, for example, urging other men to conform to gender constructs. Complaints against this pressure are mocked with comments like "people are just asking you to butch up a little, they aren't hurting you."
And that sissyphobia in the gay community also leads to slut-shaming gay men who are perceived as feminine, or who are reputed as sexual bottoms (who are often perceived as closet sissies if the reputed bottoms take on a masculine appearance). A gay man who is perceived as masculine or reputed to be a top can, pretty much, have all the sex he wants without worry over slut-shaming by other gay males.
Ultimately, though, gay men who slut-shame other gay men or express any degree of sissyphobia only do so because they learned from the masters of slut-shaming and sissyphobia: the heterosexual men and boys they grew up with. While every gay man will tell you that the old story of some gay men "playing the man" and other gay men "playing the woman" isn't true, too many gay men adopt the sexism of the larger community and apply it to the gay male community. The persistence of sissyphobia and slut-shaming among gay males is the greatest proof that within the gay male unconscious lies a perception of gay male sexuality that is agreeable with the idea that some of us are playing roles consistent with the dichotomy of men and women. This is probably the result of being so degraded by heterosexual homophobia and bullying as we grow up that we've internalized their memes about us.
But here's the point: lesbians have it better in the gay world than gay men. When a lesbian wishes to discard the vestiges of sexist gender constructs she is hailed as a bold feminist, but a gay man who does the same -- no, he's a silly queen who needs to "butch up." But it's not just the gay world, these things are dictated to the gay world by heterosexuals. ABC News has done several experiments on the show "What Would You Do?" comparing and contrasting how gay men and lesbians would be treated in similar situations. Lesbian mothers who are treated homophobically in a restaurant find more defenders than gay dads. Lesbians who show affection in public generally go unnoticed. Gay men who do the same risk upsetting bystanders, or worse, violence.
And research into homophobic hate crimes shows that gay men are significantly more likely to be victims of hate crimes than lesbians, and those hate crimes tend to be particularly brutal and, researchers observe, tend to involve overkill. None of this is meant to diminish the struggles of lesbians, but to point out this: if gay men had any of the advantages of manhood, this script would be flipped. We don't, and that's why lumping all men together when talking about male power and privilege has unfortunate consequences in the effort to tear down anti-gay oppression. We need a qualifier when discussing male privilege and power: what is really being discussed is straight male power and privilege.
Straight men have the advantage of avoiding the full force and fury of slut-shaming. Gay men, on the other hand, do not.
In every move upwards in our struggle for LGBT equality, gay men's sex lives are scrutinized. Look at just about any press release from anti-gay groups, whether the American Family Association, the Family Research Council, or the National Organization for Marriage, anytime we near a gain for gay rights, and you'll see slut-shaming used to deprive not only gay men but lesbians, bisexuals and the transgendered people of their rights as well. In this sense, slut-shaming of gay men is more powerful than slut-shaming of women because when gay men are "slut-shamed" it not only has a disempowering impact on gay men, but on the whole of the LGBT community whereas the slut-shaming of women only has a disempowering impact on women.
One anti-gay press release will tell you the fabulous claim that gay men have 500 sex partners in their lifetimes. Or how about that bizarre twitter feed ironically called LGBTFacts that claimed gay men had so much anal sex that we couldn't control our bowels and have to wear a diaper! Then there is the idea that gay men are such out of control sex sluts that we are going to rape soldiers in the shower. Further, anti-gay activists take the mythology they create around gay men's lives to propose even darker things, like the widely discredited claim that we are going to sexually abuse your children.
Gay men have their sex lives on trial all the time. For example, in the courthouse. Any time a gay male has been victim of a crime his very gay maleness will be used against him, along with the well sowed sexual mythology of gay men's sex lives. Most of us know it as the Gay Panic Defense. A murderer will admit doing the deed, but claim that we were sexually aggressive in some manner requiring him to do the only thing reasonable at the time, for example, stab a gay man sixty-one times. And because the slut-shaming of gay men has been so successful, juries buy this story hook, line, and sinker. This is nearly the same exact slut-shaming used to persecute women who are victims of rape.
Where the hell is the male power and advantage that leaves us free of the awful consequences of slut-shaming that women face? Well, clearly it doesn't exist. So, I would ask those analyzing male power and advantage to qualify when you speak of such things. What you are really talking about is heterosexual male power and advantage.
8:34 AM PT: I'd like to thank Angry Gays and Milkmen and Women for the re-publish!
11:34 AM PT: Thanks to Community Spotlight for the rescue.
11:35 AM PT: Also, thanks to LGBT Kos Community for the republish.
8:23 PM PT: Apparently, while I was away this made the Rec List, so let me give my thanks to everyone for that.