I am a small man. I also identify as a bisexual transman.
After living for eighteen years being perceived as female, I medically transitioned to appear more traditionally masculine when I was nineteen. When I was nineteen, I was cat-called by men for the first time in my life. By men interested in men. Men who stare at me, who grab my butt, who corner me, and tell me demeaning and humiliating things. All of this is because I am a small man. Therefore, I am assumed to be failing at being masculine.
I’m not saying that sexual harassment doesn’t occur in other gender identities and sexualities. I am simply speaking from my perspective and my experiences.
I firmly believe that it is time we talk about the objectification gay and bisexual men experience. If it is not on the street by other gay and bisexual men, it is by cisgender straight women who treat us like new handbags.
The objectification exists everywhere, even within the LGBT community.
The first time I was street harassed, it was by three gay men. They cornered me in the street and asked me back to their place. They told me I looked like a twelve-year old boy, and they liked that. They grabbed me and shoved me. Luckily, one of them finally said that I looked scared. They assured me they were just having fun and I was too delicious to pass up.
The second time was with a well known LGBT activist in Louisiana, who told me that one day I will realize that I am not bisexual. He proceeded to touch me inappropriately and told me that one day I will just accept that I am gay.
If you talk to anyone that identifies as man along the LGBT spectrum, and has some quality about them that is not traditionally masculine, they will have similar stories.
They will have a story about another LGBT person or a heterosexual and cisgendered person who asked them who is the top or the bottom. Or my personal favorite, just guessing one man to be the bottom and the other to be the top, as if your gender expression has a reflection on how you act in bed.
The objectification is more prevalent in young gay,bisexual, and transgender men in comparison to their cisgender and straight counterparts.
An organization known as Stop Street Harassment (take their survey here), reported that gay, bisexual, and transgender men were 20 percent more likely than straight, cismen to experience sexual harassment and experience it much more frequently. Gay, bisexual, and transgender men were 20 percent more likely to experience verbal harassment, and were 17 percent more likely to experience physically aggressive harassment.
One of the focus groups reported being harassed for holding hands with other men, for carrying accessories that were perceived as feminine, or for wearing brightly colored clothing.
Or in my case: just being a short guy.
The objectification is perpetuated by popular culture, by heterosexism, and sexism.
It is important to note that sexual harassment is not the only way to treat someone like an object. To hit on intersectionality, this is not too much different from the sexism and objectification women experience. Just turn on your T.V. and look at any commercial. There are several out there where women are quite literally painted as objects such as beer cans, chairs, and many other absurd configurations.
Gay, bisexual, and transgender men experience objectification from women as well as men.
There are countless tv shows that use men interested in men as jokes or as the best friend (Will and Grace is a funny and charming show, but it is also guilty of this). You ever notice how these characters never have complex personalities? They are the comic relief. Their fashion sense, sexuality, and femininity are used as a joke. They are used by the straight ciswoman as her best friend, to poke fun at the supposed inability of masculine cismen to provide friendship to women.We are literally being used as a foil to the standard, except it is in a demeaning way.
It wasn’t until Modern Family that we finally got a complex gay man in mainstream, heterosexual culture.
I am not saying that gay, bisexual, and transgender men should hide their gender expression and sexuality. Instead, we need to teach ourselves and the straight, cisgender community that we are not to be used by heterosexism and sexism. That everyone is allowed complex gender expressions and sexualities free from sexual harassment and objectification.
I am not your new handbag, nor are my friends.
We need to stop ignoring the signs. We need to create safe spaces for LGBT persons to talk about their experiences in a safe environment.
Eli Capello is a member of Centenary College‘s class of 2015 where he is a Neuroscience major. Capellos is also a Diversity Intern on campus and a Point Foundation Scholar. In addition to advocating for LGBT issues in the community, Capello works as a biomedical research assistant.