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Acting out. (last word).

Do you ever feel caught between those who think homosexuality isn't as bad as hooking up with a dog and those who think it's actually worse? Well, buck up, baby; time is on our side. Whether or not the Supreme Court overturns the Texas sodomy law, there's a growing consensus that even pansies are entitled to some privacy. The American people finally seem willing to let us go to hell rather than jail. That's some kind of progress. Just don't call it freedom.

Great battles against violence and discrimination lie ahead, but they won't be about the way we have sex (as long as we keep it behind closed doors). The cutting-edge issue in gay rights will be the way we present gender. If that sounds like a page from the queer-theory cookbook, think about what makes someone look gay. If two women wheeling a baby seem like lesbian parents, it's not the stroller that outs them. It's the way they hold their bodies, use makeup, and wear their hair. As subtle as their style may be, it sets them apart from the norms of femininity--and that shows. You don't have to be a tranny to deviate from the rules of the gender game. You only have to act gay.

Gender flexibility is the signature of gay style. However we do male and female, it's rarely right on the mark. Back in the phobe-zapping liberation days, the idea was to flaunt our deviance. Now, in the age of assimilation, a new strategy has emerged. It holds that, except for a "small minority" of drag queens and such, gay people are normal in their presentation--or would be if they weren't held back by insecurity. Embrace your gender, say the normalists, and you'll discover your true nature, which is to enjoy being a girl or guy. I know how thrilling realness can be, but I sure don't think it's natural.

Before you scream "Speak for yourself" think about the way you behave when you're out with gay friends. Is that how you act in straight society? If there's a difference, it's because you know what it takes to get across, and you're able to carry it off. But that's not the same as acting naturally. It takes real effort for most of us to gender up. The weight of this protective armor may be so familiar that it doesn't feel heavy, but it is. The struggle to seem normal creates a tension much more consequential than anything experienced by straights.

When we have to confine our most authentic behavior to bed and brunch, when we feel the need to hide our top-girl and bottom-boy sides, when we police our bodies for fag signs and recoil if a stray gesture betrays us, we shape our imaginations in lasting ways. In my experience, most queers who act hypernormally repress their deepest creative instincts, which are often aligned with the impulse to shatter the strictures of male or female identity.

I'm not denying that macho men and girly girls are hot. But sexual pathology often accompanies gender perfection. Most of us know the difference between a hot trick and a suitable mate. That's why, when it comes to settling down, butch women and femmey men don't usually end up alone. Intimacy provides a space to explore the inner diva, and that's important. But we won't be free until we can be queer in the streets, not just in the sheets.

What have we gained if dressing for success means buttoning up our most distinctive traits? That's what assimilation is all about: aping the manners of the dominant group. True acceptance is more like a dialogue in which you get to be yourself. That sort of engagement would surely change gay behavior, but not as the normalists think. We wouldn't become knockoff jocks and Jills but empowered individuals who express countless variations on the theme of butch and femme. Only when we feel comfortable enough to act naturally will we know what that means.

This is why it's important to fight for antibias laws that include gender variance. It's not just a question of transsexual rights. The queer life you save may be your own.

Goldstein is the author of The Attack Queers.
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Author:Goldstein, Richard
Publication:The Advocate (The national gay & lesbian newsmagazine)
Date:Jul 8, 2003
Previous Article:Lost world: a new traveling exhibition explores the Nazis' brutal destruction of Germany's once-thriving gay community. (culture).
Next Article:Having the last laugh. (letter from the editor in chief).

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