Friday, July 10, 2015

Related to this morning's post

Thorpe admits that there’s something unnerving about having learned, subconsciously, to adopt a stereotype. Did he choose to sound gay or did sounding gay choose him? A friend from childhood tells him that, when he came out in college, his inflections suddenly changed, and part of her still hears the voice of an “imposter” when he talks. It reminded me of a straight friend who once told me, soon after I came out, that I was starting to sound “essy.” (The gay “lisp” is a bit of a misnomer, usually referring to a sibilant “S.”) Was I finding my true voice, or just reprogramming myself to conform to a different group?
The phrase that jumps out at me here is "when he came out at college". Years ago I commented on the tendency of gay men I've known to become much more gay in behaviour after coming out. In a sense, the reason for this is obvious: now that you're out you want to be identifiable by potential partners. Given that gay men make up less than five percent of the male population by even the most liberal estimates, that's going to be a challenge and, thus, the shock of "unconsciously" adopting a stereotype. 

I put the scare quotes around "unconsciously" for there is nothing at all unconscious about it. Wittgenstein talks somewhere about how we can imitate a facial expression without looking in the mirror. In a sense that is odd and yet it is the most familiar thing in the world. Everyone has a sense of the range of behaviours that are manly, womanly and gay and we can and will adopt these where it seems appropriate. We don't need to study ourselves to adopt mannerisms, we just do it—but it is very much each of us who makes these choices and we know what we are doing.

Our innate sense of "who we really are" depends entirely on how well we can carry that self off in public. No mater how strongly Thorpe may feel he is gay and ready to come out, his success or failure depends entirely on other gay men recognizing him as gay. "Was I finding my true voice, or just reprogramming myself to conform to a different group?" Hiding behind that is a notion of authenticity; the belief that once I know what I really am, I can simply let what I am shine forth. But what you are is always something you have to earn; you cannot be anything at all unless you make yourself that person.

And the real rub here is for heterosexuals. You may think you "know" you are a man with XY chromosomes or a woman with XX chromosomes but you are nothing until you can convince others to accept you as that. We tell ourselves a lot of nonsense about being a man or a woman "on my own terms" but everyone knows this isn't true even if we pretend otherwise.

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