The effeminate elephant

Effeminacy in the animal world, first in yesterday’s (3/28) Wayno/Piraro Bizarro:

(#1) Not only elephant effeminacy, but also a cosmetic anagram, a rouge and peasant salve (If you’re puzzled by the odd symbols in the cartoon — Dan Piraro says there are 5 in this strip — see this Page.)

And in one of my academic collages, with mice in the lab:

(#2) Continuing the theme of makeup for males

Lots of stuff here, far too much to treat properly in one posting. But let me start with the easy stuff.

The cosmetic anagram. ROUGE for ROGUE. This is, to start with, a frequent misspelling, frequent enough to have made it into Paul Brians’s Common Errors in English Usage; from the website:

rouge / rogue: You can create an artificial blush by using rouge, but a scoundrel who deserves to be called a rogue is unlikely to blush naturally. Many people write about “rouge software” when they mean “rogue software.”

But Wayno and Dan weren’t after ROUGE because it occurs as a misspelling of ROGUE, but just because it’s an anagram of ROGUE. Which moved me to imagine a message from the elephant to a critic of his grooming practices:


(where GORE U is an elephantine euphemism for TUSK U, which in turn is proboscidean-talk for FUCK U)

And to suppose that the elephant has matriculated at ERGO U., a philosophical EU ORG.

rogue. The effeminacy theme enters in #1 through the elephant’s being a rogue, which tells us that the elephant is male (despite there being no conventional visual markers of its sex in the drawing). Then we have a male looking to buy rouge for himself at a makeup counter — a decidedly un-masculine act that then, within the system of current normative masculinity, would cause him to be labeled effeminate. From NOAD on the noun rogue (with the relevant subsection, 2a, bold-faced):

1 [a] a dishonest or unprincipled man: you are a rogue and an embezzler. [b] a person whose behavior one disapproves of but who is nonetheless likable or attractive (often used as a playful term of reproof): Cenzo, you old rogue! 2 [a] [usually as modifier] an elephant or other large wild animal driven away or living apart from the herd and having savage or destructive tendencies: a rogue elephant. [b] a person or thing that behaves in an aberrant, faulty, or unpredictable way: he hacked into data and ran rogue programs. [c] an inferior or defective specimen among many satisfactory ones, especially a seedling or plant deviating from the standard variety.

You also need to know that rogue elephants are old, male, and vicious (and, having been driven from the herd, solitary).

Makeup for men. First, guy-guy makeup.  As in a GQ piece, “The Beginner’s Guide to Makeup for Men: GQ grooming columnist Phillip Picardi makes the case for wearing concealer — and explains everything you need to know about trying it out” from 11/27/19.

NOAD on the noun concealer: ‘a flesh-toned cosmetic used to cover facial blemishes and dark circles under the eyes’

Dozens of products, from men’s grooming companies, from women’s cosmetics firms, and from specialty sources like the wonderfully macho-named War Paint For Men. On their site:

(#3) “Our cream-based concealer is great to hide dark circles, spots, scars and blemishes. Dab on and blend out with your finger or sponge” (comes in several skin tones) — hey guys, let out a war whoop as you get your faces ready for the day’s battles

But then some guys are willing on do a bit of walking on the makeup wild side. There’s even at least one cosmetics brand (offering lashes, eyeliner / eye shadow, and brushes) that caters specifically to them — and its name is perfect (warning: the company’s into new-agey ad copy):

Rouge & Rogue is an edgy cosmetics brand that not only accepts, but welcomes and embraces any and all expressions of beauty. We feel that makeup is a playground big enough for anyone to carve out their own identity and should be a place where one can feel at home in their own skin. We believe we are our own art form and that expression of beauty should only be contained by how big we dream it. Founded in 2016, our brand proudly celebrates individuality, inclusivity, and believe our differences make the beauty community a more beautiful and diverse place.

… Rouge & Rogue was born from the belief that we are our own form of art and that expression of beauty should only be contained by how big we dream it. Drawing influences from spirituality, individualism and occultism. It encapsulates the sense that opposite energies and contrary forces are all cosmically interconnected. A magical play between feminine and masculine, strength and vulnerability, light and dark.

Then from the South Florida Gay News, “Makeup Trends Bring Out the Best in Men” by Lawrence Aaron on 4/27/16:

Grooming can only take a man so far in bringing out his best self. For those days when we haven’t gotten enough sleep or just look tired, we could all use a boost. We’re happy to see that men are now letting their true selves shine through — with the help of a little makeup.

Makeup has the fantastic reputation of helping us show off whatever style we’re going for, whether it’s a natural, everyday look or something a little more on the wild side. And men are taking full advantage of this trend. From the subtle to the bold, men are proving that makeup truly is for everyone.

… While some men prefer the natural look, others prefer to showcase their makeup prowess. Our most artistic male friends use eyeliner and eyeshadow to set themselves apart from the pact [AZ: note eggcorn]. We think it’s a bold — and refreshing — way to make a late-night appearance at a party!

Consider singer / songwriter Adam Lambert, who offers a fantastic voice plus a flamboyant presentation of self that conveys intense carnal maleness — as with this remarkable performance costume, a studded codpiece:

(#4) High energy, gigantic fantasy dick, decked out in spikes for figurative battle (from my 4/17/11 posting “Bulges”, about codpieces)

Lambert enthusiastically presents himself as hypermasculine but theatrically showy, which many find un-masculine, hence straying into effeminate territory. As with his hair and especially, his makeup:

(#5) Adam Lambert at the VH1 Divas 2012 Red Carpet event; very much not a guy-guy, but to my mind really hot

On Lambert, from Wikipedia:

Adam Mitchel Lambert (born January 29, 1982) is an American singer and songwriter. … Lambert is known for his dynamic vocal performances that fuse his theatrical training with modern and classic genres.

Lambert rose to fame in 2009 after finishing as runner-up on the eighth season of American Idol. Later that year, he released his debut album For Your Entertainment

… Alongside his solo career, Lambert has collaborated with rock band Queen as lead vocalist for Queen + Adam Lambert since 2011, including several worldwide tours from 2014 to 2020. Their first album, Live Around the World, [was] released in October 2020

… His signature flamboyance and glam rock styling was a break-out moment in men’s fashion, duly noted by fashion publications and taste-makers, who compared him to Lady Gaga in terms of crossing style boundaries and being unabashedly individual [AZ: Lady Gaga also has a fantastic voice]

… Lambert is openly gay. He was in a relationship with Finnish entertainment reporter and reality TV personality Sauli Koskinen from November 2010 until April 2013 when Lambert announced that they split up amicably. From March to November 2019, Lambert was in a relationship with model Javi Costa Polo

Well, he’s a performer, and they can get away with a lot; and he’s a flagrantly gay performer. In the current system of normative masculinity, all homosexuality is fundamentally un-masculine and drastically effeminate; Lambert, like other openly gay performers, lives happily with that (however they might identify on various scales of f-gayness).

Other performers have publicly straddled lines about the nature of their sexuality, while freely bending their gender presentations. Famously, David Bowie, here in stage makeup as Ziggy Stardust:

(#6) Admirable red eye shadow

And of course Mick Jagger, who excels at displaying almost uncontrollable male sexuality while tossing out bits of sly gender play, as here:

(#7) Major black eye shadow, plus the sweaty torso (the famous lips he comes by naturally)

Meanwhile, offstage, there are ordinary men who want to sashay on the gender-presentation wild side via makeup, at least for some occasions; and there are web sites showing them how to do it. For example, on the Ogle School (hair – skin – nails) site, “Men’s Makeup Tutorial: Electric Neon Pink Glam!” by Jeff Chiarelli on 5/28/19:

Do you want to create a perfect cat eye in a fabulous shade of electric pink? This men’s makeup tutorial will explain how you can achieve the bold intensity neon makeup.

(#8) The before photo (note pointed rather than square jaw, and fairly large eyes — conventional “feminine” features; I have them myself)

(#9) After the labors of applying the makeup (and doing a nail job); with the gesture, the result could be read as a pretty woman with scruffy facial hair — or, of course, as a hot femmy guy, which is exactly what the model was aiming for

(If I could imagine going through the labors needed to achieve an effect like this, I’d probably go for emerald green eye shadow (which I think is really hot), and maybe midnight blue lips and nails. Even so, I balk at the trouble it would take to keep the eye makeup from running, the lipstick from rubbing off, and the nails from chipping. Honey, don’t even start on trying to get me to walk in heels.)

Words words words. Effeminate, femmy, fem, nelly, faggy, fag(got), fairy (boy), sissy (boy), pussyboy, whatever. Under the regime of current normative sexuality, the terms are all effectively synonyms, but such a usage can’t be adopted for further discussion, because it doesn’t accord with the usages of the affected persons (which are numerous, tied to different contexts, and often in contestation), nor can it serve as the basis for a conceptual analysis of the domain, which would require positing a large number of conceptual categories, coded very imperfectly in existing terms.

In any case, the viewpoint of current normative sexuality simply defeats — in my dark moments, I would say poisons — the enterprises of description and conceptual analysis. But it’s hard to get past, so here I can only make a few tiny steps towards progress on these enterprises.

On the descriptive side, the affected people see a large number of different views of (at least) self-perceived gender identities, self-peceived sexuality identities, gendered presentations of self, and sexual practices. Such differences in view show up (rather imperfectly) in the use of terminology: do you call yourself (and some others) a fem, a STR8 4 STR8s, a sissy-boy, a cross-dresser, a wolf, a t-room queen, a pussyboi, an MSMgender-queer, a slave (or a master), a fish, a bottom (or a top), a priss, a regular guy, gay / straight / bi, on the DL, a sub (or a dom), a twink / bear / queen / leatherman / faerie / …, a circuit boy, a drag queen, a woman vs. a man (as used of gay men), and so on. A full list would be gigantic.

Like effeminate, these are just names, shorthand references to categories that can take a great deal of work to characterize (and to locate within their communities of use).

Meanwhile, people can perceive a kinship for others in a gender- or sexuality-related group that has no conventional name. Such unlabeled taxa in systems of folk categories are in fact quite common.

I can’t begin to cope with all this here. So I’ll just close this posting with some relevant tales of my life, from two postings on this blog.

Tales of childhood. My childhood was surprisingly sunny, all things considered, but there were some tough g&s-related moments in there.

From my 8/1/20 posting “Nuancy Nancy”:

[on nancy (boy), no longer very common in the US:] The corresponding weapon of verbal abuse used against me as a child was fairy (boy): I was able to fend off physical abuse with crazed aggression against the bullies, but the verbal abuse rained down on me pretty much constantly for years. My offense was not actual effeminacy (at the age of 8 I had a flagrantly effeminate buddy, and I understood that our ways were very different — though he did give me an early appreciation of opera; his intense enthusiasm for women’s high fashion didn’t take for me, but then you don’t expect your friends to share all your interests), but failure to conform to normative masculinity: I was nerdy and academically oriented; artistic (all that classical piano); deeply unathletic; profoundly uninterested in sports fandom; unaggressive; and given to friendships with girls.

Boys form themselves into loosely organized gangs, which enforce norms of masculinity amongst themselves; and those all-male groups continue into male associations in adolescence and adulthood. I have never been acceptable to these male groups, though I’ve sometimes been able to patch together a spot for myself off to the side, offering expertise, entertainment, or amiability.

In any case, a male who doesn’t fit these norms of masculinity is perceived as feminine — this is a binary world — and treated as “no better than a woman” [some of my childhood tormentors actually asked me, in all seriousness, I think, why I didn’t wear a dress, and they called me Arniella] (the extraordinary devaluing of women is central to the whole business), which is actually quite alarming [to guy-guys], since fems and fags and all the rest of us deviants are living exemplars of what could happen if you don’t satisfy the requirements of the male codes.

(Note: my sense of myself has always been, uncomplicatedly, that I am both male and masculine, just a non-standard form of masculine in which queerness, as defined by sexual desire, takes center stage. I am baffled by people who insist that my gender is non-binary. I have no problem with trans people and non-binary people, but I don’t think I’m among their number.)

And a little bit from my 10/5/21 posting “Masculinity comics 1”:

I can vouch for the strength of this particular bit of the Boy Code [“masculinity is the relentless repudiation of the feminine”] in 8-year-old boys … [some subclauses:] avoid women as friends rather than sexual conquests; avoid “feminine” interests (like the arts), avoid empathetic rather than competitive interactions (men improve one another, make one another into better men, by challenging each other agonistically), etc.


3 Responses to “The effeminate elephant”

  1. Robert Coren Says:

    At my last job, I had a colleague from Poland, who spoke excellent and fluent English, but had a couple of notable quirks (which, it occurred to me long after the fact, it might have been kind of me to correct). One was that he invariably wrote “rouge” for “rogue” (as in “rogue process” for a computer program that went wild in some way). (The other that I remember was a spoken one: he pronounced “vague” to rhyme with “ague”.)

  2. Robert Coren Says:

    a rouge and peasant salve


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