We cut across a personal safe space, confronting long buried hurts and making sense of modern day dating as a gay man, shedding a little more light to the disruptive prejudice in the form of femme-shaming.
“Nothing good happens after 2:00 AM,” or so I am reminded every now and again during intermittent binges of How I Met Your Mother. It is a little past 2:00 in the morning and I am engulfed by pitch black, illuminated only by the faint light of the laptop by my foot. Sprawled on the bed like a chiaroscuro painting, I shift to no end trying to force myself to sleep. There is a stirring from within that I try to stifle. It is primal, carnal, and if you think about it, actually fleeting. Here, I am consumed by an erupting lust that forces me to fumble for my phone and hurriedly tap at that godawful but familiar orange yellow icon and begin the seemingly innocent act of looking around.
I skip through more than half of poorly written accounts accompanied by either grainy (really, why do people still think they can get away with low-resolution images these days?) or decapitated profile photos in the hopes of finding a decent match, one that will satisfy the surface level desire point blank. Time is ticking and the urge is nowhere near subsiding when a notification pops up. I quickly study the profile (it is mostly empty, save for the intention and sexual position explicitly stated via an obscene amount of emojis), deem it possible and then proceed with the conversation.
“Hi, there. What’s up?
“Halata ka ba?” (Are you out?)
“Discreet ka bro?”
At this point my fairly upright morals and principles, as well as a firm resolve to fight back against internalized homophobia through the vessel of femme-shaming are challenged and I am torn between putting the phone down or indulging the conversation. Against my better judgment I carry on. I have a point to make, I reason.
“No, is that a problem?”
“Okay lang, sexy ka naman eh.” (It’s okay, you’re sexy anyway.)
So, what if I wasn’t, quote-unquote up to the standards of perceived gay male beauty, then it wouldn’t be well, okay? Or come to think of it, why is discretion even a qualifier when the context here was bedroom activity where ideally, whatever happens stays where it happens? And why was my being effeminate an issue? What is so wrong that there was and still is room for femme-shaming?
“You know what, never mind,” I reply, standing my ground. “I am effeminate. I do not think I am your type.” And then I get blocked.
I exit the screen in a huff and the pitch black envelopes me again, but not in the comfort that my nights are used to.
VICTIM OF THE SYSTEM
My vision blurs, forcing me to close my eyes hoping it clears out. In a moment, the clearing reveals hazy memories I have long buried deep in the abyss of my being. A pastiche of femme-shaming across different periods of my formative years, it all came violently flooding back forcing me in a corner looking into pointed and honestly, painful fragments. Any sudden movement and I would hurt myself.
“Ang galing mo sana, pero ang OA mo kumanta. At bakit puros pilantik at pitik mga kamay mo?” (You were good but you were over acting. And why were your hands flicking and jerking too much?) “Magpakalalaki ka nga. Bakit ‘di ka katulad ng mga tito mo, brusko sila lahat?” (Be a man. Why aren’t you like your uncles, they’re all brusque?) “Nganong ganahan man ka niya? Soft man kaayo siya. Sure ka lalaki siya?” (Why do you like him? He’s so soft. Are you sure he’s a man?); “You’re cute pero ayoko sa kilos Barbie.” Even at a young and uninformed age, I already found these femme-shaming statements directed at me pointed and offensive. It would stun and send me in a state of shock, but looking at it from an impressionable point-of-view, I would relent and “man up,” so to speak. This meant hardening myself, calcifying the flicks of my wrists and swish of my hips and isolating myself, because it was better than forcing myself to a space that wouldn’t have me in the first place.
All these outward manifestations were curtailed, but it left a dent on me. A stigma was implanted and anything related to being effeminate wasn’t ideal, especially growing up in the stricter and more conservative province. It was influence of partiality, no doubt. Masculinity was (or still is) king and it meant you had to assuage and conform to the archetype and dictates of society. Growing up a victim of the system, I hardly knew any better. Deep down, however, I knew that I was different and that something was off. Being malambot doesn’t make me less of a man and potential in the sexual sense and perhaps, if Lady Luck is kind, romantically.
PREFERENCE VS. PREJUDICE
“Sorry, bro. Just a preference.”
You will not believe how many times I hear this excuse (and all its equally stupid permutations) on a daily basis. Yes, daily. I try to not make a big fuss, because it can get exhausting to confront such a misguided way of thinking. (Operative word: try.) Preference I understand. For example, I prefer my chips stale and my cereal soggy. Preference is choosing to take an Uber (or well, Grab) instead of riding the bus in the morning. Preference is a penchant for Pale Pilsen over Red Horse. Granted, of course, you’ve managed to try your choices.
On something so trivial as a hook-up app, moving around social circles in a bar or in the grander scheme of dating in this day and age, there lies a commodification to the way one expresses himself. Being masculine and feminine in the LGBTQ+ community has become a currency to get ahead (pun intended) and that doesn’t sit well with me at least. Where does preference stop and prejudice begin? Precisely the moment these so-called men start femme-shaming and stop entertaining you based on whether you’re discreet or not, as if it matters. It then becomes a gestation bed for a superiority complex that could potentially and often lead to hate and misogyny.
There is nothing wrong with preference; we all have it to different extents. It’s just that the painful persistence of femme-shaming, as well as of the glorification of the masculine ideal, making it the end all and be all, not only leaves an acidic and bitter aftertaste, but it also speaks of a skewed and pigeonholed way of thinking. This stubborn defense of preference is what makes things wrong. For as long as boxes exist and persist, there will be a pervasive divisiveness.
The thing is, being on the status quo appointed losing end of the femme-shaming stick could easily be dismissed as a knee-jerk reaction to being butt-hurt online, but newsflash: This is far from it. This isn’t an issue of sensitivity because it is rooted in the foundations of our society. Despite the strides we have achieved thus far, we still move in a predominantly patriarchal society—or the dregs thereof. This is an even bigger issue we are allowing it to permeate a supposedly more liberal and accepting society. Why are we still abiding by a caste system of sexuality and why is being feminine relegated to being a pariah? Isn’t that worse than putting the perceived lesser expression of gender to shame? Aren’t we supposed to see each other as equal human beings and not as pawns categorized into tribes? Most importantly, why are we setting the archaic standards so high that it becomes practically impossible to tear down?
Think about that, long and hard.
The aggressive dismissal of feminine men and the subsequent exaltation of the straight-acting man has created a deep-seated fissure in the LGBTQ+ community, creating a culture of prejudice within a safe space that should ideally accept without predilections. We understand that there is an underlying politics to desirability and how it functions in one’s life. But by adhering to this tension, you submit yourself to the harmful stereotypes that we have been fighting tooth and nail for to obliterate. More so, this subscription to the pervading toxicity, whether conscious or otherwise, is doing nothing but destroy the very community that we have long called a safe-space. Sure, we operate on different planes of identity and privilege, but never should these ever get in the way of the human experience.
Attraction is a personal preference, sure, but keep in mind that these should not exist in a vacuum. Why is that even before a possibility is entertained and a connection is made, it has to be strained solely by the long fought for comfort in expression? Urge writes, “It’s impossible to separate one’s desires from the culture and society in which they were formed, so it’s important to think critically about it.” The swish and flick of my wrists and hips do not in any way demerit me as a human being. Who I identify as and how I choose to naturally express it is not paramount to how I am to be desired or accepted, nor should it be used as something to ridicule or be deemed inferior. I always say that no one is above or beneath another human being, except of course in bed—but even that has been debunked and demystified. So, really, there isn’t any leg-room for you to even so much as internally start femme-shaming someone who chooses to be who he is. Do these persistent self-subscribed rigors really matter in the grand scheme of being a decent human being?
Perhaps the most fitting train of thought in trying to thresh out this deep, dark secret within our community is that we remember who were when we were trying to form our identities; when we were trying to make sense of this “different” feeling; when we were judged for being who were; when we were called out on the streets with endless taunts, “Bakla-kla-kla-kla-kla. Shokla-kla-kla-kla-kla.” Maybe when you get back to the very beginning of your personal process then you would realize that you aren’t any different from the person dancing the hell out to Britney Spears’ Slave 4 U or serving a mean lip-sync to Lady Gaga’s Born This Way.
There’s no shame in being who you are. If you feel it, go ahead and express it. No one’s stopping you, honey. Smear that makeup on your face, wear a skirt if you want to and paint your nails that galaxy of black, it’s perfectly fine. Don’t allow anyone, let alone a pig-headed, misogynist of a man to get in your head, devalue you and let you feel anything other than your most fabulous self. Be loud, be proud, be who you want to be. You are you—one who deserves every bit of love that seems to be so hard to come by these days.
And listen, for whatever gets thrown your way, a snide remark, verbal assault or outright hatred, we have your back no matter what.