Effeminate Men, Masculine Women
"I can't stand effeminate men!" The speaker isn't some macho dude addressing his buddies; it is a man who is himself struggling with homosexuality. I have heard these words more times than I can count from men who come to us for help with their homosexuality.
Ironically, I can understand why they feel this way. The man with a homosexual problem craves manhood. He is drawn -- perhaps too powerfully -- to the masculine. The deficit in maleness he feels in himself expresses itself in the craving for or excessive attraction to the maleness of other men. Also, there is the common condition of our despising in others what we hate about ourselves.
But what about others? Many, many people who are secure in their own sexual identity are still bothered by effeminate men, and to a lesser degree, by masculine women. What is the problem here? It is certainly one worth exploring in our ministry.
Effeminacy in men and masculinity in women are without doubt associated with homosexuality. Certainly not all homosexual people give evidence of these characteristics, and many effeminate men and masculine women are not homosexual, but the traits are common enough to create almost universally recognized stereotypes. Homosexuals use these characteristics to identify each other, and more often than they should, heterosexuals suspect homosexuality when they encounter an effeminate man or a masculine woman.
Generally, these characteristics are expressed in speech, in dress and in body movements. The swaggering, deep voiced woman wearing men's jeans and a flannel shirt conveys the image of the 'butch" lesbian. The graceful, precisely dressed man whose words are spoken with a slightly different emphasis and tone conveys the "nellie" gay man.
Interestingly, as much as effeminacy in men and masculinity in women is something we encounter regularly in our ministries, it is something rarely dealt with directly. In part this may be due to the fact that many of us have simply not thought it through. More often, I suspect we have not dealt with it because we have a real ambivalence about the subject.
Many of us are torn between a gut level reaction that wants to say, 'Come on, act like a man!", and a deeper realization that feelings of never having measured up are among the most painful parts of homosexuality. We know that real manhood or womanhood is not measured in superficial things like the way pronounce words, how we throw a ball, or how we cross our legs, and yet we see in certain mannerisms and affectations a living out of the old life that the person wants to escape.
An important thing we try to do in our ministry is to affirm the masculine in the men and the feminine in the women. Pointing out the opposites would seem to be the opposite of affirmation. "You know you really move like a girl," is not going to be very affirming to a male overcomer.
As Christians we should be above being advocates of societal stereotypes of "real men" and "real women", especially when they can be so hurtful to those who don't measure up. As Christians we should appreciate the wonderful diversity that God has created in us. Some of this diversity has to do with the different blend of masculine and feminine gifts that we find in each individual.
Having said all of this -- and believing it -- I am still of the mind men and women overcoming homosexuality need to deal with their respective effeminate and excessively masculine traits, and for a number of reasons, I believe that healing is furthered by a reasonable effort at overcoming them.
My first reason is a very practical one. A major cause of our homosexuality may have been a lack of affirmation in early childhood. Now, in adulthood, a major part of our healing can come from being affirmed in our manhood and womanhood by others. However, effeminate behavior in a man is apt to bring forth just the opposite - either avoidance or disgust from some men, or in the case of kinder, gentler men, a form of condescension - treating us like weak little boys. In a woman, masculine behavior can elicit either avoidance or an exaggerated form of affirmation which the woman senses is not real.
The real affirmation that we need is much more likely to come if it is a natural response to our perceived manhood or womanhood. It will not come naturally if we carry extreme opposite sex characteristics or mannerisms.
The second reason why I believe that the elimination of these characteristics is good is rooted in God's word. The New Testament prescribes certain expressions of manhood and womanhood for men and women respectively (I Cor. 11:4-5). Even conservative Christians have somehow managed to ignore these directives, no doubt feeling that they are somehow arbitrary. How can it matter whose head is covered and whose head is not covered in church? I suspect God really does not care whose head is covered, but I do believe that God has a clear purpose in these directives. He is calling for an outward and visible expression of the differences and complementarity that He has built into us.
These seemingly arbitrary differences might be compared to manners -- prescribed forms of behavior that are most often arbitrary. But manners are adopted by a people in a culture for two important reasons. First, they lead to predictable behavior which makes life more comfortable for other people. Second, they are symbolic signs of respect. We dress with a degree of modesty, we chew with our mouths closed because we have learned that other people expect us to and they are more comfortable when we do. We stand when older people come into a room, or a man opens a door for a woman as a sign of respect. A society that discards manners, as ours has been doing at least since the 1960's, is clearly learning to disregard others in the interest of the almighty self.
God created us to be social creatures -- to live together in families and communities. Our living according to somewhat predictable patterns can make our communities and families function more smoothly. Seeking to conform to appropriate forms of masculine and feminine behavior conveys respect on both manhood and womanhood -- something sorely missing today.
A third reason that change might be in order -- and this too is a practical one -- is that effeminacy in men and masculinity in women can send signals that can draw to us the very people whom we do not need to be in relationship with. The man with his shirt unbuttoned half-way down his chest and his collar up is sending a message- consciously or subconsciously. Straight men simply don't dress that way. This reflects, at minimum, an ambivalence about overcoming homosexuality.
Finally, many of the effeminate characteristics in men, and even more so, the masculine characteristics in women are essentially defensive in nature, and letting down our defenses is clearly a part of the healing process. The masculine woman may adopt a dress and manner that will fend off men. Her posture may declare, 'Touch me and I'll tear you apart.' She will not overcome lesbianism behind this wall. To embrace her true feminine self, she will have to become vulnerable in some ways.
The effeminate man not knowing who he is as a man, and sensing that manhood is beyond his reach, may pick as his role models, not men but women; often selecting the woman who is outwardly strong like he wants to be, but inwardly tender and vulnerable, like he feels he is. He becomes Judy Garland or Barbra Streisand, or he adopts the self-mocking campy role so common in the gay culture.
The truth is, however, he will never overcome his homosexuality until he lets go of these false personalities. Even if he must be no one for a while, he must let go of the false, defensive self, before he can become who God created him to be.
Yes, I believe it is good for men and women who are overcoming homosexuality to, so far as possible, let go of their respective effeminate and excessive masculine characteristics. However, we need to go about this with balance and wisdom. In making each of us unique, God did put a mixture of the masculine and feminine in each of us. Some women are going to be stronger and more competitive than others; some men are going to be more sensitive and gentle than others. Praise God for our uniqueness.
The matter of effeminate men and masculine women is, indeed, a difficult one. How much shall we conform? How much shall we accept ourselves just as we are? We need balance. I believe we will best achieve balance if we turn our eyes to Jesus. Jesus loves us and accepts us just as we are, no matter how odd or unique our pasts have made us. But, like all Christians, we are becoming; we are a people in process, and as a people in process, we should seek to let go of those things that are a part of our broken past. We should seek to become all God created us to be.
God created man and He said, "Good," and He created woman and He said, "Good." There is something great and glorious about manhood and womanhood. That' s why I believe we are put off by distortions of what we sense manhood and womanhood to be. Although we may never fully grasp the essence of manhood and womanhood, God had a purpose in making us men and women, in making us different. He is a God of order, not of confusion, and He does not want us confused about our manhood and womanhood. It is difficult, but lees try to get it straight.
Copyright © 1993 Regeneration, Inc. All rights reserved. Posted on the web with permission.