SL Letter of the Day: Queens of the Retail Stage
by Dan Savage
on Mon, Jun 30, 2014 at 5:17 PM
I have listened to your podcast for a long time and it has made me a more open-minded person in so many ways. So I am turning to you for help with a prejudice that I have been grappling with. (I would have recorded my question for the podcast but was worried I'd be recognized.)
Rather than tip-toe around it, I'll just come out and say it: I don't like queens. I know, love, and am friends with gay men. But men like the character Cameron on Modern Family I find it very hard to be around. I used to think it was because they are so affected, and I don't like affected people in general. But I have come to understand that some of the things I saw as affectations are characteristics that are hard-wired and cross-cultural.
I also used to hate that this kind of behavior was called "effeminate" because I'm a woman and I don't act anything like Cameron. I get now that effeminate and feminine mean different things. It's like there's masculine and there's feminine and there's a third thing called effeminate. (And I guess there's a fourth thing called butch, and somehow that doesn't bother me at all.) Now I don't have to like people to consider them full human beings with all the rights that go along with that. So I don't have friends who are queens. So what?
Well, I work for a national retail chain and I'm in the management program and within the next year I will be getting my own store to manage. I will have a lot of say over who I hire. I probably wouldn't hire a queen. So my aversion could affect someone's livelihood. Which isn't fair. And while I was chewing on this and feeling badly about myself... the universe sent me a queen. Another assistant manager was transferred to the store I work in now. He's driving me crazy. He makes catty comments to me under his breath about customers and co-workers. He complains in a really dramatic way. Every day he tells me about having the sniffles or a tummy ache. These aren't things you would want in an employee, but they aren't fireable offenses either. So if I was the manager and I fired him, it seems like it would be because he's a queen. My performance evaluation of him would read: "Be less of a queen."
I'm not asking you to tell me how I should feel. I just know you can walk me through this issue. I value your opinion highly.
Princess With A Queen Problem
My response after the jump...
I'm not sure that effeminate and feminine mean different things entirely, PWAQP. But let's see what those bitchy queens at Merriam-Webster have to say...
fem·i·nineadjective: of, relating to, or suited to women or girls.
ef·fem·i·nateadjective: having or showing qualities that are considered more suited to women than to men: not manly.
I don't wanna be pedantic about this—it's not the cocktail hour quite yet—but based on these definitions, PWAQP, it would seem that a woman could be both feminine and effeminate. You, for instance, could wear feminine attire (a darling little black dress) while at the same time displaying qualities "more suited" (ahem) to women than men (daintily crossing your legs as you knock back cocktails in a bar with your gay pals who meet or exceed your minimum masculinity requirements).
Anyway, whenever I hear a straight woman complaining about feminine/effeminate men—especially when that woman says something like, "I'm actually a woman and you don't see me acting like that!"—I can't help but detect overtones of internalized misogyny. Just as some gay men suffer from internalized homophobia, some women—straight, lesbian, bi, trans—suffer from/struggle with internalized misogyny, PWAQP, and your brand of internalized misogyny seems to manifest itself in disgust at men who "act like women." Effeminate guys—or queens—most of whom are gay, piss you off. Because they act like women—or they act like certain female stereotype or cliches—and that pisses you off... because... there's something wrong with being that brand of feminine?
Before I get to the advice section of my response, PWAQP, I want to applaud you for working through one aspect of your bias against queeny gay men. Most people who dislike queens can't get it through their heads that gay men with feminine traits/mannerisms/inflections aren't pretending. But to your credit, PWAQP, you've come to realize that queeny behavior is not affectation. It's who these guys are. (And if effeminacy were affectation... what gay man in his right mind would choose to affect it? Male effeminacy attracts violence from certain kinds of straight men and renders a gay guy less sexually attractive to many gay men. Gay bashing and sexual rejection! Sign me up!)
Okay, PWAQP, two quick pieces of advice...
1. Get over it, gurl. If you're in retail and you're not selling tires or power tools or ATVs, PWAQP, you're gonna wind up working with—sometimes over, sometimes under—lots of queens. And you know what? If the store you wind up managing sells clothes or makeup or flowers or furniture, PWAQP, many of your customers will prefer buying from queens. Why is that? It seems that many Ladies Who Shop enjoy the safe/amusing male attention they get from the Queens of Retail and just as many buy into the notion that gay men have better taste and figure, "The gayer the guy, the better the taste." But whatever it is, PWAQP, it's not a fluke that queens do well in retail. So if you want to run a successful store, you'll have to learn to not just tolerate the queens you're going to inherit (when you take over a store) or hire (some will butch it up for interviews and only start gurling once they're hired), you'll have to learn to love them—for the sake of your store's bottom line and your own professional success.
2. Learn to separate shitty behavior and queeny behavior. The coworker you describe—the guy who complains about customers and coworkers under his breath and whines about his aches and pains—sounds like a toxic asshole who'll be bad for business and morale. Your performance evaluation for him shouldn't be, "Be less of a queen," PWAQP, but, "Be less of an asshole."