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Saturday, May 26, 2012

Queer Eye for the Stereotype

Several years ago, my liberal tolerance bonafides were put in peril when I noticed the surprising number of lesbians at Denver's Pride Parade who were wearing jean shorts, t-shirts with the sleeves rolled up, and full-on mullets.  None of these ladies would be confused for men, of course, but it was pretty obvious they were all shopping at the same store participating in a stereotype, whether they knew it or not.  It was, almost literally, a uniform.
 
And yet there's nothing about being sexually attracted to women that forces one to wear a mullet or jorts or to so studiously roll those shirt sleeves up. So why do it?

My theory was that it's a case of in-group signaling.  Since it's not really practical to go around all day saying, "I'm gay," it may be more efficient, not to mention subtle, to communicate that through fashion.  I think that not only accounts for the mullets, but for pretty much any gay stereotype out there, from the lisps to the overly dramatic theatricality.

This pretty much confirms my view:
When I came out in college, I was lucky enough to do so in the company of three highly experienced lesbian roommates, all of whom advised that I reconsider the long, shapeless locks I'd carried over from my high-school days. One of the gang, as odds would have it, owned all six seasons of The L Word on DVD -- 24 discs of the kind of soft-core, girl-on-girl action that only Showtime could get away with -- and we scoured each episode for hair inspiration.

I eventually settled on Shane's cut, the only style on the femme-heavy show that looked queer enough to help me land a date. I printed out a photo and brought it to a hairdresser in Dupont Circle, Washington, D.C.'s original gayborhood, to take my first physical step toward assimilation into the all-welcoming queer community I imagined was waiting for me.
The joke I've often used is that these women go to the hairdresser and say "I'd like to look as gay as possible."  Of course, I always thought that was a joke, as in it's funny because it doesn't happen like that.  But now I'm not so sure.  Now I think there may actually be some "queer" hairdressers out there who have "The Gayest Haircuts In Town" printed in big block letters on their business cards as a selling point.

And that's sad, I think.  What's also sad is that the overall effect of reading this lady's piece about her gayborhood, my impression wasn't one of understanding or even empathy.  I felt more isolated and disconnected with every word. 

Queer this, queer that.  Thirteen times she used that word, sometimes as a noun, sometimes as an adjective, but never as a pejorative.  She can do that.  She's a lesbian.  The straight guy using the word "queer" thirteen times in a 950-word piece?   Well, he should be careful.

Because he's a straight man and he just doesn't know....

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