GUEST POST: Effeminate Male Role Models by Madison Parker

Play Me, I'm Yours Blog Tour - Madison Parker

Effeminate Male Role Models

I think of a role model as a person I look up to, someone who leads by example and in some way has a positive influence in my life. Role models can be people I know (family members, teachers, colleagues) or they can be people I’ve never met (celebrities, historical figures, or even fictional characters). My most inspirational role models are those who have something important in common with me, whether that be personal values, career goals, or hobbies and interests. By being who they are, they inspire me to be a better me.

It’s important for young gay men to have positive gay role models in their lives to help them see that being gay does not prevent them from pursuing their dreams and achieving fulfillment in life. Coming to terms with being gay, accepting and embracing that part of oneself, is a process that is different for every individual. Some find it more difficult than others. In developing a strong sense of self-worth, men who are effeminate face the added challenge of having to overcome social pressures to conform to cultural norms that define what it means to be a man. We desperately need more effeminate male role models in the public eye.

I can think of numerous examples of public figures who have come out in recent years, but I would consider very few of them effeminate men. What positive male role models do effeminate men have to look up to? One shining example is U.S. figure skating champion Johnny Weir.

Although he didn’t come out as gay early on in his career, he has always been notably (and unapologetically) effeminate. Furthermore, Johnny has always displayed a tremendous amount of pride in who he is and what he believes in.

But even within the world of figure skating, Johnny has often come under attack for being too effeminate. He says, “In some ways it has hurt me because I don’t skate like a man’s man…I have this feminine side that maybe turns some people off that don’t want to see that in men’s figure skating…I’m portrayed as the artistic gender bender…The whole argument of masculine and feminine in figure skating—it seems very silly to me. I think I’m judged very harshly on the fact that I’m not masculine.”

Former figure skater-turned-commentator Mark Lund publicly attacked Johnny Weir during a TV special, saying, “Lysacek [Johnny Weir's rival] has a classical elegance and masculinity on the ice that I think we need to see in male figure skating. I’m sorry. I don’t need to see a prima ballerina on the ice.”

Following Johnny’s 2010 Olympic performance, two Canadian commentators made similar comments and went on to say that Johnny’s effeminacy makes male skaters look bad and suggested that Johnny undergo gender testing to determine whether he should skate as a male or female. Johnny responded to these verbal attacks with utmost grace and dignity:

Throughout his career, Johnny has refused to change his appearance or the way he skates to fit someone else’s mold of what he should be. He goes on to defend himself in this HBO interview:

I think he’s a wonderful role model, not just for effeminate men, but for all people. Johnny has written a memoir called Welcome to My World, in which he talks about his figure skating career, his love of fashion, and being gay. He has also filmed a documentary and two seasons of a reality show about his life called Be Good Johnny Weir.

And then there’s actor/author/screenwriter Chris Colfer, who has also been publicly criticized for being too effeminate. In fact, many people have speculated that because Chris has such a high-pitched speaking and singing voice, and because of the success he has had on the TV show “Glee”, he will only be cast in roles as an effeminate gay man. Chris went on to prove them wrong, however, when he wrote, produced, and starred in the 2012 feature film Struck by Lightning, in which he plays a straight male character. In addition to his success in the film industry, Chris has also written a children’s novel, The Land of Stories.

Colfer, who has won numerous awards for his portrayal of Kurt Hummel on “Glee”, continues to be a strong advocate, not only for GLBT youth, but for all young people who feel like they don’t fit in. He gave an inspirational speech upon accepting his 2011 Golden Globe award, in which he said, “To all the amazing kids that watch our show and the kids that our show celebrates, who are constantly told no by the people in their environments, by bullies at school, that they can’t be who they are, or have what they want because of who they are—well, screw that, kids.”

Another example of a strong, positive effeminate male role model I’ve recently come across is a comic book character: Billy the Vampire Slayer. The comic was created after the final season of the TV series “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” aired in 2003, and Billy was introduced in the fall of 2012. A major theme in the “Buffyverse” is the empowerment of women. In fact, traditionally, only women are called to be Slayers.

Co-creator Drew Greenberg explains, “I have no problem telling a story about a boy who’s always felt more comfortable identifying with what society tells him is more of a feminine role. So much crap gets heaped upon us as gay men—crap from straight people and, frankly, crap from other gay people—about how it’s important to be masculine in this world, how your value is determined by your ability to fit into masculine norms prescribed by heterosexual society and, sadly, co-opted by gay society as a way to further disenfranchise and bully those who don’t meet those norms…And those attitudes are a reflection of not just our own internalized homophobia, but of our misogyny, too, and that’s something I’ve never understood. So if this is a story that causes people to examine traditional gender roles and think of them as something more fluid, I’m thrilled.”

There are other fictional characters I could name, such as Danny from S.J.D. Peterson’s Plan B, Clay from Cassandra Gold’s Clay’s Challenge, or Edward from Lynn Lorenz’s Edward Unconditionally, but the fact that I had trouble coming up with even a handful of names of real-life effeminate male role models is troubling. Certainly there are many out there—normal, everyday people; they’re just not in the spotlight. Bloggers like Thorny, for example, who talk about their experiences with being gender fluid and/or effeminate are doing a great service for other people out there who need such positive role models in their lives.

Lucas, the main character in Play Me, I’m Yours is effeminate. Unlike Johnny Weir, however, he does not have much self-confidence. Years of being teased and put down have taken their toll on Lucas’s sense of self-worth, and he has a tough time learning to see past all of that.

I’d love to hear who you consider to be a positive role model for effeminate gay men, be they real life people or fictional characters. Let me know in the comments below!

EXCERPT:

(Lucas is having breakfast with his mom and his younger brother, Mason, before heading off to school.)

His mom sat at the table with her coffee and toast. “Why aren’t you wearing a costume today?” she said to Mason.

It was spirit week at Providence High. During spirit week, each day was assigned a different theme, and students dressed in costume to show their school spirit. Monday was Toga Day, Tuesday was Wacky Tacky Day, and yesterday was Pajama Day. Mason had dressed up for all three, but today he was wearing his usual shorts and T-shirt.

“Or is it Be Yourself Day?” she teased.

Mason shrugged. “Didn’t feel like it.”

“What’s the theme today?” she asked.

Mason hesitated, then glanced at Lucas. “Gender Bender Day.”

They finished their breakfast in silence.

***

Going to school on a normal day was bad enough, but going to school on a spirit day was unbearable. It was a blatant reminder to Lucas that he didn’t fit in. The athletes dressed up. The cheerleaders, the theater geeks, the band fags—they all dressed up too. Even most of the teachers dressed up. It was ironic; the one time it was socially acceptable to play dress-up, he didn’t dare. He shuddered to think what would’ve happened if he’d shown up to school on Monday wearing a toga.

He remembered how much he loved playing dress-up as a kid. When he was little, his mom would sometimes allow him to wear her jewelry. He’d sit next to her on her vanity bench, inspecting all the wonders laid out before him while she got ready for work. He’d pick things up, one at a time, and say, “Can I try this one, Mommy?”

“No, Lucas,” she’d say. “That’s for girls.”

“How come it’s for girls?” he once asked.

“Because girls like pretty things.”

“I like pretty things.”

“I know, sweetie.”

Lucas had picked up his mom’s pearl bracelet, laying it gently in the palm of his hand. “Pretend I’m a girl, Mommy. Can I try this one?”

“You’re a sweet boy, Lucas. It’s okay to like pretty things.” She helped him slip the bracelet around his wrist. “It’ll be our little secret.”

After that she let him try on her necklaces, bracelets, and rings, but she drew the line at lipstick. “Only mommies wear lipstick,” she insisted. She’d given in once and let him wear some blush. “Now I’m gonna call you ‘happy cheeks’,” she teased.

His eyes watered at the memory of how happy he’d been, sitting next to his mom, brushing his hair with her hairbrush while she powdered her face. Meanwhile, a group of rowdy boys shoved past him in the hallway wearing wigs, gaudy makeup, and dresses.

Play Me, I'm Yours by Madison ParkerPlay Me, I’m Yours by Madison Parker
Published by Harmony Ink Press

Fairy Tate. Twinklefingers. Lucy Liu. Will the taunting ever end? Lucas Tate suffers ridicule because of his appearance and sensitive nature. When he’s not teased, he’s ignored, and he doesn’t know which is worse. His one comfort in life is his music; he feels unloved by everyone. What he wants more than anything is to find a friend.

Much to his dismay, both his mom and a schoolmate are determined to find him a boyfriend, despite the fact Lucas hasn’t come out to them. His mom chooses a football player who redefines the term “heartthrob,” while Trish pushes him toward the only openly gay boy at Providence High. But Lucas is harboring a crush on another boy, one who writes such romantic poetry to his girlfriend that hearing it melts Lucas into a puddle of goo. All three prospects seem so far out of his league. Lucas is sure he doesn’t stand a chance with any of them—until sharing his gift for music brings him the courage to let people into his heart.

Click here to read the first chapter.
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Visit Madison Parker’s Website at www.madisonparklove.com for bonus materials including character sketches, piano covers, music videos, and lyrics for songs referenced in the novel.

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Enter to WinTo celebrate the release of Play Me, I’m Yours, Madison Parker is hosting a giveaway. Enter to win your choice of a free copy of Play Me, I’m Yours or a $10 gift certificate from Rainbow eBooks by leaving a comment below along with your email address. For multiple chances to win, comment at each stop along the tour. Click here for the complete tour schedule. Winners will be chosen randomly on April 23.

37 thoughts on “GUEST POST: Effeminate Male Role Models by Madison Parker

  1. You’ve written an amazing post Madison. There’s very few sportscasters I have respect for and you’ve just confirmed my reasons. In figure skating, all they should be looking at is whether or not the skater completes the elements required. The music, the costumes, and their personal style are icing on the cake. I loved Johnny calling masculinity and femininity old-fashioned concepts. I was a tomboy as an athlete but a girl the rest of the time. I felt & still feel very empowered when I’m doing anything athletic. Why can’t guys enjoy feeling empowered with their tomgirl side – for want of a better word.
    The only real life role models I know are Thorny & Brad even though I haven’t met them in real life. As for books, all the ones mentioned here as well as Thorny’s column on Nov 20, 2012:

    http://thornysterling.com/2012/11/20/effeminate-gay-men-in-mm-romances/comment-page-1/#comments

    I haven’t read all those book yet. The column and the many comments make a great shopping list.

    The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy.
    Martin Luther King Jr., Strength to Love, 1963
    US black civil rights leader & clergyman (1929 – 1968)

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  2. I was going to mention Louder than Sirens, Louder than Bells by KD Sarge also, though it is mentioned in MaryG’s link above in the comments.

    I can think of some characters on TV, but I don’t know if the men behind the characters are effeminate in real life. Some of the others I can think of, I don’t know if you consider them very effeminate.

    Adam Lambert
    Andrew Rannells (as Bryan Collins from The New Normal)
    Nick Lazzarini (dancer)

    and I’ve no idea if he’s gay or effeminate, but he certainly makes no apologies for who he is:

    Steve Retchless, award-winning pole dancer

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    • I loved watching Steven Retchless perform on America’s Got Talent. I was so disappointed he didn’t go on further, and I believe part of his downfall was having a male judge who really couldn’t see how this “traditionally female activity” as something for a man. Steven performed beautifully, and he certainly made it look more like an art form than I had ever thought of it as. Isn’t it always a good thing to have one’s perspective widened.

      Oh, I just read Louder than Sirens, Louder than Bells for the first time this week. What a wonderful story and a great effeminate gay character, even if he was a bit misguided sometimes.

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  3. I love Johnny Weir and Chris Colfer!

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  4. Thanks Madison,

    I’m not sure what to say (as I somehow always seem to put my foot in my mouth when commenting) except that I thought this was another great post, with food for thought!

    I have read all but one of the books (Edward Unconditionally), and they were all wonderful reads, even if they sometimes brought tears to my eyes.

    Thanks Thorny, for inviting Madison to share her thoughts with us again, and to you for casting a light on the important issues as well as the lighter side of life! :-)

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  5. Such an interesting post! I’m very fond of effeminate gay men myself, having grown up close to such a man. I think the world needs to respect all manners of expressing your personality. I had never heard of Johnny Weir but he seems like such a wonderful and wise role model. Thank you for introducing me to him.

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  6. I would like very much to read some of these books. Effeminate gay men aren’t adequately addressed in most m/m fiction and they should be.

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  7. When I was teaching college at a HBCU, one of my favorite students was very effeminate and I made a point of giving him leadership opportunities. Thankfully, many of his fellow students also saw the leadership potential in him and he was very well liked. Even though he was from Texas, he went back there to his high school sweetheart and made a life with him. It was very inspiring for me.

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    • That’s wonderful to hear, Susan (both that you gave him a chance to shine in front of his peers and that he had the courage to build a future in what was probably a conservative hometown).

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  8. Thanks for the post, adding this to my list.

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  9. I’ve always found the performer-Johnny to be more effiminate than the person-Johnny. Nonetheless, I agree; he’s a great role model for all.

    “…out of ugly, I think the most important think to do in life is tomake something beautiful.”
    –2010 Olympic Press Conference

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  10. I think it is important for any person to find comfort in their own skin and I feel that process is made a little easier by finding others that have some of the same traits. Thank you so much for the post!!

    Kassandra
    sionedkla@gmail.com

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  11. How about Cole from Strawberries for Dessert by Marie Sexton? http://www.goodreads.com/book/show/8578533-strawberries-for-dessert I loved him.

    I totally agree with you on this article. My brother was effeminate when he was little and was forced to be more butch while growing up. Turns out he’s gay (which I knew from when he was 5). I’ve also been friends with quite a few effeminate gay men, and I agree that they need more rl role models.

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  12. Gender identity and performance is a choice! We should be free to choose any point on the socially constructed spectrum between “masculine” and “feminine.” Another great post, thank you!

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  13. I can’t believe someone would say he needed to get gender testing. That is despicable.

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  14. I still don’t get why gender is so binary for so many people in this day and age. I agree with those who mentioned Cole, and I really loved Quentin in Tara Lain’s HEARTS AND FLOUR. (I’ve also heard good things about Rodney in Lain’s FIRE BALLS).

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  15. Such a WONDERFUL blog. My son is an effeminate young gay man and he has been told to hide himself on more than one occasion. He dances, and he is a beautiful dancer, but, hey, you have to be macho to dance, don’t cha know. He LOVES Johnny Weir. He also loves some of the contestants from RuPaul’s drag Race. And he loves the back-up dancing in Alejandro (Lady Gaga). They are brilliant…and not macho. Even the gay community is harsh on femme guys. As for the comments about Johnny Weir? Just shows you how far we have to go, doesn’t it?

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    • It does! I’m so happy with the progress being made, but you’re absolutely right—we can’t get complacent—we still have a long way to go in the fight for equality and acceptance. I love watching men dance. I don’t think it would ever even cross my mind to think a male dancer doesn’t look or move “manly” enough. I hope your son sticks with it if it’s what he loves! (Side note: Billy Elliot is one of my favorite films.)

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  16. Thank you for your wonderfully thoughtful post, Madison! Everyone – gay, straight, bi, male, female, genderfluid, effeminate, masculine or any other variation – should feel free to just be who they are without censure or derision from others, accepted and loved for being the themselves.

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  17. Great post Madison, Thorny and Brad (and of course Matt too!) are definitely role models I would want to have if I was a gay man. Those blogs I follow religiously and if I ever find someone in need of a positive role model that is where I would direct them. Actually, I’ve made my husband read some posts from time to time.

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  18. This is the first time I’ve heard of Johnny Weir, but for a skater to be judged on anything other than his skill on the ice is ridiculous, but also sad. Hopefully he’s opening the door for many others by his example.

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  19. My husband and I are such Johnny Weir fans. I’m pretty sure we started with the Pop Star on Ice documentary and went on to watching him in both ice skating performances and the Be Good, Johnny Weir show. He’s such an inspiring person, being who he is, unapologetically. It’s wonderful to see how his family loves and supports him.

    Madison, it is sad that we don’t have more people as role models for all the diverse population that exists in this world. I worked with a teenager who was a lovely effeminate male, and I know back then, 16 years ago, there was no one in media who was anything like him. I lost touch with him, but I do wonder how he is now as an adult. I like to think his humor, kindness, and spirited personality held him in good stead as he grew into adulthood.

    The only person/character I could think of was Justin Suarez (played so well by Mark Indelicato), the teenage nephew of the titular character from the ABC show “Ugly Betty.” He loved fashion and performing, and it was a little while before the producers did confirm the character was gay. There’s a great little section about that on the wikipedia page for Justin titled “Sexual Orientation” (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Justin_Suarez), but if you don’t read that, I liked this quote from that section, with Mark talking about his character: “My fan mail is mostly kids, especially kids that don’t really fit in and people don’t really understand them. They go, ‘Thank you, because you’re helping me to be understood by my peers,’ and anybody else who doesn’t understand them.” It is so important for everyone to be able to see themselves represented in media, to let you know you’re great being who you are and also to help others to understand that the world is a diverse place and there is a place for everyone to belong.

    Thank you, Thorny for having Madison here, and also to you, Madison for creating another great discussion.

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