Oftentimes, when people (particularly high profile people) do not fit our society’s “straight white guy” default, they are questioned on whether or not they are “enough” or whichever part of that straight white guy default they are not. Today, let’s tackle deviating from the straight part of that default and break down what exactly it means when someone is asked if they are gay enough or too gay.

Photo Credit Getty Images

The most recent and public example of this question being asked was the case of Pete Buttigieg. Pete Buttigieg was the first openly gay person to win delegates in a presidential race by winning the Iowa caucuses. While he ended up suspending his campaign, nearly the whole time, people, both straight and cisgender as well as LGBTQIA+, were questioning his gayness. “Is he gay enough?” “Is he too gay?” But what exactly does this mean? How does one even define “being gay?”

Former presidential candidate Pete Buttigieg. Photo credit Scott Olson/Getty Images.

The only real objective definition of being gay is same-sex attraction and the person themselves telling you that they are what they are. Pete Buttigieg is married to his husband, Chasten Buttigieg. He has said numerous times he identifies as gay. Box checked, right? Pete Buttigieg is objectively gay. He’s a man who likes men! And that’s perfectly ok and normal (I do too. I also recognize a man who likes men could be bisexual or pansexual and that’s perfectly amazing too!) But evidently this was not enough proof for some people. They wanted to know just how gay Pete was. Well, that is an asinine thing to ask but let’s break down the stupid.

This question is deeply rooted in homophobia. After all when was the last time we openly questioned a presidential candidate (or anyone) if they are “straight enough” or “too straight?” Can’t think of any? That’s because we don’t ask straight people that question.

If you want to answer the fatuous question of whether someone is gay enough (or for that matter, straight enough) you have to have a way to define being gay. As we’ve already discussed, there is only one objective way to prove someone is gay (same-sex attraction and confirmation from person). But if we stray from the objective we venture into the subjective. This is where stereotyping and homophobia enter. Society paints a stereotype of gay men that includes being feminine and flamboyant (I’m not about to get into the more hate group conspiracy myths though you can read about them here). But of course all stereotypes are just that: stereotypes that make broad generaliztions about groups of people that are typically offensive or used in an derogatory manner. They are not used for good purposes. But I digress. Let’s take, for this piece, the stereotypical definition of being gay and define gayness as being feminine and flamboyant.

Is Pete Buttigieg feminine and flamboyant? Well, he speaks cooly in well polished paragraphs and wears a white button down and blue tie even in his sleep. He doesn’t get very emotional in public appearances (which is a *very* flawed definition of femininity but this whole question is based on flawed logic so I’ve included it here). He’s not a drag queen. He doesn’t wear makeup or paint his nails. He doesn’t make grand bodily gestures. So is he femenine or flamboyant? No. Is he gay enough? By these standards, no. But why does that matter? Why do straight cisgender and LGBT people care so much about if people are “gay enough?” Truthfully, I don’t know. No one can answer that question except for those asking it. But one can deduce.

We live in a heteronormative society; in other words, our society puts being heterosexual and cisgender on a pedestal and treats anything else as a a defect, an aberration; anything other than being straight and cisgender is undesirable. This is homophobia and transphobia; this world view is discriminatory, hurtful, and morally wrong. But it persists and pervades in our minds and enters our judgements. This affects even LGBT people. So when we ask “are you too gay?” what we are really asking is, “why are you gay?” “Why are you feminine and flamboyant?” (or on the flip side, “are you gay enough?” we would ask “why aren’t you more feminine and flamboyant?”). Why can’t you be straight? (because apparently straight men have the masculine, not flamboyant thing all to themselves).

Our society puts being heterosexual and cisgender on a pedestal and treats anything else as a a defect, an aberration

Now there are several ways to break this down, several avenues to attack. But the one I’d like to address is how asking someone if they are gay enough is rooted in archaic views of masculinity. If we’re asking “why are you gay?,” “why are you feminine and flamboyant?”, we’re engaging in our society’s assossciation of masculinity with heterosexuality. Now certainly there are some feminine gay men as there are feminine straight men. But to solely assosciate masculinity with sexual and romantic attraction to women simply does not make sense. It forces one to question, what does being masculine even mean? And why then should it solely be associated with being straight?

Masculinity is defined as “qualities or attributes regarded as characteristic of men.” At its most basic core, being male makes one masculine. But there are other indications, other things society teaches about what makes a man. These include things such as dressing in men’s clothing, not having or discussing emotions, being physically strong, assertive, being the protector. Well by that definition, Pete Buttigieg who doesn’t show much emotion publicly, wears men’s clothing, and is strong (he’s a veteran) is masculine. But he’s gay. And according to our definition gay people aren’t masculine. Only straight people are masculine. But he’s gay….Well this is a dilemma. Our two arbitrary definitions conflict.

The problem is not that they conflict but that they are arbitrary. So much of what our society defines masculinity by, how it defines gay men is complete and utter BS. Why does one have to be physically strong to be masculine? How does supressing your feelings make you a man? They don’t and it doesn’t. This is the issue. How our society judges masculinity is rooted in draconian ideas and standards when we live in the 21st century. Some of these standards don’t reflect modern values. Assertiveness? Dominance? What purpose do these even serve anymore? Have we not lived through the #MeToo movement? Why? Why are we holding men to these wierd standards? Why are we judging gay men and questioning whether they’re “gay enough” to meet our BS standards? Why can’t we just let people be?

So much of what our society defines masculinity by, how it defines gay men is complete and utter BS.

It’s not like these standards are helping anyone. Ask any doctor or psychologist what they think about never addressing your feelings and you’ll see that it is not good for you or those around you. Physical strength? Why should every man alive have to have a six-pack? The simple answer is that our idea of masculinity doesn’t fit our 21st century values. No two people are the same, and we don’t expect everyone to be the same. Everyone has feelings. Yet apparently men should not.

The effects of these standards are grave. In 2017, men died by suicide 3.54x more often than women. White males accounted for 69.67% of all suicides in 2017. And they check two (or more) of the boxes of our society’s “straight white guy” default. Lesbian, gay, and bisexual youth are nearly 5 times more likely to have attempted suicide than their heterosexual peers. 40% of trans adults have attempted suicide. These standards are hurting everyone, whether straight and white (and male) or not.

I’m not advocating for an end to masculinity; some things will always be masculine. Nor am I saying men have it worse than women. What I am calling for is a wake up call, for an update to our standards. They are hurting people. They are fueling homophobia and transphobia. They are discriminatory. They are not who we are as a society. Many men don’t like these standards, yet, by the nature of them, aren’t allowed to express this.

It’s time for a change, for our standards and definitions to really reflect who we are. We’ve prided ourselves on the progress of the Civil Rights movement, the LGBT rights movement, the women’s rights movement. We’ve discussed at length the issues regarding discrimination with these groups. Now, let’s break the silence and finally address this source of pain, suffering, and discrimination in our society. Let’s cut out the BS so we can pride ourselves on some more progress. Progress towards a more fair and just society, one where everyone belongs no matter who or what they are. Where the default is simply being you.

Thank you,

Gen Z For The Era

You can follow Gen Z For The Era on Twitter @resistancegenz. All thoughts in this piece are solely their own.

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Just a guy relaying his life experiences and the occasional speech. he/him

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