There was a viral micro-documentary making the rounds earlier this year, and unlike other viral videos out there, something about this one stuck. It’s called 20MALEGAYNYC, and it’s directed by Blake Pruitt, a filmmaker living in New York. You may have seen it featured on Advocate.com as an op-ed: “Why Do Gay Guys Hate Other Gay Guys?” In it, Pruitt interviews gay 20-somethings about how they identify themselves, their thoughts on the gay community, and their immediate dismissal for those who are “stereotypically” gay. It’s a thought provoking look at the basis of these stereotypes, and it poses ways to rid our culture of them altogether. Watch the short film below:
Perhaps it’s because I find myself at a place in my life where I can relate to the pressures of gay-based profiling that Pruitt’s video struck such a chord with me. I am 21 years old, a Boston boy with plans to live in New York City. Having grown up in a little town outside of Albany, New York — a “commercialized suburbia,” as I like to say — coming out of the closet wasn’t necessarily a feat of bravery, but it was certainly a lonely endeavor. I came out as a sophomore in high school, age 16. I never fell victim to bullying or ridicule, but I was always the “other.” I was always the gay one in class. Sure, there were a handful of other soul-searching teens who came out of the closet, some for whom I’d even acted as a makeshift mentor through the process, but for all intents and purposes, I was alone: there was no solid springboard for me to get a logical grasp on what it means to be gay.
At that ripe age, my sexuality was one of my defining characteristics, and that’s especially due to the weight that others put on it. As a result, I owned it; I fit the mold that my peers expected of “gay.” One stereotype I especially honed in on was maintaining a thin, youthful physique, or, as some may call it, maintaining the image of a twink. In the years prior to my coming out, I was by no means overweight, but I always had some excess baby fat around my face and waist. Insecurities concerning my body began plaguing my mind when I came out of the closet. The young gay men I saw on television and film — and, let’s face it, in pornography — were slender, toned, and hairless. By comparison, I felt fat, and though it had never really been a concern of mine before, losing weight became my primary focus through the summer of 2008. The obsession that I tackled the endeavor with was, in hindsight, not the healthiest of ways to lose those extra pounds. I often went throughout the day with a growling stomach, getting by on miniscule helpings of fruits, vegetables, and a piece of gum to tide me over. Then, after going for a run around the neighborhood, I’d sit down for a healthily portioned family dinner. Then there were the times that I tried to make myself vomit after eating, but my nerves — and the label of ‘bulimic’ — scared me out of it.
In that summer, I lost about 20 pounds — mind you, 20 pounds that didn’t necessarily need to be lost. I went back to school in September looking very thin and what I thought of as more attractive. But the responses I got from many of my friends were those of concern, saying that I was too thin and working out too much. And it’s not like they were blind to the fact that this weight loss came right after I had come out; some even suggested that I was trying to mold myself to something that I wasn’t. I have those friends to thank for helping me get a grip on my weight and my deep insecurities of body image.
In addition to my weight loss, I also played to the tired stereotype of promiscuity. I was very active in the high school and community theater scene in New York’s capitol region, and quickly made friends with a handful of gay boys my age. These friendships, as is so often the case, would usually turn into a brief sexually-driven relationship. Outside of the theater world, I was often introduced to other boys by friends of friends, and rarely was this introduction made in person — Facebook was the way to go in the pre-Grindr age. Granted, I was a teenage boy who thought less with his head and more with his, well, you know. That being said, I was never satisfied or happy while juggling three guys and texting four more, nor was I ever happy in the committed ‘relationships’ I would get myself into just to end things a month later.
By no means do I regret the way I was, but looking back on those years, I was living and behaving the way I thought was expected of a young twink. I was searching for happiness in all the wrong places, and I have my preconceived notions of how I was supposed to behave as a gay man to thank for that. Today, I am a healthy, fit guy rather than being a teenage twig, and I’ve been in a committed relationship for the past year and half: that’s me. No longer am I playing to the stereotype that defined the first years of my coming out.
With my storied history in mind, it makes more sense why I, like so many others, are prone to saying, “I hate gay guys,” or, “I hate stereotypical gay guys.” For me, personally, seeing these stereotypes present in other gay men reminds me of a time that I was lost and unhappy, and I doubt that I am alone in this notion. I also believe that the stereotypes that plague the gay community are often met with hate because of what they indicate to our greater hetero society. They are tried and true signs of a gay man’s gayness, and they immediately take our community and separate it from the larger one. They separate us from what many would consider the “normal” side. That does not, however, lower the worth or authenticity of the gay men that do express themselves in a “stereotypical” way. I’ve come to realize that discriminating within the gay community directly counteracts any equality that we strive for in this nation, no matter what Obama says.
I believe that my pursuing higher education in a city has allowed me to find myself. There is a flourishing gay scene and culture in Boston, and not one of us is exactly the same and not one of us completely embodies the stereotypes detailed above. But here’s the thing: we all fit these stereotypes to one degree or another. No, we may not be a cookie-cutter fit to what others perceive to be gay, but vocalizing disdain for those characteristics and ideals simply conforms to what is expected of us, and therefore, gives society exactly what they want. Any other way is cause for discomfort. Then again, since when is comfort a concern on the frontlines of a revolution? In what way can homosexuality — in all its rainbow colors — be normalized into the public spectrum? There will come a time when eyebrows are not raised at the 20-something gay man sporting a boa and cutoffs, but we can’t expect that time to come until we lower our eyebrows ourselves. Until everyone’s unique expression of their sexuality — whether it fits the mold or not — is embraced and loved for what it is, these stereotypes will continue to be pertinent in the gay community and beyond. In short, we are the ones upholding these stereotypes by acknowledging there’s any sense of “other” at all.
For what it’s worth, we can count on that stereotype — that being the “90-pound boys in tank tops screaming” as articulated in 20MALEGAYNYC — to be seen and heard, and in turn, to force normalization upon the public. That by no means mandates that my voice or anyone else’s voice does not matter, because it is a less succinct representation of “gay.” But no matter how stolid and clear, my voice won’t matter if I use it for self-hate — if I use it to criticize those that are simply werkin’ it and giving zero fucks. If you twerk the walls and strut the halls, who am I to say, “Stop. You’re not representing me right”? The fact of the matter is you’re not me. You’re you, and you keep on doin’ your thing. Embrace your quirks, your faults, your gayness. Stereotypes aside, loving yourself and expressing that love is how the gay community should be represented and how each of us can further ensure progress in our fight for equality.