If growing up as a gay kid in rural America wasn’t difficult enough, puberty brought a new, intimidating wave of issues, like the strange feelings about my male classmates, both in my head and “down there.” But, as all gay teenagers will come to know, difficult situations are learning experiences from which we can grow. My childhood, it seems, was a grand lesson in shame.
A shame that was, at the time, inexpressible. A shame that comes with feeling unsafe in your own skin, school, and home. A shame that comes with knowing everything about your formative years will be atypical from what is presented to you by your peers, mass media, and your culture. A shame that comes with being different.
I left high school with absolute certainty my horizons held something special and inviting, that when I reached college I would be immersed into some sort of expansive homosexual society that seemingly only thrived in urban environments. I felt I had been deprived of something. I felt I was incomplete.
I was almost done with my first semester when I was fully exposed to the world of Grindr, an environment I instantly detested. Suddenly, the shame I had felt in high school was manifest, and I could put all of those inky feelings into words. Plastered upon most every profile were the campaign slogans of Denver gays: “straight acting, u be 2,” “looking for gym buddy, no fems,” “if ur a faggot it won’t work,” or my personal favorite, “be a man, i’m not looking for a bitch.”
I finally understood that my shame had been birthed from the unconscious knowledge that who I was just wasn’t good enough.
I couldn’t date a straight guy, and I couldn’t pass for one; it seemed that even gay guys didn’t want to date gay guys. I had never felt more disappointed.
There have been countless voices saying similar things about the horribly discriminatory ways that gay men have been known to treat each other. There is a vicious, prejudiced cycle that traps many gay men and governs the ways in which we see each other as friends or partners, both in person and online. Many writers have already done great work by pointing out how these words can be indicative of internalized misogyny or latent racism. But this message is not for these authors. It is for the gay men behind these words.
I get it. Marking yourself as someone who is “straight-acting” and only seeking the same may seem like the perfect way to make yourself sound more appealing. Most of the crushes we develop, especially those during our formative years of childhood, are on straight boys who make it obnoxiously and abundantly clear that we can never have them. Like me, however, many gay men are not attracted to someone who firstly – and often only – identifies himself and his ideal partner as something intrinsically opposite to who they are.
Together, two people in a romantic relationship could potentially help each other overcome their insecurities.
A boy could probably free me of my insecurities rooted in my dynamic, bird-like, sing-song voice. Maybe one man could teach another that heterosexuality does not conjure masculinity, or vice-versa, and that he is probably more attracted to the masculinity straight men often exude and not their straight-ness itself. But if two “straight-acting” men determine one another to be their only suitable partners, the fears and insecurities surrounding and penetrating the very essence of their relationship can never be eradicated, for they are founded on a lack of acceptance of their own personal identities.
My message for these boys, and these men, the “straight-acting seeking straight-acting,” is one of condolence. I am sorry. I am sorry you feel different. We live in a world that makes it very difficult to feel different and happy at the same time. I am sorry, and I don’t blame you for wanting to change, for wanting to surround yourself with what feels most normal and heterosexual.
But I cannot forgive you, either. I cannot forgive you for dismissing an exceedingly large portion of your own minority group for exhibiting traits that you deem “too gay.” This is ridiculous and unfair. Watch your step, for the slope is quite slippery. If we, as gay men, tolerate these harsh, prejudiced words you have written on your Grindr banner, we are, by extension, excusing the stereotypically racist and misogynistic methods through which gay men interact as well. Our culture has standards of gender and self-expression that are typically unnecessary, obnoxiously limiting, and wildly oppressive. Do not be one of the hands that attempts to smother individuality, amongst gays or otherwise. Be the hand that fans the flames of personality and eccentricity. Be the hand that extends to the uncertain, the oppressed, the hand that says, “it’s okay.”
And it is. It is okay. Be who you are, and be proud of who you are.
I invite you to reflect on the levels on which you currently accept yourself. I struggle with my voice, with my skin, with my thin legs, with my stifling fear of strangers. But I do not struggle with my homosexuality. I think it is okay to be a man who likes men. I like being gay, and I want to be with a man who likes being gay. And regardless of how we act, the most important thing is that we will work together to make each other feel loved and supported in a world that still works very actively to make people like us – and people like you – feel different, false, and abnormal.
Remember, the next time you indicate you are “straight-acting” and only looking for the same, contemplate the message you are sending. You are telling boys everywhere, boys like you, and boys like me, that you consider a very large facet of their identity – and your identity – to be unacceptable. You are telling boys who have grown out of their shame that you are still living in yours.