Monday, January 18, 2010

Labels...Who Decides Whats Not O.K.?

How important are the words we use to describe ourselves?

Recently, Erik... a wonderfull young Youtuber who goes by the name "straightactinggayguy" was feartured on Queerty in a video discussing how difficult it is to find a date when you live in the midwest...your fresh out of the closet...and you don't have contact with other gay people. Sounds innocent enough right?...I thought so at least. What actually happened incited a comment flamefest because of what Erik's screenname implies. The interesting thing that came from all this was how important the labels we apply to ourselves, and others, can be.

"Straight acting"

The term implies a gay man with no overtly gay qualities....other than the obvious attraction to someone of their same gender. In theory, this is a person who can blend into heterosexual society and no one would realize they were gay(unless you are blessed with good gaydar....sadly, I am not). Picking up the average personal ads or going to a dating sight and thumbing through the "men for men" section will turn up the term with regularity.

Queerty readers took extreme umbrage at Eriks use of the term. But decide for yourself, watch Erics Video and Jays response to queerty's readers and ask yourself "just what  was so wrong about it?"

A great many of us when we first come out, have never heard anything about gay people but the worst of stereotypes. This was true for me when I came out. I was actually shocked at how much diversity there was in the gay community. I never expected to find men that evoked as much strength and character as those that I had grown up with in my cloistered, heterosexual family life...but I did. It was an eye opener to me just how different the reality of the gay community was from the way I had preconcieved it to be. During that time of my life I would also have easily used the term "straight acting" because, to the me of that time, "gay acting" had so many negative connotations.....and most importantly...because I didn't really know what it meant to be gay in all its facets or how much gratitude I would develop over time for my own homosexuality. It was a long process of meeting gay men...dealing with my own insecurities about what it did to my manhood if I allowed myself to occasionally be a "reciever" in sex, that it does not mean that my manhood had been compromised or that I was suddenly , in anyway, become "passive". I learned to chuck out all the gender rolls that I had been raised with concerning dominance and submission within sex and relationships to see them in a new light. That was tough and it took time. When I came through that however...I was less prone to judge others because I had a bigger pool of experience to draw from.

I see this graduall development in Erik. In reaching out on Youtube...Erik is not only attemping to help others as he claims is his intent,....he is also reaching out to a larger gay  community to help connect himself to a part of himself that he senses needs to be filled in. Thats something only time can do.

However, instead of helping Erik understand this about himself. Many queerty readers took offense at his use of the term. the responses ranged from overtly offensive attacks on his looks:

He looks like the McDonald's moon man.

To thought out...but nonetheless hurtfull remarks that betrayed the posters insecurities more than they helped express why Erik's use of the term is construed as hurtfull. Like these:

...He should stop using the term "straight acting." If he wants a date. We all know what it means when a gay man uses "straight acting." Translation: "I hate gays." Which is actually even more accurately translated: "I hate myself for being gay." Same translation as "I'm not like other gay guys," and "I don't fit into the gay community." Its all a product of self-loathing....

and these:

...At risk of further flogging a deceased horse, yeah, why would a proud homo site inaugurate such a service by trying to find a date for someone who subscribes to a bunch of heteronormative "Imma act straight because they're better than all those 'faggy' fags" bullshit? Whenever I meet someone who boasts about their 'straight-actingness' and whines about being single, I can't help thinking "maybe all the good gay guys are too busy acting GAY...

Come on! He lives in the midwest in a virtual gay vaccuum. Was he supposed to just know how much this term would offend by virtue of his gayness? Also, aren't all you seasoned gays, who supposedly have found acceptance of yourself, able to confer a little of that hard earned wisdom instead of tearing the poor guy down?

And why is it so bad to use that lable when so many in the gay community will willingly put themselves under one of the many labels pictured at the top of this page? Why is it o.k. to use the term "twink"...which I find offensive by the way...but not o.k. to say straight acting?

Someone fill me in because I don't see the sense in any of this. It seems to me that the real hypocracy is in not acknowledging that identity is a fluid thing and that we all willingly attach labels to ourselves at times. Like Whoopie Goldberg quoted long ago, "Its not what you call me, Its what I answer to."


  1. Fabulous posting!

  2. Bryan, you are a brilliant, thoughtful writer!
    Awesome job!



  3. When I first really came out and started dating I was at university. People didn't really identify with being top and bottom, you just did what you felt like. We used to joke about how some people were camp but noone took it to mean more feminine in bed.

    In the summer vacation of my first year of university I went to work on a summer camp in Vermont, after camp finished I spent a couple of months travelling.

    The gay scene in New York was the first I encountered outside of the college gay scene. It freaked me the fuck out. Everyone was interested in calling me a chicken or a twink and wanted to know if I was a top or bottom.

    I still don't know whether my friends in England are tops or bottoms. I don't really know which I am.

    I have never worked out if the love of labels is a cultural difference between the USA and the UK or a generational thing (most guys I met in NY were old).

    I think that labels are a useful way of describing something. After all if someone says they are gay you know they are attracted to members of the same sex. If they say they are camp you know they are a little flamboyant. I just think people sometimes read too much into them.

    And the top and bottom thing I have never understood.

  4. Thanks for making it, what I believe they refer to as, "a teachable moment."

  5. So... I have returned from... well lazyness.

    I have posted my opinions of Erik en youtube and they will stay there.
    But, what i have to say is that after this, my friends started calling me straight acting. For my friends... well I´m the gay gay in my group nobody else is gay, so that´s my label the gay guy. Out side of that close bond group, I have few gay friends. Sometimes I try to label them... but i just can´t I think I really use the label "bear" and sometimes "Twink" but that´s it just to identify body type... Yet I still feel it wrong. I hate labels i really do.
    I fought the labels all my way thrugh high school

    But I´m still a children in GayMan´s world and like every chirldren needs a laberl to understand the world so.

    Now, I ahve to say I´ve been out for quite some time now... almost five years... and I still find being gay hard. Not because the straight bigotry people.. we have to fought so mamy prejudices in what it should be a safe enviroment. But noo... like always the beautifull shallow people is there to find every thing they don´t like about you... well fuck it ¬¬

    I´m proud for being gay, for being fat, for being a comic book geek, and especialy for being JUST ME.

  6. @ orangegoblin, sooo true on the whole top-bottom thing.

    There's a big debate going on over on a gay forum I use about anal sex, and whether people who are indiffierent (like me) are actually pro- or anti-anal sex. Truth is I just enjoy sex. It doesn't matter what we're actually doing, what positions we're in. It's who you're doing it with that's important, not doing what to what with what.

    I kinda like the labels because they can be both funny and informative, but it's sooo easy to take them too seriously.

  7. @swampex /cheers for geek pride!

  8. I've become aware of the internet drama because I've started looking at queerty because of your links and I've seen that poster's videos before. While I can understand why some would feel strongly against the word "straight-acting," I'm definitely in agreement that the overreaction against the guy was unnecessary. Like there's a way to voice your opinion or educate without being mean about it. I can see how others don't really reflect on how the way they deal with others impacts the world as well as themselves. This kind of internecine drama hurts us as a community though.

    As you've said we're a diverse group as it is. Not only that a large chunk of the people with our same sexuality are closeted or have major issues about acceping it in varying degrees. Combined with the assumed rough estimate that we make up like 10% of the population, it's no wonder we're having setbacks in achieving civil rights. One thing other minority groups had going for them was that many of them couldn't hide their status. That is a really unique feature of our social group that explains why we've remained so fragmented and marginalized until relatively recently. It's certainly useful in some ways, but as a unified social group it totally hurts us. I know with my relative cowardice to openly own my sexuality I am contributing to this problem.

    So the last thing we need is to fight amongst each other over petty stuff. We're subdivided within a subdivision. We've got varying levels of class, ethnicity, religious affiliation, gender, etc. separating us as a group. Not only that, we have all the other normal things that keep people separated--values, interests, personalities, goals, ethics, masculinity/femininity, etc.

    1 thing I'm thankful for with all that you guys have done is that you have literally created a new social community. You've created social spaces out of thin air on the internet. Both on your YouTube channel and here on your website, you've created virtual real estate where a variety of individuals can congregate, meet, discuss, educate, politick, entertain, etc. I don't even know if you realize what you've created and the amount of impact you are making. 1 of the "gay community's" largest problems in my opinion has been its lack of visibility and unity (more so in the past than now). You are effectively tackling both these important needs and in a fun way too which makes the impact that much greater.

  9. It's because of reactions like these I'm myself being careful, not posting my photos and not making videos on YouTube — I don't wanna be attacked, outed, humiliated, pissed on, and thrown out as a used condom. It is so sad when your own community, gay people, who are supposed to understand what you're going through in the process of getting ready to come out, attack you and tell you that what you're doing is wrong, that you should come out and snap out of it, or stay in the closet and stop peeking out of the ajar closet door. It's not that easy for everyone. Some of us have no safety net. Some of us live in very homo’-odious places all around the world, and even in the United States there are places worse than in Uganda in terms of homo’ acceptance, I'm sure of it!

    As for attacking people for their appearance — well, good job! make them suffer! destroy any sense of self-worth they might still have! drive them to suicide! good job! Yes, the reality is if you're not hot, you're at the bottom of the the “beauty pageant” community; but this community is not the whole gay community, I presume, there are other people who are not that shallow and who can see and value something on the inside. And I, for one, prefer to be around people who won't judge me for my appearance, but will try to get inside of me (and not through my anus).

    P.S. Tops and bottoms — it is so 80s and 90s! I believe people now are mostly versatile, and that should end this discussion for good.

  10. I feel like an imposter offering my input, but, I too, have seen the same labels in the hetero community regarding gay people. In fact, I was showing someone willing to learn about the Depfox family. She had asked which one was the mommy.

    I had explained both were daddies, but it reminded me of people asking two gay men on a talk show, "Which of you is the girl, and which is the guy?". The response: "We are both the guys. We are attracted to men."

    I think the psychology on getting angry with closeted folks, or even men with the handle "straightactinggayguy" is because that is something that the less understanding hetero world has forced onto the gay world and when people are getting mad at Erik, he, unfortunately, is their projection of the hetero world that placed them in their positions and struggles they worked hard to get out of.

    I can try to liken it to African Americans lightening their skin, or using hair relaxers. Many members among the Black community take offense to them "whitening themselves", and think they should take pride in their heritage, and what their maker gave them.

    If there were no danger of safety being compromised, I wish every member of the homosexual community would come out. I wish they could be who they genetically are, and not hide within themselves, because an "other" group of people doesn't want to accept "them".

    I accompanied someone to a support group once, and they were not ready to talk about their problems. They got shunned by the other members there, which dumfounded me. Not everyone is ready to come to terms with things as quickly as others are, and they need to know that they will be supported when they are and they will not be greeted with in-fighting amongst that group.

    And, as far as top and bottom go, I can ride my boyfriend either way. I can take it doggy, or do the cowgirl stance, or reverse cowgirl. I think that is what they mean by "top and bottom".
    And trust, I play in the back door, too. Sodomy is popular in the hetero world, so their goes their "Soddom and Gomorrah" argument.

    Some nutjubber and I got into it once at sacbee, where he said that kneeling down before a man was demasculinizing. My response was, "men kneel before women when asking them to marry".

    You can only roll your eyes at some of the bs, but its that bs that polarizes us, some three decades after Milk's assassination, and Dr. King's, too.

  11. @ K!r!lleXXI

    You are so right, tops and bottoms is so 80s.

    But I didn't want to say that because Bryan is like Mr 80s.

    I hope you feel bad.

  12. @ladybugmagic
    Right! Anal sex (which is sodomy) is not exclusive to gay men only, heteros do it, lots of them, and then they say something against gays! Hypocrites!

    Whaddaya talk? All I meant was in 80s and 90s people thought you gotta be either a top or a bottom, versatility was not an option; moreover, if you've tried being a bottom, you're a bottom, period; and there was this stigma of being a receiver, like it's worse than being a pitcher. I meant that mentality was different because that's what everyone thought! I didn't mean anything bad about 80s per se, after all, I was born in 80s.

  13. I can relate to "straightactinggayguy" quite well, insofar as we are both still just beginning to orient our lives towards our sexuality rather than hiding it. We are caught in an uneasy limbo - that is, unfortunately, easily labelled by observers but impossible to label as a participant.

    We think a great deal about the opportunity for romance - the possibility of falling in love with somebody. But we (or perhaps I should only refer to me) are surprised by how immensely sexual the world can be.

    As has been stated above, the vast majority of labels used for the homosexual community are directed towards one's dominant sexual role rather than one's person. When you hear the word "bear" you don't imagine a person, but instead their body. It is very difficult for young homosexuals to navigate between romantic aspirations and a gay culture which can appear dominated by sexual desire rather than relationship - especially, speaking as somebody who has never had a boyfriend and is frightened by the process of finding one, when you've never interacted with the sexual world.

    Last night I was talking with a close friend of mine, who was telling me a story of how she met somebody at a bar, took her home, and were fooling around a bit. My friend, being much more experienced than I, then heard something that shocked her; "I'm a virgin." The sexual energy ended nearly immediately (granted, I'm not one to support one night stands, so this was probably my preferred ending). My friend's reasoning - "You never sleep with a virgin. There is always emotional baggage."

    At times, it seems as though the gay community, those who are comfortably living their lives, is at times arrogant towards those who are just figuring out what that means - destroying any sense of attachment and numbing sensation to those that have been numbed for their entire life.

    I would also add that I would consider myself "straight acting", but only in the sense that I have never been anything but straight acting - I'm figuring out what it means to take off the mask of heterosexuality and approach my life as I was created to be. I don't think I am straight acting by definition of the popular label, but I am starting to transition. When I finish transitioning, I don't want to be known as anything other than Neal, who just happens to be sexual.

    On my blog, I wrote a post long ago about Hugh Jackman - who once said in an interview I read (sidenote: honestly, who wouldn't want to read an interview where at times you get to see pictures of Hugh Jackman with his shirt off?) that people are much more than their sexuality. I read this and appreciated so much what it meant - that being gay did not trap me within labels of twink, fag, queer, cub, bear, top, bottom etc. But it allowed me to merely be myself - regardless of my sexuality, regardless of my preference of sexual activity within my sexuality. It was wonderful feeling, even if only for an instant, free of the labels that we are given - oddly enough, liberated by an actor who makes money off of subpar films.

    Unfortunately, one label persists - virgin. And apparently you don't sleep with them. Its difficult for me to tell right now whether or not I like that...

  14. Wow, Neal!
    That was such a beautiful piece of writing!
    I'm gonna save it!

    I don't have anything else to add — you've said it all!

  15. @Canadianhumilty

    Not everyone is like that with virgins. There was a point in my earlier life when I slept with 8 virgins. Not all at the sane time or anything or on purpose. It just kept happening. My friend thought it was because I was a nice non offensive boy.

    I was like an accidental viginator. I do have do say that inexperience on relationships doesn't always make for lasting unions however. I dud find it a bit of a curse.


    OMG Bryan just called me from his Mr T look alike meeting and was all like who has been dissin my disco? Then we sang along to Xanadu together but we had to stop when he fell off his scates and hot his moustash stuck.

    Any way I told him to ban you from the blog but he said he couldn't because your comments make up 50% of his best content.

  16. @ orangegoblin82

    I didn't know you can ban people from blogs :|

    As for 50%, are you sure he said "best"?
    In character number, yeah, no doubt, I probably make up 50% of comment content and take up 50% of comment space :) That's why Bryan repeatedly and politely asked me to have my own blog, so I wouldn't litter this one :)

  17. As another outsider peering in, I have to say this entire incident is bewildering. I think he looks pretty cute, myself. I don't know what a "bear" or a "cub" is. (please don't educate me on this one!) It looks like John Gabriel's Greater Internet Fuckwad Theory in action to me.

    I had a friend who would never call any of his girlfriends his girlfriend, because he didn't like labels. His current co-habitant he likes to fool around with and would be very sad if she left him has been his unlabeled special cuddle friend for about four years now.

    I guess my point is that labels are a huge deal to people, and like everything else, there are those who will take it to ridiculous extremes. My mom uses the term "queer" all the time, because when she was growing up and realizing she liked girls, that's what you called someone who was gay. I have no idea if this term is offensive or not.

    What is offensive is what all those people said to that poor boy. I guess having grown up in my mom's close-knit group of friends, I had certain assumptions about the unity of the "gay community." Nice of these jerks to help me out with that one.

  18. I know for me I hate labels for a couple of reasons one I just hate them in general, secondly and most specifically in the gay community I don't know what ones if any fit me yet always have others trying to hoist them upon me. I know part of it is that at 22 I did not really start to come out till I was 19, and am still really sort of feeling my around just outside of the closet.

    I don't like labels to do with sex not in big part do to the fact I'm not at all one that's comfortable talking about it in a conversation. (outside of a bedroom)That and I also hate trying to be put into a box in part of a inexperience, also in part do to the fact that for the most part very really do I get "revved up" enough to be interested in sex, when I do I really am, but 95% of the time I really am much more interested in romance and well cuddling and kissing and that sort of thing with out it leading to hanky panky, which unfortunately has cause relationship problems for me.