Sissyphobia / Edition 1

Sissyphobia / Edition 1

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Southern Tier Editions/Haworth Press


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Sissyphobia / Edition 1

Cultural Writing. Gay/Lesbian Studies. New to SPD. Here is a revealing look into male effeminacy: why some gay men are swishy, why other gay men are more masculine, and why effeminate men arouse anger, disgust, and disdain in both gay and straight men. SISSYPHOBIA explores those negative feelings that are aimed at people termed fairies, faggots, flamers, and queens; men who, as the author puts it, run more toward what we could term the 'Quentin Crisp school of homosexuality.' The focus of SISSYPHOBIA is the author's search of the roots of the rage toward effeminate or flamboyant men experienced by men of every sexual persuasion, even themselves. Visit the book's Web site at

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781560239901
Publisher: Southern Tier Editions/Haworth Press
Publication date: 01/01/2001
Series: Insightout Book Club Series
Edition description: New Edition
Pages: 153
Product dimensions: 5.90(w) x 8.20(h) x 0.50(d)

Read an Excerpt

Originally, this book wasn't a book at all; it began as an article I wrote for Genre magazine in the summer of 1997, which was published in the September 1997 issue. And long before it took shape in words on a page, it was a frequent topic of conversations I'd been party to for years, in just about any place you can imagine-parties and nightclubs, down town coffee shops and late-night gab fests at kitchen tables. Sometimes it's been an all-gay crowd, "just us" queer boys chewing over the proposition the way family members will go on about this crazy uncle or that eccentric aunt. Other times the subject just sort of popped out of nowhere, right in the middle of a bunch of straight boys, to tally clue less that when they were talking about "those fags," they were talking about yours truly, too. What ever the crowd, there were al ways lots of opinions, but never a satisfying answer to what's be come, for me at least, one of life's little mysteries. Why is it that some gay men behave in what's of ten called an "e ffeminate" manner, while other gay men are more masculine? Why is an otherwise attractive man sometimes less desirable to us if he begins to exhibit certain characteristics that make him appear less manly, and more like the classical "gay" stereotype? And when we see an effeminate-behaving man, why do so many of us simply assume he's likely gay, even if he's out with a girlfriend or shopping at Wal-Mart with a wife and three kids in tow?

All of those questions are pretty thorny, but they're still only half of what this book is all about. It's probably more important to ask, What is it exactly about effeminate men that annoys or disgusts so many people? Or a better way to put it, What is it about society- and I'm absolutely talking about gay society as well as the out side straight world-that makes effeminate behavior in men so objectionable? I did a lot of research for that original article-and a hell of a lot more when I tack led this book-as I tried to find some answers. I talked with geneticists and biologists, queer theorists, counselors, and psychotherapists, all of them experts in their disciplines. As much as possible I made room for their opinions. But the real stars here are the hundreds of "regular" folks I talked with-male and female, gay and straight, young and old, parents of now-grown children, and parents of young boys already showing fairly distinctive effeminate characteristics-from all over the country. What I found were so me pretty strong opinions about effeminate men, and as we go along here, you'll see just how deeply embedded and unapologetic some of those beliefs are. For some, effeminate men are nothing less than heroic: they're admired for the sheer bravery of being true to themselves. Others take severe issue with their "gentle" brothers and unload a lot of hostility in their direction, blasting them for being a throwback to the past, and a drag on the future.

I've been out now for more than twenty years, and throughout that time I've listened to plenty of bitching about the " flamers " who've become the overriding symbol of what being gay means. I've known and interviewed scores of men who've stayed in the closet just to keep from being linked to guys like that. Many of them believe that men who behave in an effeminate manner do so intentionally, even maliciously, and, in so doing, hold the "rest of us" back from ever reaching the Promised Land, a world that accepts men who just happen to love and desire other men. But, you know what, Butch? Bitching turns out to be a two-way street, and there's a lot of traffic on the other side of the highway-a large number of men who don't give a rat's ass about society's tolerance or acceptance. They've al ready scratched and clawed their way out from un der some pretty smothering expectations, societywise; they're not buying anyone's prescription for conformity, especially not from anyone they dismiss as mere "hetero-wannabes ." The postures they adopt are strongly individualistic, and whether they're a conscious choice isn't something they care about. If it pisses anyone off, so much the better. Do you think phrases such as "Deal with it" or "Get over it" just coined themselves? They're not just words; they're a worldview.

All of this backbiting isn't just for party chatter, though I'll admit it certainly has made a party or two more lively in my time. It actually cuts to a rather crucial aspect of human existence and coexistence- how we view our selves and how we view others. Many of us have long wondered what makes us gay: Just how much is nature and how much is nurture? A logical follow-up to that question is to consider why some men be have in effeminate, even flamboyant ways, and why others do not. What we are talking about here is the single characteristic that makes us stand out, a "fag tag" if you will, that sets many of us-possibly most of us-apart from an overwhelmingly hetero world. Whether the assessment is accurate doesn't really matter all that much-outside the comfy confines of a gay ghetto or the halls of academia, any man who walks with a discernible "swish" can be, and often is, a magnet for trouble, be it simple discrimination, school yard hazing, or life-threatening violence. And that's what takes this debat e out of the context of a simple family feud. After a year of interviews, e-mails, and phone calls, everything I've learned about the attitudes of our some what fractious gay "community" makes me want to pose the question: If we ourselves can't embrace, even celebrate, the differences we find within our own family, how can we expect an often mystified, and some times hostile, straight world to ever fully welcome us into its fold or, conversely, to just leave us the hell alone?

Before we go on, let me address some of the terms you're going to encounter in this book. Let's start with the title itself, Sissyphobia. It's not some clever marketing ploy, a device aimed at making this book jump off the shelf and into your shopping cart (though I certainly won't mind if that's what happens). I wanted to use a word almost every gay man has heard directed at him-or some one he cared about -at some point in his life. "Sissy" is a word with sharp edges, a word that cuts deeply, especially when you're young. Remember the playgrounds of your youth? Maybe some one called you a sissy when you lost a race or backed down from a fight; maybe your father used it when you cried a little too much or too easily, when you didn't act manly enough for his liking. Maybe you've heard it walking down the street, or maybe you have used it yourself-if only in a joshing , kidding way-unaware of how you've hurt some one's feelings or disturbed a sleeping ghost. In any case, to use the word "sissy" in the title is to recall, for some, the stinging shame of not measuring up to an other's expectations, either as a child or an adult. It is not used here to denigrate anyone; combined with "phobia," it is intended simply to describe a phenomenon whose existence is undeniable: a fear and loathing of men who behave in a "less manly than desired," or effeminate, manner. Just how widespread is that feeling? That's what this book is about, too.

And there are undeniably-judging from my e-mail, at least-those who find the term "effeminate" offensive. I submit that it is probably the least objectionable word out there, and by using it, one at least brings to mind a familiar-though admittedly stereotyped and utterly sexist- image. What do I mean by effeminate? For the record, my Webster's New World Dictionary defines the word as "having the qualities historically attributed to women . . . weakness, timidity, delicacy . . . unmanly, unvirile ." That pretty much nails the image I'm trying to explore here, the stereotype that's such an easy target for straights and gays alike. (I've had more suggestions than I can count that I shouldn't use effeminate at all, that I should substitute another word, perhaps the words elegant or graceful . . . even fabulous. Sorry, boys. None of those terms paints quite the same picture. Effeminate I will use-though I may sometimes substitute "femme" to avoid repetition.) You're also going to find in these pages some other te rms and phrases to describe effeminate-behaving men, many of them supplied by such men themselves, some from the self-styled "butch" community, and some from the straight side of the fence. Be warned: they are not always kind. So be it. I don't associate myself with those opinions and attitudes-at least not all of them-and I do want to present an accurate picture. There will be no airbrushing-the thin-skinned and easily offended are forewarned. (And out of respect for the privacy of many of those interviewed, names and locations have been changed to conceal identities. All of the stories included herein, however, are true.)

Now a word about what you won't find here, namely, any lengthy discussion of the gender benders on the other side of our same-sex spectrum, i.e., masculine-behaving women. Neither will I speak much to the multilayered complexities of those in the transgendered community. For the sake of focus-not to mention keeping this book within some kind of man age able limits-I'm going to concentrate on self-identified, mainly gay men. You will also note that Sissyphobia concentrates principally on life in these United States, and that most of the stories, ideas, and opinions come from American men. This results not so much from any intent to exclude the rest of the world as from the desire to take a snap shot of attitudes in this country, at this time. No offense is intended, and hopefully none will be taken. Speaking of those who take offense, after the original article was published, I was amused to receive a number of e-mails and letters from folks who were to tally convinced I'd some how belittled them, a fairly eq ual amount from guys in the butch and femme camps. That's a pretty cool outcome, when you piss off each side equally; it's that elusive little vein of gold that we in the journalist community like to call "balance." And in recent months, as word of this project got out, I began to receive messages again, this time a handful of notes criticizing me for "stirring up trouble," for not letting sleeping dogs lie. "Why are you even doing this book at all?" one fellow wrote. "All you're doing is perpetuating the notion that gay guys are different from straight guys." Hmmm . . . the last time I looked, we were different, in some cases quite extravagantly and flamboyantly so. That's what is so fascinating. An other worried soul wrote: "You're just going to go and write a bunch of nasty stuff about gay people," apparently unaware that I'm a "Club Member Since 1977." Still an other wrote that "it's about time somebody slammed all those girly fags." He doesn't realize that some of my closest friends are "girly fags" and pretty damn happy about it, and happy I'm writing this book to tell their stories.

To one and all, I offer a simple invitation: read the book, then we'll chat. Researching and writing Sissyphobia was very much a journey for me, and I hope you'll experience some thing similar as you read on. If I succeed in shattering even one illusion you hold, if I make you think a little bit, or perhaps simply confirm any of your long-held beliefs, it's just possible that I may have done my job.

Table of Contents

* Acknowledgments
* Introduction
* Chapter 1. "No Femmes Need Apply"
* An Author's Angst
* Getting Personal
* The Net Difference
* Get Over It, Honey!
* Chapter 2. Origin of the "Species"
* Queer Theories
* Nellie Queens and Butch Boys
* A Sexual "Brain Tree"
* The Silent Majority?
* Chapter 3. Growing Pains
* School Daze
* A Boy's Life
* A Boy's Life, Too
* The Way We Were
* Changes
* Johnny, Are You Queer?
* Chapter 4. Fear and Loathing
* Wilde Boys
* Female Trouble?
* Survey Says . . .
* The Straight Story
* Chapter 5. The Enemy Within
* I've Got a Secret
* The Tale of the Tapes
* Chapter 6. Dude Looks Like a Lady
* I Love the Nightlife
* Girls Just Want to Have Fun
* Hot Stuff, Coming Through
* Violent Femmes
* Trick or Treat
* Leather, Not Lace
* The Femme Police
* Chapter 7. Be All You Can Be
* A Few Good Men
* Duty Calls
* Mary, Get Your Gun
* Targets of Opportunity
* True Deceivers
* Chapter 8. The Next Generation
* Holding Back the Queers
* Discriminating Behavior
* Back to the Future
* Changing Stations
* Afterword
* Resources
* Works Cited
* General Resources

What People are Saying About This

Andrew Davis

Most people are familiar with 'isms' such as classism, sexism, and racism. In this book, Tim Bergling Unflinchingly Looks At The Lightning Rod That Is 'Nellyism'. . . . Sissyphobia is for everyone who has experienced this phenomenon-on one side or the other.
— (Andrew Davis, BS, JD, Columnist, Lambda Publications/Windy City Times, Chicago)

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