There certainly is a need for a documentary like The Butch Factor, Christopher Hines’ thoughtful meditation on gay men’s thorny relationship with all things butch (and, by extension, fem).
Hines introduces us to a cross-section of gay men discussing their feelings about what, precisely, it means to be a man. One football-playing jock describes his feelings of alienation from the gay scene. Too much talk of Madonna meant he never felt like he fit in, he says. Now he plays football with other gay, masculine men.
Hines is careful to traverse the butch-fem spectrum. There are drag queens, a gay rock band (The Ex-Boyfriends, and they’re actually excellent), and my personal hero, a young fem who has embraced his gender-outlaw status and has the word “Sissy” tattooed on his shoulder.
The film really hits its stride when Hines delves into just how problematic gay men’s relationship to the butch thing is. It’s not called The Fem Factor for a reason.
As several gay academics contend, there is way too much fear of behaviour thought of as feminine within the gay milieu. Go visit any gay sex site, and the most common lines you’ll see are “straight acting, masc, looking for same” — if not outright “NO FEMS.”
This constitutes a disturbing streak of self-loathing that runs through our community and, frankly, I wish it were talked about more.
One of the men interviewed says his straight friends are far more accepting of his gender nonconformity than people in the gay community. A number of the talking heads argue that this adherence to all things butch limits gay men and is almost certainly damaging.
The Butch Factor has some great ideas in it, and I’m all for any work of art that gets gay men thinking about their issues around internalized homophobia (which, by the way, also might suggest a deeply-rooted misogyny).
But Hines’ chosen form sets up some limitations for his argument. Schooled in made-for-TV docs, Hines keeps his camera moving, his images fused together with at times lightning-quick MTV-style edits. This creates the impression that we’re too often coasting over important ideas and, to some extent, breezily glossing over the very lives he’s chosen to focus on. Still, The Butch Factor offers plenty to think about.