I’ve never been in love. The concept is foreign to me. It’s the strongest of all human emotions, something we all — or at least, most of us — desire. It surrounds us constantly. Television shows, movies, songs, commercials — all showing us what we should be striving for in life. When in the right mood, I enjoy The Notebook as much as the next person, or find myself singing along joyfully with Taylor Swift, believing someone is out there, waiting to Enchant me. Other days, I feel more like Elle Woods, throwing chocolates at the screen, wearing dirty pajamas, yelling “Liar!” at the man professing his love.
Before you write this off as a cynical article criticizing the media’s oft-characterized establishment of unrealistic expectations, I want to lay it out there that I, more than anything, want to find love. I want to find someone to come home to, cook dinners with and spend the weekend watching Netflix in bed, needing nothing more than to have them by my side. I desperately want that person to grow old with, to bicker about them leaving the cabinets open and whose turn it is to do the dishes. Someone to schedule soccer pickups with and all the joys, frustrations, and pride I imagine come with raising a family – dog, picket fence and all.
However, as a gay man, the future I have planned for myself — including finding love — is substantially different from the commercials and songs I am inundated with daily. I am not bitter; society has taken great strides recently in becoming more tolerant and accepting of the LGBTQ community. However, as I had to explain to my mother, it is difficult growing up and struggling with who I have always known I am in a world so hetero-centered. The songs on the radio, the movies in the theaters, the commercials selling love, they are all geared to straight couples, showing someone like myself that I am not worthy of even mere acknowledgment. I worry the effect these things, which may seem trivial to someone who has not lived the same 25 years as myself, may have on others, specifically young gays.
Full disclosure, as I write this, I am sitting in Starbucks, recovering from a broken heart. Was it love? I thought so, but reflecting on the relationship, I believe I only wanted it to be love. But, again, I’m not sure what the L-word truly entails. This goes back to my concern for younger gays. More and more young men and women are coming out at younger ages, something I wish I had had the bravery to do in high school, or even while in undergrad, albeit I was being educated in an extremely conservative, West Texas town. I applaud these courageous young adults — it is truly inspiring to see them being proud of who they are, and not ashamed — as they shouldn’t be. To take control of their lives and face the consequences of a world that is still so non-understanding and often just hateful, these youth are the true heroes of our movement for equality.
I still worry about the world we are giving them. I once had an amazing professor in a Law and Sexuality Seminar discuss the disparity of information between gays of my generation and those that came before. Due to the AIDS epidemic, we lost a generation of men who would have been the leaders today, the men who would have passed down information and experiences, helping to show lost, young men like myself that being gay is not shameful, that it is not something to hide. More importantly, we would have had role models to (possibly) look to in settled, monogamous relationship. I fear that because of this gap, we, as a community, look at events like Pride not for its true purpose (to commemorate these pioneers and bring attention to important issues affecting our community), but as an excuse to wear the latest Andrew Christian underwear, glitter, and nothing else.
I do not want to come off as prude, because the last thing I want to do is judge another for the way they choose to live their life. There is enough judgment against the LGBTQ community coming from others that I strongly advocate against judgment from within. However, I wonder what impression the gay teenager attending these events and attending gay bars receives. In his book Covering, Kenji Yoshino advocates against hiding (“covering” as he calls it) who we are simply to fit into society’s norms. I agree with this to an extent — but what about the gay men like myself, who are much more comfortable in a suit than glitter and fairy wings? I am a gay man, but that is not my identifying factor, and for a young man or woman coming to terms with their sexuality, I don’t want them to feel as though poppers and techno music are the only option.
You may be wondering how this ties into my central premise about finding love in the gay community. I often feel my options are limited to these clubs, or to apps such as Grindr, Scruff, or Tinder. My past two relationships stemmed from Tinder, and neither succeeded because neither man wanted a relationship. Whether they did not want a relationship, or they did not want a relationship with me is still up for debate.
So where do I go to find love? For straight people, meeting someone is so much simpler. Yes, they have the same app opportunities, but they can meet someone at Starbucks, at the grocery store, literally anywhere. If I were to act on an attraction I felt to a fellow customer at the coffee shop, I suffer the chance that I could get physically abused, or at least, made the laughing stock of the store. Thus, to be “safe,” our community resorts to the clubs, to the apps, to the cruising spots — all of which carry inherit dangers, specifically STIs and, again, the physical dangers of meeting a stranger based on an online conversation. For a shy guy like myself, uncomfortable with the thumping music and not interested in one-night stands, it can result in a very lonely life.
And when you find that person that fills your heart with happiness, and you start to see a future with them, the breakup is that much harder. What do I do now? Reinstall the “dating” apps? The worst part, for me, was having to call my aunt to pick me up because I was a drunken, sobbing mess wandering the streets of Houston during Pride after being told I wasn’t enough, and that my boyfriend wanted to be casual, without labels. Two days before, he asked to meet my family. I was so confused, and the first thought I had was about my mother. She had just told me she didn’t want to meet him if he was a “fly by the night” guy who wasn’t going to be around. Wrong, I thought at the time, he’s the real deal; he’s here for the long haul. She had also told me the previous week she worried about me starting a family, because gay men, in general, were promiscuous, and how would I deal with having a child with someone who came home to tell me he was seeing someone else. These are not conversations she had with my older brother regarding his wife.
I feel as though I wasn’t equipped to handle this simple situation because, as a closeted gay teen, I missed out on so much during the formative years of middle school and high school. I did not have a proper boyfriend until I was in my second year of law school, and have still yet to have a “long-term” relationship. I am in my mid-20s and want happiness, and someone to share that happiness with, but I am still trying to figure out the nuances of dating, because it’s new to me. I have to learn how to navigate arguments, and how to be secure with my relationship. I have to learn my value, and that I deserve to be with someone who equally wants to be with me. These are things I should have discovered years ago, things my 18-year-old sister is better equipped at dealing with due to her many high school romances.
I want younger gays — or any gays, for that matter — to believe in love, and not just a life of meaningless, casual sex. The opportunities are out there. And I want them to date, and learn the lessons I am just now being taught. I want to see happy, monogamous homosexual couples become the norm in our community. As an ex once told me, the American Dream is not erased for gays, just altered. And as terrible of a person he turned out to be, I find this to be true. It is harder for us, and we have to be our own trailblazers. To be cliché, this is the new normal, and we have to accept it and adjust before others will. I am optimistic that society will catch up. We are already seeing nods to the LGBTQ community in Disney movies, and in commercials. But I look forward to the day our movies stop focusing on the negative aspects of being gay (AIDS, unrequited love with straight/closeted men) and focus on love going right. We need to be given hope, and examples of what is possible.
As I tell myself daily, you don’t control the results, just the effort. And my effort involves finding the man to share a glass of wine with after a long day at work, because I deserve that, and so do you. As soon as I found out how to do this, I’ll let you know.