Thursday, May 10, 2007

Of femmey boys and other lovely things…

The comments in my last post, and in some of those that linked to it, ended up mentioning femmey men. Now, as should be blatantly obvious to anyone who has ever seen this blog before, I rather like femmey men. I’m not crazy about full drag, at least in the sense that I don’t usually find it sexy, although I often find it aesthetically pleasing in a non-sexual way. Femmey in a more general sense though…yes indeed, that is something I like. Pretty faces, smooth skin, eyeliner and lipstick, hair colors not found in nature, hairstyles not traditionally considered masculine…all these things on men I find appealing. The real sweet spot for me seems to be men who are androgynous – neither classically masculine nor classically feminine. Contrasts, if you will, are my thing.
I have also spent most of my life post-puberty involved in subcultures within which femmey or androgynous men are very much admired, and are accepted by everyone. From my early teenage gothdom, and the various points at which I’ve revisited it, to the group of Visual Kei-loving guys I hung out with in college, to my fondness for seventies glam rock, to the skirt-wearing hippie guys I know here in the Bay Area, I’ve been around men who don’t fit the traditional masculine mold for a long time. As a result of that I’ve seen close-up the way society treats femmey men, and it’s not pretty.
Jesse, who I hung out with in high school, used to get guys trying to (or threatening to) beat him up on almost a daily basis, just because he was a pretty boy with long hair who wore eyeliner. Danny, another friend from high school, was gay baited constantly, and he didn’t even dress femmey, he was just a gentle guy who wasn’t very “masculine”. Hiro, who I knew when I was in college, was forced to take up aikido as a teenager because he was coming home with blackened eyes and bruises so often that his mother was scared for his safety. He wasn’t wearing drag, either, he was just an androgynous boy who wore showy black clothes and eyeliner. Alec, who was first a friend, then a boyfriend, and then finally a friend again, got gay-baited all the way through high school not because he was actually sleeping with men, but because people assumed he was. And then there’s the ex-boyfriend who was gang raped in Edinburgh because he was deemed too femmey – he was wearing tight jeans, a brightly colored silk shirt, and eyeliner.
Interesting thing…a big part of the supposed “justification” for the harassment all these men went through was that their femminess was deemed to be a sign that they were gay. In reality, only one of these five men had any sexual interest in other men (Alec), and even he wasn’t sure about that himself at the time.
Where does that idea come from, that femmey=gay? I know plenty of gay men who don’t fit that stereotype at all. In fact, the vast majority of the femmey men I’ve known have been straight.
I think the “I want to kick your ass because you’re gay” thing is a smokescreen, really. I think what the harassment of these men is really about is enforcing societal norms of what a man is “supposed” to be in a much broader way. I do think that sometimes it’s about sex – I suspect that a lot of the “I’ll kick his ass!” impulses are a result of other men feeling some kind of attraction to these men and not knowing what to do with that feeling. It’s far, far easier to say “he’s gay, and that's just wrong!” and then hit someone than to deal with the idea that maybe you, yourself, average dude, might not be quite as straight as you thought you were. Sometimes I think it’s about the idea that there are rules that everyone has to follow and those who flout them should be punished, because God damn it if I have to follow the rules then why should other people get away with breaking them? I think sometimes it’s about fear, and sometimes it’s about demonstrating what little power one has by picking on those who rank even lower in the pecking order than one's discontented self. It’s a complicated thing.
I’ve tried to raise the subject of these femmey men, what their experiences are, how society treats them, the ways in which that might be a problem, in many contexts, amongst both feminists and MRAs, and in both cases the response has been a resounding “so what?”. That bothers me. It especially bothers me coming from MRAs, who after all are supposed to be the advocates for men. What about these men? Why do they not count? Why is their pain irrelevant? Should MRAs actually be calling themselves MMRAs (Manly Men’s Rights Advocates)?
I suspect that my inability to swallow some radfem arguments about Class Man has a lot to do with the fact that I’ve spent so much time around femmey guys. The typical feminist arguments about Class Man do not fit this group at all. This is one of those cases where the party line simply does not match my actual life experience. What am I supposed to do, ignore the evidence of my own eyes? Pretend to believe in the existence of Class Man as some kind of monolithic group when all of my actual experiences are telling me that there is no such thing as Class Man, that men come in all kinds of varieties, and that not all of them are the enemies of womankind?
I mean seriously…I’m supposed to see these guys as the enemy? Wry, sarcastic Jesse who was always ready with a joke and a late night phone conversation to talk me down off the ledge when I was an angsty teenager? Gentle, goofy Danny, who was always there for me when I needed him, who felt more like family than my real family a lot of the time? Sweet, empathic, protective Hiro, who two weeks after meeting me saw me walk into a club and knew instantly that something bad had happened to me, who pulled me into a corner and cuddled me and stroked my hair until I finally broke down and told him about the creepy landlord who kept groping me…and who helped me find a new place and made sure that he was there when I told the landlord and when I actually moved out so that nothing else would happen to me? Alec, who kept me sane while my mother was dying of cancer? My poor darling ex, who instead of reacting to what happened to him with anger or bitterness turned into one of the kindest people I’ve ever met? This is the face of the enemy? Are you fucking kidding me?
And Anne Coulter, Michelle Malkin, and the lovely StormCloud are my sisters, whom I should trust. Are you smoking crack?
It seems to me that, when one is young, those femmey boys are often the best allies a budding young feminist can have. There’s strength in numbers, after all, and when one is taking one’s first steps in bucking the system it helps a lot to be around others who aren’t too thrilled with the way things are currently arranged either. I’ve known many such men over the years, and a lot of them have been far better allies to me than most women I’ve known. Each and every one of those men holds a special place in my heart, and anyone who doesn't understand why is unlikely to be a person I want to know.
So, allow me to raise my glass to all the femmey guys out there. I know how much shit you all deal with on a daily basis, and I admire the courage it takes to be yourself when everyone around you wants you to be something else. Any time you need an ally, I’ve got your back. After all, there have been so many times when you’ve had mine.

PS This is an excellent excuse to post a couple of pics of my favorite femmey boy, yes? I’ve always loved these pictures…partly it’s the smug grin in the first one, and the ridiculous cuteness of the kids (the nephews of the main guy – apparently good looks run in the family), and partly it’s just the sheer subversive humor of the whole concept. Well, that and the fact that I’d like to borrow the boots. The second? He looks so adorable I want to give him a cuddle.The third one…OK, let’s be honest, it’s the thighs. And the contrast between the girly outfit and the very boy-like body language. Good thing he’s wearing those boxers!
(Actually, not necessarily a good thing. Damn boxers, why must they provide so much coverage?)
Also note that this ties in with one of my other fundamental beliefs…ultimately all clothing is costume. It exists to be played with.


Veronica said...

Hee. MMRA's. That rules.

I will say, though, that some of the most obnoxious misogynists I've ever come across were gay men.

Trinity said...

Yes, yes, yes.

I probably shouldn't say this lest I lose however many Feminist Citizen Points I actually have remaining to me.

But. I remember the last time TBTN rolled around, and the shirts that read "stop gender violence,"

and even though I know understand and agree that most rapes are perpetuated by men on women I just kept thinking of how much I love femme bottoms, and just kept wondering: how much less likely are they to get raped than me, really? particularly if the rednecks knew how I do them?


it... worries me to a degree the Orthodox would Not Like, No Precious.

sallysunshine_26 said...

Most of the gay men I know are simply divine. In fact, I actually prefer being with them as opposed to lesbians who have been judgmental and cliquish in the past- kind of like how some feminists treat other feminists while the femme boys have been nurturing, supportive, and! Did I mention sexy yet? Yum! Thanks Cassandra!

Deoridhe said...

This is once thing that's always bugged me. I've had genderqueer people, even, tell me that a butch woman could be straight, but a femme man had to be gay.

Had to be.

No choice, no exception, if he was femme, he was gay.

This just doesn't follow, at all, and it's marginalizing in a really horrible way.

I wish MRAs fought for the rights of all men. Of course, I wish the same for feminists. 8/

belledame222 said...

oo, I like the throne one.

as per all femmey men only being gay, two words:

Joss Whedon.

the original Girlie American.

who is happily hetmarried, last i checked.


Cassandra Says said...

V - I've met gay men who were unrepentant misogynists, and I've also met gay men who adored women. They're a mixed bag, really, just like most other people.

Cassandra Says said...

Trin - That tee would have made me a little uncomfortable, too. Not just for the reasons you stated, but because it's defeatist in a wierd way. The problem isn't ALL men, it's some men, and the fact that not all men act that way is living proof that they don't all have to and that those who do can't use their gender as an excuse. Of course you can't put all that on a t-shirt, but still, I think the message needs some tweaking.
Also, I tend to think of a lot of the men I know as rather fragile and easily hurtable. The fact that I do tend not to hang out with the macho types may be coloring my perspective, but still, I think the way most people discuss this issue is far too simplistic.

Cassandra Says said...

Sally - Interesting. I'm pretty much completely non-involved with the lesbian scene here for exactly the same reasons. I don't respond well to being lectured.

Cassandra Says said...

Deoridhe - I've heard the same thing, and it's nonsense. Harmful nonsense, too. Like I said, the vast majority of the femmey men I've ever met have been straight, a few have been bi. The ones who have been gay are in the minority. Have these people never met a goth? Not to mention the Japanese Visual Kei scene in which makeup and all other manner of femmey things are standard for men and pretending to be gay for the benefit of a female audience is a great way to get a record deal and make a shitload of money.

Abotu MRAs...if they would actually give some indication that they care about the wellbeing of men in general rather than just a few narrow issues I would take them a lot more seriously. Alas, such is not the case. Nor for some feminists, either.

Cassandra Says said...

Belle - Interesting point to note. All these crossdressing pretty boys I've been posting pics of? Straight, every last one. Well, who knows who may or may not be bi and not telling, but all of them are definitely interested in women. Throne guy has a boob fixation so obvious that people were cracking jokes about it all the way through the US tour – someone really should tell him it’s not polite to stare. The idea that femmey = gay has very little basis in reality.

belledame222 said...

I think there are a few lib-to-leftish men floating about who -would- be MRA's if the term meant anything that they weren't too embarrassed to be remotely associated with, i.e. they're interested in mens'...-stuff-, don't feel at home in feminism, aren't real jazzed about any of the other options either. i do think there's potentially something to it. but i think what it's gonna take is some kind of significant cross-movement involving gay men and straight men together.

Trinity said...

"i think what it's gonna take is some kind of significant cross-movement involving gay men and straight men together."

I'm all for that.

Fidelbogen said...

The existence of "femmey" males, whether or not they are actually gay, DOES tend to erode the cultural boundaries of maledom. Not just "traditional" maledom, but maledom altogether.

That is indeed what ambiguous boundary phenomena tend to do: erode things.

Perhaps what is happening among MRAs (and politically unconscious pre-MRAs) is that they see "femminess" (in the generality of its manifestations) to be an alien intrusion of the femplex upon their psychic space.

In other words, they feel put upon....

(Femmey men may not be "gay", but they are on an operative continuum with gayness as per Wittgenstein's theory of "family resemblance". At least in the minds of a lot of "traditional" straight men.)

Apart from that, I suspect that many of them just can't be bothered to fathom the psychology of a man who would wear eyeliner or a skirt.
It is meaningless and unaccountable to them....and their responses cover a gamut from mild annoyance to outright violence - depending on certain parameters.