I absolutely love being gay. I love being a part of the LGBTQ+ community, and I feel love for the people in it as if they were a part of my own family. However, that doesn’t mean it’s not sometimes exhausting to be a gay. As I get older, it continues to be more apparent as to why my gay friends try to only hang out with other LGBTQ+ people. However, I sometimes feel pretty out of place among other gay men, as well. Though I am fully aware that there’s no reason for me to feel this way (especially among others in my own community), I often feel like I’m in some sort of purgatory between these two realms of society.
Basically, I feel “too gay” for straight people, and “not gay enough” for gay people.
I have mostly straight friends and family members, so spending time with people I know usually means spending time with straight people. While my friends and family are accepting of my sexuality, and generally don’t say anything that’s considered homophobic, there’s always a latent level of heteronormativity or straight-centric attitudes that become pretty blatant at times, making me wonder how to handle it. I’ve only recently started being able to call it out, but when I’m in environments where I feel that my viewpoint is outnumbered, it takes a fair amount of mental and emotional energy to actually say something. It’s not that I’m not comfortable with my own viewpoint, or uncomfortable about my sexual orientation in that moment; it’s that I’m preparing for a slew of defensive comments that invalidate my experience as someone of the LGBTQ+ community.
More often than not, straight people seem completely unaware of what the genuine experience of being in this community, and will often make tone-deaf comments that are not only exhausting to hear, but extra exhausting to have to correct. I often recall a straight man telling me that he figured I was gay, asked me to confirm whether his assumptions were correct, to which he proceeded to tell me that he knows a lot about the community because he has a gay cousin. I’ve also been told that I should know a lot about penises because I’m gay. There have been many other instances, of course, but these are the ones that have happened most recently. While I harbor no resentment toward the people who made them, it’s tiring to constantly be in environments where people feel it’s okay to say these things, and feel entitled to them despite what a member of the community feels about it. It becomes a chore to have to be a walking encyclopedia for the straight people in my life, just because they won’t bother to learn how to properly navigate interactions with this LGBTQ+ person who, presumably, is an important part of their life.
And if all of that wasn’t enough, there’s also this latent level of anxiety that I harbor in straight-centric environments when it comes to talking about my own sexuality. While it’s good to feel like my gayness isn’t some giant elephant in the room, the reality of the situation is that it’s still there, permeating the air like a rainbow-tinted mist. I often find myself becoming reluctant to express parts of my sexual orientation because of the tendency for straight people to perceive being LGBTQ+ to be this exotic experience that is far too unique to understand. My sexuality is an important part of me, and I want to be able to talk about it with my friends and family the way I know I can, but it’s hard when it just feels like talking about it is more of a spectacle than it is a conversation. It feels more like my gayness is a performance to be learned from in straight-centric environments, and having to be that person who’s more of a reference than a gay person with unique experiences doesn’t necessarily make for a relaxing time with friends and family.
As my experience in straight-centric environments becomes more expansive, I start to see why members of the LGBTQ+ community often lean toward spending time with each other rather than with those outside of it. However, the experience of interacting with other members of the community is no strut down the runway, either.
You know what the strangest thing is about me feeling this way? I don’t even know the exact source of it. As often as I dig through my mind to pull out some sort of “aha!” moment, there are no aha’s to be found. I know that there are triggers that make me feel this way, and maybe seeing the community through the lens of the internet affects that trigger a bit, but sometimes it feels like that’s only ever scratching the surface. The trigger I’ve been noticing lately is how open many gay men seem to be about their sexuality (not so much their gayness, but more so them as sexual beings). It seems like every gay man has posted a shirtless photo, most gay men have posted a pic in their underwear, and many have shown the internet their butt. On dating apps for gay men, it feels like a requirement to have all three, and a photo of your penis.
There just seems to be this widespread attitude that you’re not comfortable with your sexuality as a gay man unless you’re willing to express it in a way that bears it all. While I don’t personally feel like showing the social media realm your butt, torso, or underwear is bad, I find myself feeling like, as a gay man, I’m required to follow in this trend just to get noticed. And it’s ridiculous to feel this way, because I know it’s not true. I know that any gay man I ask would (hopefully) tell me to just do whatever makes me happy within my boundaries, but I can’t help but feel like there’s this growing clique of gay men that only approves of other gay men that show their bodies on the Internet.
There have also been plenty of times where I feel that my interests as a gay man have to align in a certain way just to fit in with the community. I’ve been a big ol’ geek for most of my life, and I’ve noticed that being a gay geek very much puts you in a different category of gayness. It seems like the two worlds are so separate, that you have to ditch your geeky interests to fit in amongst the more broad gay community. So if you want to fit in as a “gay geek,” you might have to sexualize your identity as one a bit more by being shirtless with that new video game that you just got. If you want to, more power to you! But if that’s not something you’d want to do, I get the feeling that you’d get overlooked. Sex really does sell.
Though I have other interests that align with what the broader gay community, a few being Rupaul’s Drag Race, female pop icons, going to Pride festivals, and other entertainment that falls into gay culture, I often wonder if I wouldn’t be considered a “good gay” or “gay enough” if I wasn’t. I’ve seen it in others; they blame themselves for not being a good member of the community simply for not being into something along those lines, and for reasons that aren’t necessarily linked to any gayness associated with these interests. Luckily, most of the gay people I interact with regularly don’t subscribe to the idea that you have to like any certain things just to be “gay enough,” but given my past experiences with gay men telling me that I have to like certain things because I’m gay, I can’t imagine how much others have been pressured to do the same. It’s all ridiculous to think about because the only thing that should truly and honestly make you a member of the gay community is, you know, being gay. We’re all so different despite our similar identities, and our interests spread across such a vast spectrum, that adding extra requirements to being in the community feels like more like an exclusion than an invitation.
Like I said before, I feel like this only scratches the surface. There may be something all of this is directly attached to, but these are the things I’ve noticed the most as I become established in my identity.
As much as I love being a gay male, it can be more exhausting than I’d like it to be. Straight people being generally oblivious to LGBTQ+ identities makes it hard to interact with them in a way that’s comfortable, and though I feel at ease interacting with other gay men, I often feel like I have to be more than I am just to be accepted. I know that not every straight person is insensitive to issues regarding other sexual orientations, and not every gay man thinks all gays should do certain things just to be considered part of the community, but I can’t help but feel these insecurities when it comes to my relationship with either community. Maybe it’s just one of those things that I’ll continue to get more comfortable with over time, or maybe it’ll be one of those insecurities that I’ll never be able to shake, but always be great at hiding in casual conversation. Either way, they’re very present insecurities, and if you have them too, just know that you’re not alone, and you deserve to feel comfortable with your identity.