I’m a huge fan of Richard Simmons, and often love to watch videos on YouTube. I think he’s great: he’s joyful, smiling, and very witty. Plus, he’s helped a lot of people who struggle with obesity and low self-esteem. Part of his appeal and charm is that he’s just so damn happy – whenever he’s on a talk show, he pounces on the stage in his trademark shorts, and overshouts everyone – including the studio audience. I always have a big goofy grin on my face whenever I watch him because he’s pretty much the epitome of a great big ball of joy, unfiltered.
But to some, Richard Simmons’ mannerisms and demeanor is cringe-worthy and embarrassing. To those soulless, fun-suckers, I say they could eat a dick, because there’s nothing wrong with Simmons’ carriage or demeanor. And as a side note, I don’t know if the guy is gay, and to be honest, I don’t think it matters – all I know is that he’s a nice guy who awakens a lot of deep-held insecurities of masculinity in a lot of our society. I’d understand if it were only jocky straight guys who looked askance at the man, but it’s also “straight acting” gay guys who fear that if someone looks at Richard Simmons, that person will make a snap judgment on all gay men (which, by the way, wouldn’t necessarily be a bad thing).
To one of the videos, a guy posted the following comment:
“Richard is a bad example as a gay man. He is the biggest queen that has ever lived and has made a career out of it. It’s not cute, he’s not funny. I don’t understand why shows keep inviting him as a guest. I just feel like throwing hot grease.”
To the poster, Simmons is a bad example because he’s “the biggest queen that has ever lived” – as if being a big ole queen is something to be embarrassed about. I snarkily asked if there was an example of a “good” gay, and he responded modestly, “Me” – and then listed some celebrities including Rupert Everett, Anderson Cooper, Ricky Martin, Lance Bass, and Nate Berkus. His argument was that a “good” gay doesn’t “go around snapping [his] fingers, twirling on tables, licking people in public, rolling their eyes to their back of their eyes (sic) and being all dramatic.”
Now, I have to agree – good gays – in fact good anybodys don’t go “licking people in public” and not only is that intrusive, but also very unhygienic. But what about the other things he listed? The other things that “good” don’t do, like snapping fingers, twirling on tables, rolling their eyes, or being dramatic? What’s so bad about rolling your eyes and being dramatic?
Well, the problem lies in how gay people are perceived by the general public, how they’re portrayed in the media, and how gay men view themselves. For a long time the only images of gay men we were shown, outside of the pathetic, depressed suicidal gay or the predatory gay, was the faaaabulous effeminate gay. The kind of guy who adopts black female slang and will silence a crowded room with a lispy roar. And lots of gay guys cringe when they see this kind of gay guy because when homophobes on the schoolyard want to target us, they go after the easiest, most obvious target.
But that’s not Richard Simmons’ fault. In fact, instead of shaking our head in shame, we should be celebrating Richard Simmons for being who he is, without a shred of reservation. It’s not easy being different and Richard Simmons embraces a kind of self-love that each and everyone of us could use.
It’s interesting that in his examples, the poster from YouTube used largely successful, white male. With the exception of Ricky Martin, all the guys listed are rich cis men who conform to standard or traditional male gender expression. They are “straight acting.” At least in their public persona, their gayness is an afterthought. Sure, they may highlight their hair or wear tight tank tops, but hell, straight men do that now, too – in fact if we just went on appearance alone, Adam Levine would’ve fit in. Just as straight women have a narrow standard of beauty to look up to, so do gay men. For the most part, the gay media pushes an image of an athletically-built young guy, with no visible physical differences, usually white – but if not white, then light skinned, and if this guy walks and talks, he does so in a bland, masculine-lite way. And when we hold on to these images for dear life because they’re so corporate and nondescript that no one can make fun of us, the combination Mardi Gras/Carnivale that is Richard Simmons throws a mighty big wrench in all that.
In the end, internalized homophobia against effeminate men comes from the same source as general homophobia from straight folks, and that source is a feeling of insecurity. A worry that translates to, well I’m openly gay, and that flaming queen is openly gay, but I don’t want people to think I’m a flaming queen, so I’ll crap on that flaming queen to prove just how non-stereotypical gays are. It’s a goofy line of logic that doesn’t work because homophobes are nothing if not consistent, and they hate on gays of all kinds of persuasions – it doesn’t matter where on the spectrum you land, whether it be John Inman or John Wayne, the minute your gayness does become apparent, no amount of machismo will make you acceptable to those who find homosexuality distasteful. So let’s figure out our shit and not get embroiled in the femme/straight acting crap, because when we’re shitting on nellie guys or butch guys we’re doing exactly what the homophobes want us to do – it’s divide and conquer. If we’re splintered, we’re a lot easier to defeat.