I reflect on a common saying in Feminist circles that “Strong women lift each other up, instead of tearing each other down.” I think gays could stand to adopt this idea. We have to point out the issues amongst each other, we also have to have a sense of solidarity for the sake of having an actual community (which I adamantly believe is SOOO important). Both are powerful tools in being your own advocate and building up your sense of gay identity to be strong in the face of discrimination and homophobia. But one thing I know about my self and I think there are a handful of like minded gays that are similar, building up that strong queer social warrior can be exhausting. It is necessary, but beyond a certain point sometimes you just want to celebrate who you are with other gay people, instead of fighting battles all the time (there are so many to fight). I have gone through pendulum swings in my gay experience, sense I came out at the age of 16. I go through periods of doing advocacy and community building such as when I founded and ran a LGBT student org during my college career. To personal development of detaching from the community and questioning everything in it fundamentally, which was in my post LGBT prez college experience and I did lots of research on the gay community as an academic. Then I wrote a senior thesis that inspired me to challenge not only a lot of internal issues in the gay community, but how I showed up to my engagement in it and how to make an over all better experience in how I interacted with it.
One thing that can be really discouraging to me is that due to thousands of reasons, there are very few guys that have positive things to say about their own community. Indeed some of these reasons are justified: the body objectification and discrimination, the internalized baggage that makes for strong personalities that create a lot of social drama, the lack of consideration of intersectional social issues that impact our space (racism, gender diversity, agism directed at both the young and the old, the non-uniformity of how our homosexual experiences and how we wish to express it are different, etc.). Not to mention assimilating into gay culture is hard for most of us. It challenges so much inside of us that grew up and live a daily life in a heteronormative society. Our sense of self, right and wrong, how relationships are suppose to work, internalized shame around sexuality in general, how one is suppose to socialize, it all represents a comfort zone of what we grew up with and it is challenged when we encounter gay culture and other gay people in it. Each of us come into the gay space seeking out other gay people and encounter all of these issues or a somewhat similar variation of them.
After founding an LGBT organization in the first half of my college career. I was more connected to the Queer spectrum, and began learning about and advocating for LGBT issues. But even so on a personal level I struggled connecting to other gay men specifically, I struggled to figure out how to access and how to connect them in meaningful ways, and feeling like I could relate to them in gay space. Not that I didn’t have a boyfriend or two, or that I’d not actually met gay boys through this time in my life, it just felt like it was harder and rarer then it should of been to find, connect, and build relationships with gay boys specifically. So as I entered the second half of my college experience I focused more on the “G” in the issues. I focused on reflecting more on it, applying the research I was undergoing in classes that impacted and related to gay male identity. Given I was a religious studies major, the upper class levels covered A LOT of psychological and social theory. Giving me access to knowledge on feminist discourse, and even a light exposure to queer theory and gay and lesbian studies here and there. So on all my free writing assignments I was able to apply it all to researching gay males. I even got to do field research here and there interviewing a variety of guys through various places and media with different perspectives and experiences. I began to develop greater awareness of the internal issues I had been frustrated with all along but couldn’t articulate nearly as well, and then some. I also became more aware of the barriers these issues create to our social access to each other. This became an important catalyst to my growing sense of being a “queer social justice warrior” as I would do multiple presentations in my department to pre-christian seminary students, and played the role of advocacy in many contexts as I both researched gay men academically and opened my gay socialization process on a personal level. This time I was focusing on my own tribe specifically and opening up to so many things I hadn’t experienced in the more general “queer spectrum” culture as a LGBTQ student organizer (which was good and important, but not the same experience of socializing and being empowered with same-identity people). As I began to encounter more subtle examples of heteronormative bullshit and homophobia that I had be unaware of previously I would call it out and feel more and more confident in my ability to contest it effectively. Even more so though, I began to apply this to my own socialization with other gay men. Realizing the racism, body issues, objectification, internalized homophobia, etc. within our own community. The ability to do that got me access to other gay males that were more reflexive about their own experience and therefore were more sensitive to the issues and a bit more cultivated and established in their gay identity. If you have the ability to discuss on even just a basic level of clarity and sophistication to these issues, then you attract the attention of other people in the gay space that can as well, and it becomes a way of building common ground with people that share similar values. It ended up becoming my ticket into the social access to the gay people I struggled to find previously.
I ended up becoming a community builder again by expanding my social circle of gay men specifically and then connecting them at social get togethers that I kept exclusive to gay men I knew well enough to feel like they would contribute to making a positive social atmosphere. I received several comments from these guys as I did this “this is nice, I rarely meet other gay people I get along with…” and “how do you know all these guys? I would of never made this connection to them if I hadn’t of met them through you, I might of just brushed them off without getting to know them if I met them online or at a bar….” (some of them actually acknowledged they did do that before meeting each other in the network I was trying to weave). Now, its not as though this little gay family I was building didn’t have issues at times, there was drama here and there. The lines between platonic friends, lovers, secret crushes, love triangles, and all that blurred and sometimes people handled it maturely, sometimes they didn’t, but all and all the drama wasn’t SOOO unmanageable and other than a few socially awkward moments it wasn’t that harmful in the grand scheme of things. Must of the drama was resolved well enough to not have enduring trauma to our well being or destroy the friendships I was trying to build up. But because I put the effort into generating some form of “gay social capital” and focused my efforts on building connections with other gay men specifically, it helped me make the right connections to the right people. To start opening the door to the connections I had been longing for all along.
But one thing I am beginning to realize now, its not simply good enough to deconstruct/comprehend the issues and speak a sophisticated language about them. I have noticed other guys I have gotten to know that had the same ability to do that, or potentially even more so than I, sometimes had so much cynicism there was nothing to motivate them to desire to feel connected to gay people. They were great at pointing out the problems with each other in our internal dynamics, but not so good at establishing, building, and maintaining relationships with other gay boys. Indeed even in my self I had to become aware that identifying problems was not enough to base a meaningful friendship on with someone. I began to realize the ability to critically analyze the issues tore down barriers…but they didn’t maintain meaningful connections. The ability to celebrate who we are and support and uplift each other did though. I began to realize the friendships that grew and maintained some level of resilience over time were with guys that could not only comprehend and appreciate a critical understanding of the issues, but knew how to laugh and have a good time. The guys that cared about me for the person I was, not the potential sexual encounter or intellectual resource I represented.The guys that appreciated my interest and passion as an academic and social justice warrior, but helped me learn how to celebrate our connection to each other and just have fun in the simple fact we appreciated the connection we shared. To relax and be Gaymers just for the fun of it (pokemon and WiiU with a bunch of gay boys…its fun I promise), to go out to a bar and play pool and do Karaoke while sipping a Cosmo. Guys that just wanted to hang out for no other reason than being around people they cared about and enjoyed, for the company not simply the gratification of pre-determined goals and ideals. The ability to lighten up and celebrate our selves was SOOO important. I began to realize this more and more as the test of linear time began to show who the guys I would develop more meaningful connections to would be and which connections would dissolve.
So this is apart of my point, there needs to be a more uplifting and emotionally fulfilling element in our gay socialization. We have to develop our social justice warrior to comprehend issues clearly and advocate for our selves as well as develop a greater strength and confidence in our gay identity, and even a greater sensitivity for the internal issues in our community…but after that? Deconstructing issues can tear concepts apart to the point of nihilism. To a point where its meaningless, if you have no sacred vision…no “this is the reason I am doing this” motivating you and giving you something to create…then what is the point? Anger is a tool, not a life style. If you use activism and critical awareness as a tool it can be very empowering to yourself as a gay person, and to the social progress of our liberation in society. But I am beginning to think its toxic when there is not a sense of solidarity and upliftment added to the gay experience we co-create in our community. If the only reason we come to gay space is to get the opportunity for sexual selection and get resources for critical awareness and social justice, there is nothing to establish a positive sense of well being and connectedness amongst each other. All just for the simple celebration and mutual support of who we are. Tearing apart social issues and having sexual opportunities alone aren’t going to do much for our community if that is the limited use of it. Guys that do that typically don’t seem to have a lot of positive feelings about the community they utilize. Sexual opportunities are great, but if thats the only thing motivating you, you demean and devalue other forms of relationships with gay people you can share, the second a guy is no longer sexually exciting the connection will dissolve or become cold. In the same way that once you’ve had all the critical discussions you can have about the issues we face and throughly satisfied your need for intellectual masturbation, the guy becomes no longer stimulating. In both of these situations we only value the guy so long as they represent sexual or intellectual excitement, after that passion is burnt out, we don’t value the person that is left after that. Rather you are looking for a hook-up or a boyfriend, if you fall in love/lust for the ideal the person represents and don’t actually see and appreciate the person they are, that doesn’t really make for a meaningful connection in the long run. It just gratifies your desires for a short moment in time until the person runs out of things to gratify you with. You could apply this to the activist as well, if the motivation behind your activism is about ideals and not people, the activism becomes exhausting and unsustainable as a community effort. It creates a community that is motivated by ideals and not the well being of the people first. People have to feel appreciated by, loved by, and apart of a community to actually want to be in it. The tool the community utilizes will initiate bringing people together, but what keeps them there is a sense of well-being and happiness in the connections they establish.
All this to say, I think there is gratification and importance in sexuality, in activism, in intellectual awareness, in all those things. These things open the door to bring gay people together, but they don’t sustain connections that maintain a meaningful community. A truly “strong gay man” knows how to uplift himself and his community, otherwise his sexuality, his advocacy for justice, and his intelligence is empty of meaning and potential fulfillment. I think its important to remember why gay culture exists, why we are social justice warriors, why we are even motivated to identify and bring critical awareness to issues. Its because of gay people in the first place. To bring us together and connect to each other, to ensure our well-being, to give us the opportunity to find happiness. Many things have to change in society to where a gay person is on the same exact and even level as a heterosexual person…but until then, we are the only people that can create the community and resources we need for each other. So we have to work with what we have to do that. We have to make the most the resources available to us to make a community where we have the opportunity to support and connect to each other. To see the ideals, concepts, media, and culture as means to an ends for a meaningful and fulfilling sense of community. Only we are individually responsible for the community we co-create together. By cultivating ourselves to be a “strong” gay man through social justice, intelligence, a liberation and empowerment of our identity and sexuality, we can use these things as a tool to uplift each other, instead of tearing each other down. We CAN create a community we actually like, based on how each of us shows up and regards, treats, and respects each other. So the question I ask for each of us, do you want other gay people in your life? As a gay man I would hope so, after all how else are you going to get access to gay relationships and the support of like minded people? The next question I ask is, how do you uplift your self, your fellow gay man, and your gay community when you show up to the experience of it?