Let’s get straight to the point: it’s time to stop using ‘straight-acting’

Image credits: frakieleon via Creative Commons

Image credits: frakieleon via Creative Commons

Cn: discussion of “types” of gay men, dating apps, stereotypes, reclaimed homophobic language, mention of Stonewall  film

The self-proclaimed ‘straight acting’ gay guy. The epitome of normality and manliness. If only the rest of us loud, rainbow-winged, limp-wristed twigs of femininity could compete with his big strong arms and ability to fit right in with his beer and sports and things. He’s not into the stereotypical gay scene, like going out clubbing with his fingernails painted hot pink and dancing to Lady Rhianna. He just isn’t like that. So it’s important for there to be a word for him to let us know he’s just like any other guy, you know, the ones that sleep with women and all that. Most of his friends wouldn’t even believe him when he came out – he’s really that convincing! Oh, and girls still hit on him in clubs. Props, dude.

It is inevitable to come across the term ‘straight acting’ when gay men are asked to describe themselves, particularly in dating/special-hug applications like Grindr or Tinder. Those who use it will often defend its innocence as a harmless attribute, or simply as a ‘realistic’ portrayal of how things are: Most gay guys are camper than a row of tents and feel the need to broadcast their difference loudly in all directions as they proudly mince about. The ‘straight acting’ gay guy just isn’t like that; he’s actually quite reserved, doesn’t like gay culture and certainly isn’t a flamboyant queen. This term just helps everyone from the outset understand which kind of gay guy you are, and allows non-stereotypical gay men to label themselves as, well; normal. So what’s the ‘ish?

Sadly enough, the above seems to be how a lot of people view things. But if the phrase ‘straight acting’ gives you even the slightest feeling of unease, or even just invites the raising of an eyebrow, you’re right to be troubled. Not only does its usage demonstrate an absence of thought as to what such a term indirectly implies, it hints at a tragic failure to appreciate the more complex dynamics between sexuality and behaviour. And in the light of a certain high-profile Hollywood director casually using the term to describe the main character in his tragically misled film about the bloody Stonewall riots – I deem it high time to set the record straight. So mister ‘straight acting’, put on your best flannel shirt, deep man-voice and stiff mannerisms for this one, ‘cause it’s to set the record queer.

From the very outset the phrase is ludicrous for how little sense it makes: A gay man trying to define himself by his apparent ‘straightness’, despite identifying as something that is literally not straight: gay. It doesn’t matter how many hours of his existence he has clocked in playing Fifa with the lads, if he exclusively enjoys the overnight company of a gentleman caller, then his behaviour should, of all things under the rainbow umbrella of sexuality, be deemed as “gay-acting”. The term seems to be primarily used by those wishing to distance themselves from gay stereotypes, yet in doing so it rather ironically reinforces the idea that these stereotypes are true. If you have a problem with the idea that gay people are often seen as or expected to be one-falsetto-note characters, then why use a term that perpetuates the idea that gay men are one way, and straight men are the other?

What’s more, it bizarrely implies that straight men have a monopoly over traits that are considered ‘masculine’: enjoying sport, facial hair, drinking beer, a more reserved gait, strength, making strange loud noises at football matches or having more testosterone than red-blood cells. By using the tired notion of ‘being straight’ to describe yourself as a gay man, you strengthen the idea that being gay would otherwise intrinsically distance you from all the above. In an egotistical attempt to get away from the stereotypes that you find restricting, you actually spur on their usage, encouraging closed, categorical thinking and quick judgements by the rest of society.

‘Straight acting’ in fact seems to be emblematic of the tendency of minorities, like us queer folk, to strive to assimilate themselves into the majority. Having been accepted under the motto of ‘Gay people are just like everybody else!’, there’s now a rejection of things that might make us different from the norm in order to preserve this fragile acceptance. In the case of gay men, the characteristics that many once held as a proud beacon of their deviation from the norm (i.e. ‘feminine’ and ‘camp’ traits) have since created a dichotomy within the gay community itself. Suddenly we are two groups – the ‘fems’ and the ‘mascs’, or those who conform to heteronormative tropes and those who don’t.

And it’s all too clear that this split between ‘straight acting’ gay guys and err… the rest (‘gay-acting’ gay guys…?) is no even playing field. Society has come to idolize those who are able to “conceal” their sexuality, the ones who are just so cool and normal. Despite the hugely positive reception of loveable, campy gay characters like Kurt Hummel on Glee or Titus Andromedon on Unbreakable, the audience still sees them as just that – the gay gay characters. As a gay man you are painfully labelled as either a ‘noticeable gay guy’ or an ‘inconspicuous’ one, with pressures from both inside and outside the gay community drilling it into our heads which is the more desirable and attractive of the two.

This in turn pings back onto gay men themselves, revering the self-proclaimed ‘straight acting’ gay guys, who will often experience a farcical sense of arrogant pride as their desirable status elevates them up this seeming gay hierarchy. None of this is helped by the fact that some of the traits stereotypically used to ascertain if someone is straight often overlap with the quixotic ideal of what an attractive man looks and acts like – in both the straight and gay world. Even if you don’t use the term yourself, in not questioning its usage, you are amplifying all these problems, and forcefully pigeon-holing gay men into either camp.  

To get straight to the point then, ‘straight acting’ is just a damaging, lazy, frankly ridiculous term that needs to be asked to leave the party. Go home, ‘straight-acting’ – you’re drunk. And now none of us can remember why you were ever invited in the first place.

Connor Murphy (Get Real. contributor)

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