Effeminate

“Effeminacy” is a way of naming a character trait of many men in order to stigmatise it, suppress it and portray it as wholly negative, as a lack rather than a valuable quality. It is used to shame us into distorting and suppressing ourselves. It does great damage. The concept is the main source of my sense of worthlessness, which has hurt me and made my life difficult. It has prevented me and others valuing my gifts.

Sitting above the lake, we watched four coots. One flew towards the others low over the water, stirring up the surface with its feet and wing-tips- I found that quite frightening in a saltwater swan, once, it would be impressive in a coot for other coots. It and another reared up in the water, not touching or wounding each other but facing off. Two others then approached and for about a minute they displayed at each other; then one retreated then swam slowly away, I thought trying to show unconcern or save face, and the others separated. Without any knowledge of coot behaviour I decided they were four males establishing a pecking order. Dominance matters.

Urban Dictionary sees effeminacy as surface presentation: Not necessarily feminine or womanly. (How many women do you know who lisp, flutter their wrists, make prissy lips, and prance?) That makes it like camp. Or, it is a lack of underlying manly virtues like steadiness, determination, force of personality, or an actual vice, softness as a weakness.

In the 18th century a man carrying an umbrella for personal use was seen as effeminate. Men should not bother with such things, or be so concerned with their clothes. This mixes the two ideas: a matter of presentation, perhaps as a deliberate symbol or an inability to conceal the underlying character traits. Dandyism, taking great care of appearance, could be a way of signalling wealth. Poorer but more manly men might resent that, as each man wants to emphasise his own plus points and denigrate those of others. Human hierarchy is more complex than that of coots.

As it is a word which could be used to attack me and those like me, I would like it to be rejected. We should celebrate not denigrate each other, valuing different perspectives rather than seeing anything different as bad. Possibly that is soft of me. The possible denigration puts a real man on his mettle, ready to defend himself. It encourages the development of virtue. Or, I would say the threat of judgment makes us angry and frightened, caring about how we seem then about being found out. The first coot to retreat tries to console himself to feel better, but the coot who psyched out all the others feels good about himself, and that self-confidence will be visible to lady-coots.

How can I defend myself against this weapon-word? If I am overawed by it, to see “effeminacy” as a bad thing, I try to suppress supposedly effeminate qualities in myself. Then I am at war with myself. The word is a dagger in my heart. Rather, it as an irrelevance, not a clear concept describing something real but a fantasy smear to denigrate something people do not understand, or even something they realise they lack, envying it. The concept of effeminacy is a fantasy, conflating imagined vice with real virtue. Those coots weren’t actually touching, just making a big splash. I have gifts, and any apparent similarity between them and that concept is purely coincidental.

6 thoughts on “Effeminate

    • Yes. The idea is that a man who is like a woman is less than a man, is despicable. Every man is insecure about his masculinity. I dislike the term “opposite” sex: we are not opposed, or should not be. And we should value each other’s gifts, not denigrate each other- if it is womanish of me to say so I am proud.

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      • I agree. Opposite sex is a ridiculous concept given that we are on a spectrum of variation, including many bodily manifestations. And we all have the same tissue in the first months of gestation, tissue that differentiates to one degree or another, but remains similar.
        Your work through these writings is so important and so courageous. Thank you for giving so freely of yourself to others. Doing so saves lives.

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  1. I was discussing something like this with one of my co-workers. We’re both queer (or pretty purple people as we usually say) and were discussing my fondness for wearing lipstick. I expressed that I would love to wear it to work, and when she asked me why I didn’t I argued that the territory being what it is, I just wanted to avoid a headache. I don’t consider myself effeminate, and I don’t think there’s anything wrong with being effeminate, but I recognize a man wearing lipstick in East Texas is just setting himself up for pain. I think you really nailed it in this post. If a man demonstrates habits or mannerisms or even outward similarities to “traditionally feminine” behavior he’s effeminate, which means he’s a fop, which means he’s womanly, which is, apparently wrong…which is bullshit.

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