“Gender, sex and sexuality. What’s the difference?”
That’s how my first Women’s Studies class started during my freshman year of college, around four years ago. I sat there, baffled, not knowing where to begin. When looking around at all my fellow classmates, who like I, did not know the answer, I noticed that I was one of only two other males in the room of forty people. My professor finally answered her own question stating, “Sex is who you do, Gender is how you do it, and Sexuality is who you’re doing it with.” This sparked the next four years of my feminist education.
As I get ready for graduation, I keep thinking back to this moment and about how feminism has made me a better person, and ultimately a better gay man. Beyond all of the affirming peace circles, talks about sex, and poems by recently deceased feminist Adrienne Rich, I learned the power of being around women and what women can teach all of us.
Gay men spend their whole lives trying to figure out their relationships with women; some will date women, some will have sex with them, but many will only love them. When talking to people about when I knew I was gay, I usually say there wasn’t a specific moment. I had always known I was attracted to men. What I struggled with was whether or not I liked women. Feminism is about seeing women as equal — however, feminism showed me that it takes more than liking someone to see them as equal. You have to fight next to them.
As a gay man, I am a man, who has much power and privilege in the world (e.g: patriarchy), but being gay complicates that identity. Gay men are seen as less than in many people’s eyes. To bigots, you are seen as being “like” a woman or wanting to be a women, which gay men will internalize and see as negative. Feminism looks at this thought and says, “What the f-ck is wrong with being a women?” This part of feminism was, and is to this day, empowering, and I needed to hear that message as an 18-year-old gay man.
Sitting in classes where I was a gender minority was jarring. Between all the sports teams, gyms and jobs I had in the past, I had never been around large groups of women before. I immediately became hyper-aware of any comments that were degrading towards women. The class opened my eyes to my own comments in regards to how certain gay men performed their “gayness” (the “flamers” that many attack in the community for being “too gay”). These comments were particularly problematic. They only further divide us rather than unite us. Feminism showed me that critiquing or making jokes about gay men for certain feminine qualities was essentially critiquing women — it was a form of sexism that hurt more people than it made laugh.
As I went through school and learned more about feminism I started having a hard time connecting with old friends and even family. Feminism made me hyper-sensitive to everything. It made me see the world with lots of jagged edges that were not supportive of me, as a person, but I simultaneously started asking a lot of questions that led me to be more aware and become more politically engaged in the fight for equal rights, gay or straight.
Feminists are stereotyped as “the fun killers,” or “the lesbians” – both of which I am not. All feminism wants is for you and me to be equal. However, for you and me to be equal we may have to give up some things we like too much. I know that doesn’t sound fun; You probably won’t see any of the boys over at LOGO’s The A List trying this out any time soon. But you should begin to think about how your wants may intrude on other people’s needs. Thinking outside myself and beginning to consider myself a feminist is how I became a better gay man.
Famous feminist Gloria Steinem once said, “Feminism has never been about getting a job for one woman. It’s about making life more fair for women everywhere. It’s not about a piece of the existing pie; there are too many of us for that. It’s about baking a new pie.”
We are all responsible for making that pie. Even if we can’t eat it, someone else can, and we can enjoy the smell and the company.