September 19, 2012

Stereotypes Are Fun!

At least, I think they are. 

At Monday's meeting of Man to Man*, there was a discussion about stereotypes, how we deal with them, and where they come from.

I spoke about how I like to play into some stereotypes of a gay male. One such stereotype being that we are all incredibly knowledgeable and into fashion. We are all fantabulous, impeccable dressers with great taste and a natural flare for clothing. Some gay men might hate this stereotype because it doesn't describe them at all. Others may not mind it much because they actually do have a passion for fashion. I, on the other hand, like to think that I fall somewhere in the middle. While I do enjoy dressing nicely and think I do a pretty good job at matching colors, I know next to nothing about actual fashion (You're wearing a Gucci suit? Is that a special kind like a two- or three-button?). And, I know what I like and what I think looks good. So, every once in a while, I'll see a girl walk by with a really fierce pair of shoes on and I'll exclaim a somewhat high-pitched "YYYYYYAAAAAAASSSSS GURL! You are WERKING those shoes!" or something to that effect. 

It actually took me a while to realize that I was actually doing this. There was nothing wrong with it though. The girl always appreciated the compliment and it was just my way of being nice. But why would I say it in such a flamboyant manner? There's nothing wrong with doing things in a flamboyant manner, but it just wasn't something that I did. I never thought of myself as having that aspect to my personality. I started wondering whether it was actually a part of my personality that I was just becoming more familiar and comfortable with or if it was just me performing the stereotype that was prescribed to me. I sort of came to the conclusion that it was just me developing who I am as a person and even if this new aspect was foreign to me, I should totally embrace it.

And I do. But why did it cause me so much trouble? Well, because I like to think of myself as a stereotype breaker. From my childhood, I was told of the different stereotypes of Black men raised in poverty that I would never fall into if my mom had anything to do about it. I wasn't going to be a high school drop out, drug dealer, gang member who ends up in jail. I was going to defy what society said, statistically speaking, was going to happen to me. And so, I adopted that into every aspect of my life, including my sexuality. I wanted to defy every stereotype possible and leave people constantly guessing, never quite sure how to fit me into their narrow box of who they thought I should be or how I should act.

Which leads me to why I think stereotypes are fun. I think they're fun because you can play with them. You can confuse the heck out of people when you warp the stereotypes they already have about you. I've done it and it's so much fun. You can actually see their mental CPU saying DOES NOT COMPUTE! You can watch their facial expressions as they try to deal with the overload. And it's so much fun! For example, I can drop a really flamboyant line about how I love your outfit and then turn around and name all of the NFL teams. But wait, I'm gay right? So I'm not supposed to know football. *brain implodes*

It's all about finding power in those stereotypes, using that with which they try to limit us as a source of strength. It's in this that we can find solace and security. Instead of feeling trapped by the stereotypes that don't fit me (because, let's be honest, I know that I do fit some stereotypes but not others), I throw them back in the face of whoever is trying to give it to me. I mean, isn't that the reason we all hate stereotypes? Because people think that they apply to everyone one, but they don't. So, I think of it as my job to set the record straight (lolz) and tell them where the line is and not to cross it again. And it doesn't have to be done in a mean, angry way. I'm a huge fan of a subtle, snarky retort that let's them know they're wrong and you don't like it but it's ok. Just be more careful next time.

All I'm saying is that stereotypes are harmful for everyone. People hate it when they get stereotyped and those who do the stereotyping will never know they're wrong unless us stereotyped people show them. So, let's help each other out.

*Shameless plug: If you are a GBTQ male, I cannot urge you enough to at least come to one meeting of Man to Man. It's the perfect place to talk about issues that affect men in the community. There's always a great discussion and I promise you won't regret it. 

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