Little girls who act like boys are known as tomboys. Little boys who act like girls are known as faggots. My friend Charles and I were faggots at eight years-old. He was constantly reprimanded by teachers for screaming like a girl at recess. He could reach Mariah Carey ear-bloodying pitches. If he has transitioned to a female I would not be surprised—look me up on Facebook, girl!
My mother grew up in Texas, the only girl among two football-playing brothers and an ex-military father. As a child, I was probably the gayest person she had ever met. She struggled with wanting me to be happy, wanting to protect me, and probably being embarrassed my effeminate behavior. She allowed me to have the movie, Grease, as my Bar-Mitzvah party theme (complete with larger-than-life cutouts of the Pink Ladies) Oh, and she would tap my wrists to let me know when they were limp.
Charles and I were at my house, busy dressing up, satiating our repressed femininity like a stoner munching out on Cool Ranch Doritos. Sashaying to a Pointer Sisters cassette tape, my mother knocked on the door. I frantically threw a sweatshirt on over my dress, struggling to get into a pair of sweatpants but like all dramatic stories, it was too late. She barged in and caught us with our dresses down, so to speak.
She yanked my ass downstairs and into her Laura Ashley-clad bedroom. Sitting on the edge of her bed, naked except for a bathrobe and one roller in the front of her hair, she slapped me in the face. It wasn’t an angry slap; it was a panicked slap. Then she cried and made me an appointment with a psychologist.
A (former) friend of mine once advised me that if I wanted to get a date, I should “tone it down.” “Don’t tell them you love Belinda Carlisle’s vibrato, Bette Davis’ staccato, and the girls of The Facts of Life—not on the first date.” Do I have to trick someone into tolerating my femme qualities? Fuck that.
For a college course, I combed through the Village Voice‘s male-for-male personal ads from 1970-2000 seeking trends in gay men’s ideals of attractiveness. The one constant across the 30-year period was the long-standing “No Fats, No Femmes” sentiment. Although my research is far from scientific I find personal ads to be a reasonable litmus test on this subject especially when they are easily accessible and free.
Scanning the pages of Los Angeles m4m listings, the same words keep popping up: regular, normal, straight, frat, ex-frat, bi, straight-acting, discreet, and married. I’m sure many of these men are married—to other men.
Anyone looking for a queen? Let’s see. Keyword search: femme.
In the past seven days, 14 ads are posted containing the word “femme.” Five specify no femmes. Out of the nine pro-femme ads, I am ineligible for my favorite: “Michelle Kwan roleplay for cute asian.” Curses.
The word “discreet” comes up in over one thousand postings. It is the new “straight-acting.” There are two spellings of the word “discreet.” The other spelling, “discrete,” means distinct, separate, and individual. That is the antithesis of what these Craigslisters want in a man. Discrete’s double-E’d sister is marked by modesty and prudence—two of my least favorite words.
“Wise self-restraint,” the second definition of “discreet,” is most applicable to the performance of straight-acting.
When I attempt to be straight-acting, whether it is for a laugh or to rapidly attain meaningless sex, I suspend all movement. Gone are the gesticulations, the rubber-faces, or the rolling of eyeballs. They are replaced with—well—nothing. Speaking in a low monotone, any semblance of personality evaporates. To be discreet, less is more.
Straightacting.com became well-known in 2000 for its “famous Straight-Acting Quiz.” Multiple choice questions determine your level of straight-actingness. Or lack thereof. Questions range from how much you enjoy receiving flowers and the frequency you say “pee-pee” instead of penis, to how publicly affectionate you’re willing to be with your partner in a “non-gay environment.” Upon my arrival, any environment turns gay.
A Level 2 (Very Straight Acting) person is described as having “carefully crafted” actions “in a way that they never appear to be considered too fem.” This is the very essence of straight-acting: the utter calculation of every movement, every word that comes out of your discreetly dick-eating mouth. Kooky Level 6s, on the other hand, enjoy exploring their feminine side. “Most people just assume you are gay…which is just fine with you.” But not fine with the creators and patrons of this site who hold faux masculinity in the highest regard.
The intelligentsia behind StraightActing.com chalk up their penchant for straight-acting men to simple preference: “Just as people have preferences for the type of guys they like, for example, ‘Tall men,’ many of us have a preference for ‘straight acting’ men—Men that (sic) have very few effeminate traits but still like to get down with other men.” Get down with other men? Is that some demented idea of how masculine men speak? Cue effeminate eye-rolling. More importantly, their glorification of straight-acting is not preference, it is bias.
For the men of StraightActing.com and the allegedly married-to-women, bisexual, ex-frat boys of Craigslist, I empathize with you. I get it. I hope for both you and me that we can expand our ideals of beauty and evolve into a state of self love. Here’s to becoming more discrete.
And less discreet.
Matt Siegel is a private liberal arts college-hopper who began at Sarah Lawrence, left his stain at Eugene Lang and finally finished at Hampshire. His unwillingness to commit now resides in L.A., where Matt has unsteadily worked for a random assortment of prominent folks, including Adam Carolla, Jill Clayburgh and Arianna Huffington. Other of his writings can be found on his blog The Unabashed Queer. Siegel previously filed from the set of the Absolutely Fabulous remake.
(Photo: Mark Will)