Mitch Helix wonders why “feminine” behaviors seem to make people think a man is gay.
“No offense, but it’s always been obvious you were gay,” said an acquaintance from high school at a party for a mutual friend. I answered back that I was aware of my own flamboyance. He went on a bit before I changed the subject and wondered how I became the topic of the conversation. It’s a familiar situation. Often, people are more indirect in their assessments, but their intent is clear. When I tell people that I am studying engineering they often remark, “you don’t seem like an engineer.” Considering they just met me, the basis of their assessment is obvious. During a presentation for a class in public speaking, the professor commented that the “sing song quality” of my voice was “distracting.” A young boy at a grocery store was more forthcoming and said “You sound like an alien.”
Even among other gay men, my “flamier” qualities seem to be an issue. When I was part of a competitive dance team, I was told to tone it down at competitions by our director; he was also gay. My response was that no one would be shocked to learn a male dancer is gay. On online dating sites, the words “masculine,” “straight acting,” and “discreet” seem to be what every other profile is looking for. No profiles mention feminine as a desirable quality.
Masculine traits in our society are highly valued and this is evident in our very language. The word effeminate is almost synonymous with feminine but exists to be a derogatory term for men who cannot convincingly perform their gender.
Similarly, the word emasculate is common and understood because it is concerned with the loss of male status, but there is some debate if its feminine counterpart, defeminize, is even a word. Our society heaps privilege to male bodied people, but a condition to some of those privileges is the ability to play the part. Boys subconsciously pick up on the trend and adapt their behavior over time to fit the standard. In particular, gay men learn multiple versions of male gender performance and code switch their behavior to the audience, between essentially straight and gay talk. I can’t code switch.
For a while, I embraced my effeminacy and just accepted it as an inherent part of my personality. I mean since when was passing as straight even a good thing?
Now that I am looking for a job in a male dominated field, I’m more concerned than ever about people’s perception of me. Fit is an important aspect of hiring, and, unfortunately, people do not associate effeminacy with quantitative abilities. It’s not necessarily an issue of someone having an outright problem with my sexuality, but rather, if on first impression, I seem like the person who fits their notion of someone who works with numbers. However, if I do want to alter people’s perception of me, there isn’t a clear place to start. What is interpreted as a gay voice can be highness of pitch, pitch variability, vowel elongation, s elongation, and others qualities. A large portion is also body language. Some of this could possibly be helped with a speech therapist, but, at $80 an hour, it seems like a ridiculous use of funds. I’m also guessing that I wouldn’t be a typical case.
Assuming an avenue of action was clear, it would still require a great deal of mental energy and time. To which I am unsure of the actual benefit even if successful. I am comforted by the idea that learning straight talk is not suppressing my feminine qualities, but learning a new way of communicating to code switch depending on the situation. However, I don’t like the idea that I am potentially giving in to the societal pressure to conform. I haven’t made a decision, but it doesn’t seem society is changing anytime soon.
Find Mitch Helix at https://www.facebook.com/mediahelix