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Tracy Morgan told a Nashville audience that if his son was gay and didn’t talk to him “like a man”, he would “stab that little nigger to death”. Overlooking, as much of the media has done, that he refers to his own son as “that little nigger”, Morgan intimated that homosexuality is defined by effeminate behavior, an offense for which death is preferable, even if it is his own son’s.


However, Morgan has subsequently received Hollywood’s Guide to Damage Control and Image Restoration, as he has followed most of the required steps to make amends: apologize, meet with the offended, apologize some more, do some kind of public benefit, try to explain yourself on talk TV, and then apologize. (Apparently, though, he skipped the chapter “Don’t Do it a Second Time”, this time offending the mentally disabled.)


Even if Morgan’s comments are accepted as nothing more than humor in bad taste, they do expose a common belief: that manliness and gay are antonyms. Presumably, femininity and lesbianism are opposites, as well. For some, athleticism has been used to prove both these assumptions to be true. After all, gay men compete in figure skating, and lesbians compete in basketball and golf and tennis and basically, any “man’s sport”. After all, can anyone picture Rudy Galindo fighting in the UFC or Martina Navratilova doing synchronized swimming? It’s easier to picture Rudy in the pool and Martina kicking some cocky testosterone ass.


In response to Morgan’s gaffe, countless bloggers and those posting comments on news reports have pointed out that there are plenty of gay men who are “manly men”. This response assumes that the public still has the same perception and must therefore be educated about the masculinity that exists within gay world.


Take, for example, Christopher Bergland. Bergland is openly gay, a heaping scoop of hot muscle, and three-time champion of the Triple Iron Man. What’s more, he holds the Guinness Record for Treadmill Running, covering 153.7 miles in 24 hours. Those who want to kick his ass for being gay would have to catch him first, which, frankly, isn’t going to happen (still, it’s unlikely that he would run in the first place). 


This past year, some in the media hailed the first openly gay professional athlete in the United States, as the Professional Bowlers Association Rookie of the Year in 2010, Scott Norton, came out, most notably in a post on the PBA website in May 2011. In his open letter on PBA.com, he mentions that most of those on the Pro Bowling circuit have been accepting, although he met with some “specific obstacles” in the past. Although Norton doesn’t want to “create a great deal of turmoil”, he does admit that it is important to come out, to show “that being gay has nothing to do with one’s ability to do anything as a man, least of all compete at the highest level of sports.”


(However, those citing Norton as “the first” to come out in professional sports overlook Martina Navratilova, who came out in the press shortly after obtaining her US citizenship in 1981. The next year, she started her string of six consecutive Wimbledon championships before officially retiring 25 years later with over 100 titles to her name. Norton, however, is the first American male to come out while competing.)


There are numerous athletes who have come out of the closet in recent years, most after retiring (the rare exceptions being Australia’s Ian Roberts and England’s Justin Fachanu). With more openly gay players participating in sports on the college level, it won’t be long before most sports have top athletes who are gay and out.


Beyond sports, countless military leaders throughout history have been known to be gay or, at least, have homosexual relationships. Even one of history’s most romanticized lovers, Cyrano de Bergerac (yes, he was a real person), had gay relationships, which he felt no shame in admitting. The point is that your son may speak to you “like a man” and still be kicking it in the gay clubs on Saturday night.


However, there is a greater point to make, here. Too often, when we in the community are stereotyped as effeminate queens or butch dykes, we rush to offer examples that contradict that belief: “Are you kidding, have you seen Portia de Rossi? She’s hot as hell, and she’s a lesbian.” I’ve done just this very thing throughout much of the article to make a larger point. Yet, wider representation of LGBT persons who have appeared on television, as fictional characters on series or as themselves on reality TV, has taught many about the diversity in our community. 


Focusing on the femmes and studs among us leaves the underlying argument still standing, though: that effeminate behavior in males is unacceptable and ridiculing them in these times is still ‘OK’. Any man who doesn’t actively exhibit masculine behavior is suspect, and those men who are just flaming queens are open game. Who would want a son that spends more time with his sister’s Barbie than his Thor action figure, can make his bedroom a Hollywood wonderland but can’t toss a football, and knows more about Christina Aguilera’s Burlesque than all of Bruce Willis’ films combined? Such a kid probably won’t give you grandkids and is bound to be the subject of family gossip and schoolyard bullying.


Now, a son that’s captain of the football team—that’s a kid you don’t have to worry about. (Except that there are high school and college football players who have come out of the closet, but there I go trying to prove that macho queer thing, again.)


I’m reminded of a professor under whom I studied in graduate school, a handsome and manly man in appearance who had a definite effeminate side. (When we had our Friday P.O.E.T.S. [“Piss on everything, tomorrow’s Saturday”] meetings at the local pub, his full queenliness would come out, the royal highness sitting upon her throne surrounding by adoring peasants, i.e., students.)


An older gentleman, he liked to recall his service in WWII. He was in charge of a battalion of tanks and soldiers, and told of the time that the battalion was stalled outside a major European city, awaiting orders to enter. When he received the orders for the tanks to move forward, he stood up out of the hatch of the lead tank, and, waving his arm forward in his best John Wayne imitation, hollered out to his troops in his most queenly voice, “Sally forth, boys!” Would a gay basher have had the courage of a Chinese dissident to stand in front of my mentor’s tank and challenge his manhood?


Lea DeLaria is a lesbian comedian and singer who, despite her distinctly masculine appearance, has enjoyed success in cultural media, which tends to favor the svelte ingénue who can seduce her man. DeLaria has appeared on such diverse shows as One Life to Live, Will and Grace, Friends, and Matlock, as well as the films First Wives’ Club and Fat Rose and Squeaky. What’s more, Lea gave a Theatre World Award and Drama Desk Award nominated performance as Hildy Esterhazy in the 1998 revival of On the Town on Broadway:




Effeminate men and butch women are inherently a part of the LGBT community, as any tour of gay and lesbian bars will prove. Historically, society has accepted them as long as they stayed in certain professions—for men, hairdressing and interior design, for example, and for women, P. E. teacher and factory worker—and stayed out of the public eye. This stereotype was perpetuated by the repercussions that openly gay men in other professions had to deal with, including the loss of their careers, which forced them to stay in the closet. Any effeminate man, gay or straight, was subject to harassment.


While Western culture has grown more accepting of the LGBT community in recent years, society still has a problem with flaming queens. When they are recognized, it is often as a subject of ridicule:




That video is hilarious, true, and yes, I have a sense of humor. However, it becomes less funny for those who are constantly the brunt of the joke.

Michael has been writing for PopMatters since 2000. His primary focus, aside from queer culture, is television reviews and commentary, and his article Male Bashing on TV has been reprinted in two college textbooks. He currently lives in Louisville, KY, and is a Lecturer of Communication Studies at Indiana University Southeast in New Albany, IN. As a teacher, he has an interest in the study of contemporary political rhetoric and argumentation. He and his partner Jim have been living in un-wedded bliss since 1995.


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