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Speaking of Sissies


Simon Sheppard, QSyndicate.com

You know the drill: "No fems." "Straight-acting seeks same." It seems the gay deck is stacked against so-called "effeminate" guys. To put it in sitcom terms: We may be amused by Jack, but we lust for Will.

Back in the old days, before the rise of the modern gay movement, queer men were generally thought of as guys who wanted to be women, stereotyped into a sissified corner. But in the 1970s, the rise of the Castro clone and the new visibility of leathermen sent a powerful message: Gay men, even those who liked to take it up the ass, could be as butch as anyone. Maybe more butch.

That was, of course, true and fine, as far as it went. But somewhere along the line, many of those into homomasculinity began to be as judgmental about "femmy" guys as the homophobes had been. What author Tim Bergling has termed "sissyphobia" raised its ugly head. "Flamers" made some of us cringe with an intensity that suggested we were trying to run away from our childhood playground traumas (last pick for the softball team, anyone?), or from a society that judged us for being attracted to other men. Perhaps we could gain acceptance by butching it up?

Now, it's clearly every queer man's right to be attracted to the sort of man he's attracted to; lust is not, after all, politically determined. But should prejudice rule the bedroom?

"For years, I found anyone with even the slightest trace of queer mannerisms to be unattractive, a turn-off," recalls one guy. "Finally I realized that came from being insecure about myself."

It's not uncommon to hear a gay man say, "I'm a man attracted to other men, real men." But that assumes that what we think of as "masculinity" is a state of nature, not something we learn as we grow up. As queer cultural commentator Richard Goldstein points out, "Most of us are neither butch nor femme, but variable."

This variability means that things may not always be what they seem. The most sissified-seeming boy may turn out to be a dominant top. And Mr. Masculine may be happiest with his muscular legs in the air and a dick sandwiched between his gorgeous glutes. The whole equation of "sissy" with "womanly" with "weak" is pretty much sexist bullshit, as anyone confronted by a hard-as-nails queen can tell you.

Some guys, on the other hand, just love to play with sissified guys. The sexual iconography of the androgynous "boy" is all about softness, not toughness, and full-sail fems have plenty of fans. Lots of dirty daddies love boys who aren't too butch. And just fooling with "sissification" can add plenty of spice to a scene.

"One guy I play with seems perfectly masculine in everyday life," says a rather kinky young man. "But once I get his pants down, he turns into a femmy slut. We've experimented with cross-dressing and shaving and stuff. It's really hot, makes me feel really powerful."

Not everyone can pick or choose, of course. Many of us have mannerisms so deeply ingrained that they're part of who we are. And there's nothing wrong with that. What can be wrong is limiting our sexual partners to guys who measure up to standards of masculinity imposed by straight society. It can be both oppressive to others and limiting for ourselves. Not everyone is craving a guy who's indistinguishable from the het next door; some of us like feline grace, boyish vulnerability, and a certain homo-ish edge.

So who says butch is better?

Simon Sheppard is the co-editor of Rough Stuff: Tales of Gay Men, Sex, and Power (Alyson Books)


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