why it matters
A note from the creator on femininity, representation and taking back your narrative:
By: Matt Zook
When I was young, I remember lying in bed at night knowing that I was not a girl, but I didn’t feel like a boy either. I would close my eyes and think, “if I was a girl, it would all make sense.” I could be attracted to boys, I could wear dresses and skirts, and I could put on makeup. All without the ridicule of my classmates and the world.
I’ve been trying to ask myself, why the world is averted from being feminine? Author and mother, Sarah Rich explains it beautifully in her essay entitled Today’s Masculinity is Stifling.
To embrace anything feminine, if you’re not biologically female, causes discomfort and confusion, because throughout most of history and in most parts of the world, being a woman has been a disadvantage. Why would a boy, born into all the power of maleness, reach outside his privileged domain? It doesn’t compute.
Growing up gay, I was always told that I was too much. I was too loud, too annoying, too talkative…but the criticisms that stuck were, "you're too girly, too feminine, and too emotional." I was told not to talk in such high-pitched voice. I was told not to move my hands so much. I was told that I shouldn't walk certain way or swing my hips a certain way because only girls do that. Boys can't play with Barbies, Polly Pockets, or Bratz dolls. Boys were supposed to like hot wheels, football, and guns.
I remember sitting in the car at the McDonald's drive-thru and when the option of getting a “boy” or “girl” toy was presented, instead of simply saying I wanted the Barbie I would say, "Tell them I'm a girl mom! Tell them I'm a girl." While the first few times this behavior might have been found cute and endearing. It eventually became troubling and frustrating. My parents decided that I was no longer allowed to ask for the girl toy and I was forced to throw them away. My favorite one was a Barbie that wore a beautiful black gown. She came with a piano and microphone.
I began thinking about why I wrote this series and the first thing that came to mind was representation. The feminine gay man is only ever seen as a superficial joke. They are viewed as flamboyant fairies with no visible sexuality except for the stray sexual innuendo often directed desperately at the nearest straight man. They are the sidekick to the straight girl who needs dating and sex advice or the hottest fashion tips.
Although, I most certainly can provide excellent styling advice, I never found this type of comic relief to be very funny. I wanted to take that superficial trope and let it be as complicated as lived experiences are. Why can't a queer person who exists in between the binary of male and female be the lead of a story? Why can't they be both hilarious and sad and complicated? I wanted to make a character that was everything I felt existed inside myself, but that was critiqued, reprimanded, and threatened out of me.
Sarah Rich goes on to quote Matt Duron (the father of a gender-creative child and husband to Lori Duron, the author of Raising My Rainbow). She writes “Most non-conforming adult men, when they talk about their upbringing, say their first bully was their dad.” This was true for me (sorry, Dad). He’s the reason I began to watch my behavior through a microscope to ensure that no extra flourish of femininity could appear. It only grew worse as I went through school gaining different bullies over the different years - some worse than others.
It’s taken the last 5 years of my life to even begin to welcome my femininity back into my life. It remains a daily challenge between expression and fear for me. My hope for this series is to create representation that will make this anxiety even a little easier for myself and for others.
Gay representation in the media right now is still existing in a very masculine ideal and isn’t allowing room for the full expression of gender fluidity, and the gray areas in-between the binary. What’s on TV right now is reinforcing the idea that “gay men can be manly,” which is true, but doesn’t leave space for those of us that don’t fit into that narrow ideal, or don’t want to. Instead of waiting around to see people like me represented, I decided to write that representation for myself.
It is also so important right now (and always, but especially right now, with all the many ways that toxic masculinity is impacting our mental health as a society) for not just queer individuals, but ALL people to realize that to it is okay to be complicated, emotional, and vulnerable, and to refuse to exist within the rigid cage of masculinity; that these traits can only help us in accepting ourselves and in accepting each other.
This story is for all those who’ve felt that because of their gender expression that they have not been represented in media. This story is for those who truly don’t feel safe to be themselves on daily basis because of fear of ridicule or physical violence. This story is for every man that has yelled a slur at me while I’ve walked down the street or the hallway. This story is for everyone who encouraged me to be my most true and extra self even when I wanted to hide. Most of all, this story is for the 6-year-old who just wanted to play with barbies and the freedom to pick the “girl-toy.”