By Mubarak Dahir
No one likes a nelly homo. Least of all these days, other homos.
That fact is blatantly obvious in our own culture of desire, and I got a jolting reminder of it recently at a local Pride celebration where I live, called Pridefest.
It was a perfect Florida day, sunny and warm without being too hot. There was almost no humidity.
The weather conditions insured that scores of muscled men would turn out, pumped, to show off their own pride.
I parked myself between the concession stands and tents that housed the gay business booths. I stood there sipping a Diet Coke, admiring the sea of flesh and brawn.
I had my focus on a particularly hunky group of hairy, muscle men standing in a gaggle nearby.
I wasn’t the only one marveling at them. They were the stars of the showcase of bare-chested beefcake.
As I stood watching, an effeminate man passed by and, like everyone else assembled on the grounds there, ogled the burly studs.
I figured the he-men should have been flattered. After all, they were showing off for the crowd. But they weren’t pleased at all about this one particular admirer.
“Nelly faggot!” one said loud enough that I could hear him, and certainly so that the passer-by could, too.
“Prissy queen,” smirked another, and the whole group laughed together.
The blatant animosity towards men perceived as sissies is ubiquitous in gay culture.
All you have to do is visit any gay cruising or dating site to find it in abundance.
Take, for instance, these real-life examples from the popular gay site, Manhunt:
“MASCULINE GUYS ONLY!” screams one entry.
“No fems,” is a common mantra.
“UB butch or UB gone,” reads another.
“No girl acting guy,” or, “You have a dick, act like a man,” are just a few others in an endless stream of the advertisements singing the praise of “manliness.”
Some of these come with a veiled apology (“just my preference,”) but most are as unabashed as they are callous.
As I scrolled through the list of descriptions for butch, one particularly jumped out at me: “Normal and masculine only.”
Here, quite succinctly and bluntly, the author succeeded in equating masculine to “normal,” suggesting, of course, that if you are a man who doesn’t live up to his standard of masculine, you are not normal.
It hit me that this is exactly what our enemies in the heterosexual world have long done to us, as a way to stereotype us, humiliate us, put us down and demean us. As a way to make us less equal.
Now, they don’t need to anymore. Looks like we’re doing a plenty good job of doing it to ourselves.
I understand the attraction of a manly man.
I run around in the bear and leather crowds, two sub groups famous in the gay world for their almost fetish-like worship of masculinity.
I have had a beard since I was 19, and I go to the gym and aim for the bulging biceps look like so many other gay men. When I go out, I am more likely to wear Wrangler’s than Ralph Lauren. You’re not going to see me in anything that is frilly or shiny or gold lame.
If I see a guy I like, and I get up the courage to say hello, I’m sure my voice drops half an octave.
In the world of machismo, I can “pass.”
But it wasn’t always like that for me.
When I was a school kid growing up in Central Pennsylvania, I was the classic sissy. I played violin. And clarinet. And piano.
I was book smart. I even liked reading and math and history.
I sucked at sports.
In gym class, I was always the last one to be picked for a team.
The only activities I was good at on the playground during recess were jump rope and dodge ball. The girl games.
My older sister frequently used to have to protect me from bullies on the playground. Even girls would beat me up.
The reason I got picked on, of course, was that I was different.
I was softer and gentler. I didn’t exemplify the standard notion of what it meant to be a boy. And that obviously scared and threatened the other kids, who were already so well indoctrinated by society even at such an early age. So their reaction was to lash out and beat me up.
I thought about my playground days as I stood there at Pridefest and watched the group of burly “butch” men pick on the “nelly queen.” It occurred to me the situation wasn’t so different from my schoolyard days.
Luckily, no one was getting physically assaulted. But the burly men were definitely beating up on the guy who was less macho. They were picking on the man who was different, the guy who didn’t exemplify the socially accepted notion of what it means to be “a man.”
Why? He obviously threatened them. He made them nervous. He touched on their insecurities as gay men.
One of the great battle cries of the gay rights movement has been that our society should not only tolerate, but also embrace differences in people. Publicly, at least, we preach that diversity is what makes us, and our world, a more interesting, richer place.
And yet, ironically, within our own ranks, we reject that very premise when it comes to the issue of masculinity.
There exists within the gay world a rigidly tiered system of superiority, with the butcher men at the top of the food chain. The nelly queens are the bottom of the barrel.
Manhunt profiles and the Pridefest incident are just two examples of a ubiquitous attitude that permeates contemporary gay male society.
Every gay man is, of course, free to choose who he finds sexy and what image he wishes to personally portray. But in doing so, there’s no need to denigrate those who don’t want to follow the same path of what it means to be “a real man.”
Indeed, it would be a real loss, to all of us, if nelly queens disappeared from our ranks. How dull gay life would be if we all showed up at Pride in Wranglers and work boots, and no one came in a wig or something tight and shiny and wonderfully outrageous.
Who would remind us how to laugh at ourselves, and the world around us? Who would show us the courage and strength it takes to defy the stiff molds of social expectation? And who would remind us all of our great sense of possibility?
I say thank goodness for nelly queens. Where would any of us be without them?