Butch Queen Rising: Confronting My Misogyny and Embracing My Femininity

by: Johnny Gall

Readers, the time has come for me to make a rather unpleasant confession. You see, I was not always the radical, gender-construct-confronting queer you see today.

In fact, do you know those gay men who are unbelievably obsessed with masculinity? The one who write “no femmes” on their dating profiles? The ones who talk about how they’re only interested in “real men” or “normal guys?” The one who never even pay attention to women, unless it’s to complain about how gross vaginas are?

That was me, for longer than I’d like to think about.

It started as a defense mechanism. I realized I was attracted to men at a very young age and didn’t completely understand what that meant. Most of what I knew was that it was a bad thing, and I had to keep other people from finding out about it at all costs. So, the more I learned about how to tell if someone’s gay, the longer was my list of things not to do.

I started pretending not to like the Backstreet Boys, trading them in over time for a somewhat feigned interest in Nirvana and Jimi Hendrix. [1] I learned the correct way to look at my fingernails, cross my legs and carry school books.

More than anything, I learned what manhood looks like in our culture, [2] and I learned that I had to fake it if I wanted to survive. Perhaps worst of all, I learned early to taunt mercilessly any young queen foolish enough to not have learned the game as quickly as I did — and to very loudly objectify women, so everyone would know I was a sex-crazed pervert, but at least in the right direction.

I was one of those guys.

This didn’t particularly change when I was no longer invested in hiding my attraction to men. Early flirtations with femininity were brief and unsuccessful. I tried crossing my legs like a lady, it was uncomfortable. I even went by she and her for a night, but it just felt off. I had somehow trapped myself into the gender role of kinda butch, and anything else felt unnatural. I had learned to be a real man so well that it had become my identity.

To make matters worse, I had gone from objectifying women to writing them off. I no longer yelled out my love for the female form. I yelled out my disgust for it. I figured that I would make up for a perceived lack of masculinity by pretending to be “too manly for women.”

I was, in a way, rewarded for this. Straight people accepted me. They made it well known that I was the exception to their homophobia. I was a “normal guy.” I was “the only gay guy I would ever lay this close to.” I was “not one of those gays.”

So, for a brief period, I could view myself as the man who broke down walls. The man who proved to straight folk everywhere that not all gays were “those gays.” I could see myself as a pioneer in a way.

Except that bigots aren’t ever really comfortable with anything gay. They don’t come to accept both you and your identity; they just learn to disassociate the two. They talk about feeling uncomfortable if you ever mention being queer. They start to greet associations between you and queerness with, “I mean, yeah, but you’re other things besides queer,” which is really a way of saying, “queerness should not be important to you.”

Eventually, in my case, they began to reply to every instance of me talking about myself actually being a gay man with. “Okay, we get it.” [3]

In essence, the idea is that you’re supposed to be gay in the corner, and don’t tell them about it. In public, you must be butch. You can caricature femininity, but you can never own it.

The mass of my journey as a gay man has been dictated by the fact that I bought into these two big lies: the first, that I had to hide, and pretend to be uber-masculine and objectify women if I wanted people not to find out; the second, that I still had to live up to cultural norms of masculinity to convince the breeders to overlook my queerness; and while I no longer had to objectify women, I still had to defame them. Because allowing women to be equal is somehow not manly.

I learned better. Or rather: I unlearned all of the things I had been learning since childhood. I did this the way anyone learns anything: I made friends. I started hanging out with queer women and realized how fucked up it was that I made it such a point to show disgust at their bodies, and the bodies that they love. I realized how much it devalued femmes and trans guys I cared about to go on about “real men,” as if there’s such a thing as a “fake man.” I realized that separating us into “those queers” and “the acceptable queers” wouldn’t get me any closer to the respect and dignity we all deserve. And I realized that, often enough, those who embrace femininity and the rights of women, are badass courageous people, and their bravery amounted to far more than that bullshit machismo I’d been projecting all those years.

With time, I began to realize that being mostly comfortable in a masculine presentation myself doesn’t mean that I’m forbidden to ever be femme. I still remember the first time anyone ever referred to me as “queen.” It felt great. Kinda warm and light, because he was really saying “you’re one of us,” and it wasn’t dependent on putting up a front. I was family no matter what.

I don’t actually have a problem with the construct of gender. I realize it creates more problems than it solves, but I also know that I, and many others queer and otherwise, draw strength from my gender. I really like being a man, and sometimes I like to live up to those cultural norms. The problem comes when we as a society try to make it so that gender is concrete, and identifying as a man means that there are certain things I can never do. So, while I relish growing a beard, living in my own filth, and occasionally venturing off into the woods with an ax to do some (very sustainable) trail work, don’t try to tell me that because of those things, I don’t get to put on some lipstick, head to the club and shake my hips all night. ‘Cause I will do all of those things and still be a man in the morning (not that it would be a problem if I weren’t a man.)

So, readers, I humbly ask for your mercy and promise to you that I’m still unlearning. I’m unlearning to conform to bullshit heteronormative standards of “manhood.” I’m unlearning to disrespect women as a way of setting men up as better. I’m unlearning to ridicule or set myself apart from gender non-conformity. And there still might be a long way to go, but I promise I’m unlearning it all as fast as I can.

[1] Who are both all right, but by no means worth obsessing over.

[2] You know, swift as the coursing river, mysterious as the dark side of the moon, and all that jazz.

[3] I feel like I have to say, some of the people who have said this are still my favorite people in the world, and I still love them. But they’ve said things that hurt me and that hurt my family.

Johnny Gall is so, so very close to completing his B.A. from NYU in English and Creative Writing. He has hopes of moving on to seminary, and then to ordained ministry and works with several groups which advocate queer equality in the Methodist church. He is a feminist, anarchist, person of faith, part-time librarian and an all-around good guy.

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