Originally published in Mamamia, 15th June, 2013.
Howard Sattler’s interview with the Prime Minister last night has highlighted the role and negative impact sexist and homophobic stereotypes still play in our society today.
A lot of the reaction of the interview has been to once again point out the extreme disrespect with which our Prime Minister is treated. As Mamamia said last night “Of all the rude questions the Prime Minister has been asked, this is by far the worst.” But for me, the issue here is bigger than this. What Sattler has neatly done has shown the impact of queerphobia not only on GLBTIQ people, but on our broader community.
The whole basis of Sattler’s questioning last night was around the idea that because Mathieson is a hairdresser he must be gay. I’ve heard it plenty of times. Insinuations about his sexuality are common. Give our community a man who is a hairdresser, and is in a relationship, but isn’t married and hasn’t had kids, and he’s obviously ‘a poof’.
These sorts of stereotypes seem to be the bread and butter of queerphobia. Gay men are feminine – we have ‘girly jobs’ (i.e. hairdresser, decorator, fashion designer), we are all into fashion and design, and we are all bitchy as hell. In other words, gay men are your stereotypical ‘woman’. Lesbians, of course, suffer the opposite fate. They are butch – tom boys. The only wear comfortable shoes, play lots of sports, and are generally angry and gruff. In other words, lesbian women are your typical ‘man’.
We see this all over the place. I have experienced it myself. People find me confusing, because I am both gay and relatively ‘masculine’. I play rugby union and have an awful fashion sense (apparently). It genuinely confuses people. Look around and you will see it everywhere. The gay character on TV (who is always a man), is always camp. Women who play sport are assumed to be lesbians. And gay men are clearly into cross-dressing, whilst lesbian women can never make themselves look ‘pretty’.
Stereotypes like this are a perfect way for our sexist, homophobic, society to oppress queer people. At its most basic level it puts people into boxes, and then ridicules the boxes people have been placed into (see the fact that gay characters are always the funny ones on TV). But broader than that, in a world in which gender is so important, then clearly having your gender questioned so openly is the perfect form of oppression.
It is here where we can see how these homophobic stereotypes hurt everyone. Because the stereotypes aren’t just homophobic – they’re extremely sexist as well. In creating a standard idea of what is a ‘man‘ and what is a ‘woman‘ (and then openly questioning whether people fit into either box), these sorts of stereotypes put us all into boxes. And these boxes are sexist – ‘masculine characteristics’ are valued more highly than ‘feminine characteristics’, ensuring men continue their status position on top of the ladder (you would think that this would help lesbian women, but as they are still women – apparently not).
The end impact of this is that queerphobic stereotypes hurt us all. For example, a recent study, that showed that despite what we might think, straight men are generally more depressed and anxious than their out gay and bi counterparts.
There are many different ideas I have had as to why this may be, but the conclusion for me (a conclusion I came with the help of one of Dan Savage’s podcasts) is that being queer can actually be very sexually liberating. Once you come out, as long as you are in an open and friendly part of the world, being queer allows you to be free around gender and sexuality. Whilst people often assume I must be good with fashion, they never question my sexuality when I tell them I’m not – I can be whoever I want, and never be questioned for it.
“This paints the impact of queerphobic stereotypes not just on queer people, but on straight people as well.”
Let’s look at this through a straight man’s perspective – say Tim Mathieson. Ever since he has entered the spotlight, Mathieson has been questioned about his sexuality. As a man who is a hairdresser it has automatically been assumed that he must be gay, and nothing he can do (including being in a long term relationship) can change that perception. It almost seems inevitable that someone would ask either he or the Prime Minister to ‘prove his heterosexuality’.
And this paints of the impact of queerphobic stereotypes not just on queer people, but on straight people as well. For queers it means putting us all into a box – we are all ‘queer eye for the straight guy’. And of course, that means a direct questioning of our gender. But as Sattler proved, for heteros it means the same thing. If you’re a hetero and you don’t live up to your gender identification then your sexuality is automatically questioned. You will spend the rest of your life ‘proving your heterosexuality’, just like Tim Mathieson.
I’m sure there is going to be a lot of outrage over Sattler’s interview today. How dare a PM get asked questions like that, we will ask. We will hear demands for sackings and there will be a petition. But if there is anything we should take out of this it should be the questioning of the homophobic and sexist stereotypes that hurt us all.