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Gay Masculinity & Cultural Support

Leslie Jordan

“What you guys got goin’ here’s a cult of macho.”

— Newly Gay cop to his ex-basketball star lover in an upcoming novel.

Last night I watched a video on Netflix, “My Trip Down the Pink Carpet,” the Emmy-winning actor Leslie Jordan’s one man show a few years ago in Atlanta. I’d never heard of the man but I do recommend it; not belly-laugh funny but very amusing, and it does have a point many people can identify with, of how his life changed when he came out of rehab, forced to confront his worst fears. He was born nelly, so he flounces around the stage all night, but you can see he’s too good an actor not to have played Straight parts his entire career. So what was he afraid of? Being despised (or beaten up) by Straight men, though he’s obviously completely attracted to them too. His rehab counselor puts him into an all-Straight male AA group.

In the course of the show he talks about being fascinated, but completely repulsed, by Truman Capote, Paul Lynde and Charles Nelson Reilly. The fascination I could understand – they were fascinating people – but not the repulsion.

He also talks about having a terrible problem with “internal homophobia.” In that way he’s like most Gay men, especially the older ones, though millions of Gay youth struggle with it still, usually for religious/family reasons. Go to hell, Jerry Falwell, straight to hell.

I made a decision in my youth that I would never be attracted to Straight men, much less hit on them, but learn to find what is attractive and masculine about Gay men. I don’t want Straight guys, never have. Why would I want a guy who doesn’t want me? What a waste of time.

If we define masculinity as an exclusively heterosexual trait, Gay men always come up short. This leads to depression and self-destructive behavior like drinking and drugging. Jordan says that when he was forced into rehab, “They took away my medicine!”

Yet millions of Gay men have been heterosexually married and fathered children. So obviously the ability to stick it to a female is not the defining characteristic of masculinity. Instead, courage, responsibility and self-reliance are the hallmarks.

We need as Gay men to develop much more support within our own culture for masculine Gay guys. We’re far and away the majority. Look at how many of us have served in the military. Look at all the Gay cops. Look at all the Gay dads and granddads.

But here’s the real proof, right where we live: look at the “cult of macho” in Gay porn.

We may need to confont the queens about their aggressiveness when they try calling everyone they know “girl.” It’s a putdown, and that’s why they said it. They should be ashamed.

The culture of camp has its good points. It’s occasionally funny and entertaining. But it tries to drag all Gay men down according to outdated heterosexual definitions. It contributes markedly to internalized homophobia, the #1 psychological problem in our community.

If we’re surrounded by preachers and politicians who proclaim we’re sinful and disordered, why are the campy crowd reinforcing that message? Why are they doing it to themselves as well?

We don’t need bitchiness that tears us down. We need to fight back against our real enemies in the streets, in the workplace and at the ballot box.

Experts are always telling us that human sexuality exists on a spectrum. For men, much of it seems to depend on the timing and degree of the testosterone rush during gestation. All fetuses start out female; that’s what every man has nipples. John Wayne used to be female.

Then the rush comes at a certain point of development, turning us male. (Of course there are other variations too; transgenderism, chromosomal irregularities, etc.)

We need to learn to support each other, wherever we are on the scale. And to do that without elevating Straightness and diminishing Gayness, like the preachers and pols do.

We can see the presence of Gay masculinity all around us. I prefer it to Straight masculinity, especially of the “Dumb and Dumber” kind. Gay masculinity feels to me like the best kind a guy can have: intelligent and sensitive, butch and competitive. (Millions of Straight men have those qualities too.)

If professional sports are the current definition of American masculinity, look at all the professional athletes we have – and the hundreds of amateur Gay sports leagues that have been successful all over the country. We play sports. Lesbians are almost expected to; Gay men play too. I’m thrilled we have so many guys working out and taking care of their bodies, even if the camp crowd insists on its “gym bunny” epithet. What could be a more tired cliché?

I’m not the butchest guy in the world, but I did play my sport decades longer than my Straight brothers did.

The academic world needs fewer historical analyses of camp culture and more beginning explorations of masculine Gay men. We need role models, in the media and real life.

As Leslie Jordan proved again in his show, we can all use a laugh, even at our own expense. The world will always watch a Capote or a Lynde, as long as he’s fascinating.

But we don’t need the mean, homophobic aspects of camp. Being Gay doesn’t mean you’re a girl; it means you occupy a certain spot on the human spectrum.

We’re all normal. And we need to learn to get along.

What happened to Leslie Jordan when he joined that all Straight guy AA group? They welcomed him with open arms.

If they can do that for us, can’t we do that for each other? Or does Jerry Falwell keep winning from hell?++

Jerry Smith of the Washington Redskins, Dave Kopay's first lover. (© Bettmann/Corbis)

5 Responses

  1. That was quite a speech. I would be speechless unless I hadn´t thought about it all before…probably since birth. Oddly, over at ¨A Christian Voice for LGBT People¨ blog, Dr. Jerry Maneker often comments (year after year) about his opinion that ¨acting out¨ in bizarre ¨gay ways¨ is clearly a unwise move (both to oneself and to the greater public for acceptance) as often seen at ¨pride¨ events.

    In my own life I was active in sports…selectively that is, selectively so I could do ¨my thing¨ individually as I somehow never had ¨team¨ solid abilities as I felt intimidated (as I well should have since I was a little, yet persistant, striver who wasn´t a star in a team setting). I was a far better organizer, a politico even in sports (Student Director of Athletics/Student Council my senior year in H.S.). At College I took weight training and golf (from the famous Betty Hicks who was also a ¨pilot/flyer¨) but I actually hated golf as my Dad made me play from a early age (even scaled down sized clubs).

    Funny, I was in a Fraternity at college. Worked part time as a department store executive trainee and spent most weekend in San Francisco as a young man (18+)…I remember distinctly when ¨camping¨ came into vogue (I even remember reading about it in TIME Magazine)…here we were, mostly clean cut college fraternity guys who after a few drinks let ourselves go with the ¨camp¨ stuff…it only happened in the bars and only amongst ourselves as a joke…self effacing but never the less a joke more about universal ¨perceptions¨ about people like us and often some of the real us´s! I think we knew the difference and I don´t think there was much outcasting of overly ¨effeminate¨ gays (at least at the bars in S.F. everyone seemed to know who and what they wanted amongst the vast variety of the early 1960´s Gay we´s).

    A significant change for me occured when I became 35 and stopped drinking (I´d become a drunk)…I still had the same friends (plus additions) from college daze but I noticed immediately the ¨camp¨ stuff was boring and repititious…boring as Hell. I dropped ¨camping¨ (mostly) and never looked back however I do think a touch of it here and there is funny…but, I´ve never liked the ¨gender¨ stuff–calling one another Mary, Girl, Sister etc…never did, then or now.

    Didn´t ever seem to make sense to me, not even as a joke.

    Onward we go!

  2. I remembered something else about my (and millions of others) early ¨gay¨ survival– we often changed genders when speaking together in front of straight friends about people we were dating, laying or liking…in other words even on the hall telephones at the Fraternity house or elsewhere we would be speaking about ¨dates¨ not as male but female–trying, successfully (mostly), to speak in our own code…we knew who we were speaking about (sometimes even changing names like Robert into Roberta or Sam into Suzy–like that)…we spoke extensively in gay code and nobody knew what was going on…not exactly camp, certainly not silly but clearly for our own survival and privacy (you remember privacy? see above posting).

    Un abrazo fuerte (sounds more masculine than ¨a strong hug¨),


  3. You’re right about speaking in code in the old days, I hadn’t thought of that. I wasn’t in a fraternity, either. My crowd looked down on the campus Greeks as Republicans trying to increase their social status by excluding others – Black folk in particular.

    But I’ve had Gay friends who loved fraternity life.


  4. Blacks and Jews…however, they did exclude White/Christian/Homosexuals at their purified Fraternities too (just like ours did, gulp, gag and lie)! Glad they most all started rethinking a few decades later…certainly the inclusion of everyone is a character building and culturally beneficial learning thing!

  5. BTW…at San Jose State (University) in the very early sixties I don´t think I knew ONE Republican (well, maybe two, my parents)…¨make love, not war!¨

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