Wednesday, June 03, 2009

Mannerisms

I’ve had a few conversations with friends recently about how guys who deal with homosexuality also need to deal – one way or another – with their mannerisms. That is to say, those who struggle with this issue who also have “stereotypically gay” mannerisms have to make a decision about whether or not these are things they’d want to change, or if they are inconsequential to their spiritual growth as men. Like it or not, if you live in a conservative area and tend to set off people’s “gaydar” because of the way you sit, talk, or carry yourself, it’s going to be something you’re going to have to deal with, and you can choose to either conform and try to act more “manly,” or you can make a reasonable case that just because you act a little more “prim” than the average guy, doesn’t mean that you’re less of a man, Biblically.

I do believe that the Bible presents directions on how to be men and how to be women. I think men and women have unique – but equally important and respectable – roles within the church and family. Actually, after a quick search I found this pretty general resource about the characteristics that the Bible emphasizes for men. They’re pretty standard: men provide and protect, men are spiritual leaders, men should be loving husbands (if they marry), and men should be righteous. There are plenty of verses to support this, but you’ll find that not one of them says, “Men should like football” or “Men should have firm handshakes.”

Before I get ahead of myself, I’ll say that this post isn’t really about homosexuality. I know really stereotypically “macho” gay guys and very “feminine” straight men. The only way this relates to people who struggle with homosexuality is that many gay men and women are stereotyped to have the mannerisms usually reserved for the opposite sex. Still, heterosexuals can be pressured to conform to the “standard” mannerisms for their gender as well.

And generally, I find that wrong. I mean, surely it’s important for people to be able to have healthy relationships with people of the same sex. But I’ve often found that I get along best with guys when I’m being myself, even if “myself” is someone who has a little more “sugar in their step” as the Southern saying goes. I think the guys I know appreciate authenticity. I’m not very authentic when I try to walk with a “manly swagger” or talk about sports like I give two cents. I end up looking like that ridiculous scene between Robin Williams and Nathan Lane in The Birdcage. Williams tries to teach Lane how to “be a man,” and it doesn’t turn out well. The fact of the matter is I’m an English major who uses big words when I talk, has a high-pitched voice, has a little more poise when sitting or standing, and uses hands during expression very profusely.

And exactly when did things like that make one more “feminine”? I’m not going to say that notions of masculinity and femininity are purely social constructs. If you take the Bible to be revealed truth, then they certainly aren’t. At the same time, Biblical masculinity and femininity focuses more on what’s inside – what one’s spiritual state is and what role one is. It doesn’t really focus on outward trivialities. The closest you could come to that is when it says for women to dress modestly, and that has more to do with helping men not stumble with their eyes.

The things culture defines as a “masculine mannerism” or “feminine mannerism” changes with both time and geographic locations. Men in other countries can kiss and hold hands walking down the street. Men used to wear lace, stockings, and powdered wigs without anyone thinking less of it. Now I’m not trying to say a guy should wear a pink sequined top and makeup and expect to be totally accepted by society or by the church. But there’s a difference in ostentatiously trying to push the boundaries between genders and just being someone who has a natural “femininity” to them. I personally think that the church can use guys who, though righteous leaders, are gentler, more nurturing, more energetic… and know how to dress, decorate a room, and put on a musical number.

Okay, I apologize for the stereotypical humor in that last bit. Take care, everyone!

33 comments:

Jeff S. said...

I love your blog.

naturgesetz said...

Good points.

I think sometimes the advice, "Be yourself," can be misapplied to things which are not truly parts of one's being. We should consider ourselves to be the adopted child of God, growing in holiness by his grace. And how we walk or talk is not a necessary part of that.

So if "feminine" behaviors hinder our effectiveness at spreading God's kingdom, then it is probably a good idea to try to modify them. I think I am pretty "masculine" in the way I act, and it may be a slight advantage in being able to deal with others.

But I agree that there is nothing that forbids having traits which society regard as more typically feminine. I would not consider it prudent to make a conscious effort to develop them, but if it's just the way one developed without serious thought and a conscious decision, there's nothing wrong with that.

Pomoprophet said...

Ah yes... the mannerisms debate :)

You're right that the bible only talks about the inside. Unfortunately, the church often can't get past the outside. I was guilty of this too. But Jay, the church SHOULD be a place where people can come wearing "pink sequined top and makeup" Is it the body of christ or a social club where people are expected to adhere to social norms? Sadly its become the latter. Which is why so many freaks and wierdos hang out in the GLBT community, because atleast there they are accepted. And thats a sad commentary on the Church.

Jay said...

Jeff S.: Thank you. I love yours too. :)

Naturgesetz: Well, I'm not saying that how one walks or talks is essential to who a person is. However, many times guys who struggle with homosexuality are asked to give up, well, every part of who they are.

Not only do we have to give up relationships (which is difficult enough and our only real Scriptural command concerning homosexuality), but some guys are asked by their communities to give up their mannerisms, their interests in art or fashion, etc. Yes, we are asked to give up much for Christ, but I think things should be fair. And if someone is put off by the fact that I sit a certain way or have a high-pitched voice, then really, that's their problem. We can't go around trying to please everyone all the time.

Pomoprophet: Well, I think I would ask exactly why someone would come to church in such an ostentatious display. Like I said, we're called to be modest and humble, not seek attention for ourselves.

naturgesetz said...

Two clarifications.

First I was not thinking of a community asking someone to change his mannerisms. I was thinking about whether a person might want to make an effort on his own initiative. It seems to me that unless there are truly exceptional circumstances (which would be rare), it is not for a community to dictate mannerisms to a member.

Second, I think the mannerisms in question can develop more or less naturally and spontaneously. But I get the impression that sometimes people decide to adopt a gay persona. In either case, I think the question for the individual, not the community, to decide is whether these mannerisms are helping or hindering God's work. But in the case of the chosen persona, it would seem that it is inauthentic in a way that spontaneous mannerisms are not, and perhaps should be more readily set aside.

donsands said...

Mannerisms. That's a good discussion. Surely their are men who are effeminate.
I remember there was a local man who would visit my church from time to time, who had an effeminancy about him. We would talk, and it was usually a good conserving.
One day he was hurting. And somebody told me, so I found him, and asked him how he was doing.
He said, "Don, I'm not a homsexual. Some people think I am. I know I may seem that way, but I'm not."
I said, "Hey, as long as I've known you, I never assumed other than you like to come to church here every so often, and one day we'll get to know each other better."

There's something inside of me that does assume effeminate mannerisms as a fact about the person, and I fight it.

Thanks for the post jay. Deep stuff to ponder once again.

I have a quick question. Why is it that some homosexual men want to be queens? And some lesbians want to be a "butch", or more masculine?

You are addressing that in this post as well I think.

I'm not trying to step on any toes here, but just am curious.

I heard on the news that a high school boy was named the prom queen in some school in Iowa I think. I don't understand that.

Have a blessed evening Jay.

MR said...

Jay, I agree with you that there is no command in the Bible to watch the Super Bowl or to avoid using the word "fabulous". Although I deal with same sex attraction, my natural mannerisms seem masculine to most people. Still, I do my best to make my gay, struggling, or whatever friends feel comfortable as they are and don't ask them to adopt traditional masculine behavior, because I don't see God demanding it of them.

Here are some of the things I have heard well-meaning Christians tell same sex attracted guys:

Talk more "butch".
Don't use emoticons when you IM.
Don't cross your legs like that.
Don’t hug me.
Don’t shake hands, bump fists instead.
You are standing too close.
You are sitting too close.
Your hand gestures are too “limp-wristed”.
Don’t wear those jeans, they look like girls’ jeans.
Stop prancing.

The list goes on, but in essence these people are just piling on us new rules that are not in the Bible. Some of these rules are even harmful!

On the other hand, sometimes it is wise for us to adjust our behavior to be considerate of others and not draw inappropriate attention to ourselves. Like you said, wearing a pink sequined shirt to church would not help anyone, it would just be a distraction.

Jay said...

Naturgesetz: I understand now. Thank you for the clarifications.

Donsands: Thanks for stopping by, as for your question, I'm not sure. If by "queens" you mean drag queens, then the most I can say there is that female impersonation as an art form has a close tie to the gay community. It's almost a cultural thing.

And I say female impersonation loosely. No woman actually wears the kind of dresses that drag queens wear or uses the type of makeup or wigs they do (except maybe Jan Crouch). It's like theater. It's all about exaggeration and putting on a show. Granted, that show is usually bawdy, but I don't think it has anything to do with gender identity. Most drag queens are pretty happy as men in their day-to-day lives, and some are even straight.

In fact, sometimes they aren't even men at all. I know there was some controversy a few years back when a woman won a drag contest out in California. It's all about the elaborate costumes and makeup, not necessarily about a man pretending to be a woman.

Now, I don't know about the situation in Iowa, but I do know that a drag queen was voted Homecoming Queen at George Mason University recently. He's a gay male student, but his drag persona is a local celebrity there and is popular with the student body.

It's all confusing, I know. Honestly, most of the gay guys in Wilmington are pretty masculine. It's a very outdoorsy town, and most of the gay men I know are surfers, kayakers, athletes, etc. Being very effeminate can be a subject of ridicule among them just as much as it can be among straight men. Thanks for stopping by. God bless. :)

MR: Good thoughts. It's exactly those type of commands that I was talking about. I haven't heard too many, but I've heard more than my fair share.

donsands said...

Thanks Jay.

"(except maybe Jan Crouch)" That cracked me up. It's good to laugh.

Sweeney said...

I love how you pointed out how different cultures have different practices that our culture might label "gay", such as kissing on the cheek or holding hands. I will also point out that Jesus kissed his diciples, because he loved them as brothers.
I struggle with SSA and I find it very annoying that I sometime feel expected to keep up with "manly" things. In fact it does not really matter that I am SSA. I am a pretty masculine guy, but I just don't get into sports and such. I like music and theatre. Im at the point in my life where I don't really care if I don't fit in with other guys.

Brady said...

Donsands- regarding why gay guys might want to act queeney or gay women would want to act butch, I have 2 answers.

First, I think to some it is a cultural thing. Similar to how you see many young urban black guys act a certain way or why white sorority girls act a certain way. They are part of a community and are acting the way in which others act. To some degree, this is simply an exaggeration of the mannerisms they already had. It's a way to be part of a group, a way to be identified by others in the group, etc.

The other side is maybe that their mannersisms are like that normally, and rather than "playing them up" they simply aren't "playing them down." So, maybe it's not so much that they want to act more queeney or more butch, but that they aren't really thinking about it at all, and you know how if you hang out with people all of the same accent, you might start to pick up little nuances of their accent, that probably plays a bit of a role too.

Anyway, that's my two cents. I'm pretty sure their have been entire disortations written on this phenomenon, but that's how I see it at least.

donsands said...

"I will also point out that Jesus kissed his diciples, because he loved them as brothers."

Where is that in the Scriptures? If you don't mind me asking.

Surely Judas kissed Jesus. What a wicked man he was, and so a hateful kiss that was.
Though kisses are wonderful as well. Paul talked about falling on necks-(whatever that means)-, and holy kisses.

I have a good friend from Israel, who is a Messianic Jew. He loves Jesus. And one time we were witnessing to about 12 Egyptian exchange students, who were Moslems at their apartment in Baltimore.

It was a very extraordinary time. Preaching the good news of Christ to followers of Mohammad is intense, but very rewarding.

Meir, my friend, was telling the Moslem students that if they were in Israel in 1973, then he would have hated them, and wanted to kill them. (Meir was in the war at that time: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Yom_Kippur_War).
But now, because Christ saved his soul he loved them, his enemy. Meir was boldly speaking the truth in love.
And as we began to break up and leave, Meir was grabbing these young men, and hugging and kissing them. He's an amazing guy, and full of God's love, grace, and truth.

I'm sure Jesus was incredibly affection toward His disciples, but I just don't remmeber where the Bible said He kissed them. And I'm such a stickler for the truth.

Brandon said...

Excellent post, Jay.

I've had these thoughts on my mind plenty of times before. I know I come across a lot more effiminate than most guys, and that's bothered me some in the past (didn't help I was made fun of for it). But I'll agree with you that it's really nothing to worry about. God doesn't require us to change our voices, or mannerisms and such. It's not a sin to talk with ones hands or walk a certain way or even have a high voice. Those are just traits that contribute to our individualities. And there's nothing wrong with that.

I think people who think we should change those things about us in order to be more masculine (or feminine if female) to fit in just want that out of fear. They see guys who don't act like the majority and just freak out about it a little. But some of that, I believe does come from a fear of homosexuality as well.

I've known straight guys like the one Donsands mentioned who came across very effiminate. Then again, I've known gay guys who were very masculine. I think this proves the stereotypes aren't always true. And they certainly shouldn't matter.

My opinion, go right ahead using those big words, your hands while talking, moving about as usual, etc. Those are just things that make you unique as a human being. And I'm sure God finds those things very special about you.

God bless! :)

A. Friend said...

I agree!

I also think that we cannot stress enough that the notion that God has ordained men to spit, scratch and talk sports is pure nonsense.

I do think that it may help make life easier to modify one's mannerisms and I would recommend it in a general way (though not to extremes).
For example I wouldn't say one had to pretend to like sports, or yell frequently or roughhouse; but there is more than enough room in the manly spectrum for poise.

Jay said...

Brady: Thanks for your insights, man. Good to see you. :)

Don Sands: You know a Messianic Jew in Baltimore? I actually know one, too. I'm considering University of Baltimore for graduate school. Are you in that area? Interesting story, nonetheless. I think that male affection is a lot easier to show in the Middle East, Europe, and Asia.

Brandon: I think the fact that kids are bullied for not fitting the cultural gender norms in their mannerisms is an awful thing. I mean, bullying is awful, period. I think Christian parents need to really take a proactive approach to not only make sure they raise their children to not be bullies, but to raise their children to stand up for classmates who are bullied.

A. Friend: "There is more than enough room in the manly spectrum for poise." This cracked me up for some reason, but you're right. I think it also depends on the area of the country or the world. For example, in the South, the fact that I'm articulate, tidy, etc. makes people think that I'm gay. I'm sure in the North, or in simply a more professional environment, it wouldn't raise such issues.

God bless you all.

MR said...

A.Friend mentioned spitting. This is only somewhat tangentially related to the topic (Do you like my vocabulary? haha), but I have noticed a pattern with straight guys spitting.

Often a guy will spit on the ground as a way of communicating non-verbally but emphatically that he is NOT GAY. Once I was hiking up a steep hill when I noticed a very good looking shirtless guy walking down the path toward me. Maybe he could see in my face that I appreciated his upper body, I don't know, but I was not flirting. I said "hello" and he immediately spit on the ground. More than once I have seen a guy spit on the ground as soon as he makes eye contact with me!

Has anyone else seen straight guys spit like that to communicate?

donsands said...

Jay, I'm just up Rte 95 about 15 minutes from U of Bal'mer. It's smack dab in the middle of the city. The Inner Harbour is decent, but Baltimor is the top city for murders.
It's very liberal in politics, and yet there are a lot of fine people who live in Baltimore. Not many good churches though.

My partner in business was born in Israel. He is a Sabra. H ecame to the USA in his 20's. He still speaks fluent Hebrew, for he has family in Israel, and he calls and talk with them. It's nice to listen to Meir speak in Hebrew.

if you make it to Baltimore, we'll have to get together. I'll have you over the house, and you can meet my wife, Patti.

Have a wonderful Lord's day.

Jay said...

MR: Love the vocabulary, MR. :)

I've never heard of spitting as a way to communicate. I ran track in high school and did other sports with friends. I generally just find spitting as a necessity when doing physical activity. Kind of a habit, I guess. Amazing what we can get to talking to on this random blog of mine, eh?

Don Sands: Well, telling me I might get murdered in Baltimore doesn't make me want to go any more. Haha.

Kidding. A friend of mine is a med student at Johns Hopkins and I have family in Silver Spring and Annapolis. It's far enough away for me to have a new experience but not too far. I'm also looking at schools in Seattle, Boulder, and Asheville, NC. All pretty liberal places.

I'll keep you posted if I end up going there, though. As long as you're not one of those people looking to murder me. ;-)

Brandon said...

MR, I found that whole spitting thing hilarious. I'll agree with Jay though. Seems like that's just a part of physical activity for some people. I think in my case I just forget to swallow when I start to run out of breath. As for a way of communicating, I've never heard of that. Maybe some guys think it's macho or something, who knows.

Jay, I'll agree that Christians should definitely teach their children not to bully others, and to also teach them to stand up for those who get bullied.

I also wanted to say I found a lot of humor just in general with this post. I love that phrase "sugar in their step" that you used. I'd heard that a long time back, but had forgotten it. Sort of makes us sound sweet somehow, doesn't it? Oh, and I'll agree with that last little bit that you said about the church being able to use guys who don't typically fit the norm--even if it did sound stereotypical. I can relate actually. I like interior design, but my former church always tended to find that a "woman's only" sort of thing. To break with all modesty for a moment, I think I really did know more about it than probably half the lady's who went there. Oh well. Anyway, just wanted to say again that I enjoyed this post. Hope you're well. :)

Jay said...

Thanks, Brandon, and God bless you. I hope you're doing well too. :)

naturgesetz said...

Many years ago, in an article somewhere, I came across the line, "A man spits to show he has a flow of semen."

So if he thinks someone looks gay, and he spits in his presence, is he necessarily saying he ISN'T gay?

Rachael Starke said...

Jay -
This post made me LAUGH! Seriouly. And for the record, I am a sad excuse for a decorator. Ducks and bunnies are so not my thing.

It is a tough topic to sort through for sure. I actually attended an all-girls school in Australia, and it wasn't uncommon for girls to walk to classes holding hands or with their arms around eachother. And, ironically, even with that experience and with classes in, I kid you not, grooming and deportment, I graduated high school not the most feminine of women. But it is something that I have cultivated over the years. If I had to think about it out loud, I would say that when I was dating, I saw external physical mannerisms as indicators of possible inner traits like strength, courage, confidence. Not being overly "girly", I knew I wanted someone who would bring those qualities out, and that meant someone who I knew instinctively would keep me safe in a dark alley, or a dark house, or whatever. And I also knew that there was something significant to the whole idea of complementarity. I remember one guy I was mildly interested in because he was very masculine, handsome, etc., but he had an obsession with shoes, and he spent more time on his hair than I did. That killed it. :)

I do think this is somewhat subjective, and I appreciate the reminder that not every man who talks more softly or stands with all his weight on one foot is SSA.

But, as I've more intentionally pursued the "gentle and quiet" spirit that God says is what characterizes a beautiful woman, I do see how it has affected the way I try to speak and hold myself.

I'm still thinking through this one...

TRiG said...

About the prom queen: I read in one news outlet (it was a while ago) that he said he felt the role of "queen" suited his personality better than the role of "king" did.

And fair enough.

TRiG.

TRiG said...

I appreciate the reminder that not every man who talks more softly or stands with all his weight on one foot is SSA.

Maybe I'm just sheltered, but it would never have occurred to me to see that last as a gay stereotype.

TRiG.

donsands said...

"..he felt the role of "queen" suited his personality better than the role of "king" did."

What's that mean? If you don't mind me asking?

So, a man, wants to be a woman, even though he is a man?

That was my point with a woman trying to look like a man, or being "butch.
Why don't they both just be lesbians?
And why don't men just be men that are homosexuals?

Is it because marriage is a male and a female?
And so one homosexual in the relationship takes on the wife, and one takes on the husband?

It seems very obvious to me that this is the way it is. And yet, should it be?
Hope you don't mind me asking these questions Jay.

Jay said...

Don, I think issues of gender identity and sexual orientation aren't always connected, if they ever are. For example, I know of men who underwent sex reassignment surgery to become women, yet still had relationships with women (essentially being lesbians).

Most gay men, I think, feel very secure in their identity as men. They aren't looking to become women. Most lesbians aren't looking to be men. Gender identity disorder is sometimes linked to homosexuality, but not always.

And I'm not an expert on the issue, of course.

donsands said...

"Most lesbians aren't looking to be men."

But some do, is that right? That would explain it for me, when I see what I have seen.

But I do remember when Al Gore's movie won an Oscar, and the woman who accepted the Oscar, thanked her wife. So was this woman the husband?
Can I say, this all seems crazy to me, from a normal perspective, not even a biblical perspective?
Actually from a biblical view, it makes sense. Although it is wrong in the eyes of God.

I appreciate you letting me talk these things out Jay.

You know i am only a sinner saved by grace. I would love to have that on my tomb stone: "A sinner saved by His grace". Or maybe: "I am a great sinner, and I have a great Savior in Jesus Christ my Lord".

have a good day.

Jay said...

Don: "So was this woman the husband?"

Well, no. She was the wife, and her wife was the wife. That's the thing about gay relationships. They aren't boyfriend/girlfriend or husband/wife. By their nature, they are boyfriend/boyfriend, girlfriend/girlfriend, husband/husband, or wife/wife. I'm sure there are relationships where one partner takes on a more "masculine" role while another takes on a more "feminine" role, but I don't think this is necessarily the norm.

And feel free to ask questions. Take care!

TRiG said...

Gay relationships don't necessarilly conform to traditional gender roles.

For that matter, straight relationships don't necessarilly conform to traditional gender roles either.

TRiG.

Jay said...

TRiG: I know, TRiG. I just said that. :)

Daniel M said...

Howdy,

I'm sad I just started reading your blog...but at least I'm reading it now!

Unfortunately you live in a country that really struggles with gender security. I just made that term up, but what I mean is that American culture/society reinforces these stereotypes. I don't know why though. I struggled (feeling awkward/intimidated) with this before when I was in America and with some American men abroad. I recently blogged about it.

Remember, cultures are constantly changing, so change is possible! But it takes time and many events to bring it about.

peace,
daniel

Anonymous said...

I live as a happy straight man, late fifties, married, several kids, only two homosexual encounters of any sort, and an awareness of SSA for most of my life. It's easier now, as libido slacks with age and also as my father is more affectionate. However, I have some "effeminate mannerisms", talking with hands, using big words, not sure what else. For me, a bit of athleticism helps. I have never been sure why, but, more pushups produce a "manlier" walk. Cycling and swimming seem to alleviate some of the tension that produces the prancing priss effect.

Anonymous said...

Oh, the voice thing: As in singing, breathe from the diaphragm. Lie on your back and talk, noting how it feels to have a relaxed throat. We tighten up the throat muscles, and it pushes the voice higher. Also as in singing, visualize the sound of your voice passing up through the sinuses and exiting from a place at the top of the nose. Never mind sounding straight. You just produce a more resonant voice, pleasanter to hear. Oh, walk into the corner of a room and speak into it. You'll hear your voice more as others hear it, and moderate it accordingly. No reason to deal with others' contempt as you also struggle with taming the flesh.