The last straight guy who called me ”little bitch“ provided an invaluable lesson about the treatment of women in general.
I learned early on that life is demonstrably improved when women and girls have the same opportunities as the guys do. Basically equality for women makes my life better. So you might say I support women’s equality for selfish reasons.
Let’s travel back to Great Mills High School when I made the tennis team as a freshman because the entire varsity squad graduated the year before. We euphemistically called that a “rebuilding year” when an all-rookie lineup went 0-18 in conference play.
That year’s squad, a mixed- team, included 6 varsity slots for boys and 4 for girls, a breach of Title IX rectified the following year by adding two girls slots into the lineup. Title IX is a landmark 1970’s-era law that bans gender discrimination in schools receiving federal funding. Girls and boys deserve equal opportunities in sports so if the mixed team includes 6 boys, it must include 6 girls as well.
The following year, the sophomore squad went 10-8, finishing 3rd in the conference. Those two extra girls immediately translated into more points for our side.
That first year, we were the dregs of the lot. One year later we were contenders every time we took the court. By the time my senior year rolled around in 1990, not long after Title IX finally arrived in Southern Maryland, my high school’s tennis team went 15-3 for an 80% winning percentage.
Giving girls equal access to sports made my high school tennis team better. Equal representation turned us into contenders almost over night. We weren’t a laughing stock anymore and it would have been very hard not to notice and be affected by that.
Recently I turned 50 and somewhere along the way, I learned that homophobia is just sexism in really bad drag. And I know that’s true because some straight dudes, their homophobia is so basic that it comes off just like sexism.
To belittle a gay man, misogyny is a go-to strategy for some and not just the usual knuckle-draggers. It’s also a technique favored by the progressive Democrat with “feminist” in in the Twitter profile. Or the libertarian type who attended last year’s Equality Ball wearing rainbow cufflinks. Even among our “allies” these sexist-tinged homophobic impulses lie just beneath the surface, really to deploy the minute someone feels slighted or put upon.
They go from rainbow-clad ally to “little bitch” with enough regularity that patterns emerge.
It’s been ages since someone called me “faggot,” a mean-spirited slur to be sure, but on that acknowledges that I’m indeed a man. To truly belittle or diminish me, straight guys usually opt for some version of “bitch” (little bitch, effing bitch) or even “c**ksucker” because these are things that, in their mind, only a woman can be.
They actually talk to me like I’m a woman to emasculate me because because that’s the worst insult they can muster. On some level you have to hate women too for that mindset to be on standby like that. And the craziest thing is that “little bitch” can be provoked by anything (or nothing!) like setting boundaries, brushing off an advance, sticking up for yourself et al.
The sexism gay men encounter once in a while is something many women encounter on the regular. I’ve seen how men routinely treat women. And because I’m gay, I know what it feels like to be treated like woman.
And I don’t like the way it makes me feel.
I fight for polices that level the playing field between men and women (equal pay, abortion rights, affordable childcare) because those are my values. But when it comes to being an actual feminist, I’m a work in progress. Equality doesn’t always mean the same. Sometimes treating women just like you’d treat a man is the opposite of leveling the playing field, something I learned later in life than I care to admit.
If you’ve ever gotten a 5-alarm, 5:30am email from me about a policy issue near and dear, you already know that some of my spiciest work gets done before the sun comes up. Some of those emails can be pretty aggressive. These are, after all, my values I’m fighting for and let’s be honest, there’s no shortage of people in Trenton who deserve a tersely-worded email right about now.
I convinced myself that brandishing the same strident tone regardless of the gender was somehow fair because it represents equal treatment. It wasn’t a conclusion I came to lightly, indeed it was actually quite well-considered, an example of me trying and getting it wrong .
And now those pre-dawn emails are a bit more restrained in general. I suspect the men have noticed too.
If you’re reading this and thinking, “get over it dude, women can handle your tone” you’re not wrong. But that’s not why I revamped my angry activist spiel. Now I moderate because sometimes my aggro came from the same misogynist mindset that gave the world “little bitch” and I don’t want to be that guy anymore.
Jay Lassiter is an award-winning writer and podcaster living in Chery Hill, NJ. He’s on Twitter @Jay_Lass.