Toronto
4 min

Limping lispers

Are gay men too insecure to prance?

GAY OLD TIME. Abercrombie & Fitch is for dullards. Credit: Mia Hansen

I miss sissies. Passing fags, closet homos and middle-class gay men are a dime a dance. Colour co-ordinated, sparingly dressed and sensibly shoed, today’s metro-nonsexuals are upright, damn straight guys, square of shoulder and even more cubed of mind.



You see them everywhere, marching down smart shopping districts clutching tickets for auto shows in their manly paws, or buying dad’s den-style mahogany and tan furniture to match their teak and bronze breakfast nooks. Their rainbow flag includes beige, and they are not ashamed to drink Coors Light. Yawn.



But sissies, those mincing, prancing, purse-lipped, rouge- tinted, pockmarked underfed, weak-ankled girly boys, are about as rare as wedding rings on Isabelle Bassett’s claws. (Which reminds me, has anyone noticed how, well, fruity former premier Ernie Eves sounds? The man’s voice seems permanently scorched to a nasal high C, as if he’s spent a lifetime in a Yorkville salon inhaling permanent solution and Virginia Slims. He’s been banished, too.)



I was a sissy. I couldn’t skate, couldn’t run, couldn’t catch – although nowadays I catch quite fetchingly, if you know what I mean – and failed shop, a class designed for farm boys with straw for brains, three years in a row. It was those damned circular saws, so noisy and messy, and all that pointless sanding. Texture, I used to beg, what about texture? Why can’t I make decorative cork coasters shaped like tulips? My mother already has a lovely almond wood spice cabinet.



By all natural laws, I should be covered in permanent 10-foot pole marks, as I was the town pariah. But I survived, as sissies almost always do, because I, as all sissies everywhere do, performed an invaluable function. Sissies make the world more dangerous.



It is very easy to be a man. Don’t wash your jeans and forget to shave and the battle’s half won. But to be a sissy takes courage, the courage to be both wholly unnecessary, a decorative flounce of a man, and more important, a very necessary evil, the blunt symbol of artifice that reminds the world, whether it wants to remember or not, that, butch or butterfly, fireman or florist, it’s all an act.



When I walked into that shop class, I unnerved the metal heads and the lumberjack trainees because I embodied a part of themselves that was hidden, not necessarily a closeted or latent homosexuality, but a tenderness, a desire for beauty, no matter how sublimated or misdirected, and most dangerous, a confusion. Confusion over how to behave “like a man,” how to enact their new, only partially understood status as heirs to their fathers’ thrones, and what to do with this exciting new toy between their legs, the one that was supposed to make them all powerful and dominant but generally left them feeling as if someone had snuck into their bedrooms at night and grafted an evil leprechaun onto their urethras.



Of course, I’m coming to these nifty (and wholly amateur) psychoanalytic observations way too late. At my sissy peak, around 14, the best I could do in the line of clever self defence was squeak out the occasional, “Please, please stop throwing wood at me.” Probably the best strategy would have been full-out drag, which might have gotten me some behind-the-wood-pile action. Live and learn.



Sissidom rarely lasts beyond the teen years. By the time young Mr Nancy Pants figures out his intrinsic socio-cultural value, he’s already taught himself to survive by faking manliness. And once you buy that first blue tie, it’s hard to go back to chartreuse shawls. Subsequently, we are experiencing a serweeoussss ssssissy sssshortwage.



When was the last time you walked down Church St and gawked at a true sissy? I don’t mean a drag queen or a tranny; they’ve got their own magical thing going on, and goddess love them for it.



And I don’t mean a snippy waiter, bank teller or civil servant, as there is evidence suggesting that such people are not natural sissies, it’s the jobs that make them bleed testosterone. And femininity in senior gentlemen is actually just biological necessity; who can keep a stiff upper lip when his prostate is tickling his kneecap?



I mean a sissy, an honest-to- badness squealing little princess toting a beribboned pug in a wicker basket, a boy-man who simply must, must, must stop dead in his tracks when confronted by overdone civic flower pots; who composed a polite letter of marital congratulations, in violet-inked Parisian French, to Kyle Rae; who observes royal family birthdays by shoplifting bars of Pears soap; who has arched his nose so many times, at so many incomprehensible vulgarities, that the tendons in his neck make an agreeable ping each time he raises his chin; who walks like a dowager on speed; who kicks insolent children; who owns, and knows how to wear, a cloche hat.



Such creatures are in sad decline. In our desire to fit in and feel safe, we’ve replaced a once proud (and ironically, far more invulnerable than most macho superheroes) lavender subset with truck driver wannabe bears, circuit hags in leather harness Cross Your Hearts, and respectable gay fathers in Dockers and deck shoes. What we need is a sissy revival. And you can help.



Just once this week, look up at a piece of art, a new building, or, better yet, a perfectly ordinary sunset and pronounce it “perfectly atrocious.” Instead of barking at a slow sales clerk or huffing impatiently in a line-up for movie tickets, stamp your foot daintily, toes first. Practice audible, long-winded and faintly asthmatic sighs. At Tim Horton’s, demand a bone china cup for your tea. Examine the ill-advised cut of this fall’s shirt collars and cause a scene at Harry Rosen. Nudge your dog’s pooh-poohs under an expensive car (if you get caught, pretend you’re European).



Slap somebody in an elevator, but not hard. You don’t want to bruise your wrists.



* RM Vaughan’s novel, Spells, has just been published by ECW Press. He looks great in a scarf.