One thing that I find interesting in gay world, is how few ever think about how having gay friendships is a part of their gay experience. This may be partially due to our greater culture’s tendency to over emphasize monogamous romantic love over all other forms of human connections, but its also our relationship with gay identity how we define it and acknowledge its importance in our lives. I don’t down romance, nor a healthy sexual lifestyle, that’s definitely something that is important to a gay identity, but there is something about having a sense of connection to other gays then just those things. Like one of the opening lines in Queer as Folk’s first episode states “it’s all about sex.” That’s what creates the need for gay culture, for a gay identity that separates itself from a heteronormative social structure in society. But if you are a big time fan of QaF like I am, you see how a common gay social experience brings friends together in deep, meaningful, and emotional ways throughout the show. Sex may be the basis to create a common gay space and individual gay identity, but out of that basis arises so much more than just sex alone.
Mike and Bryan though polar opposite in their sexual/romantic relationships with their partners, are like brothers and are there for each other in moments of great need. They know intimate things about each other, like friends should. They have moments of conflict throughout the span of their friendship in the show, but when push comes to shove they always make up and are there for each other. Emmitt and Ted have a constantly evolving and fluid relationship. Between just being good friends, to dating each other and breaking up, to becoming good friends again, their friendship is worthy of recognition. After Ted nearly destroys his life on a crystal meth addiction and Emmitt breaks up with him because of it, Ted turns his life around and Emmitt after having to forgive him becomes a good friend in his corner as he heals his old wounds and gets back on his feet. Beyond just the specifics of each characters personal connection to each other, all of them shared a common bond of friendship. They were able to share a gay experience together and all that entailed, which became the basis for a sense of true community and a meaningful gay experience.
In my personal gay experience, friendships have become increasingly more and more important to me. People to go out to bars with, attend prides with, have social get togethers with, to talk about things openly and honestly with that I cannot with anyone else. I have straight friends that I can be pretty open and honest about life as a gay man with, but there is not nearly as deep an understanding there that can relate from personal experience. Some of the most emotional and life changing moments I have had, have been with other gay men. A spiritual brother of mine that I have gone to spiritual retreats with, because of our common gay identity when I was starting to really explore my sexuality as a gay man and navigate interpersonal relationships with other gays, he was there for me in ways no other straight person could practically be. Because he understood what that was like. To contend with internalized homophobia, to be limited to gay culture to find those experiences and how that limitation shaped those experiences, and the raw feelings that come up for many of us when we suddenly start really facing our sexuality and try to get comfortable with it for the first time. I was out for several years as a gay male before that point, but then I started coming out to gay culture, which is a whole other experience. Over the years that friendship has seriously become a brotherly bond, I can honestly say there are few that know me on the level he does.
Other friendships I have had with guys I have met have likewise been important. The more comfortable I have gotten with the gay scene the more value I see in having friends in it. Being able to celebrate being gay with other gay males changes a lot of the wounds that are buried deep in our consciousness. In a world of “no” that tells us how to be the proper GBF to entertain straight people, or that tells us to hide in a closet and be conditionally accepted so long as the gay part of us is kept under lock and key, letting it come out with other people that share the same experience and celebrating it as positive and life affirming thing can be a VERY healing experience. Being at the local gay bar with your guy friends and talking about other boys that are cute, laughing about an awkward hook up you once had, and having access to a social gay experience that for once celebrates what is always under so much criticism and scrutiny in other aspects of our lives is a cure many gay men need. That’s why “pride” is important, not just for political reasons or trying to get straight people to tolerate/accept us…but to create a space that celebrates the diversity of gay identity. I think pride must maintain its focus on celebrating gay people, as should gay bars. Because one’s gay life is spiritually and emotionally incomplete without positive and affirming gay relationships.
I use to buy into the belief that my gay identity was not important and that so long as I had straight people in my life that could accept me and support me, I didn’t need the gay scene or to participate in it. But after years of going without gay relationships, and bemoaning the fact that I saw my straight friends go through the ups and downs of dating relationships while I was practically sexless and feeling like there was just something missing that I wasn’t getting from a dominantly straight world. I eventually had to come out again, but not simply in owning an open gay identity in a heteronormative society, but in establishing myself in the gay community. I look back on it and I am glad I decided to leave my comfort zone of being a GBF in a straight world, to really focus on trying to find gay relationships. The gay world is a conglomeration of bars, networking apps, prides, and special interest groups that all over lap and interact with each other. It comes with some issues, some drama, some uncomfortable moments…but I am no longer the gay that lets this shallow perception of gay culture deter me from showing up to the experience. There is a lot of things that go SOOO much deeper then what we see on the surface.
Imagine having friends that don’t judge you because you’re on grindr nor for meeting someone off there. In fact imagine that they could share some of their own stories of doing so and something that comes with so much stigma and controversy otherwise is celebrated with laughter. For once you are in a common space where homosexuality is normalized and instead of always talking to your straight friends about their upcoming wedding and their heterosexual relationship life. The topic of conversation are all the guys that are dating each other, one of your friends is admiring a guy they think is cute and you give them a push to put themselves out there. For once homosexuality is happening and you’re sharing that experience with others that can relate. You get to know so many guys in town your news feed shows the relationship triumphs of local gays that are finding each other, not simply endless reminders that you’re in a society that is dominantly heterosexual while people get married and have kids and get their white picket fence and your sitting there being reminded that in that world no one can give you the potential to navigate those interpersonal experience with someone.
That’s not to say it’s all painted in rose colored glasses, indeed when you have one too many exes that ended the relationship badly, common gay spaces can get really writtled with drama. The social circles can get cliquish and if one has an exe with bad blood, these can present barriers that make it difficult to find positive experiences. Not to mention issues of body shaming, agism, gender expression politics, and even racism that have been known to express themselves in gay space and present barriers for some in finding quality gay relationships. I ask the question though, is it possible to look deeper and learn how to navigate around the shallow surface of all those things. Personally I believe so, the more I put myself out there, question my preconceptions, and try to keep an open mind, I find gay people that go a bit deeper then the stereotypes we hold against each other. Jocks and twinks that have a deeper mind then one gives them credit, bears with a heart of gold, effeminate boys that have good things to say and deep insights, masculine boys that aren’t prejudice as they seem with their grindr profile stereotypes, older men that are respectful and full of stories worth listening to, and so on. On the surface we see the “no femme, no fats, no blacks,” we see strong shadey personalities that stir up unnecessary drama, we see narcissistic investments in body image, we see aggressive and almost predatory sexual politics. But I have learned to not accept that as the end all and be all. I agree these things present issues to gay socialization, but there is so much more going on, on a deeper level then the shallow surface assessment of all these things. When you navigate around all that, there are moments of human connection one can have that is more meaningful and deep.
I think the more my gay experience has included friendships, with people I respect and people that respect me (mutual respect being key), the more meaningful it has become. Communities are about people coming together and having a “together” experience. For the gay community it can be many things, friends, lovers, boyfriends, exes, enemies, mentors, professionals, and all the rest. But being able to feel good about that community, what it stands for, and what it represents I think has to be build on a foundation of friendships. Without friends in the gay community all you have is lovers, hook ups, boyfriends and exes, and perhaps even enemies (drama queens you have bad blood with). No wonder the gay community can feel so disconnected when the only thing people look for is the instant gratification of a hook-up or a romantic encounter. That doesn’t really build other connections that can create a more wholistic and meaningful COMMUNITY experience.
If your only experiences with the gay community are exes and sexual encounters, it would feel really empty. But if you had friendships, true friendships with people that know you, people that look out for each other and respect each other, you might view the gay community through a different lens. Where you might see a bunch of bad blood with exes and guys that you hooked up with and don’t even know their names. I see happy memories laughing with friends, people that have been there for me in emotionally difficult times, people that make sure their drunk friend gets home okay without taking advantage of him, people that give someone a home when he’s been kicked out by a homophobic family, groups of people that fundraise for a LGBT homeless shelter, and people that have seen each other go through the ups and downs of their lives but still respect and care about each other. That would definitely give us a different perspective. The question I ask you, in your gay experience, do you value friendships in a gay social experience? Is ALL you look for on grindr anonymous hook ups or mr. right and never put yourself out there to experience more? What if mr. right doesn’t come from looking for him, but rather just putting yourself out there and participating in a community. What if sexual encounters are more meaningful when they are with people you know and can name (even if they aren’t long term), and could develop a friendship with that has mutual respect at its basis? Without friendship in the gay experience, I would argue it WOULD be very cold. But I think that is the problem with a lot of guys that feel bad about gay culture and the greater gay community. They don’t have gay friends, they just have a collective experience of exes and cold meaningless sex with guys they don’t know.
Not that a hook-up is a bad thing, nor that having boyfriends is either. But if there is no sense of affirmative and positive “connection” present in a gay social experience, it would feel empty, and it does to people that lack that in their gay community experience. I think that can be changed by simply changing your perspective in how you value gay identity and how you approach utilizing the resources of gay space. Gay identity for me has increasingly become about relationships. Not simply who I do and do not have sex with, but who I connect to through the bonds of homosexuality, which includes sexuality but also a common life experience that can be celebrated. Furthermore, changing how you utilize the resources of common gay space (rather cyber or physical) changes the kind of experience you have with it. How do you approach meeting other gays? Do you do with the intention of chasing (just looking for something sexual/romantic and nothing else)? Or do you just simply put yourself out there to make connections with new people? That was the trick for me. Instead of chasing after pretty boys ONLY that I wanted to pursue something with, I made it an effort to just simply connect to new people. Those connections might become something sexual if the experience feels right and there is mutual interest and reciprocal respect. But it also has potential to become a friend I can go out to the local gay bar with, play video games with, or go to the next pride with.
To some people this may not make sense, but I think that’s why they very well may have negative feelings about gay space. If they are always chasing after something to gratify them in gay space, instead of simply developing organic relationships with people in it, they are starving themselves of connections. Relationships are not simply what Disney and the institution of marriage defines. They are simply you and me. They are Emmitt and Ted, Bryan and Mike. They are getting to know someone, knowing their name, respecting someone, an organic experience that evolves to be what it naturally becomes over time. Like my exe boyfriend who has now become one of my closest friends. It naturally grew to be what it is, we didn’t hold on to a desperate need to be boyfriends just because we liked the idea of having a boyfriend, we took the idealism out of it and realized that we had affection for each other in ways that were positive but better in a platonic friendship then in something romantic. This continues to be a reality today.
Relationships are reconciling and respecting differences, I have had interest in guys that don’t reciprocate and that’s okay, guys have liked me more then I have them and that’s okay too. With honesty and respect we either respect each other’s boundaries are realize that we are better suited respecting each other while we see other people if we cannot find a way to reconcile our needs for each other, Doesn’t make him bad or me bad, it’s just the organic way our connection developed and out of respect for each other we do what is necessary for our mutual happiness. Relationships are actually getting to know the person instead of boxing them into a preconception. He’s a Christian and I am a Pagan, doesn’t mean he’s prejudice and believes I am going to hell or that I am spiritually inferior to him, nor does it mean I am crazy and worship the devil or some sort of fluffy new age woo boy lost in la-la land because I can’t cope with reality. Relationships are looking through someone else’s eyes with understanding, he’s got things that make him different and understand his reality in a different way but that doesn’t make him less valuable as a person. I am the way I am because my life experiences shaped me in that way it may make me seem different at times but that doesn’t make me “bad.” Through a mutual willingness to “understand” we can develop a connection of mutual respect. Sometimes relationships simply don’t go beyond a certain point because they don’t have enough in common to, or it just doesn’t have the same mutual and reciprocal feelings necessary to. But out of mutual respect, that’s okay, nobody is entitled or obligated.
The basic notion of reciprocity and respect is universal to all forms of connections (or the general notion of relationships). Rather you are talking to a guy you find hot and are attracted to, or not. Rather that becomes a sexual connection or just a friendship; or rather it becomes a more romantic connection that deepens in intimacy. But only you and the other person can negotiate what that connection is and what it means. That intimacy could very well turn into a deep and beautiful friendship that doesn’t need to become a romantic boyfriend relationship. Or it very well could become that. In fact it could change over time, you may be friends for a while but then drift separate ways. You could start as friends and discover more in each other over time. You could date for a while and drift separate ways. You could be really close as you just get to know each other and then still maintain a friendship but it’s not as frequent as it was when it started. Or it could just keep getting deeper over time. It’s all an organic and fluid experience and it starts with reciprocity and respect.
All that said, do you approach gay space like that? Do you create connections based in reciprocity and respect? Or do you chase after the gratification of sex objects and ideals, without connections to people? Not to imply ethical sluthood is not a legitimate and healthy self-expression, nor that fallowing a more traditional monogamous frame work is bad….but regardless of what kind of connections you are open to or have with others…do you feel like you have friendships with others from the experience? Connections that are positive and life affirming? That’s what a friendship is for me and that’s what I find to be core to finding and co-creating a mutually beneficial gay space to all of us.