The Elephant in the Room: Bullying, Gayness & Masculinity

From an e-mail sent by Riki Wikchins organization, True Child


At a time when there have been so many tragedies surrounding kids and sexual orientation, it’s helpful to remember how much this kind of bullying owes to masculinity and a gender culture that punishes those who don’t live up to its narrow ideals.

Dr. Michael Kimmel, one of the nation’s leading experts on masculinity and a board member at TrueChild, has an op-ed about the heartbreaking suicide of Rutgers freshman, Tyler Clementi, and gay teen suicides on Ms. Magazine Blog. Kimmel explains that writing these incidents off as anti-gay bullying hides much of the real issue. It is masculinity and gender norms, not just orientation, that are the root of the problem.

Writing that gay “teens” suffer such relentless abuse or bullying obscures as much as it reveals. Anti-gay sentiments are only partly related to sexual orientation. Calling someone gay or a fag has become so universal that it’s become synonymous with dumb, stupid or wrong. And it’s “dumb” or “wrong” because it isn’t masculine enough.

To the “that’s-so-gay” chorus, homosexuality is about gender nonconformity, not being a “real man,” and so anti-gay sentiments become a shorthand method of gender policing.

Many guys think being gay means not being a guy. That’s the choice: gay or guy.

Take Jesse Montgomery who suffered 11 years of a daily verbal barrage of “faggot,” “queer,” “homo,” “gay,” “girl,” “princess,” “fairy,” “freak,” “bitch,” and “pansy.” He was regularly punched, kicked, tripped. One of the students grabbed his own genitals while squeezing Jesse’s buttocks and on other occasions would stand behind and grind his penis into Jesse’s backside. By the way, Jesse Montgomery is straight.

Kimmel is right: it’s not enough to focus only on sexual orientation. For many of these kids, gay-bashing is not about sex, it’s about ideals of manhood and masculinity that are being violated. This is the elephant in the room: you have to confront masculinity, which is painful. As long as we focus just on gay-ness, we miss so much.

Riki Wilchins

Director of Programs and Research

P.S. On a related note, as a parent of a 4-year-old girl who is already playing dress-up, I was glad to see this new book about Dyson Kilodavis, another 4-year-old who likes playing dress-up. Check out “My Princess Boy” here (the Washington Post article is here )


*Michael Kimmel is among the leading researchers and writers on men and masculinity in the world today. He is the author or editor of more than 20 volumes and his book, Manhood in America: A Cultural History, was hailed as the definitve work on the subject.

One Response to “The Elephant in the Room: Bullying, Gayness & Masculinity”

  1. tinagrrl Says:

    There are times when I think some Xdressers become MORE “butch” when “en femme”.

    Back in the 90’s, when I was just (once again) entering the fringes of “genderworld” (to see where I was REALLY at after so many years — I found out rather quickly) — anyway — Even the Xdressers must have seen something “different” about me because some guy in an “old lady” floral print dress, smoking a big stinky cigar, said to me, “we don’t go for any of that gay stuff here – so watch out” (as I remember, his exact words).

    It seems at least he was so upset about being even THOUGHT to be, in any way, “different”, that he had to both warn me (who he saw as “different”), and strike a “butch pose” smoking his cigar, and leaning against the juke box.

    Very strange. Especially in a bar that was having a “TV/TS ‘party’ ” that night.

Comments are closed.

%d bloggers like this: