Straight-acting is FUN!

This was a post I made to Usenet in soc.motss on November 11, 1996. It generated a lot of really angry, really attacking responses.

What do I think of this article today? I still agree with the sentiment that all public presentation is performance, all clothes are costume, and we should embrace that and have fun with it. I wrote about this topic again in a 2011 article, “The Drag You Wear“.

On the other hand, in the 1990’s being openly gay was much more dangerous than it is now, and being “visibly gay” was looked down upon much more even within the gay community. Looking back at this article, I can see why people were mad: I was decentering a much-needed conversation about internalized homophobia. If I were more clever, I could have found a way to make my point about performative masculinity without detracting from that conversation.

Greg 1996

I made an offhand reference to someone referring to me as “straight-acting” at some event that I was at, and got a few snarky comments that the pictures on my web page hardly classify me as “straight-acting”.

Just to be clear: I agree. There is nothing “straight” about my photos on my web page.

But I think this is a great chance to talk about the term “straight-acting”. It gets a lot of hate. But I think it’s possible to be “straight-acting” sometimes… and have a lot of fun with it.

Sometimes, you know… I’m getting ready to go out to the club in the evening, and I’m looking over my clothes, and I’m thinking, “What kind of image do I feel like portraying tonight? Should I go for the raver-boy look tonight? Should I go for a more conservative look tonight? Do I want to come across as kind of a ‘typical fag’ tonight? Hey, maybe it
would be fun to be ‘straight-acting’!” …and so on.

I think “straight-acting” is a great form of drag! One form of drag, among all of the others. I think it can be a turn-on for some people, it can be fun, and can add diversity to an otherwise boring queeny environment. Of course, if everyone were straight-acting, it would be just as boring as if everyone were queeny.

Personally, I just don’t see why people have a problem with this kind of diversity.

Now, I understand why the TERM “straight acting” can be bad, which is why I have been struggling for other terms (although “non-stereotypically-acting gay man” is a bit clunky). But in terms of the kind of image it represents: I think it’s terribly closed-minded to criticize people just because they are acting a certain way, and it’s immature to think you have to make fun of someone just because they don’t conform to the specific “gay stereotype” you happen to like.

I’m not saying that everyone who objects to people who are “straight-acting” are reflexively against masculine behavior in men. I’m just saying it’s worth being a little introspective about the question: do we have a problem with people who refer to themselves as “straight acting”? Or do we have a problem with people who WE see as being “straight-acting”, because they aren’t conforming to what we think they should act like?

When I label myself as “straight acting,” it is in a very tongue-in-cheek way when I am deliberately “dressing up” to portray that image at a dance club because I think it would be a fun thing to do. For me, it is a game. And I think it is perfectly legitimate to use it that way.

And I agree with those who think it is bad, and even harmful, when people get so defensive about being “straight-acting” that it isn’t a game. When people NEED to identify themselves in relation to they perception of “straightness”–and in opposition to their perception of “gayness.” Yes, that sux. But I think it’s important to be clear that THAT is where the problem lies: in the identification, not in the behavior itself.

If you just see a guy who you think is being “straight-acting”, and you roll your eyes up at him for that… you don’t know anything about him. You don’t know about whether he’s doing it as an identity, or as a game. That seems
very closed-minded to me.

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