April 20, 2013 36 Comments
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!
(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 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.
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.
To 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.