As a politically active gay man, I am extremely familiar with the concept of androgyny. Many of my friends are androgynous, gender-neutral, transgender, genderqueer, etc. Seeing a young man who has feminine features is a complete non-issue in my world, so when I saw people in the comments on websites like this making fun of a teenage boy for being somewhat androgynous, I was appalled, to say the least.
I am not a fan of Bieber’s music. Without getting into details about it, let’s just say it’s just not really my style of music. That said, I completely fail to see the reason behind attacking him because of the way he looks. I’ve seen people go as far as photoshopping him into a dress, pointing out his feminine features, and calling him “Justine.” This comes off to me as extremely negative in two distinct ways:
1) The mentality here screams, “Justin looks feminine, which means he’s a woman, which is the worst thing a man can aspire to be.”
Our society tends to portray femininity as negative when those features and behaviors are not associated with a cisgender woman. For those unaware, “cisgender” refers to a person whose body matches the gender identity that is considered appropriate for their sex by society. To be a man and feminine is almost universally considered negative, and it shows how people view women in our culture.
It’s fine for a woman to be masculine or do masculine things (i.e., lesbian porn being fetishized, or the “I’m okay with gay marriage as long as it’s between two women” mentality), but when a man or trans woman does feminine things it’s almost always met with criticism. Much of this comes down to the patriarchy of our society, and we therefore view it as okay for women to be masculine, but not the other way around. Despite years of social progress, women are still often expected to be subservient to men.
The problem here is not just that people are making fun of Bieber for his music, they’re enforcing outdated gender norms on a young man for his physical appearance, something that he’s not in control of. Our society has this social gender binary that can’t possibly pertain to everyone. If you think I’m wrong, ask yourself this simple question. Why is the concept of a feminine man funny to you? What is it about gender non-conformity that makes you uncomfortable?
Femininity is not negative. Men can be feminine, women can be masculine, and not everyone fits so easily into the gender that society sees us as. That leads me into my second point.
2.) These attacks come off as extremely transphobic.
Calling Justin “Justine” and applying a gender to him that he does not identify with trivializes the issues that transgender and gender non-conforming people face every day. The point that I’m trying to make here is that looking feminine doesn’t make one a woman, not looking feminine doesn’t make one a man, nor does behaving any way make someone anything without their consent. Gender is an identity, not a box. In all likelihood, Justin Bieber is a cisgender man who just happens to be a bit androgynous.
Some of you may say that I lack a sense of humor and that I’m just being overly sensitive, but just because people laugh at a joke doesn’t make it funny. I was constantly bullied in high school for being gay and people laughed at me, but I wouldn’t consider bullying to be a form of comedy. The people who make fun of Justin Bieber for looking feminine are the ones who make fun of trans men and women for being who they are. Just because they look “different.”
It’s not cute, it’s not funny, it’s ignorant.