A lot of my time is spent thinking about our culture’s limiting beliefs. This is because I have never really fit in anywhere. I do not conform to the stereotypes assigned to me, and I seem to see things quite differently from most other people. So I immediately identify with groups and other individuals who are alienated in some way from society.
I have been fascinated with the gay community for several years now. I think it’s because they are the only group that has been reviled and persecuted almost as much as the African American community. Moreover, they are a community that has internal struggles as well as struggles with the larger society.
The Butch Factor is an older movie (2009) that I had never heard of before but discovered on Hulu. It discusses at length the issue of masculinity within the gay community and some of the conflicts that come about as a result of conflicting definitions of manhood.
Our society defines masculinity in fairly limited terms. Men, “real men”, are physically and emotionally strong, they do not show emotion, they provide financially for their families, they always know what to do, they are leaders, they fix things, they play sports, they drink beer and eat red meat, they do not know how to dress well, and they are hairy, loud, and crude.
Our society also defines homosexuality in fairly limited – and often demeaning – terms. Gay men, “real gay men”, are fashionable, effeminate, emotional, physically weak, uncoordinated, they drink wine and “girly” drinks, they cry at movies, and listen to artists such as Cher, Bette Midler, Madonna, and Lady Gaga. In other words, our society defines gay men as “anti-men.”
So what do you do as a gay man when you like to sleep with men, which is “gay”, but you also enjoy activities that are associated with “real men”. Does that mean that you’re not really gay? Does it mean you should give up the activities and hobbies you enjoy so that you can fit in with other gay men?
The Butch Factor explores these issues by interviewing several gay men who do not fit the stereotype of their homosexuality. The men in the movie are football, rugby, and baseball players; they are policemen, construction workers, truck drivers, and rodeo cowboys. All hid their homosexuality at first because it was an option for them. No one knew they were gay and indeed they themselves felt awkward around other gay men because they did not enjoy stereotypically “gay” activities. They still wanted to play sports, eat barbecue, and work on the house; but they also wanted to have sex with other men.
So eventually they all found groups that accepted them as they are. There are gay football and rugby leagues, gay rodeos, and even a group called The Bears, which holds retreats in the woods. The Bears are a group of big boned, hairy, muscular men who love to eat and drink beer and have no fashion sense. Their appearance is “hetero/normal” but they are out and proud.
The movie also did a good job of balancing the portrayal of the “butch” gay men with depictions of stereotypical gay men. The movie basically honored these men as examples of “real men” because they are on the front lines of the gay community. They are brave. These men could not hide behind stereotypical male behaviors. They could not hide in the closet like cowards, because they had no choice. These men all faced violence and even death threats in school, rejection and outrage by their communities, and most were suicidal at some point.
The point of the movie is that all gender stereotypes are limiting and ultimately inaccurate for many many people. Embracing who you are, regardless of public perception is scary and wonderful and brave. Anyone who is fearless enough to be themselves in the face of the often loud-mouthed, puritanical, ignorant, racist and close-minded forces in our society deserves –and has – my utmost respect.
May they serve as an example to us all. Be truly authentic this week. And go follow your bliss…
Here’s some work for this week: