The past year has been a wild ride for the LGBTQ+ community. From the Supreme Court’s ruling to legalize gay marriage nationally, to the widespread revolution on Transgender Rights, we have come a long, long way. However, despite all these accomplishments, the general populous of America still has a long, long way to go in terms of social stigma and equality.
I came out in 6th grade. Thankfully, due to most of California’s progressive and liberal nature, I didn’t have a hard time coming to terms with myself or garnering support from the people around me. However, it was still difficult. I went to an orthodox Jewish, all boys middle school, where most people were either too sheltered or too ignorant to understand what it means to be a gay man, and I got teased and questioned a lot throughout those years. People would ask me derogatory questions regarding my sexuality, often explicit, and were aggressive about picking out and/or forcing me into different stereotypes associated with the gay man. Luckily, I’m a tough guy (or so I’d like to think), and I made it through. But even when I transferred into a very much more accepting and progressive school, the stigma, to a certain extent, still existed.
The gay man’s sexual liberation and equal rights movement was one that was rooted in a radical acceptance of femininity and went hand in hand with the feminist movement. The reason, specifically, that gay men were ostracized in society is because in such a testosterone fueled society, neither men or women wanted to accept what seemed to go completely against the “normal” population. It wasn’t as much about men being involved sexually with other men, it was about how it manifested into the idea that a man, whose purpose in a patriarchal society was essentially to conform to masculine ideals brought on by the same society, was unable to be feminine, or express feminine ideas. He was thought as weak, which was scary. People thought that men who dressed differently, spoke in a different tongue and expressed vehemently the characteristic traits so closely associated with women were a threat, and something to be feared. Gay men were “scary,” and because of the way they were so blatantly expressing their feminine qualities, they became a marginalized group. We were forced to band together because unlike gay women, who were stereotyped to express a more masculine identity, we were a threat to men because they feared us. We were men who proudly embraced womanly qualities in a society that internally detests woman. Furthermore, in the ’80s, we became an even more separate group as the AIDS epidemic came to an all-time high, and people began so closely associating the virus and heroin use with the gay population. We were known as promiscuous drug users who were peddling disease that would infect the American populous, becoming a “real threat to America.” In reality, we didn’t have the education to know that gay men have a higher risk of contracting HIV due to anal sex, and when the rest of the heterosexual world isn’t really wearing condoms, why would we be wearing them either? Thus, we became a marginalized group and started setting up shop in places like the Castro or West Hollywood or Boystown, forming communities in which we felt safe, inner circles where people couldn’t disrupt us.
Even now, in this day and age, although we have come so far in terms of acceptance and civil liberties and rights, there are still stigmas and stereotypes so closely associated to the gay man, partly due to a lack of realistic representation in the mainstream media. Gay men, as portrayed in media, are split into two subdivisions: either you’re the cute, bitchy, flamboyant gay BFF (or “GBF,” the stereotypical Gay Best Friend) who just loves shopping and glitter, or you’re the well-educated, lawyer-type, clean-cut gay man who has a superiority complex. The characters are static with absolutely no depth in their personality (not all of us are slender, white gay men); there is essentially no middle ground, and that is incredibly harmful to progression in the community. When all you see are two “types” of gay men, you, as a gay man, feel that you must conform to these specific stereotypes, changing and masking your identity in order to be accepted by not only the gay, but by the hetero community as well. Gay men feel such a need to fit the mold that is presented in the media, that you essentially lose your personality, and begin to be seen a materialization of a sexuality, rather than a human being – and this is not how it should be. We are NOT a novelty. Furthermore, there is a scarce amount of representation for any gay man of color, leading to the men in these specific communities, whose cultures very much put down the gay man, becoming even more separated from their sexual identity. As a gay person of color, you are frowned upon in the media, you are not seen as an equal, even though your struggle is just as important, if not even more. Simply put, when you don’t see an accurate representation of yourself, when you don’t see a gay man simply playing a man, you feel like you must radicalize yourself in your sexuality, that you are nothing but your sexuality, that you are no longer a man, but a creature who is simply known as gay. Thus, many celebrities or people of notoriety don’t feel like they want to come out, even with many rumors affirming that they are gay because they want to be known for their accomplishments, not their sexual orientation.
Moreover, the gay community in itself deals with a lot of segregation. One of the other reasons we started separating each other into smaller communities, aside to the fact that we were being segregated in overall society, was because as a gay man in those times, it was difficult to find another gay man to be intimate with, or to have sex with, thus, beginning the sexualized culture so prevalent in the gay community. Cruising, bath houses, etc. created a lifestyle of casual, unsafe-sex, leading to the HIV and STI uprising. Also, the sexualization of the gay man led to subcategories in the community, characterizations such as “bear,” “twink,” “otter,” “femme,” “masculine,” and more. In addition, with revolutionizing hook-up apps such as Grindr, we have succeeded in even further dividing ourselves in these groups, making it even harder to form actual relationships or friendships, as we are so fixated on getting off. In addition, gay men have an intense fixation on the image of a younger, slender, hairless man, a twink, and if you open up almost any gay magazine such as “Out,” most men either on the cover or in spreads are essentially the same: twinks who look like they just hit the age of 18, hairless chest out, either scrawny or buff, barely covered. That’s alright or whatever, but it reaches a certain extent where this young, boyish image becomes fetishized, and then you see a host of older men beginning to prey on younger men, specifically those that fit this image, beginning a cycle where the gay community normalizes pedophiliac behavior. Younger men get taken advantage of, especially when they first come out because they feel the need to affirm their sexual liberation and freedom, and it is simply not okay that we accept that as a casual happening.
As a community, we need to acknowledge the faults in our culture and cannot continue to just ignore what’s wrong just because we’ve gotten so far in our rights. We still do things wrong, and we should still try to fix the wrongs.
Anyways, I’m beginning to point out a lot of different thoughts that have been ravaging my brain recently, and I think I’m starting to lose the center argument of this piece. What I’m trying to say is, don’t say you’re an ally and that you accept me or my brothers, then proceed to ask if I can be your “GBF” and go shopping with you. Don’t tell me that the things I’m doing, that my actions or my words or the way I deal with thing is because of my sexuality. Don’t patronize me and condescend me and say “Oh, it’s because you’re gay isn’t it?”
I am not your novelty toy. I am not something for you to use when you need it, I am not something for you to use to rationalize your internal homophobia or to prove that you’re “a progressive, and accepting individual.” Don’t see me for my sexuality, acknowledge that I have had a struggle and that it is something that is a part of me, but it does not define in any way who I am as a person. I am a gay man, but I am not the gay man. I am a person who is attracted to the same gender, but that’s it, no more, no less, and understand that when you stereotype me and my brothers and act like an ally, you are only hurting our progression. We are people with ideas, thoughts, emotions, and capabilities; some of us are good, and some of us are bad; we are complex individuals just like you and the rest of the world. We are people. We are not a sexuality.