Don't Be a Sissy, You Sissy

Tim Bergling wants to know why some gay people act so gay. And he wants to know why anyone would care.

"I think it's pretty simple," Bergling says. "In our society, we devalue femininity.... The idea that a man would surrender his place in the hierarchy and act like a woman means he's an object of scorn. I think it's simple misogyny."

So, last year, Washington, D.C., journalist and television producer Bergling published a book called Sissyphobia: "I describe sissyphobia as the dislike some gay guys have for other gay guys who they say aren't manly enough," Bergling says. "I don't look at sissyphobia as a straight phenomenon so much as a gay-on-gay prejudice."

At first glance, it seems strange that people who are so often the victims of violence, hate, and intolerance would direct those same attitudes toward their own.

"I found most people's reasoning was pretty [circular]," Bergling says. "You know, 'Sissies are considered to be gay, so that's bad because most people don't like gay people, and, um, they don't like gay people because they're sissies.'"

As part of his extensive research, Bergling interviewed hundreds of straight and gay men of both flaming and straight-acting varieties. His hard work paid off, though -- The Advocate proclaimed Sissyphobia the best book of 2001. Not bad for his first stab at a book.

"When I opened my Advocate magazine the day after Christmas, I almost fell on the kitchen floor," he says. "I opened it up and saw that they'd called it the best book of the year and said, 'OK, I need a glass of water.'"

These days, Bergling is working on a book titled Reeling in the Years: Gay Men's Perspectives on Age & Aging. "It's a much longer book, a much deeper book," he says. "It has to do with all the different things we go through as we go from teens to seniors, and the unbelievable differences between young guys and older guys -- when they came out, how they came out, all sorts of things that have to do with the phenomenon of age as it relates to the phenomenon of being gay."

For Bergling, who is gay and once shared an ambivalent attitude toward effeminate gays, doing the research for Sissyphobia was an extremely enlightening experience. "By the end of the book, the guys who've been effeminate since day one, they're more the heroes than the guys who are straight-acting, straight-looking, and can make the decision to hide," he says. "Some people with only a little bit of a swish can probably learn not to do it in certain situations, but other people can't cover it up. Some people's flames cannot be doused."