On geolocation dating apps used by gay and bisexual men, the phrase ‘straight acting’ is an all too familiar feature of people’s profiles. To some, the phrase describes a desirable trait to look for in partners; to others, it seems like a snub towards the very community these apps are supposed to serve.
It is becoming ever easier for gay and bisexual men to connect with each other for anything from friendship, to romantic liaisons, to the more ambiguous ‘networking’. The downside of this fast-food style of socialising is that it lacks the humanity of face-to-face interactions. These apps resemble a butcher’s shop: goods out on display, nicely presented, sometimes with a short description – these condense a person’s being into a few terse, inadequate sentences. Although the desire for ‘straight acting’ men significantly predates Grindr and its ilk, the curtness with which men have to specify who they are and what they are looking for greatly accentuates the traits most highly valued.
‘Straight acting’ can be used to signify many of the traits and characteristics of a stereotypical straight man; strong, stoic, swaggering, a fan of competitive sports. However, it seems to me that the term is often more about refuting the traits of a stereotypical gay man; a rejection of society’s exaggerated perception of a well-groomed, sharp tongued caricature with flourishing mannerisms and a lisp. But why is ‘straight acting’ such a desirable trait in parts of the gay community? I daresay there is no singular answer to the question, but reflecting on the matter will hopefully lead us to treat each other with a little more compassion.
For a man, by definition – being gay or bisexual means one is attracted to other men. It is perhaps for this reason that some of us are interested in ‘straight acting’ men, on a naïve level they epitomise the very essence of masculinity. Despite our niche place in society, we are immersed in a heteronormative world which constantly reinforces the traits that heterosexuals find attractive in men. All things stereotypically masculine are considered good, and a man who exhibits effeminate traits is a lesser man, to be denigrated. Because heteronormative culture is so prevalent, it makes a direct association between masculinity and being straight. The two ideas become inseparable, they define the ‘classic man’. Yet as we know, in the wonderful and richly diverse LGBTQ community, the two properties of gender identity and sexual attraction are anything but rigidly tied together – there are diverse expressions of who we are and who we’re interested in. The two factors are separate.
If we scratch a little deeper, we may notice that more often than not, people on Grindr will use the term ‘straight acting’ to describe themselves rather than who they’re looking for. Could it be that the term is worn like a badge of honour? In Alan Down’s The Velvet Rage, he confronts an unsettling idea. In our formative school years, many gay and bisexual boys become the focus of unwanted attention concerning the way they carry themselves. In an environment full of teenagers trying to come to terms with their identities, any effeminate mannerisms entertained by a boy are quickly disparaged by the other boys. In such places as our schools, homophobia is rife. For some boys still in the closet, the natural response is to adopt a hypermasculine approach – to excel in sports and to be one of the lads, in short, to be above suspicion. For others, the reaction is more muted, a dampening down of the more flamboyant mannerisms. The driving force behind all of this is the same thing, shame.
Could it be that a man might find a camp guy both attractive and charming, yet the idea of being seen with him in public might cause his stomach to tie up in knots? Does associating himself with a camp guy betray what he took such care in concealing from the world, and make him feel the way he did all those years ago? I daresay you won’t find many ‘straight acting’ gay couples who are comfortable holding hands in public, though I hope to be proven wrong!
Whatever trait is considered the flavour of the month, there is nothing wrong with being camp or not, there is nothing wrong in finding something attractive in people, so long as we treat each other with respect and compassion. The motto we should all live by, gay or straight, is simple; “love yourself and love each other”.
Robert Unwin (GR. Comment Contributor)