Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Do gay men love women?

There's a burgeoning genre possibly worth paying attention to: advice (at times explicit) to straight women on etiquette in their friendships and interactions with gay men. And it amounts to the following:

-There is, evidently, a substantial subset of hetero women doing things like having bachelorette parties at gay bars, imagining that gay men exist to fulfill "Sex and the City" shoe-shopping fantasies right there at the local DSW, etc. Or, there are gay men who imagine that such women exist in great numbers, and the very idea of this horrifies them. As well it should. But I'm still not convinced that very many women who are not characters on sitcoms are giving gay men the "my gay" treatment, like so many handbag chihuahuas. Whereas the handbag chihuahua trend is apparently legit. So I'm not sure if gay men have beef with media representations (and I'm A-OK with having beef with media representations, not equating that with imaginary problems) or with real-life women.

-There are some women convinced that if they so much as leave their homes in anything less than a burqa, they will be hooted-and-hollered at continuously. Or, the women who love love love going to gay bars because it's such a relief not to be objectified are in fact insecure (a trait easily confused with too-secure) and actually prefer gay bars because at such establishments, there isn't a question of female sex appeal, of one girlfriend getting hit on more than the others. If a gay guy isn't into you, you can rest assured it's because he's gay. I think it's indisputable that this phenomenon exists, both from anecdotal evidence and from the Jezebel commenters who express this sentiment.

-It is inherently offensive to gay men if we, straight women, attempt to set them up on dates. Doesn't matter if for whichever regional/professional reasons most of the men we know are gay (ahem). It sends a message that we think "gay" means "sex" and that we can't conceive of gay friends except as gays (never mind that single-and-looking friends tend to bring up this status themselves, regardless of gender, of sexual orientation) or there's some implication that women are in fact always just setting up the only two gay men they know (again, SATC is at fault - never did see it, but heard the last/most recent SATC movie opens with the two "my gays" marrying). Whatever the case, even if in an ideal world, friends would just be friends, blind dates just blind dates, in the world we live in, this hits a nerve, and gets interpreted as, "You and Jim are both gay, you'll have so much in common!"

-As gay men (as represented by those giving this kind of advice) see it, straight women see them as accessories. From the latest installment: "Fawning over couples as being 'soooo cute' comes off as condescension at best and overcompensation at worst." Gay men - unsurprisingly, insofar as they are men - thus imagine that straight women do not have this thing called "sexuality," or rather that their sexuality consists of fending off advances from menacing hetero dudes. What if, crazy I know, women at the gay bar are the chasers and not the chased, and just as straight men find the idea of two women... hehe... you know, straight women experience the equivalent? What else was the point, on SNL, of Paul Rudd just showing up and gratuitously smooching Jason Segel?

So the appeal of the gay bar to the straight women to whom it appeals isn't necessarily that it's hillarious or trendy or "I'm a Carrie" or teacup-chihuahua-in-Louboutins to see men with men. Ideally straight women are not into gay men who are their friends, and are not at a gay bar looking for men to have relationships. And it's totally reasonable if gay men would be as skeeved out/annoyed by the presence of straight women who think "two men" is hot as are lesbians by straight men who same idea. But it would be nice if, in their analysis of straight women-gay men interactions, gay men interested in this issue would remember that straight women are not mere "breeders" devoid of hormones.

-This genre is meant to be about gay men sticking up for themselves, defending their rights as marginalized Others. And it has elements of that. But it's also straight-up (sorry) misogyny. While there's this cliché (as has been established at this point) of gay men as preferring to be around women for all situations other than sexual ones, there are also going to be some gay men without much interest in or exposure to women outside their family (work being, often, a gender-segregated environment), without many female friends. Why would we expect such men, who've been exposed to the same anti-woman stereotypes as the rest of society, but lack the potentially mitigating factor of a sexual orientation that compels them to get involved with real-life women, to be especially progressive in their idea of women, to think of women as anything other than handbag-chihuahua-collecting shoe-shoppers? My point is not that there's anything inherently misogynistic about gay men - of course there isn't - but that there isn't something magical about gay men that makes them immune to misogyny.

5 comments:

Dan O. said...

"What if, crazy I know, women at the gay bar are the chasers and not the chased, and just as straight men find the idea of two women... hehe... you know, straight women experience the equivalent?"

They do, and it can result in some really awkward conversations, which happened a few times at after-shift hangouts/and events during my years volunteering at the Housing Works /UBC Cafe. It gave me a little bit of insight into what women have to deal with the more socially acceptable version of the fantasy in straight men.

"But it would be nice if, in their analysis of straight women-gay men interactions, gay men interested in this issue would remember that straight women are not mere "breeders" devoid of hormones."

Would it? Because then, maybe, women wouldn't be very welcome in gay bars. Just like men aren't very welcome in lesbian bars.

Phoebe said...

Re: "would it?" - my answer is yes. It would indeed be better for it to be acknowledged that women experience lust, that straight women will often enough find two members of the sex they're attracted to better than one, and to be unwelcome in gay bars, than to maintain the fiction that women are in gay bars a) to avoid the bad, bad male gaze,* and b) because gays make such charming accessories.

But I don't think "unwelcome" would amount to the same thing, because with lesbian bars, there'd be the fear of male sexual agression (whereas the woman admiring two men kissing might skeeve out those men but is very unlikely to rape either), along with, independent of lesbianism, the feminist desire to create all-female spaces. The worst women could do in a gay bar is be an annoyance. So I don't think it's likely women would ever be banished in quite the same way.

*Now that I think of it, I think I'd prefer it if women who said they prefer gay bars b/c no (or not many) straight men if they spelled out that they prefer this b/c it means not getting hit on or rejected by men. I think that would be more honest, and would serve as a good reminder that women are not always just the pursued.

Dan O. said...

"The worst women could do in a gay bar is be an annoyance."

This is where we disagree. Gay men are not immune from acting aggressively toward straight women who threaten them. Gay men are still very much men.

Of course gay men express misogyny. But straight women express elements of the same by assuming that gay men are sissies who could never hurt them. My point is that it's exactly the mutual condescension involved that allows for tolerance.

I'm all for the overall eradication of misogyny. And if that happened, I think we'd far fewer gay bars vs. straight bars, etc. This seems to be very much what's happening anyway (accelerated by the fact that pickups happen more online than bars). So, you know, pretty much everyone just unwinds at The Magician.

Phoebe said...

Male violence against women tends to occur either in the form of sexual assault, or in the form of violence in the context of a romantic relationship. So while of course gay men are men (where in the post did I suggest otherwise?) and thus physically capable of beating a woman, they lack a key trait that would give them the incentive to do so, namely sexual attraction to women. A gay man might not be thrilled to see women at his preferred pick-up bar, but he's not going to rev up enough passion about this, I'd imagine, that he's likely to put the woman in physical danger.

"But straight women express elements of the same by assuming that gay men are sissies who could never hurt them."

As I go into in far too much detail in the post, I think the idea of straight women treating gay men as so many teacup chihuahuas far, far outweighs the presence in the real world of women behaving in this manner. And (see above) if women find gay men less of a physical threat, it's because these men are by definition not sexually attracted to women, not because straight women think they're "sissies." Thus misogyny is the bigger issue here than homophobia.

Also, because homophobia is still a plenty big deal in society at large, we're inclined to assume (as this genre does) that this is all about a marginalized group being demonized by a powerful one (straight women). I saw this post as a bit of a corrective, a reminder that women, too, are marginalized, sometimes by the very men popularly assumed (I don't assume it, but it is a popular assumption) the "natural" best friends of women.

Dan O. said...

"And (see above) if women find gay men less of a physical threat, it's because these men are by definition not sexually attracted to women, not because straight women think they're "sissies." Thus misogyny is the bigger issue here than homophobia."

I don't know how to argue against this, except to state two foundational premises.

First, I don't see misogyny and homophobia as different things, they're aspects of the same thing, namely the the construction of gender, and are necessarily connected. So, a comparison of which is a "bigger issue" is, as far as I'm concerned is, just more text in that construction. Frankly, I'm optimistic that that conceptions of gender are changing so quickly that academic discussions on the matter are largely irrelevant.

Second, there's far more to sexual violence than sexual attraction. And there's far more to sexual attraction than sexual orientation. And all of those things interact with variously multiplying degrees of freedom. And all of these things interact with gender and power, which floats variously free from sex and sexual orientation. Still, it is rather obvious that power dynamics and threats to the status quo of those dynamics cause aggression in those who are likely to succumb to it.

I never believed for a second that any of the lesbians who gave me the evil eye in my few times in lesbian bars were concerned I'd be a prospective perp. I am merely large for a Fraggle, and was the only guy in a group of women composed by a majority of lesbians. It was, if you like, the counterrevolutionary nature of me being there - a threat to a precariously defended local status quo. In short, I thought that I could get my ass kicked *despite* not personally being a threat to anyone.