From Straight-Acting to Screaming Queen

I’ve not said much about Lance Bass since his coming out last year.  I really haven’t seen much of a need to.  (Personally I’m a J.T. fan and have his bobblehead doll on my desk.  There, I said it.)  Certainly it should be expected that when a handsome guy from an immensely popular boy band comes out of the closet under the circumstances that Bass did, the media is going to clamor around the story for as long as they can.  And they did.  Queerty, Perez Hilton, People magazine, ET, Popnography, etc, have given Bass more coverage than the other celebrities of note who came out of the closet last year (Neil Patrick Harris, for example.)  And commenters on several popular blogs weren’t exactly shy about their derisive comments about Bass, from his relationship with Reichen Lemkuhl, to their joint reception of HRC awards, and beyond—some of it quite silly, and often extremely petty.

While I don’t see how he particularly deserved an HRC award, much of the vitriol aimed at Lance Bass by what should be a welcoming community seems quite undeserved.  I’ve read the terms, “Fat,” “Untalented,” “Screaming Queen,” “Twink,” “Fluffer,” and more I won’t print here because there’s a certain level of class I won’t sink to.  Suffice to say, there are a number of gay people out there who just don’t like Lance Bass and by all evidence can’t deal with their own levels of insane jealousy.  (Perez, I’m looking at you, fattie.)

One item in particular that’s grabbed my interest about this involved Lance’s recent interview with Advocate magazine, as he recounted using the phrase, “Straight-Acting”:

“The result was a cover story that went a long way to further gay visibility but still prompted sniping from many gays — especially for employing the divisive phrase “straight-acting.”

“That People magazine article was hilarious,” says Perez Hilton, who often covers Bass on his widely read blog. “If Lance Bass is a straight-acting gay, then I eat pussy for breakfast, lunch, and dinner.”

Even now, Bass blanches when he’s reminded of the term, which he calls a rookie mistake. “It was a very normal phrase among my circle of friends—and they’d always say, ‘You’re such a SAG’ — a straight-acting gay. So I reveal that to People magazine, and it looks like I created this phrase and [that] I’m trying to start this movement that you should be straight-acting if you’re gay. It’s just dumb!” 

Dumb doesn’t begin to describe it.  As if Lance Bass invented that term.  Pfft.  Drivel.

When I first really found the internet, only a few years after coming out myself, I remember searching for “straight-acting” gays, since that’s what I considered myself to be.  And I found a website called Straightacting dot com.  Guess what?  It’s still around, and quite popular from the looks of it.  There are lots and lots of men on there, (many of whom “I could tell just by lookin’, honey,” lol).  Evidently Lance, you are not so alone as you think. 

Unfortunately, the non-effeminate of us tend to not speak up and or identify as gay because we’re afraid of one thing or another.  How sad that is.  Personally I choose not to use the term “straight-acting” because it just causes misunderstandings and sidesteps any hope of a real conversation.  After all, I’m not “acting” about anything.  I’m gay, proud of myself and my husband, and unapologetic about who I am and how I am.  I also am regularly told that I don’t “act it”—meaning I don’t “act” gay, or perhaps gay enough.  Whatever.   As I learned long ago, once you’re comfortable, truly comfortable with yourself and who you are, you stop caring how other people perceive you.  If you’re flamboyant in your gayness, good for you.  Don’t apologize for it, and don’t tone it down if you’re just naturally that way.  In the same vein, however, if you’re not naturally flamboyant, you don’t have to put on those airs in order to make the sniping comment bitches happy, either on the net or in real life.  Who the hell has that kind of energy, anyway?

Don’t misunderstand me: I realize that we live in the real world and if you go down certain streets in a rainbow tutu on roller skates singing Somewhere Over The Rainbow, you’re bound to get beat up.  Obviously you need to curtail certain behavior depending on your own situation.  But if you can never be yourself because of your situation, then the first thing you need to do is change the situation.  Because what good is it to stop pretending to be straight if you have to pretend to be something else that you’re not?

I get a lot of emails from young queers who read my coming out story and tell me how it moved them—and I’m very happy about that.  The whole reason I put my life story on that page was to give some encouragement and hope to young gays in difficult life situations.  I’m glad it has worked to at least some extent.  But the point of my coming out story was really the last four words: But I Found Myself

And that’s the most important thing any of us can do, no matter what we call ourselves, or each other.

10 thoughts on “From Straight-Acting to Screaming Queen

  1. “Straight-acting” is like “acting white” or “not being black enough”; it’s a perjorative invented by those who desperately need to rationalize with sexual orientation or skin color behaviors that have nothing to do with either.

  2. Well, I don’t completely agree about that NDT. I don’ t think it was invented as a pejorative. I know that I used to refer to myself that way when first out of the closet simply for lack of a better term. And I don’t really think the term was “invented,” per se. I know that I used it because it honestly described how I felt about myself at the time.

    Certainly it is used as a pejorative by many out there, but as the site I linked to shows, there are many who self-identify as “straight acting” and I think they see that as some sort of strong point a la Rev. Malebranche.

    It’s really all about defining ourselves as “Not Them”–meaning the more nelly gays. And I don’t think that should be necessary, either. People are just people, and we need to take our own inventories and stop throwing labels around, even on ourselves.

  3. I hate the term “straight acting.” When I hear people refer to themselves or other gay guys as “straight acting” I say to them, “You have sex with men. That is not straight acting.” I loathe straight drag as well. You know the type. They try to butch it up.

    Great post.

  4. Fluffer? Really? He gets porn stars hard now? Wow, I knew his career was based on media appearances mostly, but I had no idea it was that far in the toilet….

    Anyway, such anger has been heaped on the term “Straight-Acting” and, yes, it certainly connotes…something. At the same time, I remember discussions of modern gay male masculinity ideals and how many people may remain in the closet not so much because they don’t want to acknowledge their homosexuality, but because the party line seems to be if you’re not a screaming queen, you’re self-loathing.

    There’s an obvious need for terminology because people just naturally categorize. We have to in order to get through the day. Plus, the homosexual culture is inordinately fond of labels, which is ironic, but there it is. Bear, twink, leather daddy, queen, butch, fem, lipstick, poz, neg, etc. So it seems perfectly reasonable to have yet another term to describe someone who sees themselves as embodying standard male characteristics and looking for others embodying the same. Perhaps “straight acting” isn’t it, but if not, then what should one use?

  5. But I’m not sure we can, Jamie. There are over 6 billion people in the world. While it’s very noble to attempt to consider each and every one of them as an individual, it’s a Sisyphean task. I mean, there are over 300,000 million people in the U.S. alone. I have trouble keeping up with a couple of blogs and a small group of friends.

    My point is that it is human nature to categorize, sort of a communication triage. It doesn’t necessarily have to be a bad thing and the lines shouldn’t ever be written in stone, but if you have a group of qualities that you find pleasing and for the most part wish to see those qualities reflected in the people you associate with, then is this always counter-productive? It seems that it’s just conversational short hand so people can jump start the process without having to reinvent the wheel every single time they meet someone new.

  6. Can we make do without labels?

    Although there’s vast agreement among scientists that “race” is essentially meaningless as a biological reality (and a school of thought that views “sexual orientation” as equally artificial), none of these experts have suggested tangible ways to move beyond the catagorization schemes. They usually just give some variation of the “get over it” argument.

    But it’s clearly that isn’t enough for most people. Even my wacky ultra-leftist PoMo friends will sometimes slip up and casually refer to their race or sexual orientation. It’s very difficult to avoid using that kind of teminology.

  7. I also think “straight-acting” describes straight males as much as gay males. Consider the hyper-masculinized gangbanger, soldier/warrior, or firefighter. In many ways, their aggressive behaviors are just as forced as that of gay guys who are trying to butch it up. For example, men aren’t born with an affinity for spewing profanities every other word. Nor do they have some primal urge to puff cigerette smoke in somebody’s face. Even ritualistic violence like fraternal hazing isn’t anything natural per se. It goes well beyond self-defense instincts.

    I would argue that masculinity is primarily about an abstract concept: power. Who has it. Who wants it. And how can one acquire it. Men learn to associate crude behaviors with some cultural definition of masculinity, and they understand that much of their coercive power is derived from conformity to those standards. In other words, we’re all “acting” to some degree. Some of us are do it more than others. Some of us do it better than others. But essentially, there’s no more objective validity to “masculinity” than there is to, say, “blackness” (in the Black Nationalist sense). They’re a means to an end. Nothing more.

    I think Rev. Malebranche is right to see as a potential source of strength. But I disagree with his assertion that there’s a universal definition of masculinity. He’s talking about a very specific masculinity (in his case, pagan Germanic), as if we were all somehow instinctively pre-disposed to become Vikings or Nazis.

  8. I’m not sure what I think about the term “straight acting.” I have always been bothered at times when a man is criticized for some bad action, his name is feminized. It always seemed to be a pejorative against woman when I saw that. But I’ve accepted (or trying to accept) that that is not necessarily the case.

    I think that’s where I am with the term “straight acting.” Sure, when some people use the term, they are making a point of denigrating the gay people who can’t or won’t butch it up. But if you are trying to come up with a term to describe a characteristic without having to say twenty words each time to describe it, you have to come up with something, and “straight acting” seems to have caught on. Perhaps a better term can be used (not masculine though) that is more suitable.

    Also, Jamie, excellent points about Lance Bass. I don’t understand at all the vitriol against him.

  9. I don’t understand at all the vitriol against him.

    “Jealousy” covers about ninety-nine percent of the reason why.

    It’s really all about defining ourselves as “Not Them”–meaning the more nelly gays.

    The reason that is necessary is because the nelly gays have co-opted sexual orientation as an excuse for their need to act the way they do.

    Sort of, as John has pointed out, straight men use masculinity as an excuse for all manner of publicly-incorrect behavior.

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