The Butch Factor – gender roles and societal baggage.

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:

2 thoughts on “The Butch Factor – gender roles and societal baggage.

  1. Bravo, Raven! I wish this piece could be put in something like the NY Times so that more people could read it. You are saying things I have always thought. I have a gay brother-in -law who doesn’t fit into any of these categories, he just is who he is and we love him for it. He never actually “came out” just lives his life the way he sees fit and whatever people want to think that’s their business. His mother who is a devout Catholic said once, “I don’t care what anybody says, they are born that way.” This was during a discussion about whether gay is something you acquire or if it is the way god made you. He is a twin and one of seven brothers. She said he was always different. He is my favorite brother-in-law because he is REAL. There is no hidden agenda. He can sit around the table and talk to us women and then go outside and play basketball with the guys. Seems to me he is a more well rounded person than most men. That’s probably why in most ancient cultures gays were considered extraordinary and consulted for their advice. I believe they understand both sides of the same coin. They have embraced both their male and female sides something a lot of us “new agers” are struggling to do. I wonder if we will ever get to the point where we just accept each other the way we are and stop wasting our time trying to categorize each other and get on with the business of life. Oh how much more we could accomplish!

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