Against the Homo-geneous Ideal of Gayness
by Caleb Neal Raynor
In the spring of 2016, my close friend Zachary, Creative Director & Guest Editor of this publication, asked me to write something for a project he was working on at the time. My completed written work addressed the nature of sexuality in creating friendships in the gay community and the purpose of those relationships. In the six years since I have found the message of my authorship still resonates.
In my original article however, I used the terms ‘gay’ and ‘queer’ interchangeably, as I often heard and still hear other gay men do. This is/was incorrect. These words mean two different things, define two separate structures of thought, belong to two separate groups of people, and represent two separate cultures. The word gay, as it applies to individuals, is a term that is applied to homosexual, traditionally, cisgender men. ‘Queer’ tends to be used as an umbrella term that is inclusive of those who diverge from cisgender and heterosexual norms, an identity not just defined by sexual relations, but encompassing more. This is a common misperception, and the most prevalent example of this can be seen in the public processing of this distinction by RuPaul —
“Drag loses its sense of danger and its sense of irony once it’s not men doing it, because at its core it’s a social statement and a big f-you to male-dominated culture…”
RuPaul has since walked this statement back, and demonstrated a willingness to include those historically excluded from the feminine performance of drag, but his words represent a sentiment felt throughout the drag community to this day. These words suggest that drag, an important part of the queer community, is not a radical statement against white-male-dominated discourse if it included either cis- or trans- women. Through a queer lens, which many drag performers claim to use, this logic makes no sense. Queerness can be defined as the radical expression of difference in all forms, acknowledging others’ expression is the personification of their uniqueness and should be protected. In understanding queerness in this way, we can start to understand it as something much more powerful — a foil to white supremacist ways of being.
The society in which we exist is founded upon white supremacist ideals. White supremacy is predicated upon a desire for the erasure of difference. The homogenous ideal of gayness seeks the same. Traditional performances of gayness often exhibit qualities that can be attributed to the culture of toxic masculinity, a branch of white supremacy. Toxic masculinity celebrates the hyper-masculine, the femmephobic, the misogynistic, and transphobic. It engages in pack mentality and has a dangerous affinity for power and control.
When performance of sexuality is rooted in the subjugation and disgust of femininity and praise of masculinity, the harm of gayness can be seen. These attributes often go unobserved as the toxically masculine traits that they are, as they are shielded by a veil of minority status in terms of sexuality. Similarly, behaviors in the legacy of white supremacy are shielded by a veil of minority status in terms of raciality, meaning, Black gay individuals are also capable of participating in white supremacist behaviors. Queerness subscribes to no norms, so it therefore accepts, admires, and celebrates femininity, as it is within us all.
Gayness participates in the dictation of these norms through things like being ‘out,’ sexual preferences that fetishize a particular race, age, standard of beauty, or dangerous associations with power and control. This is displayed through policing the appearance of others and their participation in society. Body shaming assumes knowledge of others’ diets, exercise, health, and genealogy. For example, defining another's beauty by the color of their skin is racist, even when that valuation is high. Exercising judgment regarding someone's appearance of passing or coming out assumes an individual knowledge of others’ safety that may or may not exist (it's also okay to not identify and/or conform). An affinity for the same sex cannot negate these problematic attitudes or behaviors and they are exhibited often in the gay community.
Gayness is known for its bitchy, back-handed banter and its cringy, conceited criticisms. This judgment, critique, or evaluation is always based on assumptions of another's appearance– what more is the prejudice of white supremacy? Queerness offers more than white supremacist distinctions of desire based on race, class, gender, ability, body, and sexuality, creating space for collective difference, without assumptions and prejudice.
More often cis gay men get to choose how they participate and how they present themselves in ways that most in the queer community cannot. This is because normative performances of gayness have greater proximity to white supremacist ideals than to queer performances. This means that often gay men are in spaces that queer people are not, meaning their ability to create impactful change is at times greater because of their presence in those spaces. This is a privilege of gayness.
It’s important to stress that consuming media that is problematic does not make a person ‘bad.’ I should admit, I love RuPaul. However, when problematic media is mistaken for engagement with real culture and those who create it, we overlook opportunities to participate in and form meaningful communities.
What precedes is based on a lifetime of experience as living as a cisgender man, filled with many moments cisgender men around me portrayed these characteristics. The person I was six years ago strived towards these norms, reciting a script that many other gay men around me were as well. I have participated and seen the harm normative ideals of gayness have caused myself, those closest to me, and most likely those I don’t even know. Although I now identify as nonbinary, cis gay men still assume my cis appearance marks me as an ear for these attitudes. These moments happen hidden, tucked away, where people outside that box are not. White supremacy needs to be covert and exclusive— gayness, I feel, is just the same. Queerness happens in the light of the day, boldly, it is inclusive. Queerness seeks education, honesty, and safety, knowing that harm to one is harm to all. Queer is radical.