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I’m Your Arcane Rhetoric: Slate, Reddit, and Gaybros

A recent story in Slate looked inside the community of “gaybros” on Reddit.com, a group of masculine-identified gay men who feel that they’ve been somewhat estranged from the wider LGBT community because of their masculinity. Columnist Bryan Lowder met with the gay bros, learning about their typical interests – sports, video games, grilling, the military, and so forth – and exploring the difficulties they’ve sometimes faced in relating to other gay men and dealing with cultural stereotypes of what it means to be a gay man.

This certainly isn’t a new phenomenon – practically every segment of the LGBT community faces its own challenges, even from within. Masculine gay men are seen as traitors who are trying to gain approval by mimicking straight people. Feminine gay men are called fairies and accused of putting on an act and making the community look bad. Butch lesbians are attacked for their masculinity and treated as unattractive, while femme lesbians are often invisible. Bisexuals are considered indecisive, untrustworthy, or secretly gay. And trans people are treated as freaks and told that they’re a special interest group that shouldn’t have anything to do with gays, lesbians or bisexuals. If you’re looking to have your queer identity demeaned and invalidated, there’s often no better place to go than the queer community itself.

That said, while there may be valid concerns here, the article seemed to promote the idea of a conflict without doing much to back it up. When you get into the substance of it, the notion of intra-community attacks on gay bros starts to look like more of a matter of perceptions than reality. And when the issue is one of men supposedly being marginalized for their masculine identities and interests, it’s easy to see why there might be just a little exaggeration involved.

This became especially obvious toward the end of the piece, when the community ethos of the gay bros was explained by contrasting it with that of the LGBT section of Reddit:

Of a piece with the brotherly vibe of Gaybros is the need to develop, as a site rule puts it, a “thick skin and sense of humor” toward contentious interactions, which crop up fairly often on threads about touchy issues like open relationships. Like “shooting the shit,” demanding a thick skin can at first sound like something a homophobic coach might yell at you for being upset by bullies, but it also has a socially useful function. Gaybros exists by nature and design outside the super-politically correct, college-bubble rhetoric that largely defines the terms of these discussions today (just check out the absurdly arcane ground-rules for r/LGBT to see what I mean). In this, it provides a so-called “safe space” for novice gay men who do not yet know the “right” words to explore their new identities and engage with their newfound community without fear of tar and feathers for not intuiting the difference between two-spirit and intersex.

This was especially interesting to read, because my partner Heather and I are in charge of the LGBT section, along with some very awesome volunteers. We launched it a few years ago because Reddit lacked a dedicated space for queer issues, and it’s currently the largest LGBT-related community on Reddit, with over 66,000 users. So we were a bit surprised to see the LGBT section described in this way, and we’re pretty sure our own community isn’t quite like how it was portrayed here.

In fact, for most of its history, the LGBT section had no rules at all, and it operated on the general principles now adopted by the gay bros: “We don’t remove posts of unpopular opinion, but try not to be a dick.” For a while at the beginning, this worked pretty well. The community regulated itself, dealt with trouble as it cropped up, and mostly kept itself in check. And then this stopped working so well. Eventually, the LGBT section grew to a point where this was no longer feasible. There were a lot of really transphobic posts going around, and it was discouraging trans people from participating in the community. When people started seriously claiming that 7-year-old transgender Girl Scouts were going to rape the other scouts, we realized this just wasn’t working out.

That was when we chose to enforce some pretty simple rules that you might expect to see in any LGBT community: don’t insult gay people, lesbians, bisexuals, trans people, HIV-positive people, women, or racial minorities. These are the guidelines that Bryan Lowder described as “super-politically correct, college-bubble rhetoric” and “absurdly arcane ground-rules”. Personally, I’m not sure what’s so challenging about being expected to respect LGBT people in the LGBT section. But since many people do seem to have trouble with this concept, Heather took the time to explain what this means in terms of how to conduct yourself, using easy language and concrete examples. For instance:

  • Don’t come in here and tell all gay or bi or trans people how “annoying” or “unattractive” you think they are.
  • Don’t question people’s identities.
  • Don’t tell people they’re “hurting the movement” because of who they are.
  • Don’t tell people not to be offended by slurs that have been used against them for their entire lives.
  • Be willing to listen when someone explains why something you said was wrong or offensive.
  • If you’re going to say something that may be insulting, include a warning first.
  • Oh, and: Please don’t suggest that trans women are going to use their penises to rape everyone around them.

We understand that some of these particular examples of common sense may not be obvious at first, and that’s why we’ve pointed them out explicitly. Certainly no one should need a college degree to understand why you shouldn’t come to the LGBT section just to call gay people “faggots”, or tell someone their queerness is hindering progress, or act like trans people are all rapists.

Managing a diverse LGBT community is different from managing a community of gay bros. Their section is one-third the size of ours. It’s also populated by individuals who largely share the same identity, gender, orientation, interests, and sometimes troubled relationship to the larger queer community. And there’s nothing wrong with that – they’ve established a community that serves their own purposes.

But in the LGBT section, we have distinctly different needs, because we’re managing a space populated by gay people, bi people, trans people, men and women, masculine people, feminine people, and people with all sorts of different politics and concerns. In this situation, where the intra-community conflicts of LGBT people have the opportunity to play out on a daily basis, telling everyone to “have a thick skin” and “try not to be a dick” just isn’t enough. We would know – we tried that. I don’t think this misplaced comparison of the gay bros to the LGBT section is helping either of us.

And I especially don’t think that treating LGBT people’s identities as inaccessible, laughably radical, “college-bubble” nonsense is respectful to anyone. I’m sure it’s really easy to find some funny-looking words like “intersex” and “two-spirit”, and hold them up as an example of “political correctness” gone mad. Those college liberals sure are living in a fantasy world, aren’t they? “Intersex”, “two-spirit”, who has the time to learn about all these things?

These concepts and identities are portrayed as the domain of quibbling academics, incomprehensible and inconsequential to the lives of everyday people. I find that very interesting, because when people are calling someone a “hermaphrodite” or a “tranny” or a “he-she” or a “shemale”, I’m pretty sure they know exactly what they’re talking about. This isn’t ivory-tower pedantry, it’s prime time on Comedy Central.

Maybe this just didn’t occur to Bryan Lowder, but these terms refer to actual people. Of course, when you’re not one of them, you have the luxury of never needing to know what any of this means. You have the option to dismiss this as so much academic gender-studies blather, so it might seem like an unnecessary burden when anyone expects you to learn about this. It’s just not relevant to your life.

But here’s the thing: I don’t have that option. You get to walk away from this – I don’t. I’m the one who has to deal with it when people suddenly fail to understand that I’m a woman, or forget what words to use when someone is a woman. Meanwhile, you have your quote-unquote “safe space” that’s not safe for anyone whose identity isn’t part of a 4th-grade vocab lesson.

I mean, that is pretty much how privilege works, right? Oh, sorry – college word! Let me spell it out for you: You get to have an attack of pronoun amnesia, and I get to be called a man. Gay bros are important enough to have a reporter go bar-hopping with them and cover their struggle to be accepted as masculine men, but no one has the time to Google the word “intersex” or learn why they shouldn’t call me a “trap”.

You know what I don’t have time for? People who can’t be bothered to learn about anything outside the sphere of their immediate existence. When you’ve had to figure out just who the hell you really are, like I have, it’s difficult to be patient when someone acts like reading a paragraph is the hardest thing in the world. And after we’ve taken the time to help people understand how they can be respectful in our community, I’m really not impressed when a major publication would actually try to hold that against us. Maybe flaunting your ignorance is something to be proud of, inside your politically-incorrect idiot bubble. But out here, it just makes you look ignorant.

Comments

  1. says

    I think a lot of groups have this issue as time goes on. Some people think that the “big group” has gone astray of the values people believe in themselves and so they go off and start their own group. The furry fandom years ago had the “Burned Fur” group which was about the same thing. Furrydom was getting to silly and so the burned Furs were supposedly the serious people, when in reality they were usually people who did little more than troll the rest of us for not being serious enough in what is honestly a group of people who like anthropomorphic animals, a great majority discovering this thanks to cartoons.

    you also see it in politics with Tea party people vs Republicans. I think the main thing is don’t let the off shoot bother you to much. yes it sucks that they are getting the press right now, but that is how media works, again look at the furry presence in the media, hardly positive. the best thing you can do is focus on your section of what you believe in and you beat them at their game by just being you.

  2. says

    Amazing. Simply amazing. I need to use “You know what I don’t have time for? People who can’t be bothered to learn about anything outside the sphere of their immediate existence.” more often.

  3. says

    Interesting that Lowder criticizes r/LGBT for “college level” language when the Gunning fog index applied to his Gaybros piece returns a score of 15.70, where a score from 15 to 20 usually indicates “academic paper” level.

    Pretty sure the same index applied to the average post on r/LGBT wouldn’t get so high a score.

  4. Pierce R. Butler says

    Dumb question from naive heterocis outsider: Why does y’all’s Reddit group not include the Qs who usually accompany the LGBTs?

  5. Alex DeLuca says

    Hey Zinnia – Alex here from Gaybros. Sorry to hear that Slate portrayed /r/lgbt in a negative light. Our subreddits serve different purposes, but I think y’all over at /r/lgbt are a solid bunch. While Gaybros certainly isn’t a regulated safe space we try to keep it accepting and welcoming of anyone who wants to join the conversation (some days are more challenging than others).

    Anywho, just thought I’d drop a line!

  6. says

    You know what I don’t have time for? People who can’t be bothered to learn about anything outside the sphere of their immediate existence.

    IME, this seems to be a defining characteristic of bros in general, and a major reason I don’t like spending time around them.

  7. Timothy Karu says

    Zinnia,
    Another thought provoking piece. I’m also one of the mods over at r/gaybros, and a subscriber to many other queer subreddits. I truly appreciated the respectful tone you’ve taken in referencing gaybros and the attention it has been receiving over the past few months. Even in this piece you respectfully acknowledge the challenges our community faces while delving into the challenges that your community (r/lgbt) faces. While the media is off spinning tales, we’re all still there, posting, commenting, and peacefully cohabiting the same servers.

    I guess I just wanted to reach out as a fellow redditor, mod, and queer person to say that I’d love to talk to you some time about what we mods can do to to support each other and strengthen the community of queer subreddits.

  8. Abdul Alhazred says

    Whatever our different categories of “not straight”, those who oppose our rights are all the same folks.

  9. says

    This reminds me of my uncle. I brought him many of my teenage problems because as a gay man, he felt strongly that loving family was more important than judging family. He always told me that wherever my life takes me, he will support me as an uncle should. Then he found out I was an atheist. We’re as close as ever, but there were years of struggle on that one. He’s married to a former priest and together they run a group for LGBT Catholics (they encourage both the Catholic and the LGBT sides, they don’t try to pray any gay away) so you can imagine that of all the “minorities” I could become, atheist was the most shocking for them. To their credit, they’re awesome about it now.

    This was my lesson, though, that all people have prejudices, and we all need to work on overcoming them. Thank you Zinnia for continuing to push against my lesser nature and educate me. Please keep it up?

  10. Anonymous342341 says

    This has got to be the most RETARDED article I’ve ever read.

    “Don’t come in here and tell all gay or bi or trans people how “annoying” or “unattractive” you think they are.” -Sorry, but that’s not gonna happan. Many of you homos are just too dang immature, so it would be appropriate to you clowns “annoying”

    “Don’t question people’s identities.”
    -Then don’t question people’s religion, asshole

    “Don’t tell people they’re “hurting the movement” because of who they are.?
    -LOL That’s like saying people shouldn’t hurt rapists & murderers because of who they are.

    “Don’t tell people not to be offended by slurs that have been used against them for their entire lives.”
    -You mean like how you GLBTetc people call us “breeders”? Right, I’ll be sure to keep that in mind as I keep the human species alive

    “Be willing to listen when someone explains why something you said was wrong or offensive.”
    -Does this mean you are willing have an open-mind as to why homosexuality is wrong & offensive? I doubt it. Hypocrite

    “If you’re going to say something that may be insulting, include a warning first.”
    -This is the INTERNET. We don’t have to give you a warning first if we don’t want to. Don’t like what you read, then get your ass off the damn computer & leave the debate to the adults.

    “Please don’t suggest that trans women are going to use their penises to rape everyone around them.” -REALITY CHECK: There is no such thing as “trans-women”. You are either a boy or a girl. Your DNA determines you gender. By the way, chopping off your penis or tits doesn’t make you a person of the opposite sex. It just makes you a deformed human being. Plus, you probably have a mental illness too.

    BTW What the hell is so “diverse” about having sex with feces or plastic phallic-shaped objects? You all are just perverts

    • says

      “Don’t come in here and tell all gay or bi or trans people how “annoying” or “unattractive” you think they are.” -Sorry, but that’s not gonna happan. Many of you homos are just too dang immature, so it would be appropriate to you clowns “annoying”

      It’s spelled “happen”. One of the marks of maturity is proofreading your rants before you post them.

      “Don’t question people’s identities.”
      -Then don’t question people’s religion, asshole

      Have any of us gone telling people that they aren’t the religion they claim to be? I’m pretty sure that you’re thinking about the fundies.

      “Don’t tell people not to be offended by slurs that have been used against them for their entire lives.”
      -You mean like how you GLBTetc people call us “breeders”? Right, I’ll be sure to keep that in mind as I keep the human species alive

      Oh, you poor dear. Please, go right ahead and be offended by a term that does not, oh, say that your only reason for existing is to be burnt.
      < /sarcasm >

      “Be willing to listen when someone explains why something you said was wrong or offensive.”
      -Does this mean you are willing have an open-mind as to why homosexuality is wrong & offensive? I doubt it. Hypocrite

      Please go on as to why. If you can come up with a coherent ethical explanation, I’m sure many here will consider it.

      And before you start, “it’s icky” and “God says so” count as neither coherent nor ethical.

      “If you’re going to say something that may be insulting, include a warning first.”
      -This is the INTERNET. We don’t have to give you a warning first if we don’t want to. Don’t like what you read, then get your ass off the damn computer & leave the debate to the adults.

      You didn’t like reading this. Why don’t you, and I quote, “get your ass off the damn computer & leave the debate to the adults”?

      Snark aside, yes, you don’t HAVE to give a warning. But it’s polite to give a warning (well, more polite than not giving a warning, anyway), and if a community decides to be polite, you play by their rules as long as you’re in that community.

      “Please don’t suggest that trans women are going to use their penises to rape everyone around them.” -REALITY CHECK: There is no such thing as “trans-women”. You are either a boy or a girl. Your DNA determines you gender. By the way, chopping off your penis or tits doesn’t make you a person of the opposite sex. It just makes you a deformed human being. Plus, you probably have a mental illness too.

      There’s a few terms you ought to familiarize yourself with. Like, say, CAIS, or gender dysphoria.

      BTW What the hell is so “diverse” about having sex with feces or plastic phallic-shaped objects? You all are just perverts

      Pervert. n. One who differs from the norm, esp. in terms of sexual preferences. Usually used as a pejorative.

      Sounds like there’s a bit of diversity right there, especially as far as getting society to accept so-called “perverts” is concerned.

      And wow, you are lacking in imagination.

    • says

      got to be the most RETARDED

      Well we’re off to a good start.

      Sorry, but that’s not gonna happan. Many of you homos are just too dang immature, so it would be appropriate to you clowns “annoying”

      …so you’re invading their space, but they’re the annoying ones? I think you’ve forgotten some basic manners there, asshole.

      -Then don’t question people’s religion, asshole

      It’s funny, in the context ‘don’t question identity’ comes up in, it’s actually Christians who do this more. An atheist will generallly be able to say a Christian’s religion is untrue, but rarely will an atheist not take “I am a Christian” at face value. However, a Christian will say ‘You’re no true Christian, you disagree with me on Theology Point X’.

      -LOL That’s like saying people shouldn’t hurt rapists & murderers because of who they are.

      Well, no, actually. Unless you’re insisting that trans people, femme lesbians, butch lesbians, bisexuals, and femme gay men are also rapists and murderers. The only way that those groups hurt the ‘Queer movement’ is if we pretend the ‘Queer movement’ is solely for masculine gay men.

      -Does this mean you are willing have an open-mind as to why homosexuality is wrong & offensive? I doubt it. Hypocrite

      I’d be surprised if there was a gay person who didn’t entertain this thought sincerely for a long time, actually. So not very hypocritical at all, by any definition above the most shallow.

      -This is the INTERNET. We don’t have to give you a warning first if we don’t want to. Don’t like what you read, then get your ass off the damn computer & leave the debate to the adults.

      Ah, children. Yes, it’s so adult to throw out slurs just because. Anything to maintain your self image of being the brave rebel, eh? XD

      Seriously kid, I am by no means a nice person, and I can keep slurs off the table.

      REALITY CHECK: There is no such thing as “trans-women”. You are either a boy or a girl. Your DNA determines you gender. By the way, chopping off your penis or tits doesn’t make you a person of the opposite sex. It just makes you a deformed human being. Plus, you probably have a mental illness too.

      Reality Check: You have no idea what you’re talking about. Seriously, this would be hilariously misinformed if you weren’t seriously spouting stupid harmful bullshit. The very basic fuckup is the idea that chromosomes determined everyone’s gender – well, they may have yours, but I know some folks who just blatantly didn’t get a binary gender from nature.

      Secondary point: You realize that your chromosomes didn’t give you the ability to spew your bullshit on the net, right? Why’re they so important now?

      BTW What the hell is so “diverse” about having sex with feces or plastic phallic-shaped objects? You all are just perverts

      I’m sure your fetishes are totally normal and not perverted at all though? Also, what?

  11. maudell says

    Leave it to Anonymous342341 to courageously risk his reputation by fighting for social justice.
    I know the comment speaks for itself in eloquence, but I just have to correct a few items to enable Mr. or Mrs. 342341 to show humankind the way.

    -“too dang immature”: sweet, sweet irony.
    -“don’t question people’s religion”: I think our dear 342341 will find that no one at FtB denies that people are religious. The fact that people are religious and we are not is the point of forming a community. But if 34 (can I call you 34?) means that we question the truth of scriptures, he’s correct (but it has little to do with questioning one’s identity). Assuming that 34 does not believe in Krishna and his epic 30,000 year life in which he battled demons and made love to thousands of women simultaneously, that would fit hir definition of “asshole”. However, perhaps 34 believes all myths are empirically true, which could explain the sense of logic of his argument.
    -“hurting a movement” is distinguishable from “hurting a rapist”. Even if we were referring to a rapist movement.
    -34, I am saddened to hear you have been called a breeder constantly for your entire life by LGBT people. It must be my womanly privilege that made me immune to your pain. I’m glad we all agree on point #4.
    -“something you said is wrong or offensive” vs. “homosexuality is wrong or offensive”. Confusion of categories again? Sexual orientation is different than an argument. But I suspect LGBT people spent quite a while listening to why they offend you. They got your memo, you have been heard!
    On the same point, I will further blow your mind. Gender is different than sexual orientation too! That means, for example, that you can be *both* a transwoman and hetero. (mind actively blown)
    -This is the INTERNET. It’s not like it’s real people interacting in the real world or anything. (notes taken)
    -“your DNA determines your gender” O great 34, can you enlighten us as to what gender XXY and XYY are? Make sure to add a lot of teleogical arguments.
    -“having sex with feces” I think this refers to anal sex. I guess our dear 34 is against heterosexuals, the largest group of anal sex lovers out there. Regardless, maybe he means sex with feces Senator Vitter style, still a predominantly hetero male fetish (though pretty marginal).
    Do dolphin-shaped objects make me a pervert? (if so, another bullet from 34 against cis heteros)

    Now go free, rabid social justice fighter!

  12. Walter B. Pewen says

    Thank you so much. I tried to communicate with the GayBros politely and it seemed all I was given back was what seems to me as their own faux masculine banter. So bad that I went on personal attack with one of the guys-sorry I did but I think he initiated it.
    Anyway, my point to the Gaybros was that I am considered a “masculine appearing and acting gay man (whatever that means) and being 55 years old, had been doing some of the “guy” things they go on about (sports, outdoors, etc.) and not making much of a big deal about it. Never to the point I felt my solidarity with the entire LGBT community was threatened. I just don’t buy their claims of discrimination within the gay male community. Maybe I’m projecting, but I never felt much of that kind of stuff and I’ve been out since 1976.
    As a side thing I put out for them is my current living situation. The GayBros accused me of having a verbal tantrum over their inane speech. I countered with the fact that I’m living with what is an overwhelmingly blue-collar group of men that I feel are probably overwhelmingly straight and that I never hear the kind of put-on fake masculine rubbish that they promulgate at their site. With that I rest my case.

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