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New study finds: 'straight acting' gays have more privilege, less homophobia

Award winning study finds "straight acting" men have more privilege.
Photo credit:
Huffington Post

A European study released today claims that “straight acting” men are less likely to experience homophobia than their “feminine acting” counterparts.

In fact, those polled who proclaimed themselves to be straight acting (56-percent) said they did not experience any negative interactions, while 25-percent who do not identify with that term say they have suffered homophobia in school.

The sampling consisted of 280 gay men from the United Kingdom and California.  

Further, the study shows that self-identifying straight-acting gay males were also 37-percent more likely to agree with the statement, “‘Feminine gay men give gay men like me a bad reputation.”

The poll also indicated that of those who participated, 33-percent said that had experienced no prejudice based on their sexuality within the last five years, and 35-percent of the gay men said they identify more with the heterosexual community than with the gay community.

Those who identified as “straight acting,” also said that in addition to not experiencing homophobia they also felt that discrimination was less-likely to affect them, and did nothing to challenge homophobia if they encountered it.

In contrast, those who said they have experienced homophobia were more likely to advocate for change from within their group rather than remove themselves from it.

Cal Strode (above left) who compiled and wrote the report said that everyone strives for positive self-conception and people would like to believe that the groups in which they belong are positively distinctive from any others.

And if this is not the case some will migrate to other groups with a perceived higher status, while others will fight to make change from within.  

"This certainly seems to chime with a lot of what we see in the gay community today,” Said Strode. “Feminine gay men are caught in the crossfire of a battle that self-described ‘straight acting’ gay men are having with themselves. The way gay men market themselves is more visible than ever before because of the rise of apps like Grindr. This brings things like femphobia to the surface, and we need to take every opportunity to challenge that.”

Strode also says that people shouldn’t demonize others for identifying as “straight acting” but we should bring to their attention that they might be speaking from a place of internalized homophobia or “pass privilege.”

“We can’t expect everyone to have an academic understanding of oppression, privilege and the role they themselves are playing in things, so we have to find constructive ways to start conversations and challenge people in ways that brings them along with us,” Strode adds.

San Diego’s own Fernando Lopez (below left) of San Diego Pride said that social migration from one group to another with a perceived higher status is actually common in stigmatized groups, but only if the lines between the two groups appear permeable to individuals who can “pass” between them.

Lopez gives an example: “We might see Latino people changing their names (something we call ‘whiting-out your name’ here in California). I know of a lot of people who go by John, for example, whereas their real name is Juan, or Michael when their real name is Miguel. Mine would be Frank or something for example --but I like Fernando!”

In the gay community, if a man can pass as straight and merge into that world, he might bypass homophobia completely, or simply not notice it. 

“But for the people who live a different kind of life and have more of a struggle for standing out as not masculine, it means more to them to become activists and to do something: they have seen the oppression in a way that somebody who can pass as straight never does,” Lopez adds.

Lopez says that fear is the main catalyst in internalized homophobia, especially femophobia, or, “The fear of all things feminine and being feminine, because it is seen as weak,” Lopez said.

“This isn’t a new thing, but it’s certainly more visible and pervasive than ever before because of the rise of apps like Grindr and other dating apps where we can see the way people are marketing themselves. The trend of some gay men excessively using hyper-masculine language is symptomatic of this--terms like ‘dude’ and ‘bro’ etc.”

The Strode study may have been updated to reflect the times, but gay men and extreme masculinity has been used to break stereotypes for decades. 

"Interestingly, because the media would initially only portray gay men as this sort of hyper-effeminate caricature, gay men of the '70s rebelled against that and that’s where the bodybuilding movement came from,” Lopez explains. “That’s where the whole grungy men of the 70’s with beards and bushy hair etc., originated. They all wore flannel and work boots etc. That style was very much an intentional decision to hyper-masculinize the gay male community, so as to push-back against the heterosexual male run media. Today it seems that more people are pushing back against themselves."

Note: This study was awarded a EUPRERA (European Public Relations Research and Education Association) award in 2014 and the author presented findings to a closed audience at EUPRERA’s European Congress in Brussels. The study’s findings were published publicly for the first time today (10/27).