“You do not have right to live, why don’t you commit suicide and leave us in peace?” As a feminine gay man, hearing this comment from a hyper masculine gay guy seeking to isolate me, made me think of the discrimination and violent speech I face right now and how much of it is originally from my own community.
Living in Pakistan, I see a society where women are considered as sex symbols – reduced to their reproductive abilities and never treated equal to their male counterparts – and femininity as a gender expression receives that same treatment. In a patriarchal society where religious ideologies are regularly weaponized as a tool of oppression, there is a collective devaluation of femininity, whether it is in female bodies or male bodies. I am sure I don’t need to tell anyone how our society feels about boys who are feminine.
The Pakistani state does not allow people to live freely with our own sexual orientation and gender identity and instead has multiple punitive laws targeting gender and sexual minorities. The mainstream religious discourses of Pakistan not only discourages living as a gay person but actively persecutes you on the basis of your sexual orientation.
However, despite this narrative of persecution that often characterizes being gay in Pakistan in the media, the reality on the ground is quite different. We have a very strong underground gay community where guys usually meet through social media apps, enjoy their sexual life, socialize and party.
Oh yes! I am not even talking about chic tea party get-togethers… I mean massive organized chem dance parties, which end up in orgies with lots of sex and drugs.
I am sure some of the gay readers of this piece would never agree with my point of view about how a toxic femme-phobia persists in the community – in gay male culture, it is commonplace for feminine men to be put down. Gay dating spaces are full of said and unsaid “No Fems” rules. The other day I was looking at my Grindr feed and after every two profiles, the third one’s About Me section had some version of “No fems/no drags/no chubs” written on it. Gay men might get flack for being too “straight-looking” but it is nothing compared to the shaming they might receive for being feminine. #Irony
“There is a pattern to how gay men express their issues with femme boys in the dating scene. It goes something like this – I am gay and I am looking for a hot date. It’s for me to decide whether a guy is man enough for me.”
One of my friend, a feminist, who used to be femme-phobic and transphobic related to me, “I remember making jokes about trans women and effeminate boys. I remember feeling uncomfortable when transgender people would walk into the coffee shop or around me at any public space. I’m grateful to no longer be that person, yet I’m aware of the progress I still have to make. I must always be willing to change.”
Perks of living in a patriarchal society that regularly polices femininity mean a cisgender male person has a whole host of privileges in every sphere of life. For example, I see a masculine gay guy, with a beard and a heavy voice, who passes for straight in everyday interactions – no matter what his sexual role in the bed he would never be the subject of violence or hateful remarks from anyone in the society since he can easily fit into an acceptable framework of masculinity.
On the other hand, any gay femme boy/man will not only face violence due to his feminine expression from straight people but in particular from his own gay community that stigmatizes femininity from the outset.
Since masculine gay men have been more in the spotlight and generally accepted in society because of adhering to acceptable standards of body/gender expression, plenty of them do not quite understand the challenges of femme gay men and transgender women. They cannot relate to the weight of experiencing dysphoria.
When it comes to prejudice associated with trans and femme folks, I am quoting an exact statement from a transwoman who is out about her identity .“I came out as a trans woman at an LGBT meet up. The faces of the two gay guys seated across from me were between “what the fuck” and mockery. The group had very few transgender people and the disproving attitude of these gay men had a lot to do with how transgender people are viewed as in such settings. There is a distinct elitism that you have to conform to and that is jealously guarded. I’ve attended other meet ups after that but I have chosen discretion and decided not to readily disclose anything even in these so-called safe spaces that are dominated by cisgender people ever since. The division between LGB and T in the community are legit. May be gay transphobes think we “gave up” our male status and resent us for the choice or perhaps projection of their sexual desire on to us is disrupted and they think our presence is a threat to their gayness/masculinity – there is often unwarranted hostility from gay men towards transwomen.” For a common guy, even a gay man, the first thought about a transwoman is that she wants to have sex with him so she could feel more of a woman. This view of transwomen is pretty common, ugh.
A deeper layer of this femme-phobia is manifested in how most gay men internalize this hatred of femininity in trying to negotiate their masculinity and what it means to be a gay man in a society that stigmatizes femininity.
In particular, many gay guys struggle to define their masculinity and themselves as men and rely on an aggressive, competitive and derisive demeanor to compensate for the insecurity. For a common gay transphobic guy, it goes something like this: “I don’t have to hide behind makeup and heels to fuck a guy, I can do it the manly way?” For gay men, the identity of transwomen is reduced to their clothes.
What is appalling is how this takes the form of transphobia and casual misogyny within all-male gay settings. The same gay men who are made uncomfortable by the presence of transwomen have no problem reducing their identities and their lives to entertainment. The fetishization of transfeminine identities (“hey sister, I am the biggest khusri in the room today”) spruced up with a casual dash of misogyny by gay men who do not understand or live the experience of women, cis and trans, brutalized everyday because of that very femininity says a lot about how unforgiving they are of any signs of femininity (within them or around them).
If children of wealthy families want to understand the struggles of those around them, they have a bit more learning to do compared to individuals who grew up in a less privileged environment. Addressing this issue to upper class gay cis gender men, who have enough privileges to study in high standard universities, drive in personal cars and can easily afford to shop expensive on papa’s credit cards, is perhaps most important. The most virulent form of transphobia, particularly targeting low income transgender people, is disguised in a classist rhetoric espoused by these upper class gay men. Joining an expensive gym and making big muscles can not make you man enough unless you have a mind and heart to behave like a gentle man (you know what I mean).
Have we considered that due to such a toxic attitude towards femme boys and transwomen, we really make our spaces unsafe and inflict irreparable harm on some one who just chose to live their life freely? Bigoted and intolerant attitude can lead to no where and learning to identify that within ourselves and our spaces is the first step.
Having said all this, I have no intent to generalize my opinion over the entire community. All I am trying to point out is how we collectively participate in devaluation of femininity and punish those who are feminine, by choice or otherwise. I want to emphasize that we reconsider before we set standards for how we want to live our lives. We weed out the toxic zones where we start hurting and insulting others feelings and not even give them the space to breath. Cisgender gay men, particularly masculine gay men, have many privileges in society so rather than employing them in a negative way and misusing them, why not try to use them to normalize lives outside the heteronormative culture? Use those privileges in our own spaces to make them more inclusive. If we seek change in the society, we have to change ourselves first (this is not the first time you might be reading this statement, so consider it a reminder).
We need to accept ours and others’ femininity in order to become better men.