I am not what you would call your ‘stereotypical gay man’. I am not camp, I am the owner of a pretty decent beard most of the time, I have little fashion sense (apparently) and I play rugby union. I think people genuinely find this confusing. People assume I must have fashion sense and then are baffled when they realise I don’t. In fact, despite being told otherwise, I have had a few instances where people have stubbornly believed I was straight.
I became painfully aware of this experience after Julia Gillard was pestered by radio talkshow host Howard Sattler about whether her partner, Tim Mathieson, was gay. I have heard the ‘Mathieson is gay’ rumours plenty of times. He is a hairdresser you see – and therefore he must be gay.
After the episode I started to notice how influential stereotypes are in our society. It is assumed gay men are camp, lesbian women are butch – and that women are feminine and men are masculine. Search for it and you will find it – gay men in TV shows are always camp (think Will and Grace, Queer Eye for the Straight Guy and Modern Family) and it is assumed female sports players must be lesbians. In talking to people over this last week, I have hear similar stories to mine – queer people are assumed to have particular traits, and people with particular personalities are assumed to be of a particular sexuality.
For me, this is the bread and butter of queerphobia (and internalised queerphobia). We don’t just put queer people into boxes, we then ridicule those boxes – the gay men on TV shows are always the funny characters, and we are quick to ridicule ‘women who want to act like men’ (i.e through being sporty). Put people in a box, and then shun that box. And unfortunately we can see this in queer communities too. We often stereotype ourselves, and in turn make queer people think they have to change their personality to fit their sexuality. We change our own identities to fit the stereotypes placed upon us.
So here is a challenge to all of us. Let us defeat these stereotypes. That doesn’t mean ridiculing people’s personality. There is nothing wrong with being a camp man or a butch woman – or vice versa. It means challenging the assumptions about people’s personalities, and defeating the ridicule of any personality trait.
Stereotypes hurt us all – last week it was a straight couple having to prove their sexuality. For most queer people it is a constant battle to prove our identity. But it is because they hurt us all that we can genuinely challenge them. Let us get rid of our presumptions and take people as they are.