Stigma in the Gay Community

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OurSpace’s first workshop was a huge success!  We had a lot of thought-provoking discussions, uncovering a lot of issues affecting our community. We created a lengthy list, divided ourselves into groups and focused on four topics: fem-phobia, racism, slut-shaming, and tops versus bottoms.  Many of these issues influence one another, such as how one’s own race can determine who “should” top or bottom, or feminine guys being slut-shamed more often than masculine guys.  Furthermore, we discussed online dating culture and how apps like 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.

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Telling other men they are “too fem” can be hurtful.  This fem-phobia clearly comes from sexist gender roles where femininity is perceived as a “weakness.”  We explored fem-phobia as a development from internalized homophobia, where some of us still struggle with the feminine aspects of ourselves, which may reveal our true sexual identity. We may even criticize our friends and partners for acting “too gay.”  For many young men, struggling with a homophobic society causes this gender-policing to make unfortunate sense – but still, it’s damaging to see “MASC ONLY” or “NO FEMS” on online profiles, or to feel excluded or judged at events for being “too fem.”

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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 perceived as the submissive partner during 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 its similarities in operation to sexism in the queer community. Both stigmas are inherited from centuries of oppression, and persist in many major institutions. The under-representation of queer people of colour in mainstream and LGBTQ media, which limits our understanding, is a prime example. When our eyes are stopped by reading profiles, which include “WHITES ONLY” or “NO BLACKS, NO ASIANS, SORRY JUST A PREFERENCE” it raises a greater question: can we really call these preferences when our experiences are shaped by growing up and living in a racist society?  We expanded the topic of racism by bringing our bodies into question. When we’re not being ignored because of our ethnicities, we tend to be exotified or fetishized for our physical features – stereotypes about “big-dicked Black tops” and “submissive Asian bottoms” persist and can impact whom we dare to have sex with or even date.

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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.

If you enjoyed this post, we hope to see you at OurSpace’s next event where we’ll be having a discussion about Pride in Allan Gardens – what we love or hate about it, the good and bad times we’ve had, and how we plan to have fun again this year. Click here for more details.

Written by Liam McElheron

Edited by Juan Saavedra

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