Tuesday, August 4, 2009

The Glass Closet

I just finished reading an interesting article in issue #416 of "XTRA West," the local GLBT newspaper. In it, Ivan E. Coyote, a writer who is a lesbian, writes how thankful she is to lesbians who are feminine, wear typical female attire (as opposed to lumber jackets and work boots), and break the stereotype of what lesbians look like. She says that her "closet was always made of glass," to the extent that everyone knew by looking at her that she was gay. But this was not the case for feminine lesbians, who may have surprised people when they came out, who may have confused straight men hitting on them, and who Coyote seems to bestow special status on because they weren't like her.

I wish I could say that I'm thankful for gay men who are masculine (is this an oxymoron?), but I'm not. Not by a long shot. In the world of gay men, which I've written about before, those who are masculine looking and acting are preferable to those who are effeminate. The reason for this is obvious: Our world still doesn't embrace being gay. If you don't look and act gay--that is, if you can pass for being straight--then you are more acceptable. You fit the standard norm, and no one, gay or straight, has to deal with you as a gay individual.

The truth is that we need to live in a world where it doesn't matter if you're a feminine lesbian or a masculine gay. Where you're not preferable or better because you break the stereotype. As much as butch lesbians might yearn to be feminine, or effeminate gays might yearn to be masculine, the fact is that we are what we are, and we should be good enough just as we are.

Being gay, whether female or male, shouldn't be more acceptable just because you fit some mold of what straight looks like. But the first step in making this change is with the gay community itself. Coyote has to embrace her masculine tendencies in the same way that I know I need to embrace my feminine tendencies, the very ones that have distressed me most of my life and that I've worked hard over the years to downplay. Only when there is no special status bestowed on masculine gays and feminine lesbians--that is, they are not recognized in any way that puts down those who are not like them--will we be able to accept ourselves, just as we are.

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