13 Myths and Misconceptions About Gay Men

13 Myths and Misconceptions About Gay Men

There are lots of stereotypes about queer people. This post is going to explore some of the stereotypes concerning gay men. Many of the items in the list are not bad things! The issue is when people assume that because you’re a gay man, you’re _________.

The following 13 stereotypes about gay men are myths precisely because they are monolithic. There are plenty of gay men who fit into these categories and even some who like fitting into some of these categories. No problem! But there are also many gay men who do not fit into these stereotypes. “Gay men” is not a monolithic group of white, cisgendered, middle-class men. We’re a diverse group of people that come in all colors of the rainbow! Sadly, many of these myths are perpetuated by gay men. Others are perpetuated by media and “mainstream” society. So, without further ado, let’s get to tearing down some monolithic myths, shall we?

  1. Gay men love anal sex.

Okay, let’s just out with it. An assumption that is made about gay men is that they all just love the butt sex. Like this is something particular to gay men that it is a vital and inseparable aspect of the gay man identity. Sure, there are plenty of gay men who love anal sex–but there are also plenty of people other than gay men who love anal sex. Further, there are plenty of gay men who do not like anal sex at all. It’s not something that all gay men engage in simply because they’re gay. I’m often baffled when people who barely know me encroach on this area in conversation: “Are you a top or a bottom?” or “Do you pitch or do you catch?” Okay. Aside from that being no one’s business, it’s based on a patriarchal view of sex that all relationships require a penetrator and a penetratee. Simply not true.

  1. Gay men are promiscuous.

As long as we’re on the topic of sex, let’s talk about promiscuity. To be clear, there is nothing wrong with sleeping with many people (just be safe!). But the assumption stems from sexist views of what it means to be a man. There is this pervading narrative that men are naturally sex-driven beings, controlled by what’s between their legs and not what’s between their ears. So, it’s exponentially problematic when you put two or more gay men together because, well, we just cannot control ourselves and the unbridled fucking will commence. Unfortunately, this stereotype is fueled by a focus on gay men having sex in public places (which, by the way, straight people do as well–it’s just a lot less scandalous). Known as cruising or cottaging, this practice arose out of the stigmatization of gay identities and sexualities. However, this is not something that all or even most gay men do.

  1. Gay men’s relationships never last long.

Another version of this myth is that gay men don’t have “real” committed relationships. Both are false, and I think they both come from similar understandings of what it means to be gay, as do the first two myths above. There are plenty of examples of gay couples together for multiple decades. And the level of commitment in a relationship is as “real” as the people involved in the relationship make it. The commitment involved in “open” relationships is no less real than the commitment involved in “closed” relationships–it’s just different types of commitment. And, of course, all of this is true across the spectrum of relationships and is not specific to gay men.

  1. Gay men “recruit” children/teens.

GSA Logo. Image courtesy NGCSU GSA.

Gay-Straight Alliances (GSAs) are popping up in high schools all over the place. The response from the Right is that these are sinister organizations aim at recruiting children and teens to the radical gay agenda (whatever the hell that means). We don’t recruit–you’re confusing us with organizations like the Church or the armed forces. It’s possible this myth arises out of the fact that many queer folk do not come out until they are a bit older, and so it appears that any interactions they’ve had with other queer people have resulted in recruitment. But today kids are coming out at even younger ages, before they’ve encountered other queer people. The Right blames this on the overall breakdown of society caused by acceptance of queer folk. We are recruiting without even knowing, y’all!

  1. Gay men are more likely to be pedophiles.

This is empirically false. Psychologists (see Groth & Birnbaum 1978, for example) have elaborated on two types of pedophiles: fixated and regressive. Fixated pedophiles have no sexual interest in other adults, and are thus not to be described as heterosexual or homosexual because they focus on children of any sex. Regressive pedophiles are often attracted to other adults, but sometimes regress to immature sexual states where they become attracted to children. Regressive pedophiles do develop sexual orientations under this model, and the majority of them are heterosexual. Fortunately, this stereotype is slowly dying off.

  1. Gay men are effeminate.

Sure, some of us walk with a bit more swish as we sashay into a room. But is this an indicator of sexual orientation? Not necessarily. Just like everyone else, gay men exist on a continuum of masculine and feminine traits (traits which are culturally mediated; in other words, traits one society finds masculine may be viewed as feminine by another society). Some gay men are what our society considers more feminine, while others are more masculine. There are also effeminate straight men (I’m looking at you, Frank Bielec of Trading Spaces fame).

This is typical of confusing gender with sexuality. Gender (how people present as masculine, feminine, genderqueer, etc.) is related to sexuality (who people are or are not attracted to), but one does not determine the other.

  1. Gay men are drag queens.

Noxeema Jackson (Wesley Snipes) from To Wong Foo. Image courtesy of mycomrade.com

“When a gay man has way too much fashion sense for one gender, he is a drag queen.” – Noxeema Jackson, from To Wong Foo: Thanks for Everything Julie Numar

Drag queens are men who dress and perform as women. They are artists and entertainers who live their everyday lives as men but who don feminine clothing (some as female impersonators, others in over-the-top costumes). They work hard at honing their craft, and they have a particular subculture within the queer community that most gay men are not a part of. Simply dressing in women’s clothes does not a drag queen make! I personally really enjoy drag shows, but I have not the talent, energy, nor desire to be a drag queen.

  1. Gay men are fashionable/interior decorators.

This is probably one of the most pervasive myths about gay men–that we are all fashionistas that make amazing shopping buddies who could snap our fingers and transform your drab living room into a stylish lounge with a warm, inviting ambiance. Even my mother will say things like, “what do you think of that sweater I bought? Do you think it is stylish?” as if I am on top of the current fashion trends simply because I am gay.

I’ll admit, I do love to shop with my best friend, and I do enjoy decorating my house. But it’s not because I’m gay, it’s because those are things I enjoy doing. I have known lots of gay men who couldn’t decorate their way out of a paper bag and others who wear jeans and t-shirts without the slightest fashionistic thought crossing their minds.

  1. Gay men frequent clubs.

I hate gay bars. I don’t think there is even a word in the English language that adequately describes my contempt for gay bars and clubs. There is nothing quite as foul as the scent of sweat, cigarettes, and desperation. I think I have been to a total of four gay bars in all 30+ years of my time on this planet, and each and every time it was a horrendous experience. For me. It’s just not my scene–and it’s not the scene of plenty of other gay men either. The thing is, our history as a social justice movement began at a gay bar, so I understand their symbolic importance in the gay community.

  1. Gay men are gym rats.

A common theme across many of these myths is that gay men are obsessed with appearances and their bodies. Along with this picture comes the stereotype of the gay man as a frequent gym visitor, on a mission to sculpt the perfect body for his long nights of dancing in drag at gay bars after long days of shopping at Nordstrom’s and decorating houses. Those gay men that do attend the gym usually do so because they are interested in exercise or “getting healthy.” Others (yours truly) hate gyms and the most workout we get is walking around campus or housework. Again, this is a myth based on a monolithic understanding of gay men’s identities.

  1. Gay men abuse drugs.

This myth is, sadly, based on a disturbing fact: LGBT folks are at increased risk for substance abuse than are their heterosexual counterparts. The minority stress model of health disparities indicates that the reason for this may be “additive stress resulting from nonconformity with prevailing sexual orientation and gender norms” (from Institutes of Medicine’s 2011 report The Health of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender People, p. 21). Substance abuse is most definitely an epidemic among the gay community, but it is not something that all gay men experience (though it is something that we should all be concerned about).

  1. Gay men know each other.

Yes, people actually think this! There was a dental assistant that, upon finding out that I am gay, asked me if I knew two of her gay friends, and told me their first names only. She was baffled when I replied, “no, we don’t all know each other.” I live in the 7th largest city in the United States! I don’t know why she thought I would be more likely to know them than to know any of her straight friends–oh, that’s right! We all attend the same clubs and gyms, shop at the same stores, and gather together once a month to strategize on how to recruit children. Totally forgot.

  1. Gay men are drama queens.

What??? NO WE ARE NOT! I’m never speaking to you again!! Oh, wait…

It seems to me that this is just another version of the sexist trope of the emotional, hysterical woman. It’s like any sort of emotion or anger expressed by gay men or women indicates that we all let our emotions run wild. This myth is insidious because it also pushes the idea that gay men purposely use emotional outbursts for their own entertainment. No doubt, there are gay men that pull this sort of crap, just as there are those who are not gay men that act like this, too.

By Will
Will is the admin of Queereka, part of the Skepchick network. They are a cultural/medical anthropologist who works at the intersections of sex/gender, sexuality, health, and education. Their other interests include politics, science studies, popular culture, and public perceptions and understandings of anthropology. Follow them on Twitter at @anthrowill and Facebook at facebook.com/anthrowill.

11 Comments

  1. “I hate gay bars”
    Funny thing, over here the “gay bars” (well, some of them, the ones where the bar-thing is the main focus, not that there’s anything wrong about the other kind, but I’d be really out of place there) are the better and alltogether nicer places to go.
    They definetly serve the better cocktails.
    The LGBT clubnight was also the only place I went to dance when I still had the chance to do so. The atmosphere and especially the people were so much better than in regular “straight” clubs*

    I think that a lot of those misconceptions come from the fact that those “flamboyant” (for lack of a better word. Nothing wrong with it) gay men are the only ones ignorant straight people notice (and the media don’t help either). They don’t notice their gay neighbour who’s an accountant (BTW, you’ve forgotten that you all have totes creative, artistic and probably Bohemian jobs unless you’re hairdressers), the gay teacher, the gay colleague, their gay relative.

    *Gay men usually don’t grope women and the lesbian women here had the curtesy to simply talk to me if they were interested.

  2. Great list!

    The depressing thing is how many gay men believe these myths, even if they themselves contradict them.

    Can I suggest a couple more?

    14. Gaydar. I have no idea if another man is gay unless he’s actually coming on to me. And even then…

    15. We all like the same TV shows. I especially mean “gay” TV shows that all gays must have seen and loved. I watched one episode of Queer as Folk and hated it.

  3. One of the more damaging myths that I encountered growing up was that “gay men are only interested in the physical sexual act, not in affection”. As an adolescent I read the chapter on gay men in the book “All You Ever Wanted To Know About Sex…”. In it, the author pretty much stated that gay men were only interested in anonymous sex acts and didn’t even like to kiss each other. I knew that wasn’t the way I felt, but reading that probably set me back years in accepting my sexuality.

  4. Awesome list, Will! My GBF (Gay Boyfriend) Doesn’t fit these stereotypes either

  5. I think there’s also another factor behind #4: a lot of the most outspoken anti-gay idiots may be harbouring some desires for their own gender. Realizing that they could be “tempted” into gay sex, they assume that “recruitment” would actually make some kind of sense. As they are so often fundamentalist Christians, they tend to see the LGBT rights movement as an arm of Satan’s power (or some such garbage) and so they see it as part of the same monolithic enemy that they believe is trying to destroy everything they love in the world.

    It’s amazing how a little forced guilt in childhood can result in so much insanity.

  6. I’d add “The Gay Agenda™” to this list; usually gets thrown about when a positive gay character is on the TV. Although it’s never explained what it is, who runs it (our shadowy don) or how it will affect someone (usually children, won’t someone please think about them?)

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