The other day, a person of my acquaintance describing another person made the most completely nonsensical statement. ‘He’s gay,’ this person said, ‘but not the in your face gay, you know? He’s just gay, he doesn’t have to make a thing about it.’ I confess, gentle readers, I was unable to muster a tart retort because I was too busy trying to keep my eyebrows from entirely disappearing into my hairline. Yes, I had a verification in the wild of the ‘gay but not too gay’ phenomenon, which led me to wonder what, exactly, is ‘too gay’? Where’s the dividing line? Where’s the difference between ‘in your face gay’ and ‘just gay’? These are the things I lie awake at night thinking about.
I am reminded of the old adage I used for the title of this post because, really, what seems to be expressed by statements like ‘too gay’ is that it’s ok for people to be gay, so long as they aren’t, you know. Gay about it. Meanwhile, I am saturated in heterosexuality. I don’t see anyone saying that people are being ‘too heterosexual.’ Sure, people will talk about sexualisation and ‘public displays of affection’ but it’s grounded in a general distaste for the physicality of sexuality, rather than in a hatred of a specific sexuality; many of the people I know who think that there’s such a thing as ‘too gay’ have absolutely no problem with displays of heterosexual sexuality.
For some people, gay men holding hands in public is ‘too gay’ and giving your partner a peck on the cheek on your way to work is ‘in your face gay’ when these activities would pass without remark if the people involved were (or appeared to be) heterosexual. Don’t even get me started on more extreme activities like kissing on the lips or having your arm around a partner’s waist. It’s a constant reminder that to be anything other than heterosexual is to be lesser, and that your sexuality doesn’t really belong in public spaces, should not be embraced socially, should be hidden, because it would be terrible and horrible if people were confronted with your gayness, your queerness, your lesbianness.
Gay men who are flamboyant are often told that they are ‘too gay’ as though there’s some sort of acceptable gayness scale and wearing feather boas and singing musicals falls on the ‘not ok’ end of the rubric. I don’t see anyone telling people that they are ‘too heterosexual’ for leering at people of (presumably) different genders, or for wearing shirts invoking various heterosexual sex acts, or what have you. I don’t see anyone suggesting that dancing with a partner of a (presumably) different gender at a social event is just beyond the pale and gross, in your face heterosexual.
It’s, you know, it’s fine if people want to be heterosexual. I’m sure it’s very hard for them, living in the society we do, but I wish they weren’t in my face about it all the time with their insistence on being all heterosexual in public, you know. Some people don’t want to look at that kind of thing and I don’t see why I should be made uncomfortable by being exposed to it just because they think they have a right to be in public.
Sound completely ridiculous? Well, people say that about other sexualities all the time. They are gross, they are lewd, they are uncomfortablemaking, people are just too in your face about it. Suddenly, expressing affection for a partner becomes a highly politicised act and you start secondguessing yourself when it comes to physical interaction in public. I see this attitude about people being ‘too gay’ even from people who claim to have liberal sexualities. The sight of a woman kissing another woman is apparently the dividing line between ‘it’s ok to be gay’ and ‘take that somewhere else,’ or it’s the subject of leering sexual titillation.
Why is it that members of the QUILTBAG community are taken to task for being ‘too…’ while heterosexual people are not? It’s a pretty clear function of privilege—people don’t challenge behaviour they see as ‘normal’ and heterosexuality is read as ‘normal’ despite the fact that very few people are actually purely heterosexual, as the Kinsey Reports helpfully demonstrated. Normalising expression of all sexualities rather than just one would make society of a hell of a lot safer for everyone and I don’t see anything ‘too gay’ about that.
I note that the sexuality of gay men in particular is often perceived as threatening. They are either deemed too sexually aggressive or they are deemed too flouncy and flamboyant for polite company. Policing gay men’s sexuality has really harmful effects, both on gay men and society. Plenty of people are flouncy and flamboyant. Being a man who is flamboyant does not make you gay, but thanks to stereotyping and policing, femme men are often assumed to be gay. If they aren’t, well, ‘it’s only a matter of time,’ people say sagely while nodding their heads. A man who chooses to wear dresses or skirts now and then, to dress in women’s clothing, is presumed to be gay because he isn’t performing heterosexual masculinity to the satisfaction of everyone around him. Men who play with their gender expression and sexuality are deemed frightening and scary and they must be shut down; they’re ‘in your face’ and we can’t have that.
I cannot help but feel that the protestations about men who are ‘too gay’ has a lot to do with the perceived breakdown of social order. If we lived in a society where sexualities were openly expressed, that might suggest that there is nothing deviant or abnormal about those sexualities, that, in fact, they are natural and normal variations of the human experience. And that would mean the heterosexuals do not deserve their position of social dominance and power.
And we couldn’t have that, now could we.