There’s a scene in How I Met Your Mother that sticks out in my mind–and not just because it’s one of the small handful of episodes of a pretty aggressively boring sitcom that I’ve actually seen. It’s a bit that has become all too familiar in self-marketed LGBT-friendly media, one where a gay man expresses immutable disgust at the idea of having sexual relations with a vagina, or seeing breasts, or just engaging with a woman in any manner that isn’t competitively exchanging catty comments over Long Island Iced Teas on “Ladies’ Night.” In this case, it’s Barney Stinson’s older brother, being shown in a flashback as a closeted gay man, who describes vaginas as “scary” and sex with women as “gross.”
It would be innocent on its own if it was, you know, really all out on its own. “Vaginas are scary and/or gross” is used for a punchline pretty often in media, especially comedies that feature gay men, squeezed in between jokes about girly drinks and interior design. It ranges from dismissive lines about female sexuality to outright contempt and revulsion aimed at bodies that are deemed undesirable. It’s easy to brush off as just cheeky–but when you see it repeatedly, over and over, expressed as if it was a fundamentally innate behavior for ‘real’ gay men, it becomes something a bit more worrisome.
Eating Out 2: Sloppy Seconds is a film well renowned for how delicately it handles sexuality and gender.
Women live in a culture where their bodies are already coded as yucky. Straight male culture is replete with jokes about menstruation, about ugly women’s bodies, about fat women’s bodies, about women’s body hair, and about how bad vaginas smell, look, feel, function. Women and their bodies as foreign, alien, and gross is an easy and sadly common joke, and it being perpetuated by gay men doesn’t make it any less misogynistic. On one hand, it’s obviously just a way for straight writers to take these jokes to another level, exploiting the image of gay men to take this bit to more “shocking” levels. But the attitude isn’t just a poor media trope–it’s reflected in the ways real gay men talk about women and bodies.
Of course, this stems from a lot of homophobic pressure. Gay men have to justify their sexuality. The only way homosexuality can be acceptable in a homophobic society is if heterosexuality is impossible for the individual. This puts pressure on gay men to prove they aren’t capable of being attracted to women. Anything less than unbridled, innate revulsion towards anything linked to women (outside of acceptable, and expected, mild gender transgressions) is seen as a threat to an individual’s sexuality. It’s an inverse of the homophobia that leads to aggressive posturing and disgust in straight men, only it’s aimed exclusively at women.
It lets gay men access the power of misogyny, reasserting themselves as “real men,” which is also attacked and questioned by their homosexuality. It’s no coincidence that more feminine gay men are also stereotyped as more aggressively derisive of women. When gendered behaviors and appearance can lead to people questioning your masculinity, what better way to reassert it than to put down women? Ironically enough, this actually works against us, as it acts out the homophobic belief that homosexuality in men is formed out of “fearing women,” and thus reinforces gayness as an immaturity.
Calling women stupid bitches and saying they can’t make decisions without male supervision sounds way less misogynistic if you have a lisp.
There’s also a level of cissexism that gets coded into it–a cissexism that alienates and excuses harassment of gay men, cis and trans alike, and sanctions them to be interrogated about if they’re “really” gay, as well as subjecting trans men to passive-aggressive transphobia under the excuse that their genitalia are just inherently unattractive to the previously established “real” gay men.
People, especially cis gay men, are more prone to see themselves as an oppressed class than a class with oppressive power, so for a quick second just set aside your kneejerk response to words like “cissexist” and “misogynist”. I’m not calling you “worse than Hitler” or “scum of the earth” or whatever hyperbolic thing you saw online once and still haven’t gotten over. I’m saying, simply and plainly, as someone who used to be in the exact same position as you, that presenting gayness as a revulsion to vagina is something that contributes to narratives about bodies, gender, sex, and sexuality that directly contribute to ostracizing, alienating, and downright hurting people.
It’s also not particularly true. Face it, there are a lot of gay trans men. There are cis gay men who date trans men. You might argue that they’re not “really” gay, but if you’re talking about someone who exclusively dates and has sex with men, and has sustained this pattern for much (if not all) of their sexually active life, it’s pretty hard to claim that they’re something “other” than gay. It’s not that we don’t love cock–really, I mean, we’re all dudes who like dudes, it’s pretty much a given that the vast majority of us like cocks. But when you’re feelin’ a guy it’s usually not because you know what’s in his drawers. It can be, especially in the age of Grindrs and Scruffs and other instant nude apps, but even they have rules disallowing nudity in your profile picture, so you’re still basing your immediate attraction to a guy based on facial features, build, personality. Which, believe it or not, are all things trans men have.
Nobody cares if you don’t find vaginas attractive. I personally don’t understand the appeal of well-defined abs, or that weird floppy haircut straight boys with sleeve tattoos seem to all have, but I wouldn’t treat them as repulsive so much as, well, uninteresting to me. I don’t think they’re even remotely innate preferences for myself, or for “real” gay men, and I don’t treat them as an excuse to harass and insult groups of people who are already stigmatized. Sexuality isn’t defined by what someone isn’t attracted to–and disgust for something you’ve spent your whole life being told is disgusting shouldn’t be assumed to be part of your nature. You already had to learn to love men despite what society was telling you–is it really that hard to learn to not treat women like some sort of weird bipedal bug?