If the world were an ’80s teen comedy, every tenth man you met would be a loopy, one-dimensional gay stereotype.
As a child of the Mulroney era, my impression of gay men was shaped by popular culture. Every now and then a homosexual character would pop up on the television screen, speak with a lisp, sport a pompadour and utter such witticisms as “I was in the Armed Forces. They were looking for a few good men and so was I” or “Honey, I am more man than you’ll ever be and more woman than you’ll ever get.”
Once I accepted my sexuality (in Grade 5), I became increasingly annoyed with these tired, decades-old representations. By the time I came bursting out of the closet on the 50th anniversary of D-Day, I realized that, in fact, most gay men did not carry themselves in such a flamboyant fashion.
The other day I met a guy who possesses a swish-de-vivre, the likes of which I had not seen since Hollywood Montrose made his entrance as Mannequin. If I were to close my eyes as he spoke, I could easily imagine it was Julia Duffy of TV’s Newhart sitting crosslegged in front of me.
While I found his company and his sense of humour refreshing, I couldn’t shake the little judgments I found myself making. This, of course, is utterly ridiculous. From what I gathered about him, he is a sweet, sincere, confident spirit who is comfortable in his own skin. I could only hope to be so “together.”
On the other hand (an arguably superficial and judgmental hand), I knew that to be out in public with him would be a source of embarrassment.
Where does this penchant for prissiness come from? Is this behaviour a natural, instinctive way to conduct one’s self? Is it an act or some way to propel one’s queendom into the stratosphere? Is it about being yourself or playing a role for the rest of the world? These are questions I have heard pass from the lips of gay and straight acquaintances again and again.
Much like the Kinsey scale of human sexuality, I have observed that all gay men fit somewhere between one and 10 on the Swish Slide. One represents macho stoicism and 10 represents unbridled effeminacy.
I have also observed that the more drinks entered into one’s system can have a guy moving up and down (but mainly up) the scale.
All of us, regardless of sexuality, conduct ourselves in different ways in front of different people. How then do we identity our authenticity? It’s enough to make me rip out the hairs from my own pompadour.
In his book Sissyphobia, Tim Bergling examines the resentment some gay men have towards effeminate behaviour. While drag culture is a wildly celebrated facet of gay culture, “nelly” behaviour is often deemed an unflattering and undesirable aspect in a potential mate.
Reading some gay personal ads, it is common to find profiles of men describing themselves as “straight acting.” Some even make the clarification that “femmes” need not apply.
While it is impossible to know what goes on in the minds of my homo-brethren, I have searched the deep recesses of my own to see where and when I got hung up on gender roles and what is acceptable or unacceptable behaviour.
When I was an infant I had one of those circular wheelie doohickeys that helped me get around until I learned to walk. My feet couldn’t touch the ground and somehow I got used to roaming on my tiptoes. Into childhood, I walked with the light-footed grace of a prima ballerina.
I recall being perhaps 10 years old and walking around the supermarket with my ma and sister. A little wretch of a child laughed as I walked by and said, “You walk like a girl.”
Try as I might to keep my heels on the ground, I continued to walk on tippy-toes for some time. I had to adjust my walk to free myself from the ridicule. I still slip into a “soft shoe” every now and then.
I recall a 1993 Rolling Stone interview with Winona Ryder. She talks about how she had always hated the way she walked. It wasn’t until she realized that it was her walk that everything was put in perspective. Man, she is cool.
The moral of this story, I guess, would be to have the audacity to be you. Once I become fully comfortable with myself, I won’t care if the guy I’m hanging out with dons a tiara and sashay shantays all over the place. After all, a degree of flamboyance can be damn sexy.
Stefan, once the most divine piece of man I had ever known, possessed both “masculine” and “feminine” traits; a perfect 5 on the Swish Slide.
Next time I catch myself walking on my toes, placing a hand on my hip like Daphne from Scooby Doo or flailing my hands to gratuitous effect when speaking, I’ll let it be.
That deserves two snaps and a twist.