Q: What’s the difference between a lesbian and a whale?
A: About 10 kilograms and a checked shirt.
Not my joke…just another one of the gems I had to listen to when I was having after-work drinks with some of my gay boyfriends. Usually I just brush it off and grumble something about silly fairies into my light beer (yes, I know that makes me just as culpable). But this time I went home and I couldn’t stop thinking about lesbians, gays and beached whales…and then I got angry. Angry at the way we treat each other and angry about the implications that this “witty repartee” has on our community.
I mean we all know the “comical” stereotypes that we as a community bandy about at every given opportunity. Lesbians joke that gay men have no bones in their wrists, that they’re all designers, that they’re all effeminate, that they’ve all slept with one another and that they have bad haircuts.
Gay boys go on and on about the lesbians’ lack of style, co-ordination, weight issues, being carpenters or mechanics and that they have bad haircuts. And even though semi-mainstream media has started to move away from these stereotypes with shows like Queer as Folk and The L-Word, we as a community still cling to our pigeon holes for all we’re worth!
Why do we do this? Is it because we think these negative stereotypes are funny? And why do we think they are so hysterical? Is it because by ‘OTHERING’ a group in our community, we in fact distance ourselves from being gay? This smacks of internalised homophobia to me. But I’m no shrink, although I do know where to find one. So I asked Glenn de Swardt from Triangle Project why we continuously slag each other off. His thought was that if we speak negatively about someone outside our safe group, we reinforce our sense of belonging within our own group.
So my interpretation of that is: if a lesbian calls a gay man a limp wrested queen, she underpins her position in the Dyke Tribe. Agreed. I see his point. But if she is in the Dyke Tribe, isn’t she still a part of the larger Homo-Nation? And isn’t she injuring the Homo-Nation by verbally attacking one of her own? Or maybe it’s like being a Sharks or a Bulls supporter. The Sharks will mock every last horn of the Bulls supporter, and yet when the Bulls won the Super 14 it was somehow ok, because South Africa won…
Glenn also brought up another sticky issue. “Straight acting” (I hate that description) gay men often ridicule the more effeminate boys, and lipstick lesbians can’t stop talking about how much they’d like to attack the butchies with some tweezers and lip-liner. So even in our male vs female tribes, there are sub-clans that want to do battle with each other! And if there is so much squabbling amongst the troops and the battalions, aren’t we just opening ourselves up to a verbal onslaught from straight folks who want to get in on the name calling?
I mean, if it’s so ok to call each other faggot and dyke, aren’t we sending out a clear signal that it’s ok to deride the Homo-Nation as a whole (call me paranoid if you like). Let’s open the flood gates of marginalisation here, shall we!
And yet here’s the strange thing: when an onslaught comes from outside the Homo-Nation, what you usually see is a collective circling of the wagons. If someone outside my community, let’s just say, a Stone Harbour-wearing, bad cologne-marinating, straight man calls ANY of my gay boyfriends a faggot, I’ll be first in the front-lines protecting him for all I’m worth.
My point is, then, that it takes many colours to make up that rainbow flag of ours. It takes the butchies and the fairies, the preppies and the muscle marys, the lipsticks and the dipsticks. We’re like a quirky extended family. There’s the crazy aunt, the cousin that no-one really wants to sit next to at Christmas, the pink sheep, the drunk granny, and groping uncle James… but we’re family. Bonded by some crazy chromosome that made us love and lust the same sex. And just like family we’re stuck together, so let’s learn to live and speak a little bit more respectfully about each other.
Jeanine Cameron is a television journalist/producer. She has a fixed opinion on almost everything and she’s happiest when she’s telling someone about it. She likes controversy, tattoos and round bums. She lives and loves in Cape Town.
Images used with the kind permission of RyaN von Schwedler, Andrea M. D, Chuck Wright, Arjun Kartha, Philippe Ramakers, Kathryn McCallum, Hannah Boettcher.