Queer men face a serious problem within the community that does not receive much attention or discussion. A pathological current spreads among gay men that has reached epidemic proportions. No, I am not talking about the growing dependency on spray-on tans (although...). Rather, I am constantly struck by the level of misogyny that comes into play during many informal gatherings of gay men. Misogyny, the irrational fear and hatred of women’s bodies, too frequently creeps into our conversations when we are in exclusively gay-male groups.
Regardless of the racial, educational, or class make-up of the queer group, I have been dumbfounded by how easily self-identified gay men fall into misogynist dialogues or jokes. For many gay men, degrading women’s bodies as dysfunctional, inferior, or just plain icky becomes a means through which they attempt to build unity with other gay men.
Come on, boys, we can work this out. Loving cock does not mean hating vaginas.
More times than I would like to recount, however, I have witnessed exclusively gay male partygoers descend into discussions about their disdain of vaginas and women’s bodies in general. Even the most sexist straight guy would probably blush at the unchecked misogyny in queer-told jokes about vaginal penetration and/or menstruation. If you are a gay man who claims that he has never witnessed this type of discussion within a circle of gay male friends, you are either lying or not paying attention.
We shouldn’t be particularly surprised by the level of misogyny that some gay men harbor. All men seem to be socialized to bond through a common contempt of women. Misogyny, as many feminist scholars have consistently argued, is so pervasive and normative that we often don’t even see it. One needs only tune into mainstream U.S. television for five minutes to witness an unabashed disparaging of women’s bodies. All of the commercials for “women’s products” would lead one to conclude that women are always in a desperate state of infection and disrepair. If we take these ads literally, we could only assume that being a modern woman involves nothing but itching, burning, involuntary urination, and unending discussions about “freshness” with their co-workers.
Degrading women’s bodies as both exclusively sexual and also dysfunctional serves as a means for many men (regardless of sexuality) to claim unity in the alleged superiority of their own bodies. Perhaps some gay men take this even further as they deem women as less worthy because they have no desire to even fuck with them.
Gay men, though, know better. Much of the success of gay men, both politically and in our personal lives, depended on the active engagement of feminists in discussions about sexuality. Before gay men establish themselves within a community of gay men, they often report that the surrounding women in their lives helped them come to terms with their sexuality. In other parts of their lives, gay men continue to have strong personal bonds with women in their lives. Their mothers, sisters, and gal-pals all serve as much of their central support.
Yet, even gay men who consider themselves liberal can have a tendency to express sexist ideas or make jokes poking fun at women’s bodies. This type of contradiction suggests ambivalence about sex and gender within the gay community. Undoubtedly, the women in these men’s lives would be hurt and frightened if they were privy to the negative comments directed at women’s bodies.
Despite their other relationships with women, some gay men probably feel a type of empowerment by degrading women. Fears of being labeled “feminine” haunt many gay men’s lives. Our society still construes “masculine” and “feminine” as polar opposites. To obtain status as “manly,” we are taught as children that any trace of femininity must be obliterated within ourselves. Many gay men’s sense of self-value has been constantly threatened and attacked by claims that they are not “masculine” because of their sexual preferences, which are presumed to be “feminine.” These gay men wrongly attempt to recover their sense of self by verbally assaulting women within the security of the gay community.
I am not suggesting that misogyny within the gay community is the greatest threat to women. On the contrary, straight white men have the most power and ability to exploit and oppress all of us. Gay men’s allegedly humorous devaluing of women, however, makes us complicite in women’s oppression. It upholds assumptions about gender and sexuality that also keep us trapped.
I recognize that simply saying “Stop it” will not be enough to end misogyny within the gay community. Ignoring this problem, though, costs us much more than we realize.
We have to strengthen our solidarity between feminism and gay men’s quest for sexual freedom. If we become more vigilant about the ways that misogyny operates within our community and even in our own ideas about ourselves, we can start to recognize the critical links between gay liberation and the women’s movement. Solidarity between gay men and women increases our power and ability to further our resistance to the status quo.