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The Fag Hag Speaks

Today’s blog post was inspired by this article that’s been floating around my Facebook circles for the last few days: The Myth of the Fag Hag and Dirty Secrets of the Gay Male Subculture written by Rohin Guha. The article touches on a number of issues, but if I were to paraphrase (which, for the record, I try to avoid doing for the most part because it shortchanges people’s stories and experiences) I would say that it acknowledges the existence of a gay-male privilege and dominance which serves to dehumanize and objectify women. The article goes along to encourage gay men to break down their their adopted personas which have thus far served to perpetuate these views and treatment of women.This article really hit home for me, but maybe not in the way that you might expect.


Spoiler alert: I have a LOT of gay male friends.

It all started in college. I’m not sure if was the fact that I grew up in a city with access to 4 of the 25 GLBT friendliest campuses, the fact that I belted out showtunes at a moment’s notice, or just some intangible x-factor about me as a person, but I constantly was surrounded by an entourage of gay men. I quickly adopted a “fag hag” persona, or, as I was told was more appropriate, “fruit fly.” This trend has continued through my adult life. At this point in my life I think that gay males make up the highest proportion of my friends. I love them as brothers and have absolutely grown as a woman by knowing and caring for each and every one of them. That said, reading the article I found myself relating to certain aspects.

In my earliest days of being out of the closet–and among women–I’ve definitely been that jerk in the room that feigned ignorance about female anatomy, that responded with a sneer when a discussion about women’s bodies arose…

How often had my friends cringed at me talking about my body, saying that what was between my legs was “gross” or “had teeth” ? How many times had they slapped my ass or tried to make out with me?  How many dirty looks had I got in the gay bars and how many times had I asked friends to get drinks for me because I couldn’t? I started going over the instances in my mind, kicking myself for not noticing the connections. Looking back, I still remember wearing by “fruit fly” badge of honor with pride, not realizing that doing so was an attack against the “wholeness” of me as a person. One part of me believed that I too was, what the author berated some gay-males for doing, “blithely buy[ing] into this narrative even if it isn’t [my] own personal history.”

What I really think though is that the objectification of women has become so normal, so natural, and so deeply-ingrained into our social psyche that not even I as a woman am no longer phased by it when it happens. Not only my gay-male friends are guilty of this. It’s the result of an ages long accumulation of micro-aggressions toward women. In the same way that “whiteness” has become so normalized that we have to separate off Asians, Blacks, Latinos into their own sections of history (since y’know Asian history isn’t history), the normalization of this objectification is…well, normal. To me, the  “gay-male dominance” that the article refers to is nothing more than your run-of-the-mill male dominance wrapped up in a different package.  The writer even alludes to this,

Like any kind of privilege, gay male privilege happens and perpetuates when people premise most of their identity and entitlements in life on a biological component of their person.

Like a good scholar of the Humanities I asked myself more questions. How often had I found myself a fellow participant in the objectification of women? Had I not called models on ANTM “hot messes” or laughed with glee at another women’s looks, clothes, hair, makeup, performance etc? The fact of the matter is, that as a woman, I have learned to thrive off and participate in that objectification because it allows me to separate myself from the community that is being talked about. As women, we are no stranger to the media catering to our desires to be seen as attractive, sexual, divatastic, objects to be worshipped, rather than real, authentic people with stories to share. How can we expect to have other communities to respect us when, all too often, we don’t respect each other or ourselves?

I don’t think that objectification is just women either. How many times had I objectified my gay-male friends in return? Turning to them for advice on clothes or makeup, calling them “girl” or “bitch,” dancing up on them provocatively at a club? How many women did I know envied my “fruit fly” status because they wish they had a “Will” to their “Grace” ? How many times had I oggled muscular (straight?) guys in a Cosmo magazine or put pictures of them on my wall in middle school? It seems to me that as a society, we’ve become obsessed with categorizing people into these little boxes: woman, gay, straight, Asian, fat, thin, etc without actually working to find out the other amazing, beautiful and complicated things about the person. Nobody should be looked at as a trope and expected to live into a single-story narrative of who or what they should be.

I also have issue with the fact that this writer presumes to tell the story on behalf of women. I appreciate his concentration on speaking to the gay male experience, but his main access points to the female experience are through his friends. I would love to hear women speaking for themselves and imparting what WOMEN can do to help illuminate issues like this.

We can’t pull the ladder up behind us and objectify from on top. It’s up to us to do better than the precedent set by the people who made life hard for LGBT individuals in the first place. It’s now up to us to make sure if there’s someone trying to climb up, we lend a hand and pull them up.

While it’s important to recognize spheres where males have dominance, to me its the wrong message to send. This very statement at the end presumes that we live in a male-dominated society where it is the job for men to “pull women up” the ladder–leveraging their own power to “save us” rather than encouraging us to live into our own strengths and support one another equally. Even someone who proclaims himself a feminist cannot break the ingrained mindset that women are less than. We don’t need saving…we need to be listened to.

Overall though, I really agree with how the writer believes that we should go about moving toward a better place…

…[it] would entail adopting a mindset that is less bent on defining identity through biology, but through shared interests. So that men are bonding not because they both have an inclination to date other men, but because they share the same world views. This takes the stress off focusing on expressions of gender, off sexuality, and emphasizes on actually connecting with humans through shared life experiences…

Bingo. But to me, this isn’t just man to man, or gay man to woman–this is about fundamental person to person relationship building. The only way that we can move past these inequities and the devaluation of our fellow human beings is by listening to each other and moving forward together.

Thoughts? Leave me a comment. 

2 comments so far

  1. christine says:

    I definitely agree with what you’re saying; this is about respecting humans as human beings. No labels should be necessary and I hadn’t thought about it before, but yet again, another brilliant article about women…written by a man.

    However, unlike you, these micro-aggressions have never become normal to me. I bristle with frustration, rage, & pain almost every time one occurs & I hope when I’m being a doofus & tread on another’s humanity, someone is there to call me to check my actions.

    I think this article is brilliant in the fact it open up a dialogue in a way that I think is approachable to individuals guilty of these actions, who probably weren’t aware of how offensive they were being.

    Basically, I think any time anyone creates a conversation about the inequality women face, TALK AWAY.

    1. elizabethfei says:

      I agree that certain others may not experience the normalization of objectification. For me, it took reading this article to realize that I had.

      I think even the most most hyper aware of us are guilty of objectifying from time to time. However, them problem isn’t the objectification itself, in my opinion. But rather, the picture that it paints and the stories that it tells about people.

      Over time, these stories become stereotypes that are not only adopted by the dominant mainstream, but also by the communities that they represent. The author talks about gay-male culture adopting the trope of the genital-hating, sassy, rich, “gay” even though for many this is not who they are. From my view, they’ve been taught to be this way by a single, limited narrative of what “gay” means.

      I think sometimes women buy into the stories we’ve been told about womanhood, and the stories that are passed down as latent in our culture. This confounds with the fact that we can’t internalize the stories we haven’t been told about womanhood. While there are voices arising to speak out against this oppression, what they have to say has not yet been adopted by the mainstream. So, we still sit here waiting for someone to “save us.”

      Are some women sexy? Beautiful? Divas? Do they have vaginas? Of course! But that is only a single story in a deep pool of wonderfully deep, thoughtful, smart, funny, wise women and their stories.

      TL;DR Thanks for the comment.

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