What’s with the Shade?

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One thing I think most gays can agree on is that when we share our common spaces, most of us experience some variation of Mean Girls quality shade casting. Why do gays love RuPaul, sassy drag queens, pop divas, and of course Mean Girls? Many guys I talk to about this say it’s the sense of feminine power. A powerful, kick ass, empowered woman gives us a sense of something to identify with to “own it” to be realize the pain and vulnerability of our past as marginalized people and turn it into something that is strong. Yet at the same time, can such a strong over powering presence also serve to create “mean girl” dynamics where “you’re not wearing pink you can’t sit with us” is preferable to “hey you’re the new guy in town, welcome, how are you doing? Join us for a drink.”
Within all communities and aspects of life there is light and there is shadow. Gays know drama like the back of their hand, it’s why we all love mean girls and chuckle so much when we quote punch lines from that movie. I am no perfect angel, there have been times I get frustrated with shade getting cast my way and I react instead of respond. It’s hard not to get stuck in the melodrama of a space of strong personalities all trying to legitimate themselves and feel strong. Gay space stirs aspects of ourselves we never experience anywhere else in society: access to other homosexuals, the actual experience of our gay identity with other gay people. In a society of “no” that always tries to define how either to be a entertaining GBF to str8s, or to closet ourselves and hide our homosexuality, we constantly have internalized nagging trying to tell us we are either unacceptable or only acceptable when we fit certain conditions as homosexuals. Then all of a sudden we are in a common gay space and gay identity is the defining feature, it’s a moment of decompression, a place to let it out. The tradition of drag is all about creating an outrageous character that is strong and powerful and in the words of RuPaul herself “what other people say about me ain’t any of my business.” A place to either work hard to get chiseled abs to look sexy and feel visible and get a stroke of self-esteem, or defining yourself as opposite and embracing your inner bear and rebelling against the tyranny of normative buffness. A space where youth is worshipped, yet objectified and twinks are expected to be the proverbial dumb blonds that look pretty and skinny without intelligence or valued for other aspects of who they are. While elders are desexualized and stereotyped as creeps and are all but erased from gay culture. With all these social dynamics we are all constantly trying to feel legitimated in different ways, yet simultaneously with an empowered “fuck what shady bitches say” attitude.
This creates a really difficult social experience to feel good about. Sure, we shouldn’t care what other people say and do, there will always be people that stir shit up in our lives and it’s unrealistic to expect the world to turn into an ideal that is peering through rose colored glasses. But wouldn’t it be nice if gay men got together, just for once, and were more affirming of each other and less critical? If we could look past the tough exterior we put up and be a bit more vulnerable about our feelings and were more affirming of that vulnerability. Not because we want a boyfriend or because vulnerability is sexy, but simply because its what we need from each other as a community. Yes RuPual is right “what other people say about me ain’t none of my business” but if we never take the time to let that attitude step aside and be more supportive of each other as a community, it makes finding meaningful relationships really difficult. I don’t know about you boys, but I am really sensitive, I do try to be realistic and don’t expect to get validation from everyone. Nor do I think it’s realistic to expect you are going to be friends with everyone. But to pretend I am not a human being with feelings would be disingenuous. It is nice to feel like I have the support of friends around me, people that reciprocate warm fuzzies every now and then instead of being overly critical, and to be around other gays that let the strong RuPaul exterior down long enough to be a sensitive human being for once that owns and shares their feelings.

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Why is this such a hard thing for us to do? Sharing feelings can become unproductive and messy, or it can be a healthy way to build intimacy with others. Perhaps when we try to share our feelings and open up and be vulnerable that also can open up the dark wounds of our past and it can become an intense swirl of negativity that is sometimes too much to share. It can also become a competition about who had it worse. You’re complaining to me? I don’t want to hear it because I didn’t get to enjoy the privileges you had! What you feel like I was privileged? You don’t even know my full story! That becomes a huge clash of egos, and then becoming a crass empowered diva that doesn’t give a fuck what others say becomes necessary. I would be lying if I haven’t gotten caught in those discussions before, which really only becomes unproductive ultimately. But you know what? Everyone is haunted by the shadows of their past. We do not fully embrace our humanity unless we embrace ALL of it, including the more difficult parts. Perhaps that is why we all get so shady, we don’t feel holistically integrated. We can be accepted in our community for being a sexy jock that looks like an Andrew Christian model or an outrageous fabulous drag queen that doesn’t care what other people think, but not for the pain of our past, for saying that our feelings are hurt, or for trying to express something supportive and kind. If we open up about it, it can become a clash of egos, one that is hard to transcend and move past. So how can we shift this paradigm?

I know some of this sounds fluffy, and I believe in pragmatism, fluffy and warm fuzzy rainbows do not always realistically work in real life. You’re going to have interpersonal conflict; you won’t get along with everyone. Melodrama is inevitable in life when communities of people are involved, especially when they have baggage they have to work out. We don’t want to get caught in a New Age positive thinking idealism that looks at the world through rose colored glasses but doesn’t actually hold integrity and do anything productive in a real life situation. But I think being emotional and sensitive is practical to having a quality human experience and having meaningful and intimate relationships, for everyone, but gays especially have to find ways to do that in our own space with each other.
It’s been my goal more and more so now to move out of the mental and into more emotional states of consciousness in gay space. Having a background with student organizing and academia I have a honed tendency to think about the social dynamics, point out privilege, and all that. But sometimes that reaches a limit of helpfulness. IT IS helpful to tear down barriers and become more aware of issues that most people never think about. But sometimes you have to turn off the mind and turn on the heart. Accept people for their mistakes and their perceived flaws. Look past what you see on the surface, and question the preconceptions you hold against them. I have to own my wounds and work them out, and realize that everyone in gay space is doing the same thing. Sometimes when someone is throwing shade at me, its not because they are a “bitch” who I turn on my inner RuPual on to because I don’t give a fuck about them what they say *snaps fingers in a Z formation*. It’s because they are working out their shit, if I pointed that out to them, it wouldn’t be productive because I would end up reacting from my wounded place. Maybe the true strength is learning to respond and not react. To place my boundaries walk away, say Namaste but namastay over there, stay silent, and not take everything they say personally. Believe me I am not the saint of this, I get pulled into drama sometimes I could of easily avoided, sometimes I place my boundaries up well and other times I don’t and make mistakes like anyone. But isn’t that apart of the authentic experience of humanity. Life is messy and it includes mistakes, wounds, joys, and all those things.

The thing is gay men need to learn how to treat each other like sovereign beings. That means we treat each other as though we matter. Our feelings matter, what we have to say matters, when we say “no” it matters, when we define our boundaries it matters. Communities do not thrive on being dismissive; they thrive on being supportive and affirming. As such we need to co-create an experience where there is room for emotions, sharing them, being supportive of the good and the bad in them. Letting each other know “I see you, I value you as a person, who matters as a member of this community.” This isn’t advocating for letting people say and do whatever they want to do regardless of how harmful it is, but it is saying that we co-create a more affirming space for each other that are more supportive and less “shady.” So my challenge to myself, and all my brothers is….how do we co-create something more emotionally supportive of each other, realistically. How do we respect each other more when we have a disagreement instead of casting shade? How do we create a community that is more supportive and less critical and disconnected from each other?

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