Op-ed: What 'Straight-Acting' Really Means
When I first came out of the closet, I would sometimes say things like: "I am gay, but I played football and I was a Marine!"— as if that would make things more acceptable and make me feel more manly. In other words, I considered myself a "straight-acting" gay. Now I realize how sadly silly such a statement is, and obviously based on deep insecurities and ridiculous stereotypes. But such internalized homophobia is a common ailment among we gays brought up in a heterosexually-dominated society full of absurd myths and misconceptions about "masculinity" and "manhood."
In fact, I think "straight-acting" straights are just as insecure as "straight-acting" gays and, for that matter, "gay-acting" gays—"acting" being the key word here.
What the hell is "straight-acting?" I suppose, since I spent much of my life in various insecure stages of denial, suppression, hiding, self-judgment and self hatred—and acting out the stereotypes, myths and misconceptions of being "straight"—I was at one time indeed "straight-acting." Personally, I believe my performance was worthy of an Oscar.
Now, when I see gay men state that they are "straight-acting" on places like the "men seeking men" (m4m) posts on Craigslist, or on ManHunt, I sometimes write them and ask: "If you were 'straight-acting' wouldn't you be posting in the 'men seeking woman' (m4w) section or on WomanHunt?" When people tell me, or ask me if I am "straight-acting" I generally respond: "I am emotionally and physically attracted to men. I fall in love with men. I have sex with men. That seems pretty 'gay-acting' to me." (I saw a meme on Facebook with a photo of a guy saying: “My boyfriend said I should be more straight-acting, so I left him for a woman.”)
While recently chatting with a friend I told him about a date I was going on with an intelligent, cute, fun guy. He asked me if my date was a "straight-acting" guy or "effeminate." Considering that the guy was going on a romantic date with me, who also happens to be a guy, with the potential for it to lead to a possible relationship and sex, it seemed like a strange question. I explained to my friend why I think asking if a gay man is "straight-acting" seems strange and funny, to which he responded, "But what else would you call it?"
Good question. What would, or should, we call it? Perhaps we don't have to call it anything—perhaps we could just accept that we humans come in a wonderfully interesting and diverse array of personalities, traits, behaviors and ways in which we innately desire and crave to experience and express love and sex. The very word "effeminate," when applied to gay men, seems to suggest that they’re "not like a man" but "more like a female," and therefore plays right into myths, misconceptions and stereotypes of what is "masculine" and what is "feminine." I know plenty of gay guys who are strong athletes and I know plenty of straight guys who are pretty good at interior decorating. Some may say they are "straight-acting" gays and "gay-acting" straights—but the thing is, they're not acting!
It's time to drop the stereotypes, drop the labels, drop the myths and misconceptions of manhood, and start embracing and accepting people, all people, for who and what we are—starting with and including (and perhaps most importantly) ourselves!
I'm done acting straight, and I'm done acting gay. I just want to be me, a goofy guy who happens to be emotionally and physically attracted to men. Yes, I know, sounds pretty gay, hey?
And indeed it is!
(Op-ed originally featured on Advocate.com)