White Gay Men: Privilege, Oppression, and Horizontal Hostility

For my Introduction to Queer Studies class yesterday students read a variety of articles on the theme of White gay/queer men and how they are both privileged and oppressed (and these, of course, vary according to the relevant intersectionality). 

Student reading included the following, a mix of blogs and theoretical, academic works: 

“Straight White Male: The Lowest Difficulty Setting There Is”
“Gay Men’s Sexism and Women’s Bodies”
“On heterosexual privilege”
“A Gay Guy’s Guide To Feminism – A Brief Introduction”
“30+ Examples of Heterosexual Privilege in the US”
“30+ Examples of Male Privilege”
“Don’t Hate Steve Grand because he’s White; Hate Him because he’s Clueless”
“Lesbian Feminism and the Gay Rights Movement: Another View of Male Supremacy, Another Separatism”

We focused on three questions – all discussed from insitutional, systemic perspectives:

  1. How does society oppress White gay men?
  2. How do White gay men oppress each other?
  3. How do White gay men oppress others? 

The basic idea is that all men have male privilege, some of these men also have White privilege, Christian privilege, able-bodied privilege, class/economic privilege, cisgender privilege, etc. Identity is a complicated thing!

Too often people in privileged positions use their privilege to further their causes, whether this is fully realized or not. We don’t always know what we’re doing, especially when it involves privilege. Too often those who are oppressed could use this insight of knowing what it is like to be oppressed to challenge forces that priviegle them but don’t. 

Instead, as these articles articulate and as the students verified, (White) gay men are sometimes more sexist than heterosexual men. Marilyn Frye’s “Lesbian Feminism and the Gay Rights Movement” makes a variety of important points, some of which can be summed up in the following points:

  • Movements by gay men and gay women have been at odds because of gay men’s sexism and woman-hating behavior
  • Most gay men are potentially more committed to patriarchy and related notions of power than their heterosexual male counterparts.
  • Historically most gay men have claimed rights and recognition by appealing to their manhood. 
  • Heterosexual men are typically very involved in a form of “homoeroticism” vis-a-vis their close emotional bonds with other men (football games, drinking, man caves, etc.), emotional bonds they don’t build with women. 

We also talked about how there is also a problematic trend where gay men oppress each other. Theoretically, as I learned Monday, this is termed as horizontal hostility. “Horizontal hostility occurs when members of a targeted group believe, act on, or enforce the dominant system of discrimination and oppression.” Take a look at the manifestation of this in the following image. This is a screenshot from the popular/controversial app Grinder that I found some time ago. 


This poster uses sexism (and male privilege) and notions of able-bodiedness to belittle other gay men, all of them really. Certainly, too, this is a less serious example as the horizontal hostility/oppression is limited to semi-anyonomus words in a place that is not taken seriously by most, but this served as a useful discussion artifact for my students. Of course, too, racism is the gay male community is rampant. 

Hope you enjoyed this brief look into a Queer Studies class!

Andrew Joseph Pegoda