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“Just act normal,” my mother told me when I was imitating the Dutch 1980s girl band the Dolly Dots with my two sisters and the girl next door, or when my brother and I were washing our doll clothes and hanging them on the clothesline to dry.

by Rick van der Made - 11 February 2019

length: 6 min. Printer Friendly Page  
Machismo & the Dolly Dots

Dit artikel is ook in het Nederlands beschikbaar
length: 6 minuten

In our “straight-friendly” family, “normal” was hard to define at times. With two boys who preferred to play with make-up rather than with cars, and with a daughter who collected plastic army puppets and never wanted to wear beautiful skirts or make-up, “normal” was a word that was not normally used in our household.

My parents got married on January 29th, 1963, during “the hell of ’63,” one of the most severe winters our country has ever known.

I like the month of January. It was the month of my parents’ wedding. The month of new beginnings, a fresh start in which New Year resolutions are followed through.

A virginal winter month in which the promise of the new year is still intact. It is also a month to look back at what happened last year, in order for us to learn something from it.

I dug up some 2018 research on the acceptance of GLBT+ people. Some conclusions:  
“Half of lesbian, gay and bisexual young people dare not to be open about their sexual orientation at sports clubs. Also, a quarter of transgenders who are not actively engaged in sports indicate that they do not engage in sports because they are transgender.” (Sociaal en Cultureel Planbureau, SCP)

“Gay and bisexual youth still experience a lot of intolerance, as heterosexuality is the norm. It is not easy for them to discuss dating, love, and sex with friends.” (Van Lisdonk)

Lesbian, gay and bisexual youth give their lives a 6 out of 10 (with 10 as the highest mark and 0 the lowest), compared to an 8- for straight youth; “Homo” (read: queer) is the most commonly used term of abuse in secondary schools. According to the SCP, eighty-eight percent of GLBT people report hearing this term sometimes, regularly or often; fifty-one percent of open GLBT people were bullied with their sexual orientation in the past year or received other negative reactions; the percentage of GLBT adolescents who have attempted suicide is, according to the SCP, almost five times higher than among heterosexual youth (SCP/COC)

“Exploring a Dutch paradox: an ethnographic investigation into gay men’s mental health” is an interesting study from 2014 that tries to find an explanation for the fact that, although the Netherlands is (or was) leading in the field of gay rights, gay Dutch men score much higher when it comes to mood swings, depression, anxiety disorders and suicide attempts than heterosexual Dutch men. This research only focuses on gay men, but clearly shows where the situation is problematic when it comes to the acceptance of all GLBT+ people.

Discrimination, stigmatization and internalized homophobia play a key role. They form the basis of the “minority stress hypothesis” of the research.

Despite the seeming equality between homosexual and heterosexual, it appears that when it comes to mental health, the difference between gay and straight men in the Netherlands vary equally compared to countries where there is (much) less legal and social support for gay rights.

Already in 2006, researchers De Graaf, Sandfort and Ten Have wrote: “The Netherlands knows almost total legal equality for homosexuals. Compared to their heterosexual compatriots, Dutch homosexual men are better off in the socio-economic field and end up with a higher level of education. Dutch gay men experience virtually no hindrance when it comes to access to excellent healthcare. Given the social, legal and economic status of Dutch gay men, it would be far from the truth to label them ‘underprivileged.’”

“Exploring a Dutch paradox” examines how this “paradox” (a high score on social, economic and legal equality combined with a high score on mental health problems) can be understood.

Ethnographic conditions for mental health among gay men focus on three areas:
1. adolescence and being ‘normal’;
2. the challenge of a committed relationship;
3. gay subcultures.
Ad 1. For homosexual adolescents it holds true that their individuality is not seen as “normal” by others, and they themselves do not define their individuality as “normal” either. Although Dutch society is more open to “being different,” hetero-normative values (and the rejection of role models that are “too feminine”) prevail. Femininity and non-compliance to what is “normal” evoke opposition in families, sports club, education and the work place. In fact, research shows that even with the high level of gay emancipation in the Netherlands, “normal” and “acting normal” are still the norm, so that when it comes to gay emancipation, hetero-normative, masculine behavior is openly supported and not challenged enough.

Ad 2. Homosexual adolescents have a more negative self-image than their heterosexual counterparts. They are more vulnerable to rejection, and struggle with loneliness and maintaining long-term (sexual) relationships. A negative self-image and greater vulnerability feed attempts to become more sexually attractive, and thus to show more masculine and hetero-normative behavior.

Ad 3. Research shows that masculinity plays an even greater role in gay subcultures than being attractive or handsome. More masculinity signifies more “sexual capital,” which works out favorably for men in gay subcultures who meet the hetero-normative male ideal, but works counterproductively for gay men who do not fulfil that ideal. Being feminine and possessing female characteristics is considered unattractive in gay subcultures. In most of the gay settings in this study, “self-fashioning as masculine” and seeing femininity as not worth pursuing was the way to secure sexual capital.

The enforcement of the image of the muscular straight body and of hetero-normative behaviors has penetrated deep into gay lives and stems from the broader socio-cultural masculinity ideals, for fear of discrimination. They are present in matters such as our upbringing, education, working environment, advertising, marketing, pornography, (homosexual) subcultures and even in components of the (Gay) Pride(s). As a result, gay men actively reproduce heterosexual gender hierarchies and hence the domination of these hierarchies. In 2004 Bourdieu and Wacquant called this domination “symbolic violence” and showed where this violence can lead to: “Since the stigmatized minority individual in our society imposes identity requirements upon themselves they cannot meet, it is inevitable that he will feel some ambivalence about his individuality.

This will deform his identity in order to suffer as little as possible from apparent and intrusive stigmatization. His individual identity - which is so different from the dominant individuality of the majority - he experiences as repulsive: he will support the norms of society around him and with that he will reject his identity. This social and psychological disapproval will eventually be turned into a sense of shame.” And shame can never be a basis for healthy mental health.
OK. Let’s start 2019 properly. We now know that we should try to somewhat weaken the domination of “normal” and the hetero-normative masculine identity, starting with the “normal” hetero-normative male identity of homosexuals and bisexuals themselves.

Yes, January is a great month. The month my parents got married. The month in which good intentions persevere. Let’s try to not watch TV programs with people such as Johan Derks and René van der Gijp (“Veronica Inside”), who celebrate machismo and make homophobic statements, and imitate the Dolly Dots with our straight friends more often! It worked for my family.
Yes, 2019 will be a great GLBT+ year.



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