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social sciences

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Indeed, many gay men adopt effeminate mannerisms when they come out as a means of identifying and belonging to a particular subculture, and as a way of signaling their homosexuality to others. Young gay men may emulate the "queenly" manners of their elders as a means of creating a particular role for themselves within the subculture.

Determining the degree of effeminate behavior needed to define a gay male as a sissy is subjective because expectations of gender roles shift according to culture, nation, region, and even population density. Behavior deemed acceptable for a straight adult male in an urban center such as New York or Chicago may be considered effeminate elsewhere. What might be regarded as the commonplace attributes of a "metrosexual" (i. e., a heterosexual man interested in fashion and grooming and other stereotypically homosexual pursuits) in a large city could well be seen as evidence of homosexual effeminacy in a rural area.

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Gender is performative. Hence, an individual's instances of overtly sissy behavior tends to vary depending on setting and social group. Even the most effeminate individual is usually able to "butch it up" for specific occasions or in particular circumstances. Some gay men present a conventionally masculine appearance in professional situations or in family gatherings, but assume a sissy persona when socializing in gay bars or other places where gender nonconformity is welcomed or at least tolerated.

The fluidity of social behavior makes it difficult to determine if a man is or can be, by definition, a sissy. Moreover, whether a man is defined as a sissy is often decided less by any objective measure than by comparison of his mannerisms with the behavior of others.


The sissy is an important constituent of the gay male community. Although sometimes reviled by both heterosexuals and other homosexuals, the sissy has historically helped define gay culture, and has often used his own sexual and gender nonconformity as a means of questioning the dominant constructions of sex and gender.

Most homosexuals are not sissies (and not all sissies are homosexuals), and many "masculine" gay men resent being thought of as effeminate simply by virtue of their homosexuality. Nevertheless, the sissy has in the popular imagination been seen as the quintessential homosexual. This perception may reflect a kind of imposition of heterosexual binaries on homosexuality (i. e, homosexuals are like women), but it may also reflect the fact that effeminate homosexuals were for many years almost the only visible gay men. They remain the most easily identifiable.

Brandon Hayes
Claude J. Summers

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literature >> Overview:  Camp

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social sciences >> Overview:  Coming Out

"Coming out" is the revelation or acknowledgment that one is a member of a sexual minority, a process that is at once personal and social and often political.

social sciences >> Overview:  Etiology

The earliest etiologies--or theories of causation--of homosexuality date from European antiquity, but the search for a universal etiology has intensified as homosexual behavior has come under the scrutiny of science.

arts >> Overview:  Film Sissies

The film sissy had his heyday in the 1930s, but persists as a film archetype, subtly reminding audiences that there are other ways of being than conventional heterosexuality.

social sciences >> Overview:  Leather Culture

"Leather" is a blanket term for a large array of sexual preferences, identities, relationship structures, and social organizations loosely tied together by the thread of what is conventionally understood as sadomasochistic sex.

social sciences >> Overview:  Passing

Generally defined as seeking or allowing oneself to be identified with a race, class, or other social group to which one does not genuinely belong, passing is a complex and layered issue in queer culture.

social sciences >> Overview:  Radical Faeries

A movement that emerged in the late 1970s, the Radical Faeries identify with the gender variant sacred outsider that has appeared and reappeared in many cultures throughout human history.

social sciences >> Overview:  Stereotypes

Stereotypes usually include inaccurate and negative assumptions about groups, thus contributing to racism, classism, sexism, and homophobia.

social sciences >> Overview:  Tomboys

Although tomboys must contend with the often false assumptions that they are lesbian or want to be male, for many the tomboy stage is the first manifestation of a gender-fluid life journey.

social sciences >> Savage, Dan

Best known for his syndicated sex-advice column, Dan Savage is also the author of books chronicling his and his partner's experiences in adopting a child and dealing with the issue of same-sex marriage

social sciences >> Sissy Boy Syndrome

When the American Psychiatric Association removed homosexuality from its list of mental illnesses, it added in its place "Gender Identity Disorder in Childhood," or "The Sissy Boy Syndrome."


Bergling, Tim. Sissyphobia: Gay Men and Effeminate Behavior. Binghamton, N. Y.: Haworth Press, 2001.

Goldstein, Richard. "The Myth of Gay Macho." The Village Voice (June 26, 2002):,goldstein,35992,1.html

Helms, Alan. Young Man From the Provinces. Boston: Faber & Faber, 1995.

Rottnek, Matthew, ed. Sissies and Tomboys: Gender Nonconformity and Homosexual Childhood. New York: New York University Press, 1999.

Savage, Dan. "The Other Love That Dares Not Speak Its Name: Sissies." This American Life 46 (December 13, 1996). Chicago: Public Radio International.


    Citation Information
    Author: Hayes, Brandon ; Summers, Claude J.  
    Entry Title: Sissies  
    General Editor: Claude J. Summers  
    Publication Name: glbtq: An Encyclopedia of Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual,
Transgender, and Queer Culture
    Publication Date: 2006  
    Date Last Updated March 10, 2006  
    Web Address  
    Publisher glbtq, Inc.
1130 West Adams
Chicago, IL   60607
    Today's Date  
    Encyclopedia Copyright: © 2002-2006, glbtq, Inc.  
    Entry Copyright © 2006 glbtq, Inc.  


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