The perception and the role of gay men in society have been changing throughout the years based on the context of a specific country. Its culture, its people, and its advances in research about gender and sexual orientation influence these perceptions.
Let’s remember that it wasn’t until 1973 that the APA removed homosexuality from their list of mental illnesses. And ever since, we have still been trying to make people around us understand that sexual orientation is not chosen and that it is an important characteristic of ourselves that makes us who we are. Sexual orientation and gender identity cannot be changed, conversion therapies around the world have claimed that there is a way to do so, but this is only a torture practice that hurts LGBTQ+ people emotionally and physically.
Year after year, the Pride month celebrations come, and it seems as if we have accomplished justice, as if we have achieved equality, but this couldn’t be a bigger mistake. A report by the Williams Institute at the University of California, Los Angeles, states that almost 50% of LGBTQ+ people have experienced discrimination in their workplace. 1 out of 10 LGBTQ people has experienced discrimination in the last year.
In 2022, Congress passed the Respect for Marriage Act, with 39 Republicans who joined the Democrats in support. This bill protects interracial and same-sex marriage. The bill was passed after the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade and blocked Biden’s student loan forgiveness program. Same-sex marriage was threatened by members of the Supreme Court appointed by the predecessor of President Biden.
The path toward LGBTQ+ justice is not straight. We face adversities on the way. So in order to overcome these adversities, we must acknowledge those unconscious biases that prevail around us. These ideas about gay men that people from different backgrounds have inherited, prejudices that even gay men have about themselves.
In Political Fashion, we are verbalizing these prejudices because once we understand the problem, it gets easier to identify them when we face them during a conversation with friends, a debate in the workplace, or a family dinner. Internalized homophobia is real, and it can be challenging to identify it. Let's take a look at some of the most common misconceptions around gay men.
Gay men who are feminine
Our world has made enough scientific and technological progress in developing vaccines for several diseases, to 3D print organs, to receive a package within 24 hours of ordering it. Still, when it comes to sexist prejudices, we are still underdeveloped, with a very long way to go.
Sexist roles are assumed for gay couples, with the generalized idea that all gay couples are made of a “masculine man” and a “feminine man.” The truth is that, very often, a gay man can have “masculine” and “feminine” characteristics that complement the characteristics of his partner.
Even sexual roles are not necessarily as standardized as many mass media assumptions claim. According to Grindr’s chief product officer, Jason Marchant, 35% of US users identify as versatile, while 21 identify as bottoms and 19% as tops.
A gay man is so much more than his feminine mannerisms, his fashion taste, and his sexual role. Still, it seems as if these are the most important characteristics of an individual. And those gay men who are feminine and practice a receptive sexual role are punished harder by society compared to those who don’t.
Gay men, as sexual beings
The sexist narrative of our society states that sexy attributes in clothing, such as showing skin, wearing transparency, or body-contoured pieces of clothing, are limited to women. When men make clothing decisions that align with these characteristics, it’s often seen as something negative. The whole social belief claims that people wear sexy clothes to get someone’s attention, and there’s nothing wrong with people dressing up with this goal in mind. However, very often, gay men are not looking to get anyone’s attention with these sexy clothes. They are expressing themselves as an act of freedom. Maybe they haven’t been free all their life. Maybe they had to hide behind “menswear,” and they didn’t like it. Maybe they are wearing transparency and showing skin simply because of the warm weather, and it is the prejudice toward creative menswear that makes us assume the characteristics of this man.
We like to think that we have achieved gender equity. But there’s still a strong prejudice against gay men being sexual beings. We saw this prejudice growing during the AIDS epidemic, and we saw it clearly again during the monkeypox outbreak.
Gay men are scared of looking gay
Even within the gay community, there is discrimination against people who either “fit into the mold” or “don’t fit at all into the mold,” regardless of what this mold entails. It is a form of exclusion that doesn’t make sense.
This subtle - not-so-subtle form of homophobia is more notorious when cisgender straight men like Harry Styles and Bad Bunny are rewarded for their genderless clothing choices, while LGBTQ+ artists like Billy Porter, Sam Smith, and Ricky Martin are judged and criticized when they use clothes that are labeled as womenswear.
Women who wear menswear and tailored pantsuits are seen as empowered and sophisticated as it entails a masculine vibe. But men who wear skirts and dresses are often seen as weak or soft and are shamed for it.
This prejudice is stopping menswear from evolving. Why would fashion designers make menswear with feminine elements for the mass market if the majority of the consumers will not accept them because of fear?
Fashion designer Alessandro Michele became Gucci’s creative director in 2015. One of his most notorious decisions that revolutionized the fashion house was the combination of menswear and womenswear collections in a big fashion show where gendered labels were not required, and the versatility of clothing among models would align with all genders. Macaulay Culkin, Phoebe Bridgers, Jodie Turner-Smith, St. Vincent, and Jared Leto walked on the same runway in November 2021 for Gucci’s Love Parade on Hollywood Boulevard. It seemed like the idea of straight, cisgender men wearing “womenswear” was about to enter the mass media and ultimately trickle down to the mass consumer for wider acceptance.
But a year later, the House of Gucci announced that for future fashion shows, they would go back to womenswear and menswear fashion shows. Days later, the Italian fashion house stated that Alessandro Michele would leave his role as Creative Director of Gucci, effective immediately.
It seems like even the high-fashion world and the entertainment industry are struggling with the idea of a man wearing a skirt or walking in heels. It seems like we are not ready to see a man walking on the streets with a pair of heels without making the assumption that he is a drag. Somewhere inside a “men’s” shoe relies on some masculinity that is required to be considered “a true man.” And the idea of losing this masculinity is very scary, not just for straight men but for men of all sexual orientations. Gay men come out of the closet, and there is a certain liberty and comfort in not having to keep a secret any longer. But once the secret is out, another battle starts. A battle with struggles and hesitations on what kind of man you should be. A man who “fits the mold of gays” (the mold full of stereotypes, where all gay men wear pink and are feminine), or a man who “doesn’t fit the mold of gays but is considered manly by the people around him.”
Gay men as very emotional beings
Men are four times more likely to commit suicide than women. For gay and bisexual men, the numbers are even higher.
When we use phrases like “don’t cry,” “it’s not a big deal,” or “don’t be a pussy” we are not helping a person solve their problem. We are attempting to ignore it, hoping it will disappear magically. If a young gay man who hasn’t come out of the closet yet, hears around him that talking about his emotions is something that men don’t do, the young man will hardly struggle to speak about his feelings and interests towards other men.
It’s hard to find scenarios where men are wide open about their emotions without being punished or labeled as “weak,” “gay,” or “dramatic.”
A gay man needs empathy and fewer attacks.
A gay man who flirts with a man at a bar has to be very careful and aware of the body language and reactions of the man he’s flirting with. He wants to know if the other man is gay and if he’s interested in him. These filters are sometimes awkward conversations are experiences that straight men almost never live, and if they do, it’s from a heteronormative perspective that doesn’t punish men for being straight.
A gay man often relies on gender-neutral terms like “my partner” or “a person I’m dating.” Not so much because he hides his sexual orientation but because he’s not entirely sure how the people around him will react when he starts talking about his gay dating life. And he rather keeps these stories to himself than share them with a group of people that might react with shameful comments and judgments.
A gay man can be emotional, very emotional. Several studies reassure this statement, as they acknowledge that very often the life of a gay man comes with rejection, insults, harassment, shame, hate, and prejudices. A gay man can come out of the closet and accept his sexual orientation, but the negative environment doesn’t fade away with one’s acceptance. Quite the opposite, he can begin to absorb the negative narratives and beliefs about gay men. Suddenly, he has internalized homophobia because he learned rejection, insults, shame, and hate from the people around him. It is challenging to see yourself in a positive way when the movies, the media, the people around you, and the hosts of conservative News make fun of who you are and celebrate violence against people like you.
We like to think that we have achieved gender equity. But there’s still a strong prejudice against gay men being sexual beings. We saw this prejudice growing during the AIDS epidemic and we saw it clearly again during the monkeypox outbreak.
Straight couples are celebrated at the youngest ages. Gay people take a longer time to find the courage to identify their feelings, and verbalize them.
The wrong assumptions that we have about gay men are political fashion. We wear what we are, and what we believe in. We judge or fear what we don’t understand. And there’s a whole world of diversity, identity expressions, and ways to perceive the world around us that we are not familiar with.
It’s the little phrases, the small actions, and the unconscious biases that are keeping us trapped in a bubble of beliefs where masculinity is the best characteristic a person can have, and those who don’t should suffer.
From now on, we’ll hear more carefully our thoughts and the conversations around us more. We’ll be more aware of when unconscious biases creep in, and what we can do to be strong advocates not just for the people around us but also for ourselves.