Stigma in the Gay Community

OurSpace’s first workshop was a huge success! We had a lot of thought-provoking discussion, and uncovered a lot of issues that affect our community. We came up with a lengthy list (unfortunately), but chose to focus on four topics: fem-phobia, racism, slut-shaming, and tops versus bottoms. We found that many of these stigmas influenced the others, such as racist ideas determining who “should” top or bottom, or feminine guys being slut-shamed more often than masculine guys. Many of us also talked about how online dating apps, such as Grindr or Scruff, provided a platform for these stigmas to be spread.

In dealing with these stigmas, it helps to remember that many of them can be traced back to the larger heteronormative, sexist, and racist culture in which we live – and that when we ourselves feel insecure, we tend to feel the need (sometimes subconsciously) to put others down in order to elevate ourselves in our own minds or in the eyes of others. Thus, it’s important to raise awareness about these issues and try to find ways to address them, so that we stop hurting each other – inadvertently or otherwise.

One way gay guys hurt each other is by judging certain guys as “too fem.” This fem-phobia clearly comes from sexist gender roles and femininity being perceived as a “weakness.” Fem-phobia can also come from internalized homophobia, where some of us still struggle with the feminine parts of ourselves that might reveal us as gay. We may even criticize our friends our partners for acting “too gay.” Because many of us struggled for years in a homophobic society, this gender-policing makes unfortunate sense – but it’s still damaging to see “MASC ONLY” or “NO FEMS” on online dating profiles, or to feel excluded or judged at queer events for being “too fem.”

Our discussions about slut-shaming and tops versus bottoms also revealed sexist ideas about gender. We talked about how tops can still be seen as more powerful and desirable than bottoms – just like when women are seen as the submissive partner in straight sex. Regarding slut-shaming, we found that – much like women who get called sluts while men are seen as studs when they’re having lots of sex – bottoms can be seen as “sluttier” than tops in our community.

Talking about racism revealed how it operates similarly to sexism in the queer community. Both stigmas are inherited from centuries of oppression in our world, and persist in many of our major institutions. For example, the under-representation of queer people of colour in mainstream and LGBTQ media sets the stage for online dating profiles to proclaim “WHITES ONLY” or “NO BLACKS, NO ASIANS, SORRY JUST A PREFERENCE.” Yet, can we really call these preferences when they are shaped by our experiences growing up and living in a racist society?

Going in the other direction, we talked about how when racialized bodies aren’t excluded, they tend to be exoticized and fetishized – stereotypes about “big-dicked Black tops” and “submissive Asian bottoms” persist in the queer community, and can impact whom we choose to date or have sex with.

So how do we deal with all of this? A good place to start is to recognize when we ourselves are perpetuating these stigmas and work on changing our attitudes or actions. Or perhaps we stay quiet when friends or acquaintances make offensive comments – these are good opportunities to speak up and encourage positive change in our community. We can’t change everyone’s opinions or actions, but we can start with changing ourselves and encouraging the people we know to do better.

When these stigmas are affecting us, we can talk about it and search for support. Surrounding ourselves with people who value and respect us is a good way to feel better about ourselves, and to help us remember that these stigmas usually come from ignorance.

These recent articles offer more good discussion about sexism and racism in the queer community:

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