This won’t be my most popular column. I almost didn’t write it. I almost continued to avoid this topic as I have been for years as female and a femme-identified member of this community.
The thought of writing about misogyny within the LGBTQ community has come to me literally dozens of times, but somehow, I’ve always found a reason not to address it. I’m a natural people pleaser and prefer to get my opinions out without ruffling any feathers. In fact, in many ways I’ve built my entire practice around offering thoughts, opinions, feelings, guidance and support, while aiming to keep all parties involved completely at ease. I usually succeed at it, by the way. A socially instilled female attribute? You can decide for yourself on that one. This article isn’t about that though. This article is about pointing out a problem, and if you’re a gay man I’d like you to keep reading. Actually, especially if you’re a gay man you need to keep reading. As follows:
Last week at a gay bar, a gay man, unprompted, told me I needed a haircut. This was a person I’d met before. We know each other “from around” and were happily chatting over our separately ordered drinks when this comment was dropped. A bit shocked (although after 15+ years in this community, I suppose I really shouldn’t have been), I laughed and pretty much brushed it off, but it stayed on my mind. Not because I needed a haircut (which I did — but that’s not the point), but because the interaction highlighted the inherent privilege of this human to tell me something that I needed to fix about myself. A thing I quite literally would never fathom doing to anyone short of a close friend, and even then may hesitate on.
The week before that, a lesbian client of mine shared with me that a gay man told her, unprompted, that she looked like she’d been getting fat and “needed to lose weight ASAP.” Literally. A similar situation to mine, by the way — the man was not a good friend, just a casual acquaintance. Not long before that, a different female client told me that a gay man, without permission, grabbed her breasts as he proclaimed how fabulous they were. But hey, that’s a compliment, right? And some of you may be thinking to yourselves that this sort of behavior isn’t really an issue since gay men obviously aren’t attracted to women and thus don’t like breasts. But, the thing is, that behavior and the entitlement that accompanies it is, in fact, a massive issue that is both perpetuated by and that perpetuates a larger societal disrespect toward women. Separate from the very real issue of consent in play in the last example, all three examples relate to privilege.
I’m entirely sure that the vast majority of gay men wouldn’t share their uncensored opinions about hair or weight or anything else to a straight man that they hardly knew. So, why are such unprovoked (and usually unwanted) comments made toward women with no hesitation or remorse? We must assume it is because of the unconscious or perhaps semiconscious knowledge on the part of gay men that it is simply OK to make comments like I’ve described. In reality, if it didn’t feel OK to do, gay men would have adapted and stopped such behaviors long ago. The bottom line is that not enough red flags have been raised nor consequences given to provoke such a shift.
This relational dynamic that I speak of between gay men and women (gay or straight, cis or trans) is the very reason why I’ve chosen to commit pen to paper, so to speak, about this subject. I am not suggesting that gay men have the same amount of privilege as straight men do. I am also not suggesting that gay men do not have their own share of struggle and criticism and sometimes worse. I know for a fact that they do have all of those things, but I also know that gay men are in fact men and have been raised with most or all of the privileges bestowed upon males in our society.
So, if you’re a gay man and you’ve stuck it out with me thus far: first, thank you for hanging in. No one wants to have a mirror held to his face about things that he may be doing wrong so, thank you. Second, please check yourself. Please think before you speak and before you act. If you are thinking of unapologetically sharing your opinion about a woman’s appearance, take a few seconds first to consider whether it is truly appropriate to do so. And, if you are a woman that relates to the experiences I’ve mentioned, I’d like to encourage you to speak up. Whether it be a gay man with an eye for good hair or someone in some other forum trying to tell you how to look or be, consider what you can say or do that will make you feel proud of yourself if you were to look back on the interaction a few days later. If a forced laugh and a keep-it-moving mentality works for you that is your prerogative. But, if it’s not, I want to empower you to do something different. As is with most things in life, what we accept is what we will keep getting.
To my fellow women whether gay, straight, femme, butch, cis, trans, non-conforming, or anywhere in between: you are amazing and deserving of respect in all moments. To the gay men that spend time with us, care about us, love us and look to us for support: help us to get and stay empowered. We’re all doing this thing called life together and lucky for us we all get to do it as a part of this community. So, let’s practice kindness over all else… even if one of us needs a haircut.
Kristina Furia is a psychotherapist committed to working with LGBT individuals and couples and owner of Emerge Wellness, an LGBT health and wellness center in Center City (www.emergewellnessphilly.com).