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Going Beyond Gay Generalizations

Everyone has perceptions or preconceived ideas about what it means to be gay. Many people think they can tell if someone is gay by the way they look, dress, or behave.

By resting on stereotypes or conventional formulaic generalizations, many misconceptions and mistaken identities can easily occur. Some people who might get embarrassed because their "gaydar" wasn't fine tuned, just might have to admit they may have been exercising their private prejudices or preconceived notions about gays and lesbians.




Gay Men


Not all gay men are effeminate and flamboyant (queens). 

Just because someone is a gay man, doesn't mean he…


--Is obsessed with fashion and is super stylish

--Is limp-wristed, swishy and talks with a lisp

--Listens to Broadway show tunes

--Is involved in theatre and the performing arts

--Is a hairdresser, fashion designer, or interior decorator

--Frequents seedy gay bars and dances shirtless to disco music



Lesbian Women


Not all lesbians are butch and tomboyish (dykes). 

Just because someone is a lesbian, doesn't mean she…


--Wears short hair, tattoos, body piercings, and army boots

--Drives a pick-up truck and wears a tool belt

--Is really into sports
--Wears plaid lumberjack shirts
--Only listens to music by KD Lang, The Indigo Girls, and Melissa Etheridge

--Wears leather and rides a motorbike




Debunking Ten Myths Propagated by Anti-Gay Movement

Live Science: Five Myths About Gay People Debunked

Huff Post: Harmful Myths & Stereotypes of Gay Men

Queereka: Myths & Misconceptions of Gay Men


Behavior and Appearance


LGBT people are found in every social, economic, racial, and religious group. They are our teachers, colleagues, friends, parents, and children. Most LGBT people look and act just like everyone else. They come from all walks of life, all races, all economic levels, and all political perspectives. We all know a number of LGBT people, whether we are aware of it or not.


Typically, you can't spot a gay man or lesbian women by the way they act and dress. Gender roles do not determine sexual orientation. Many LGBT people are impossible to distinguish from straight and more gender normative individuals. There are some lesbians who dress in a very masculine way, some gay men who act in traditionally feminine ways, and many LGBT people who feel the freedom to explore a range of gender expression. There are also many gender normative LGBT people who “pass” unnoticed every day.


Popular media tends to perpetuate the common stereotypes associated with gays and lesbians. Portrayals of gays and lesbians in movies and on television tend towards stereotypical behavior. Gay and lesbian characters all too often are caricatures, reflecting stereotypical looks, mannerisms, and lifestyles.


It is a misconception that you can always tell homosexuals by the way they look or act. Typically, we think that men who act in a feminine manner must be gay and that masculine women with short haircuts must be lesbians.


Too often people think they can generalize about the activities and lifestyle of gays and lesbians. Some people have long held assumptions about the kinds of music LGBT people listen to, the kinds of clothes LGBT people wear, and the kinds of entertainment LGBT people enjoy. Some might even generalize about the traits that they think characterize a typical gay or lesbian relationship. 


Most gay and lesbian people look just like your typical neighbors instead of like the characters on "Queer as Folk" or "Queer Eye for the Straight Guy."

The reality is that these stereotypes only apply to about 15% of gays and 5% of lesbians.
These stereotypes confuse the concept of sexual orientation with gender roles.


In an attempt to understand observed behaviors, appearances, and mannerisms of gasy and lesbian people, it might be instructive to recognize the difference between one's sexual orientation and gender role.  An individual's sexual orientation is about whether one prefers the same sex or the other sex as a sexual partner.  An individual's gender role is about whether he or she is exhibiting masculine or feminine behavior.


There is a cultural tendency to view homosexuality as “behavior” rather than a personal identity.


While there are some gay and lesbian persons who fit these stereotypes, they are no more representative of all homosexual people than are the Marlboro Man and June Cleaver types representative of all straight people. LGBT people generally look and act like everyone else. Most people never suspect the sexual orientation of an LGBT individual.


Appearance, Mannerisms, Relationships


Appearance and Mannerisms


Typically, lesbians are thought to be "butch", dressing in a more masculine or tomboyish manner; with plaid flannel shirts, short haircuts, work boots, tattoos, and body piercings, for example. "Dykes" (a pejorative term that the LGBT community has reclaimed to an extent) are considered members of a community that is perceived as being composed of strong and outspoken, often angry and aggressive, women. 


On the other hand, a "lipstick lesbian" is a "femme" women who tends to be "hyper-feminine,” conventionally attractive, and almost indistinguishable from a straight woman.  They are portrayed as pretty and stylish.  They wear make-up and heels.


The "flaming queen,” a characterization that melds flamboyance and effeminacy, remains a gay male stock character in Hollywood. Theatre, specifically Broadway musicals, are a component to another stereotype, the "show queen.”  The stereotype generalizes that all gay men listen to show tunes and are involved with the performing arts, are theatrical, dramatic, and are campy.


They are portrayed as not especially competent with mechanical tasks, not liking sports, and preferring to be extremely clean, manicured, and well-groomed.


The “bear” subculture of the LGBT community is composed of generally stocky, burly, husky, hairy men.  Stereotypically, they are usually seen with facial hair and wearing suspenders. They embrace their “hyper-masculine” image, and some will shun a more effeminate man, referred to as a “twink.”


In addition to being called effeminate, gay men are also identified with a gay lisp and/or a female like tone.  Fashion, effeminacy, and homosexuality have long been associated. Stereotypes are often based on the visibility of a reciprocal relationship between gay men and fashion. Gay men who are visible in popular culture may purchase fashion as a means of expression, and gay men have high visibility within the fashion industry.  The limp wrist is also a mannerism associated with gay men.


Sex and Relationships


A prevalent stereotype about gay men is that they are promiscuous and are either unwilling or unable to have enduring or long-term relationships. However, several surveys of gay men in the United States have shown that between 40% and 60% are involved in a steady relationship, and that many others are single, but have the intention of becoming involved only in monogamous relationships.  Research also suggests that a slightly higher proportion of lesbians than gay men may be in steady relationships.  A 2007 study reported that two large population surveys found "the majority of gay men had similar numbers of unprotected sexual partners annually as straight men and women."


Another persistent stereotype associated with the male homosexual community is partying. Before the Stonewall riots in 1969, most LGBT people were extremely private and closeted and house parties and later bars and taverns became one of the few places where like-minded men could meet, socialize, and feel safe. The riots represented the start of the modern LGBT social movement and acceptance of sexual and gender minorities has steadily increased. Social occasions which are generally festive and party-like remain at the core of organizing and fundraising even currently. In cities where there are large populations of LGBT people, benefits and bar fundraisers are still common and alcohol companies invest heavily marketing to LGBT subcultures. Ushered in by underground gay clubs and disc jockeys, the disco era starting in the 1970s kept the "partying" aspect vibrant and ushered in the more hardcore circuit party movement that was hedonistic and associated with party and play (PNP).


The relationship between gay men and a trusted female heterosexual companion, known as a "fag hag" has become highly stereotypical. The accepted behaviors in this type of relationship range from shopping and dining out to light petting, but whose sexualities prevent them from being together.




Diversity Executive: A Closer Look at LGBT Stereotypes

Why I Hate Being called a Lipstick Lesbian


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Association for Lesbian Gay Bisexual & Transgender Issues in Counseling of Alabama