Steven (unzeugmatic) wrote,

Facing Up to the Sissyboy

You know what? I think that gay men, in my culture, remain influenced throughout our lives by the criticism, mockery, and disgust heaped on the sissyboy. Oh, did I say "influenced"? I meant "wounded".

I was thinking about this the other day as a sidetrack to some responses I got when I wrote about "throwing like a girl". Among gay guys there was no confusion about what that meant, but it came clear to me that two different respondents (who are not gay guys) didn't understand what I meant by the phrase -- thinking, naturally and reasonably enough, that it was a description of what girls throw like. But no, in usage and resonance and implication, it actually means "throwing like a sissy" and I'm pretty certain I've heard it used only to describe boys. Girls have their own playground horrors in abundance enough, but the sissy thing is gender-specific.

There is a difference between faggy/sissy behavior and what is literally "feminine" behavior. It's like drag queens: It always seemed obvious to me that drag queens are not acting like women, they are acting like drag queens. The confusing thing is that the word "effeminate" gets tossed at boys (and drag queens and regular old queens) to mean what I'm calling sissy here. When self-described "straight-acting" gay men express their revulsion for sissies by hauling out the canard (which I've been hearing for 35 years) of "I'm gay because I'm attracted to guys, not girls" do you think they realize that it is not "girls" they are reviling, but "sissies"? People find attractive what they find attractive and that's not really any business of mine, except that when the analysis they apply is this patently naive I assume there are other things going on than a simple description of specific sexual attraction.

I'm getting ahead of myself perhaps, but what I'm saying here is that this culturally-enforced childhood sissyboy disgust influences many things through the adult lives of gay men, more things than I sometimes think go recognized.

All boys are subject to this training/brainwashing, of course. That the imprecations not to be a sissy are often phrased in terms of "don't be like a *girl*" ("My *daughter* throws better than that, what are you a *girl*" says the coach) says a good deal about cultural misogyny, but I'm still saying that it's not literal girl behavior per se that's being addressed. A linguist friend of mine recorded an exchange he overheard in a gym a few years back, among some young men, which was textbook cultural reinforcement of this "Be a guy! Don't be a sissy! Don't be a girl" stuff. It's powerful and pervasive stuff.

Yes, all boys are subject to it, but here's what I'm thinking: That's it's different when you actually are gay (which -- and I know I'm courting controversy here -- is something that I believe you know at some level from a very young age, perhaps unarticulated and unconfronted, even among men who come out late). Because all tied up in this sissy-icky construct is homo-icky. It's been around for centuries. It continues to taint. This stuff is painful for everybody, but when you are gay the sissy stuff gets internalized in a homos-are-icky way. And that's what seems to haunt us.

This is what I see as inspiring a good deal of what I read among the Bear community -- or for that matter among many of the gay-sports spokesmen, not to mention the straight-acting self-identifiers -- in their personal narratives: I was attracted to guys but I knew I wasn't like any (of those icky) gay people I knew/saw/recognized. The fact that for at least 25 years public images of gay people who are nothing like these imaginary descriptions of faggots/sissies have been ubiqitous and abundant would, you would think, give the lie to these claims. But no, these are the claims of personal mythology, not of the world as it might appear to an outside observer. Because we cannot risk being wounded, or actually what we cannot risk is opening up those wounds.

It feels vulnerable to put up a picture of me throwing like a girl. If I didn't have the companion photo of me throwing with better form I would not have. You'd think I'd be at least thirty years over that by now.

[UPDATE 2 hours later: In composing a response to botanicavix's comment (which I did not wind up posting) I realized something I should have included here. One of the issues of being a sissyboy is that you literally live under the constant threat (and occasional realization) of being beaten up. Now me, personally, I was able to charm my way out of these threats (believe it or not) -- developing social skills I am grateful for to this day -- and nobody ever actually hit me, but I certainly had my share of threats all the way up to seventh grade. I think that part of what people are distancing themselves from -- even thirty years later as adults -- are these threats, these threats made against others. I don't think this is conscious, I just think it's a key part of what people are trying to run away from. This is serious stuff. It's survival, actually.]
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