Thursday, October 25, 2012

Who Da Man?

Recently a friend asked me who is the man in Clark's and my relationship, and who is the woman. She's not the first to ask me this--my dad asked the same thing last year when I was dating my first boyfriend. It's a natural question to ask, based on the experience most people have with relationships. In the overwhelming majority of relationships, one person is (literally) the man and the other person is (literally) the woman. So it's natural to assume that gay relationships would somehow fit into this existing template, with one partner taking on the masculine role and the other taking on the feminine role.

And some gay relationships do. There are some gay men who are "tops" and some who are "bottoms," not just in the sexual sense but also when it comes to their roles in relationships with each other. I know a lesbian couple who, when I saw their wedding photos, I was not in the least bit surprised to see which of them was wearing a gown and which was wearing a tux. But there are also many gay relationships that make no attempt to mimic heterosexual roles. Clark's and my relationship is one of those.

Without knowing Clark, my friend guessed that I must be the woman in our relationship, because she saw a lot of feminine qualities in me. And it's true--I do have a lot of traditionally feminine qualities. I like to keep things clean, which means I'm usually (but not always) the one who does the dishes and cleans the bathrooms; I have no interest in sports except for the sake of learning to enjoy something my boyfriend enjoys; and I'm not afraid to wear pink or to put a little swish in my stride when the mood strikes. It's also true that Clark has a lot of traditionally masculine qualities: he loves to do yardwork, he not only watches football but played it in high school, and he's not afraid to get dirty. But the reverse is also true. Clark has much more experience and talent than I do in traditionally feminine activities like drama and music. I work in a traditionally masculine profession while he works in a profession more strongly associated with women (but it's worth mentioning that the team of managers I work with happens to be female-heavy, and my boss, her boss, and her boss are all women). Clark has a beautiful high-tenor singing voice while I have an ugly low-bass. In short, neither of us is the woman. As Clark likes to say, "If I wanted to be with a woman, I'd still be married."

Sure, you can call this sexist because it suggests that women are only concerned with trivial things like getting runs in their tights, but the real tragedy here is that Batman gets runs in his tights all the time but he can't talk about it, for fear of failing to live up to society's expectations of him as a man.

I'm personally not a fan of gender roles in the first place. I accept that some gender stereotypes are true of many men and women. But this is because we live in a culture that teaches and reinforces gender stereotypes. If I'm taught from the time I'm born that men are aggressive, then I'm going to grow up being aggressive and believing it's because I'm a man. Many gender stereotypes are harmless, but the problem with believing that they are genetically intrinsic is that you then allow them to limit you. I've become especially conscious of this since becoming a parent. I don't want my daughters believing they can't be construction workers or basketball players or Republicans if that's what they want to do. I don't want my son believing he can't be a nurse or a florist or a homemaker if that's what he wants to do.

So no, I don't try to fit myself or my boyfriend into traditional gender roles, because I think the traditional concept of gender is a flawed and silly system. But then Ellen says that better than I do. Seriously. Go watch Ellen.


  1. When I was a kid, I use to equate being gay with being effeminate so I was always terrified that people would figure me out just by looking at me.

    And in my mind I was effeminate because I was different. For instance, I was not into sports.

    That's why I was surprised when I came out and discovered that a lot of gay men are masculine and that a lot of gay men thought I was masculine.

    Still I had a problem with effeiminate men. I had this sissyphobia thing going on.

    But eventually I got over that and found that the more comfortable I got with effeminate men, the more comfortable I became with my masculinity.

    It's gotten to a point that masculinity/femininity has become background information for me - it gives the person color but doesn't define them.

    At the same time, I don't worry much anymore about what people think about my masculinity/femininity.

    I guess that's part of getting older and hopefully wiser.


    1. I haven't heard the term "sissyphobia" before, but I love it. I think a lot of gay men have sissyphobia--including me, more than I care to admit.