Despite the headline, this piece is not really just about Peter Coffin: rather, it is a disconcerting trend I have seen emerge around the LGBT+ community. However, Coffin themself falls into this. That is, the problematizing of effeminacy in the community, but especially with cis gay men.
In their video on Taylor Swift’s “Gay Anthem”, Coffin did make a number of valid points, especially on the fact that the community still faces severe poverty (particularly in the tans sections and the intersections of queer people of color). But then, towards the middle part of the video, they strike out with a very particular denigration of a certain word – they mockingly say, “yaaaaas.”
I wanted to yell then.
Ask any male assigned person, who, in their youth, showed even the slightest bit of effeminacy and this is what they can tell you: either the other children or adults in their lives took that moment to reinforce the gender norms of our world – they did it with homophobic slurs and a variety of violence.
Yes, of course, there is not innate trait within gay men that make them campy, but it is trait a large number of our community possess. It is a trait that a large number of us have been abused over, assaulted for, passed over in love and work, and otherwise othered and lowered over.
That thing that makes us “look gay”, that spark, that sensibility, should not be vilified, should not be shunned or treated as lesser. The visibly gay – those who actually are interested in the same sex and who still portray behavior that has generally been associated with being gay – are equally valid to those of the community who are often never offhand considered non-cishet.
If we look across our history, there is a very clear antagonism between us and the cisheteronormative world. That is, our perceived perversion from what is natural.
If we take that gender and the ideas contained within it have overtime been intimately linked with sex and performance and what is considered natural for any one camp, or group, then it seems obvious that certain behavior will then be linked to a group that is seen as being outside of the norm.
Now, in the last few decades a certain group of activists have come to dominate in our discourse around these issues – those who call for our assimilation within the dominant structures. This is the framework which has also gone on to decouple campy, effeminacy from being gay.
This is the framework that whether Coffin is aware of it or not, comes into play when they so willingly drag a word that has come to be associated with out our community. That is, it is a framework which upholds and celebrates certain ideas of what masculinity is meant to be, and how queer people are meant to uphold to these ideas whether they’re actually good or not.
Because let’s not beat around the bush here: when we disparage certain behaviors, we reinforce others. What is being reinforced here is the idea of “he sucks dick but he’s still a maaaaan” (to quote MacDoesIt).
This idea also crops up quite often in general discussions between gay men.
Go on any internet forum or spaces where they congregate and this line will inevitably show up: “I’m gay, which means I like men, not these sissies.” This argument is sometimes even given a faux-intellectual polish: “The heteronormative narrative states that relationship should be between a masculine and feminine person; when I bash femme men, it’s because I oppose this narrative.”
However, I feel like Brandon Rogers probably got at the heart of this the best, with his skit about a lesbian couple meeting a single, straight mom.
In the piece, the two women (who are played by cis men) throw off this bit of dialogue: “…one of us will start acting feminine so that we meet the hetero-normative standards (to paraphrase it).” This line is very similar to the one given above. However, it is different in one crucial aspect. That is, it actually subverts gendered expectations.
When people like Coffin toss their voices against non-normative behavior, especially with certain popularized aspects of it, what they’re doing is only furthering these gendered expectations. They throw shade at important parts of our community.
Because let’s take a moment to go back into an earlier point that I agree with Coffin on: the LGBT+ community is predominantly working class. That is perfectly true. But that does not mean we form a part of the cishetronormative aspects of that class – definitionally we are supposed to be beyond it.
And that fact leads into the origins of these words, behaviors and general sensibilities.
We should never forget who crafted a lot of this: the poor, gender-non-conforming, and predominantly black and Latinx portions of our community. Just watch Paris is Burning and you’ll find all of these queer aspects your mocking, coming from the very marginalized people you claim to be in support of.
So, yeah. Camp is gay and we shouldn’t be ashamed. Effeminacy is gay and we shouldn’t be mad. We suck dick and we rock heels. Deal with it.
(Quick disclaimer: I am myself non-binary, but I have lived a significant portion of my life within the confines of the gender binary – I know how restrictive it can be. I may be biased, and I do have a vested interest in this issue, but why should I be ignored just because I want dignity on my own terms, rather on these normative, oppressive one?)