Thursday, February 21, 2008

Mind Your Manners

When I was younger people often asked me if I were gay. Or, rather than ask, people would just assume it and go about making sure everyone else assumed it as well. I've even had friends confess that when they first met me they thought I was gay. Because of that, I've often wondered what it is about me that makes people think that. Is it my looks? Is it the way I talk, or the way I carry myself or move? Is it my expressions? Is it because I've never had a girlfriend, and haven't really shown any interest in having one? Is it all of these things, or more?

I remember it used to really bother me when people would ask me about my sexuality. When I was in middle school, I mostly just took any questions or accusations as a form of insult from people who didn't really like me, and I'd usually just brush it off as no big deal. At that age, I don't think it was really about people thinking I was gay so much as it was meant to be a put down. At the time though, I honestly had wondered about my sexuality. I wasn't really sure how to respond to that question, or insult. I just didn't know. However, during my first semester in high school, a discussion came up one day during health class about homosexuality. The teacher explained to the class certain aspects of that, and I remember sitting there—probably wide-eyed—thinking, I have those thoughts, I've done those things. Maybe I am gay. Even after thinking that though, I didn't want to be gay. I fought very hard against thinking of myself that way. I always have. But after that time, when older students who barely knew me at all began asking me about my sexuality, or calling me gay—sometimes even publicly—and making fun of me, it was hard for me to brush that off as I'd done before as just insult. It became clear that people really did think I was gay, and that bothered me. I didn't want people thinking that about me, and I took it very personally when they did.

A few times, I've felt comfortable enough with the person bringing the subject up to ask them why they thought that about me. Two thirds of the time the answer has been the way I talk and my mannerisms. The other third is usually due to the fact that I've never pursued any romantic relationships with girls. Not that I've pursued a relationship with any guys in the last ten years, but I suppose that doesn't matter. No girlfriend must equal gay to some people. But the three biggest reasons I've been given by people thinking I was gay is the way I talk, my mannerisms, and the fact that I've had no girlfriend.

I'll admit, sometimes I can see why other people would think that I'm gay. I look at myself sometimes and I see such a feminine, non-masculine person. I don't feel very masculine at all most of the time. I try to be though, and I like how it feels when I am, but most of the time it's just not there. I seem to get a boost of self-esteem whenever I'm able to do something particularly masculine, and I guess that's just because my male body rejoices over the fact that I'm doing something it's meant to be used for. I like hard work that actually requires some physical strength. I know I'm not the strongest of persons, but when I am able to use my muscles in such a way I get a shot of masculinity to my system. I feel a little less gay, I suppose.

I've had people at different times in my life question some of the ways in which I present myself. I've had people tell me that I walk like a girl. I've noticed that most guys sort of have a particular stride or swagger to the way that they walk. They typically walk, for a lack of a better choice of words, straight. To be blunt, most men walk as though they have something between their legs, and yet, according to others, I don't walk like that. I tend to cross one leg in front of the other just a bit as I move forward, which is the way I've been told only women walk. I actually don't think I walk too dissimilarly from other guys, but maybe I do. It is a bit hard to see for myself. I've been told that I shouldn't walk like that, but it's nothing I do intentionally. It's just how I walk. There's not one thing deliberate about it. When I've tried to walk differently, it just feels wrong. I feel stiff-legged and fake.

I've also been told that I have a “gay” voice, or a unique way of speaking. Last winter a kid at my church noticed. He asked me, “Where do you get your vocabulary?” I was a little dumbfounded on how to respond to him, because I wasn't sure if he meant the way I sound or my choice of words. I know sometimes I can talk somewhat intellectually, or a bit wordy, but I really got the sense that he meant my sound. I dumbly replied something like, “I don't know. It's just how I've always talked.” And then that was that. But I know my voice is soft, and it's not nearly as low as most other guys. I've actually been confused for a girl at various times during phone conversation or at drive-through windows and the like, mostly when I was in my teens though—and believe me, it's an embarrassing thing when the person on the other end does that and realizes their mistake. But it's usually been the way I talk that has given myself away to people the most in the past. I used to be incredibly shy. I still am, but not anything at all like I used to be. And being shy, I'd often not speak up when I talked. I talked quietly, or sort of sheepishly. In recent years, my voice has deepened some, and I try to speak more confidently when I talk. Because of that, I know I don't sound near as effeminate as I used to sound, but I still have sort of a soft voice. Add that to the mannerisms and hand gestures I typically use when I talk, and I must still come across as “gay” to a lot of people. Most of the time, I don't even realize I'm doing those things. When I do, I try to tone it down a bit, usually, but there again, that's just one of the unconscious things about me. I talk with my hands, my voice is soft, and I evidently walk and move as a girl, none of which is intentional on my part.

Some people would say that all that's wrong. They'd say that because I come across effeminate at times, that I'm sinning because I'm not acting like a man. Thing is, I'm not acting one way or another. I'm not trying to act like a woman. I'm just being myself. If I do any acting, it's to come across more masculine than I actually am. I don't want to think of myself as womanly, and I don't want others thinking that way about me either. I like to think of myself as being manly or masculine. After all, I am a man. But just because I may not always fit all of the social norms that define man or masculinity, that doesn't mean that I'm sinning, or in the wrong, does it? I don't think so.

I think it's okay for people to just be themselves—to be who you are and to be comfortable with yourself. God makes us to be unique individuals. No two people will ever completely be alike. The thing is, just because someone doesn't meet all social norms or requirements for being either masculine or feminine, doesn't mean there is something wrong with them. A guy who doesn't like football or chasing the ladies, or who has a soft voice doesn't mean there is something wrong with him. A girl who likes sports and hates playing with dolls doesn't mean there is something wrong with her. It's okay that there are differences like that. I just wish people would accept the fact that not everybody fits into a perfect mold for either masculinity or femininity—whether gay or straight—and that they shouldn't go around questioning and making accusations against people all the time as they do just because of that. But, speaking of ones sexuality, if a person wants you to know that they're gay, it's their choice. Not yours. If they want to tell you they'll do so when they're good and ready on their own time. If not, don't make any self-assumptions, and definitely don't be so disrespectful to back them into a corner or to go around calling them names or making fun of them.


Acquaintance
: “Are you gay?”

Me: (Nervous) “No.”

Acquaintance: “I was just wondering.”

Me: “Well, I'm not. Why would you even think that?”

Acquaintance: “I don't know. You just sort of act and sound gay sometimes.”

Me: (Self-conscious) “Well, I'm not, so just drop it.”

Good Friend: (Nonchalantly) “You know, I actually thought you were gay too the first time I met you.”

Me: (Crushed, speechless, and wanting to crawl into a hole and cry, thinking to myself, I can't escape this).

21 comments:

jennypo said...

Brandon, our society is warped. We've believed a huge lie about what masculinity and femininity are, and that only serves to take us away from what is real.

Being a "real man" is not about how you walk or talk, and the way you walk and talk is not a sin. It's just part of who you are - part of who you were made, and part of who you have grown to be because of your experiences.

While it may feel good to do physical work, the responsibility you are shouldering now shows you more manly than so many men today who pump iron to build their bodies and their egos, but whose characters are weak, flaccid, and pale.

Please, use your unique perspective to show this crazy mixed-up world what God means a "real man" to be.

RikFleming said...

If you think someone asking you, "Are you gay?" is bad... the other day someone asked me, "Are you French?"

I had never been so insulted in all my life!

pursuegod said...

Brandon,

I relate to your post--the non-gender conforming traits (according to American culture). There is nothing wrong with you and nothing wrong with me. You are 100% a man. It so bothers me how people put labels and such on us.

I remember Sy Rogers talking about how things were so different when he lived in Asian cultures, like Singapore where the ideal of masculinity was different than in America. Many Asian men would appear effiminate compared to the Western American cowboy profile.

It took me a long time to realize there wasn't anything wrong with me because so much of the culture--mostly the conservative church culture--said that my personality wasn't suitable for a girl.

Its amazing how much people judge each other, make assumptions and put people into boxes. It takes strength to push past those, and it take a real man, like yourself, to have the maturity to face that kind of pain and work through it.

Brandon said...

Very funny, Rik, you french fry you. :)

(Believe it or not, I actually have been asked if I'm British before. Go figure on that one. I think the person asking was high or something.)

Jenny and Karen, thanks a bunch. I really appreciate what both of you had to say. And I'll agree that people too often judge each other. As Christians, that's not at all what we're supposed to be doing.

I think I had read that before about Sy Rogers, but I'd also studied about the gender roles of various cultures when I took a sociology class a few years ago. In some countries, the roles seem almost completely switched. I'd probably be a superman in some African tribes.

God bless ya all, and thanks for the boost of masculinity. :)

Brandon

MR said...

Brandon,

People are so often cruel. Thank God He is not like that.

"Gay" or feminine mannerisms are not sinful in themselves, but I think you would agree that they are distracting to others. To help other people and communicate better it might be a good idea to act more masculine, but don't feel guilty if you inadvertently appear feminine. Try asking God for help in building masculine character traits of courage, initiative, and self-discipline. Those are helpful, not just superficial.

Most people tell me I appear masculine (except when I am around not-so-straight-acting guys, haha). I was born with worse coordination than most people, so my movements sometimes appear ungraceful or even robotic. I have a slightly deeper and louder voice than the average man. In short, my genetic characteristics make me appear more masculine.

I still have difficulty fighting my own battle against same sex attractions despite being masculine in other ways. It is far more important to glorify God and live in freedom from sexual sin than it is to worry about how masculine you act!

Brandon said...

As I said in the post, any acting on my part is to come across more masculine than I feel like I actually am.

To read over this post again though, I feel like I painted a picture of myself as being more effiminate than I am. I do tend to have feminine mannerisms sometimes, but those are expressions I generally do tend to guard myself against using. Same with my voice. I do think my voice sounds rather effeminate. But mostly when I get excited or begin talking too fast. If I keep my head about me I can usually keep from sounding that way (at least not too much).

I think most people, just at a glance, would not think automatically that I'm gay. And that's not usually the case anyway. It's when I begin talking to someone or hanging out with them or something along the line of that--when I begin opening up to people--that they begin to think this about me. That's not always the case though. A few people have caught on faster than others. But usually that's been the way it's happened. It's not that a person can just look at me and automatically think that I'm gay. At least I hope not. So, distracting, I don't know. I don't think I would call myself a flamboyant sort of person just at a look. In most cases, I think I could come and go and no one ever know I was ever around. In other words, I don't usually wear bright colored clothes, dye my hair bright red, or go skipping down the sidewalk singing Spice Girl songs to catch peoples attention. And I certainly don't extenuate what feminine traits I have. If a person getting to know me or being around me begins thinking I'm gay and that's distracting to them... well, that's their problem. It's nothing I'm doing intentionally to illicit that.

I agree with you, MR, that glorifying God and living in freedom from sexual sin is more important than worrying about how masculine I act. And I'll agree that those character traits you mentioned are some good ones to work on.

The point of this post was to suggest just that. But also to get across that judging people on their looks is wrong. And backing people into a corner where they either have to out themselves or lie is wrong too. The point is that people should be respectful enough of others to treat them with dignity and respect, regardless of however they look or whatever mannerisms or expressions they may have.

MR said...

Brandon,

Thanks for clarifying. Yes, it is definitely wrong to judge others by their looks or mannerisms and then back them into a corner by asking if they are gay. I hope I never do that.

If someone mistreats me like that I want to remember that Jesus said to love and pray for our enemies. He taught us to do good to those that mistreat us instead of repaying evil for evil. Once a straight guy did that to me, only he didn’t ASK if I was gay, he TOLD ME “You’re gay!” I answered him gently and with respect, showing I cared about him. I explained that I was tempted, but God helps me resist. He and I had regular conversations over a long period of time where I kept trying to show him God’s love. We eventually became friends and he apologized for his bad behavior. Last week he actually told me that I am his closest friend!

So God may use you to change the heart of the one mistreating you. Love your enemies.

Brandon said...

That's a great way to look at it, MR. Glad you made a friend out of it as well. Just goes to show how doing things God's way really can make a difference, doesn't it. :)

God bless ya, buddy.

Brandon

Jay said...

A Roman Catholic friend of mine recently told me that the season of Lent doesn't include Sundays, which is good, because I was having a hard time staying away from your blog, Brandon!

This is a great post. I have to say I've never been very concerned with how masculine or feminine I appear. Certainly I don't exactly act like "all the other straight guys," but honestly, who would want to? Like you said, sports, women, and a "macho" aura do not a Christian man make.

I like MR's description of "courage, initiative, and self-discipline." I'd say those are much better standards for masculinity (though I don't see why they have to simply be masculine traits; women shouldn't be without them, either.) In all things, strive to love God and keep His commandments. All the rest... Simply doesn't matter.

And also, don't let self-consciousness about your "masculinity" keep you from being yourself and having a good time. Oh, how much joy I would have missed out on if I didn't let loose and dance, sing show tunes, and joke around with my friends! Who cares if I don't conform to society's image of what "masculinity" is? The good thing is to have people around you like you for you, not who you're pretending to be.

Also, if people ask about your sexuality, and you love and trust them enough, don't be afraid to tell them the truth about what's going on in your life. Yes, it may not be their business, but you can't do this alone (trust me!), and letting people know wouldn't spell the end of your world. At the very least, they'll feel honored that you were willing to share your struggles with them, and you can have deeper, more meaningful relationships with your friends from then on. Pray about it, and God bless.

(If you can't respond to this by the end of today, please e-mail me with your response instead! Easter can't get here fast enough!)

Jim Jordan said...

Hi Brandon,
A very thorough and thoughtful post. Our society cynically believes that everybody is up to something when in fact mannerisms are not sexual in nature. I worked with a business partner who was raised by a single mom and happened to have a few feminine traits, his walk particularly. There was no truth to it, just a bunch of hooey based on a few feminine attributes that he got from his mom.

How often people are forced into identifying as gay just because of their mannerisms. They aren't given any respect to deal with their attractions before the society judges them. Great post and a fascinating perspective.

Brandon said...

Jay, it's good to hear from you. I'm glad Sundays don't count for Lent.

One thing I've been learning to do the last year or so is to loosen up more around people and just be myself. At least, like you said, around people near to me or that I feel safe with. You're right, I can't do this alone.

And I've realized how much I'd been missing out on in life. I used to have a tendancy to isolate myself quite a bit. There's not much fun in living your life like that. I've been working hard to not do that anymore though and to just be myself more around people.

I liked what MR had to say. Being honest with people can be a good thing. You can witness to people, make friends, not be alone, be more relaxed. There's good that can come of it.

My problem is that I've had a tendancy to worry too much about what others think of me. I haven't wanted to think of myself as gay or feminine and I haven't wanted others to think of me that way either. I am learning to let go of those worries though. And life's looking so much better because of it. I'm being able to enjoy life so much more and make closer and more meaningful relationships.

Thing is, I know not everyone will always like me. Regardless of what I do or don't do, there will always be somebody who doesn't care about me. That's just the world we live in. And if someone doesn't like me, then so what? I shouldn't let what a few people think control how I live my life.

Thanks for commenting, Jay. It means a lot. I hope you're doing well.

Jim, thanks for your comments too. I think you make a good point about people being judged as gay based on their mannerisms, whether they're actually same sex attracted or not. I've actually known some straight guys like you mentioned, who do come across very effiminite. That proves the point I was making in the post. We shouldn't make assumptions or judge people based on their mannerisms or other features. We shouldn't be judging people, period.

God bless ya!

grace said...

Brandon,
Sorry I'm just getting around to reading this. I'm not sure how I missed it...but...

While I have absolutely no advice to offer you about this post...and I don't think you're asking for any....well...I want to voice/vent my own response if it's okay with you. And PLEASE don't take this as any sort of accusation because it absolutely is not....this is simply my response to your thoughts.

I can say with quite a bit of certainty that my ex-husband went through these exact lines of thinking right down to the conversation you described during his younger years. I wish SO much that he'd been able to feel comfortable, safe, secure...whatever it took...to be upfront with others about his attractions. He was so afraid of being gay (i'm not saying the same about you...i'm saying that your post reminds me of him)...that he ended up...well...if you know my story, you know what he ended up doing.

There has GOT to be some sort of happy-medium place where the word "gay" is not equated (it was for my ex-husband) with something horrific to be considered. There ARE gay men who marry women and raise traditional families.

I guess I'd just like to see gay not be such a "demonized" sort of word. I know you don't want to take it on as your identity...I do get that...but...still.

As I said, I'm not offering advice..just really wanting to vent my perspective.

OH...and thanks for the opportunity to have conversation at pomo's blog! :)

Brandon said...

Grace,

I'm not entirely sure how to respond to your comment...

Why would gay equate to something horrific? It could be due to the way people so often mistreat gay people. The fact that some openly gay people in my county have been bullied out of school, beaten up, killed, verbally abused, rejected by their friends and family, seen their property destroyed, their pets killed and strung up in the tree in their front yard, and so on and so on. I think you can see where I'm going with that.

Being openly gay is a little bit scary a proposition for me, to tell you the truth. There's a lot of people full of hate and violence and bigotry out there and I personally don't want to face their wrath. But I also don't want other guys looking at me as though there's something wrong with me. And I don't want to be different. I don't like feeling different. I don't like feeling like something went wrong with me in comparison to other men. This is just a conflict within me. If 98% (roughly) of the population is straight, then to my mind that must obviously be the norm, and God's intent. And I believe the Bible is clear in this regard. But I don't like thinking of myself as womanly either--even though those thoughts come more naturally to me. I don't think God intended men to behave or act as anything other than men. And I don't think having sex with another man is a manly sort of thing to do. I've honestly never known of anything that ever made me feel more emasculated than to have sex with another man.

I understand that you may not understand why I feel the way I do. But I don't think I could ever properly explain all the complexities to you. I want something I can't seem to acquire. I want something else I believe is sinful. I know I am man, but I feel so incredibly unmanly so much of the time. Can you see the conflicts there?

I don't aim to demonize the word gay or homosexual. If you took that to be my meaning, you were mistaken, and it wasn't my intent. But if I do come across at all to be demonizing homosexuality, well, maybe it's just because nothing whatsoever good has ever come of it for me and I have nothing good to say about it. I'm sorry that I personally can't paint a rosy picture of what it's like to be gay. That's just not my experience. I certainly don't speak for everyone in this regard, but, well, there you have it.

grace said...

Brandon,
ugh. I obviously am horrible at communicating with you. Again....just as in pomo's thread...we are saying the same thing. I thought I'd made it clear (i tried to) that I was not saying that YOU were doing these things. I was saying that your post reminds me of how my husband felt and he felt that way because of the way other people "demonize" being gay. Just like you clarified in your response to me.

I'm sorry. I think I'll just leave well enough alone when talking with you because I think we agree on most things but just come at it from very different angles and so it feels like disagreement. If that makes sense. I think you're doing a great job and I have so much compassion for you. I'm sorry I've so poorly communicated that compassion in trying to communicate my own perspectives on the matter.

thanks for listening and being patient with me.

Brandon said...

Grace,

Don't worry about it. I just misread. I have a great tendancy to do that sometimes and I'll apologize for that. If I do it again, please just overlook me. If you could, I'd tell you to just slap me up side of the head and tell me to chill out. ;)

I'm glad you wrote to me though. And I want you to feel welcome to write anytime.

Actually, now that I think about it, I'm laughing. We seem to be disagreeing about agreeing. How absurd is that? I actually feel rather stupid just now. :)

God bless ya.

Brandon

Anonymous said...

Hey brandon! i had to respond to your post. my name is antonio im 28 and i know all too well what you mean. You may exhibit all of those things but one thing you left out was HUMILITY...youre humble and God can work with that. I dont like football, i like ballroom dancing, i dont like playing cards, i play piano. Ask Daddy what He needs from you..youve heard what society WANTS from you. I still watch the golden girls and aint no devil in hell is going to stop me LOL. Look at Daddy the bible describes Him as beautiful,robes of beautiful colors,look how he designed the interior of the temples. A real man is one who can acknowledge just like you did that he may differ from whats considered normal. God has called me one day to minister to people trapped in homosexuality as I know first hand the destruction in it and how its a deathstyle. but that has nothing to do with the sound of your voice,a non swaggering walk etc. From hotels to batthhouses, ive been in the dungeons of sin, and if masculinity according to society is shown by the way a man walks or talk, tell me why alot of my encounters have been with thugs, corporate america family men etc. (im not gloryfying my sin..just making a point) the life of a homosexual man and society's macho man are both flawed..both are perverse. We ALL are in need of God. Jesus was the most balanced man there was. I walked in confidence and power but he was confident enough in who he was to weep in front of people and to let a man cry on his breast. Thats balance for you. this is what the macho man and the homosexual man lacks. in short, we are all jacked up! and Jesus loves us all regardless of what anybody has to say! love you brother, and hang in there. you got a heavenly home waiting on you and the devil will do anything to make you take your mind off of it. love ya take care
tonioincolumbus@yahoo.com

Anonymous said...

correction from above: Jesus walked in confidence and power...I wrote I.
By the way, brandon let me add something else. I know what its like to cry and be self conscious when people say 'oh i knew you were..'. But turn this 'lemon' into lemonade....that is, let peoples recognition of your struggle be a humbling device so you wont ever think you have 'arrived' but at the same time remember you sit in heavenly places and theres not a person created,existing, or will be created that will ever be above you. Lets you and i both strive to not let ourselves be validated by man any longer. like my brother says people think but God knows.

Anonymous said...

I need to add something else brandon because i identify so well with you. there will be a tendency to try to 'fit in'with other guys that have our same issues. God wants us to fellowship with other men no doubt. But dont ever go to the extreme (not saying you are..). Ive seen many people who testify saying they are now 'one of the guys'. Now im not knocking fellowship. I love the feeling of bonding with another man with true godly love wheres no lust or sinful intention present...truly loving as God intends. Im very sentimental and love movies showing same sex godly bonding. I love the movie 'beaches' with bette midler and the movie stand by me. I love bonding with other brothers like david did with jonathan in the bible. What im against is for men like us doing whatever it takes to 'fit in' as if we have to qualify who we are to ANYbody. We must love everyone but not be shaken when we are rejected (and we will be by some men who dont understand our issues) but while we are loving those who reject us we must keep in mind that we are not hard up for acceptance because we were accepted 2000 years ago by the ONE who matters MOST! God bless you and I love you!

Brandon said...

Hey Antonio!

Thanks for the very kind remarks. They really do mean a lot to me. And you certainly brought up some very good points. It really is better to be as God expects than what others do. And "Jesus loves us all regardless of what anybody has to say!" That's definitely so true. He loves us all more than we could ever possibly imagine.

Please feel free to comment anytime. And you're in my prayers. :)

God bless ya!
Brandon

P.S. I actually like the Golden Girls too. As well as Stand by Me and Beaches. I like seeing that sort of friendship and bonding too. There's just something so very warm about it.

Antonio said...

Hey Brandon..thanks for replying. any other friendship movies you can think of? Whether its songs or movies about it, i just eat it up. As for ssa, im striving to be like Paul and be content. it could always be worse. please brace yourself and check out the following video. its very touching and would cause anybody to thank God. Its a bittersweet video though..
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=i7j87OWaFx4

Brandon said...

I'm partial to the Harry Potter movies myself. Particularly the first three movies. They just have such a great message of love and hope and friendship in them. I cry every time I watch the ending to the second one when Hagbrid walks in and Harry says Hogwarts wouldn't be the same without him. Beautiful!

I watched that youtube video. Hard to watch, but I'm glad you pointed it out. Thanks.

God bless.