I have discussed exhaustively what my philosophy and quest is in Gay Space on my blog. My quest is finding a quality community and circle of friendships with other gay men. I am finding more and more my number one guideline has become always reflect on, become aware of, and question your preconceptions…continuously….when you feel you’ve made a step stone of progress….keep on going with this practice, you’re not done. Kind of similar to what they called “reflexive thinking” back in my Religious Studies department while I was an undergrad in college. I have found this has been the most important in my process of establishing gay relationships of all kinds with lovers, friends, and even acquaintances. Doing this makes you increasingly more aware of your own baggage and the roots beneath people’s behavior in the gay community.
Most non-antagonizing outsiders would see gay people as fun to shop with, overflowing with an endless stock of glitter, safe to hang out with because we are guy-friends but have no sexual interest in women, or a friendly queer guy to help the overly-stereotyped fashion challenged straight boy. While at times some of us might play that role and even enjoy it, we as insiders know that is not even half of us. Not to say that those boys are not beautiful inside and out just the way they are, because I think they are and I am fully supportive of them being themselves in whatever way they want to express themselves both in and out of the gay space. But there is a preconception defined by perceptions of us by those that enjoy heteronormative privileges in society and couldn’t really get to the “queer sacred space” as I have coined it, if they tried. One or two might be close on very, VERY rare occasions only because they are humble enough not to enter gay space to be entertained but because they are truly a part of our community because they might be the archetypal PFLAG Debby mom from Queer as Folk. That queer sacred space goes beneath the party we are having on the surface, the profiles we see on our apps, and the behaviors we default to when relating to each other.
Even as insiders, after crossing the initiate barrier of several coming out stages (including “coming out to the gay community” which is more common in my generation sense we often come out to heterosexual family members and peers first, before really encountering any tangible gay community) we have so much to unravel in our preconceptions we hold against each other. I have discussed extensively the notion of internalized homophobia among other internalized heteronormative idealisms. Here I revisit this, but go a bit deeper. We are all a bit fucked up and wounded. As one of my friends said “I wish gay people would talk more about their problems when we get together…It seems like it’s just so painful to talk about our experience so we focus on covering it up in fabulous parties and glitter.” I am inclined to agree, it’s scary and hard to have “real talk” sometimes. It might bring up someone talking about being physically/sexually/emotionally abused by their families, a rape experience, bullying they’ve faced, being a bully at some point and carrying a guilt about it, insecurities they have with sex, substance abuse issues, and this is only to name just a select few. We build up tactful snark and entertaining demeanor to earn the social protection of heterosexual allies when we are out, and develop an armor of confidence through different means like body building, debating skills, a snarky/catty personality, etc. that we present to each other in our own space. All the rawness beneath the surface we all share is hard to find beneath the grindr profiles with endless anonymous torsos and the glitter and flashing lights in the bars and the of course…the barriers we create in relating and connections to each other in our own homonormative social structure. Then we create internal belief systems that the gay community (which btw no one in the gay community is the same, so clumping it together and stereotyping it is a slippery slope) is “not like me.” Or that on some level it doesn’t have what you might be looking for, or it is full of too much drama and negatives.
When we get to this point it’s time to start developing more tools to question our preconceptions about others. As you start the process of gay socialization, it’s true what they say we are one “big incestuous family.” Lovers, one-night stands, boyfriends, and platonic friends begin to mix and mingle and we end up hearing really intimate information about each other, sometimes before even meeting the people being discussed our selves. In that process people’s personal insecurities begin to color their perception of the other person and you may end up shutting yourself off from getting to know a pretty cool person because of that, if you’re not careful. You might end up finding out someone is cheating on their boyfriend because another friend was the person they cheated on him with. You hear about peoples “drama queen” side a bit too often, or hear more about what people didn’t like about them then what they did. It is an opportunity to grow one’s social intelligence, in learning how to more gracefully navigate those situations as well as realizing this is more common than not. It begs the question what to people say about you behind your back and how much of it is true, half-true, and completely untrue….and does it really matter? The more you compare yourself to others more you’re going to run into the reality that you’re not above a mistake or an ungraceful moment yourself. Even though there may be different patterns of mistakes in different people and some may be more or less harmful, there is usually a reason for people’s behavior, if that’s even a true recounting of their behavior at all. Does that mean you should condone or allow people to harm you or introduce something toxic into your life? Not at all, I have totally cut people out and put up boundaries with people for this reason; no one is entitled to your friendship, affection, or sexual resources. But it is good to step back and question your preconceptions and try to cultivate a sense of understanding, even with people you might keep at a certain distance, if you don’t you might create a belief system that colors your view of a generalized notion of people that remind you of them (aka stereotypes) which will make social access to our already limited and small community more restricted for you.
That said, over the several past months of my college life, I formed deep bonds with other gay friends rather quickly, partly because I made it a goal to do that and put a lot of effort into putting myself out there and starting a gay friendship circle that was meaningful to me, but also because I realize more and more how easily I have a tendency to make people vulnerable. In the relationships I’ve formed almost every guy I’ve gotten to know feels judged by the gay community. Almost all of them have a deep seeded trauma and struggle to find a space to express it with people that understand and relate. As I get to know them and hear the more raw sides of their stories and sometimes hear raw stories from others they feel judged by, it’s not always so black and white. Internalized trauma and oppression can make people do crazy things sometimes, and without easy access to tools that help us explore and heal our psyche, that internalized conflict will express its self in one form or another. Being unnecessarily catty and snarky to the point of being hurtful. Being manipulative. Spreading rumors about someone you liked, but didn’t like you back. Cheating on your boyfriend, even though you feel terrible about it. Profiling people and denying them social access to you because of something about them that makes you uncomfortable. Being inconsistent and sabotaging relationships on purpose. Or even just being flat out mean. I remember two guys I know that both had preconceptions about each other that were full of half truths, both them I enjoyed spending time with and thought they were respectful to me and thought highly of them both, but their first impressions of each other (which were almost entirely informed from unfactual preconceptions) prevented them from ever getting to know each other. In fact it made them have negative impressions about each other. It was everything from who one thought the other hung out with “because that guy cheated on his boyfriends once….” to agism, to everything else one could imagine. I even remember someone told me he didn’t trust someone because he saw him on grindr and “there was a look in his eye” and I introduced the two in person and they seemed to get along pretty well after that.
I have had so many debates with guys trying to convince them there is more to the gay community then what they see on the surface. That there are many affirming things one can find in gay space with other gay people, but you have to put the effort into cultivating what is necessary in yourself to do that. It’s just a matter of questioning the preconceptions one has about everyone in it, constantly. This is not something you do to reach some sort of end point of achievement; you do it constantly, over and over again. You also have to step outside of your comfort zone every now and again and try to experience things you may of not yet in gay culture. Online media and mobile networking apps are not always ideal ways to meet people, but you know what if that’s all you have to start with (for some guys in more provincial areas it seriously is) try actually meeting someone off there and getting to know them in a more friendly way and in Person. If you don’t want to run into crazies, be selective. Meet people that can hold intelligent conversations with you about topics of mutual interest, try to only meet up with people that don’t seem in a rush to do anything and seem to reflect balanced demeanor. Not shaming anyone that wants to find hook-ups, but one can use gay space and gay media for more than that and if you actually pay attention and learn how to spot and draw out people that are literally just looking for friends and social networking, they are there I promise! I have met quite a few gay friends that I am now close to because of gay online media. Go out to the bars you might of avoided with a friend or two. Try out Drag. Go to a local LGBT group that does music or sports. Through all of these spaces you’ll encounter some people you don’t like, like you would in ANY community, but you might find a friend or two, like you would in any community.
The gay community is like any community in the respect that there are amazing people in it, and people you probably wouldn’t like and wouldn’t spend your spare time with. On top of that, as people that shares a collective marginalized identity, we have so much internalized trauma and baggage that it does create barriers in how we relate to each other. Rather it’s shame over our sexuality, discomfort with masculinity or discomfort with femininity in men, traumas from our past, internalized self-hating beliefs that most of us aren’t even aware of half the time as we project them on to each other, or whatever. We all come to the same space with all that damage inside of us and that’s the only place we have to get access to each other. We can get frustrated with the adversity we encounter (and sometimes it indeed can get really ugly) or we can look at it as an opportunity to grow, heal, and work through it. Which means being willing to open one’s self up even when it’s uncomfortable, attempting to build relationships with others and learn as you go (no social intelligence is adopted without social growing pains, it just doesn’t happen that way), and changing your perception of gay culture and other gay people constantly as you navigate it.
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