I Wasn’t Gay Enough
The chances of even being conceived are 15-25% in any given month. So I can only imagine that the chances of turning out the way you are as a person are even slimmer. What are the odds that I developed any one particular quirk or characteristic? How much of it was nature versus nurture? Can you calculate these numbers with so much variability in how someone turns out in terms of personality? A lot of what circulates in my mind is how who I am doesn’t fit in well with the idea that others have of me. I tell you that I’m a white male and you form an image in your head suggesting what I probably look and maybe even act like. I tell you I’m a white, gay male. How does that image change? And were your assumptions correct in the changes you made? What’s worse is how people often deny that I can be gay since I didn’t meet their expectation of what they thought I would be like. So, I struggle to find people that I feel comfortable around. I think this assumption or expectation placed upon me, alongside being the kind of person that doesn’t want to disappoint anyone, puts me in an awkward position that ultimately makes me feel the loneliest.
I often feel estranged by my own characteristics. When someone tells you that they’re gay there’s an automatic stereotype of what society has programmed you to imagine in your head. You begin to apply misconstrued ideas of what it means to be gay to that person and when you finally meet them, only to discover that they aren’t a damn thing like what you pictured, confusion sets in. The worst part is you don’t think of questions that might challenge those misconstrued notions but instead you default to, “Oh, well they don’t seem gay”; as if the trope of being gay was correct and they, as a person, were not. Since when has [insert your preferred stereotype of being gay] ever had to be a requirement? And why is it that if I don’t fit the mold of what you thought being gay meant then I’m not adequate enough to be or must not truly be gay? That I must be confused or going through a phase… My point is that I’m not what people expect when I tell them I’m gay. I’m, what the gay community calls, “straight-acting”. Even the people who I should be able to resonate with most, the same people who hate when anyone outside of the gay community labels them, finds themselves labeling each other, myself an outlier, included. I’m straight-acting, like I wasn’t gay enough to make the cut. I’m not even sure what it is I'm trying to talk about here.
Because I’m straight acting, is it a result of being raised to act that way? I’m not attracted to effeminate men -- is that a result of being raised to think it wasn’t okay to be like that? Was my true nature to be more effeminate before it was scolded out of me and I was forced to behave a certain way? Had I never been taught to not like the effeminate traits in men would I find myself attracted to those types of men? What I’m really asking is how much of my personality is mine? How much of what I “choose” to like or dislike is actually my choice? At the present moment I can look at someone or something objectively and make a decision about how I, the non-impressionable me, feel. But what about other things that I learned from childhood that carried over into my adult life? Part of me disagrees with this sentiment because the present me can still look at an effeminate gay man and with strong conviction note that I am not attracted to him. Although, I guess I’ll never know if that was ever truly my decision or if that’s just how I was raised to look at the world: men act like this and women act like that. There are no blurred lines. Never questioning it. But I can see now, the present me, that there are blurred lines. There is, in fact, a gray area and it’s rather broad. And yet I still cling to the notion that I like “straight-acting” men. I suppose it would be important to acknowledge that I can recognize how the world is and maybe I just genuinely have a type. I could leave it at that and move forward. I think that’s how I’ve dealt with this thought process in the past before today, hence writing it down for the first time.
This still isn’t getting at the root issue I can feel bubbling up within me. I’m not even sure what it is that bothers me. I think it has to do with this idea that I’m straight-acting and why. Am I actually straight-acting or was I just trained to be that way? And do I do it because it makes everyone else around me feel more comfortable? Internalized homophobia, branded into my brain as the ultimate “please-others” and “stay-safe-stay-hidden” multifaceted tool. A rip in the time-space continuum might occur if I ever, God-forbid, allowed myself the grace of just being me; whoever me is. Regardless of the issue at hand, the point is that I think it’s unfair that I was ever made to feel the need to act a certain way so others won’t be uncomfortable. I notice it most when I’m speaking to straight men. And before you get too far with your thoughts of, “Well life isn’t fair” or “You don’t know that they’re straight”, just shut the hell up. You know damn well, as well as I do, that the body language, tone of voice, and overall demeanor are dead give-aways to a person’s heterosexuality because we both live in the same patriarchal society that they do and we both learned the same ways of how a “real man” should act. Yes, there are exceptions, as I literally stand before you as living proof and almost disprove my point. But there’s an element of instinct to it. An instinct from your gut intuition that tells you your certainty of their heterosexual normalities. And no, life isn’t always fair, but this begs the question: why do we always put behavioral expectations on each other? It’s as though we created the unfairness ourselves. And so, internalized homophobia was even instilled in me as a value to uphold. When I speak to other straight men I change my body language: chest out, supine posture, and a blocky, shoulder-led walk that never engages the hips, almost robotic. I speak with a deeper voice. I use harsher words and express bro-dom by saying, “dude” or “man” or “bro”. I deliberately shake hands and forcibly squeeze just a bit harder than they do. Why?! Yes, to make them feel like they’re in the presence of another heterosexual male creating a false comfortability that I’m “just one of the guys”. But also to make sure I stay safe. They cannot be trusted. I cannot show my true colors and be in their presence. I never thought much about being afraid of others. I’m not afraid of much to begin with. But as I grow older I realize that a lot of my own behaviors are self-preserving. I don’t act more masculine toward other men to assert dominance or because that’s who I am but because it keeps me safe. If they don’t know, then they can’t find a reason to hurt me. The hurt could be of any type: abandonment, physical abuse, verbally accosting me, the list goes on. It’s all fair game and they make the rules. I’m curious to know if this is also why I’m not attracted to effeminate gay men; because they, by their very nature, would out me if I were seen to associate with them. How cruel: To know that I am subconsciously being coaxed into not living my truth and missing opportunities of a lifetime with others for the sake of my safety because I was raised in an environment that inadvertently taught me that I am not supposed to love myself. At what point did I choose safety over a life worth living? And is this depravity what leads me to choose poor coping mechanisms? Such as smoking a cigarette on a cold night’s drive on the winding backroads that take me through each thought slowly in an attempt to digest them well. The ocean as my destination and I gaze into the starlit sky, listening intently to the waves crashing on rocks below as I debate falling in. Even in the crisp, cold air, the ocean seems so inviting. Imagining my lungs filling with salt water and diatoms brings me back to my physical body and I take another drag of that damn cigarette. I guess the smoke and the sea water serve the same purpose but I chose the slower, sneakier death. Even here, I’m still too afraid to confront what might kill me.