It’s Friday night and you’ve been off work for just over an hour and a half. Your clothes are changed and your significant other has just sat down across from you, hair done up, smelling great and dressed up for a night of wine and wind-downing. The last table at a busy joint has been snagged and a loaf of fresh-baked bread has hit the table. Just as you start browsing the menu, “he” approaches. It’s the waiter, dressed in skinny jeans and a tighter shirt. His hair is swept up and colored with several different types of dye. On his face are bright-red glasses, and the eyebrows above it are waxed down to a minimum. When he asks what you would like to drink, his voice makes you grit your teeth together. “Why does he have to act so gay?” you ask yourself. The night wears on. You receive your dinner, which is excellent, and the wine calms your mood; it even helps you mostly ignore how much the waiter annoys you. You stay for coffee and spend a second hour on desert. When you are ready to leave you scoff at the smiley faces he has left on the receipt. “Fruitcake” is muttered under your breath as you ignore his polite smile and wave as you exit the restaurant. A nice dinner, but it would have been better if you just didn’t have to deal with someone acting so gay…
I don’t know how many times I have had to hear a story similar to the above one related to me by someone I know or witnessed this scene in public. A table close to mine erupts in snickers and imitations of a waiter when they turn their back or walk away. It is a terrible circumstance, to have to watch the face of that waiter as they do slowly catch on, and are forced to continue to provide quality service to people treating them with such ignorance. And the “waiter” scenario is obviously only one of many such daily occurring incidents of indecency. In each case the defense stated by the perpetrator is usually something like, “I wouldn’t mind being around those people if they wouldn’t act so gay. Why can’t they just act normal?”
What a curious thought! How does one go about “acting gay” in public? Answers I have received to this question seem to mainly be as follows: they have a higher pitched voice, “girly” dress or style, flamboyant behavior, or just generally act feminine. Lesbians are described as having deep voices, men’s clothes, and acting masculine. All of these are attributes are attached more to stereotype rather than reality. The era of late 80’s movies gave us all the caricature of “the gay” to give us all something to laugh at after it became not OK anymore to laugh at “the black” caricature. These caricatures have become the foundation for bigoted thoughts to attach to and bloat outwards in an attempt to sweep some group of people under one big hate rug.
Stereotypes allow for people to feel like they can safely vent hate because stereotypes are based on things that are sometimes true. The inherent result is that bigotry leads to the belief that the stereotypes are always true. People of a specific race, group, or sexual identity may at times exhibit a common set of behaviors. Just because all of these things can be true does mean they are always true.
There is no gay factory that puts out a stock model of gay men and women. Yes, sometimes gay men may be more feminine or lesbian females more masculine, but it is most certainly not always the case. There are countless gay people out there that do not exhibit any of the stereotypical “gay” attributes, people that straight persons would not even recognize as being homosexual at all. I know an elementary music teacher that is a lesbian and not a single parent ever notices unless she chooses to say something. To kids and parents alike, she’s just the music teacher. My straight brother drives a fork-lift and looks like the human avatar of Homer Simpson. He loves football and beer, and yet also spent a week learning to quilt when he was younger at a youth event because he found that he loved it. I have a cousin that is a straight male cosmetologist. There is not a single thing you can do or wear or say that makes you either gay or straight other than actually self identifying as being gay or straight. A boy is not gay because he likes pink and a girl that likes playing football or that played in the mud as a child isn’t necessarily a lesbian. We have to stop sorting people into such rigid masculinity/femininity categories all across the spectrum.
When you tell someone they are acting like they are gay it is always bigotry, whether they are in fact homosexual or not. It is bigotry because of the reason you are saying it in the first place: you aren’t comfortable around them. And you aren’t comfortable around them because they are gay, not because of the way they are dressed or any other factor. You don’t agree with their sexual identity and are picking at them to try and latch on to a stereotype that you can openly marginalize without feeling bad about yourself. The reason some people want all gay people to “act straight” is so that they can keep their heads in the sand happily pretending homosexuals don’t exist. It is no different than telling an African American not to act so black or a Hispanic person to learn how to speak like an American. Bigotry is always just that, regardless of the target. Religious belief does not grant the right to be a bigot (though it is often the excuse). Most people are timid about vocalizing racial stereotypes as to not be labeled a racist due to what is deemed acceptable in a modernized society. It’s time we started clearly labeling those that make fun of homosexuals as bigots and deeming their hateful comments just as equally unacceptable.
And even if the stereotypes are sometimes true, so what? It isn’t anyone’s business to tell someone how to dress or speak or act. If someone’s behavior or dress isn’t directly affecting you, just keep your mouth shut. There are plenty enough “weird” straight people out there that don’t receive anywhere near the same scrutiny that gay people do. What exactly is the word “weird” anyway, other than another word used to bully by insecure people? The only truth is that there is no such thing as normal. We are all really, really weird.
One follow up argument that comes up is that gay people, “Aren’t doing themselves any favors,” by acting so gay publicly, that if they want to be accepted more easily they should be more conservative in personality on television and in public. Wrong again. Gay people do not owe bigots an inch. Strut that gay pride dressed in Freddie yellow spandex if it makes you happy. Gay people do not owe anyone the comfort that is not being afforded to them. Perhaps as Americans we should all just stop telling people who they should be and what they should look like, gay, straight, or otherwise.
So, gay people, don’t ever stop “acting gay,” whatever that means. For every person that makes a face at you or says something rude to you, there are others of us around rolling our eyes at them. We all just need to do more to point out behaviors that are unacceptable. And props to gay and lesbian waiters of the world, I salute you, for putting up with those slow to accept you, and consistently serving a populace that doesn’t deserve the kindness you daily give.