Judging from some of the responses I’ve been getting, I think it would be good to take a little bit deeper of a look at the gay to straight trope. It’s…a messy and problematic thing, in all honesty, but that’s hardly new in the MC/TF genre, or really, any writing at all for that matter. But where some of the more questionable aspects of this genre get glossed over (like the fact that basically every story in the genre, my own included, are rape stories) this one struck a nerve, and for good reason I think, but I also feel that the trope itself can be, well, reclaimed isn’t the right word exactly, but I think that it has thematic value. I think it has important questions–about what it means to be gay, about the society we live in, about how we survive, about masculinity and femininity. So let’s try to set some boundaries first, figure out where so many of these stories have gone wrong.
A big part of the problem is that so many of these stories aren’t just gay to straight stories, they are gay to “straight homophobe” stories. Some of these are, well, hard to read. No, they’re more than hard to read, they aren’t even worth reading, to be honest. I don’t doubt that some people find them enjoyable and erotic, in the same way that gay skinhead/nazi porn is erotic for some people, but, well, there’s a similarity there, don’t you think? It’s an eroticism of rejection and division. A lot of people have said that the gay to straight homophobe stories are born of internalized homophobia, and I think there’s truth to that–but there’s more to it than that as well. This isn’t just self-hatred–this hatred extends beyond the self. It seeks to divide the self away from the “faggots” the “queers” the “etc.” It isn’t just hatred–it’s denial.
I, of course, wrote a few of those stories, using homophobic themes, but they were, well…I tried to pull from something else. For my own interactive story, I tried to build that homophobia in as a curse, have it warped back around onto the straight men themselves. For the little addition I made over on CYOC, it was became less about gay guys becoming homophobes, and more about two gay men trying to find a way to survive and change within rules that wouldn’t let them be who they wanted–it was about trying to find a way to be happy in an impossible situation. Do they work? I can’t really judge that, that’s up to readers I think. Internalized homophobia is real. Conversion therapy is real. Heteronormativity is real. These things hurt people, in real life, every dang day. I don’t want to add to that hurt, but it is clear that a lot of authors don’t care if they hurt people or not. That, to me, is the real crux of it. Some of these stories are designed to hurt people, to make them feel bad about who they are–that’s what I want to avoid. Hopefully I’ll manage.
But here is something else I also feel–that the gay to straight trope is a whole lot larger than just gay guy becomes a raging homophobe. Every ‘twink to bear’ story relies on the ‘gay to straight’ trope, because honestly? In a lot of ways, being a good bear is about being able to pass as a man–as a straight man. Our look is stolen from straight archetypes (the biker, the cop, the lumberjack) and has a real hard time grappling with femininity. Of course, a lot of bears like to subvert those expectations–and they should! This is a good thing!–but I know I could talk to any bear about it, and the ability to not be recognized on sight as gay is, well, it’s can be a relief. I have never once in my life been catcalled or verbally harassed in public. I have no real doubt that the reason for this, is because I’m six foot, 260 pounds, with a big beard, looking like I probably have a wife and at least two kids. Being a bear is a way of being safe, in this heternormative society, and this is something we don’t talk about nearly enough.
To me, the gay to straight trope is at it’s core about corruption, as I mentioned in my last piece. It’s about flipping the usual script, about rendering the gay as purity, and straightness as corruption. It presents straightness not as a norm, but as a horror that is inflicted on innocence. We find the good ones satisfying not because we want to be straight ourselves, but for the same reason we feel catharsis after a horror film–that the people who just suffered weren’t me, that I am safe. But it should also be a discussion about who gets to be safe, and what the cost of that safety is. That’s the part that hurts the most, to me, about the gay to homophobe stories–the subject gets to become safe–invulnerable really, to the heternormative society they exist in, but the price of that is that they become a danger to every still gay man around them.
So what would you do, if you could be safe? Would you grow a beard, and put on weight? Would you drive a pickup truck? Would you tell strangers that you’re married, but leave the gender of that marriage neutral? Would you buy a house, move to the suburbs, adopt children, blend into the white picket fences? Would you laugh at jokes that make you hurt? Would you assault someone you once loved? Join fascists, and beat a black man so they don’t beat you yet? Would you kill yourself, or a version of yourself? We do these things every day, all of us. We make ourselves straight, in the smallest or largest of ways, in exchange for safety in this society that would, honestly, happily see us dead. I want this story to make you question what choices you make, each day, so you can be safe–goodness knows, I make them every day, and I know you all do too. Are they the right choices? Are we willing to hurt others so that we can get safety ourselves? I don’t know if a right answer exists to any of these, beyond dismantling the very system that makes us all feel so unsafe to begin with–but this isn’t really that story. This story is about survival, and what we do to survive, in the face of this straight terror.
If you have questions you’d like me to address about this story, you can leave them below! You can also leave me anonymous questions over at my curiouscat profile here.
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