I started out a struggling awkward teen trying to come out of the closet in high school with some level of integrity in trying to simply be myself while also having the respect of my peers. All teens feel that struggle. But I would find as my path unfolded that I couldn’t avoid interacting with the gay community forever. My life would soon prioritize being a community builder, a networker, an activist for gay people. Its what gay boys struggle with most in terms of their gay identity, how does a gay man find community with other gay men? On apps? In bars? At prides? They are the most accessible and apparent places to find social opportunities with other gay men. But anyone that has done all these things knows its not quite so simple. My life story so far of nearly a decade being out of the closet has been all about the question of “gay community” finding it, celebrating it, encouraging it, fighting for it, philosophizing about it. From being bullied at an all-boys Christian school for being gay (despite being denial and in the closet). To transferring to a co-ed school where I found better friends and came out of the closet and was a celebrated GBF (gay best friend). To becoming a community organizer, founder and president of my community college’s first LGBT student run organization. To eventually getting a religious studies degree and researching a senior thesis on the gay men’s movement in contemporary paganism that became a very personal and life changing project of deconstructing why gay men struggle to find community with each other and ways they have found positive and even ideal community through contemporary paganism. I eventually secularized all I learned from that project and went on my own personal search to find and apply it to the gay community as it generally is.
I live and breathe for moments when I see gay community happen. Not in ways that are cut throat, shady, or disingenuous, but in ways that are affirming, empowering, and where gay men feel connected to each other in sacred fraternal bonds. It is hard to find those moments, between feeling sexualized and objectified where the only gay men you meet seem to reduce you down to a torso and a dick pic on grindr. Where true platonic friendships are seldom valued and sought after, in the anxiety of boys that demand you are either a hook-up or a potential boyfriend and nothing else because their sexual and romantic needs are never met in a heteronormative society. Believe me I know the struggle well. The LGBT student org I ran was mostly str8 allies, lesbians, and trans identified individuals. Few cisgendered gay men cared for community effort. I felt I was one of few that gave a shit about actually having gay community in my life that was more fulfilling then the underground world of grindr and what I perceived on the surface of bar culture. My life after being president of that student organization was hyper focused on cisgendered gay men, because I wanted solidarity with those that identified with my experience and more importantly I wanted to see “community” not just for political action, but fraternal bonds and social togetherness. But I was frustrated at the lack of it in my life and at how difficult it seemed to find other gay men that cared about such things.
It was the apathy and judgmental nature of other gay men that angered me most. So I sought to do everything I could to understand why that was the way it was. That search for why lead to social theory, exploring my own sexuality and its insecurities, interviewing men as a student on dating apps, coming face to face with my own judgements, ignorance, and negative preconceptions towards other guys. I came to the conclusion we all have internalized homophobia creating barriers to our sense of brotherhood. We want to live an outed life and have society be okay with who we are and how we want to define ourselves, yet we internalize disapproval towards other gay men. Wanting not to be a negative stereotype, the ever nebulous “gay other” that we do not consider ourselves to be. Rather its judging older men as creeps, people in the community openly (or discretely even) practicing non-monogamy, or fitting the sassy twinky gay stereotype a little too well, or judging someone for being too masculine, or too sexual, or whatever it is. We constantly put down our gay brothers in order to elevate our sense of being legitimate in our own gay identity. Its sad, its unfortunate, and it’s really not necessary at all. There is a lot of judgement, bullying, and unkind behavior in the gay community. But you have to realize that is what is on the most apparent surface of it, to find brotherhood with the tribe you have to learn how to navigate gay culture the right way and go deeper.
The secret to finding brotherhood amongst our own is taking responsibility for your own contribution. You co-create the community we have, in how you interact with other gay men, in how you value their connection to you, and in how you actually take the time and energy to “show up” to the experience of the things unique to us. Including bars, prides, and grindr and everything else. I think the first step to finding brotherhood and community is taking responsibility for your part in it. You have to question your preconceptions, take responsibility for your internalized homophobia and deconstruct it, and learn how to be less judgmental of other guys. Rather they don’t fit the stereotypes or do, rather they are masc or femme, rather they express their sexuality the same way or don’t, or whatever. They can be gay and be whatever the hell they want to be. There is no need to compare your own definition of your personal gay identity to theirs. Once we let go of our insecurities that make it necessary to legitimize ourselves in comparison to other gays, we co-create a much better gay social experience that embraces all of its diversity. You play a role as a part of the network that co-creates the greater social experience, so make a contribution that is positive and affirming. And actually show up, invest time, resources, and energy to common gay spaces and events, they do not function or exist without money, gay people, and hard work.
After you take responsibility for you own contribution to your social interaction with other gays, you begin to create connections. There will always be bitter queens that rub you the wrong way, personality conflicts, and those exes you just can’t get along with, but that’s NOT all gay people. You put in enough time, and focus on celebrating gay brotherhood and togetherness and focus less on the problems that are apparent on the shallow surface of the community, eventually you draw the right people to you. You find friends and like minded people, or people that might not necessarily be “like minded” but have a good heart and come from the right place. Collectively through everything from grindr, scruff, bars, prides, and all that. I have built a network of connections with friends, lovers, and such that have over time become quite an expansive community. Not just sexual opportunities, but friends I see regularly, hang out with, have over to my home for dinner and get togethers. And these are true friends. Friends that look out for each other, give each other a place to crash when they are too drunk to drive home or in a tight spot in life and need a temporary crash space. That don’t take advantage and use each other when vulnerable. Both celebrate and watch out for each other, and accept each other both at their worst and best. Where I once might of thought I could never find that, as I looked judgingly upon images of boys in their Andrew Christian underwear and harnesses marching at pride and parading around the bar…I am one of those very people I use to judge so much. I have encountered plenty of crazy guys, guys that would take advantage of me in a moment if I let my guard down, guys that are sadistic and toxic. But I have met guys that aren’t that way. I have also learned how to define my boundaries in what kind of relationships I want in my life and which ones I don’t, like you do in any community gay or not.
I am finally realizing my dream of gay community, or fraternal brotherhood and kinship. Gay men are complex and our internal social interactions with each other take lots of patients, understanding, experience, intuition, and intelligence to navigate. I have friends that started as a hook-up and actually turn out to be awesome people. I have friends I have met in other ways. I have friends that I have met during learning curves where they may of acted more out of insecurity then integrity and good character, I myself have had a less then graceful moments with boys in the tribe. But that’s a part of the experience and learning to maintain those friendships and learning and growing from those experiences together to a more affirming and positive state of being is a part of its beauty. I have become more and more an integrated and happier person because of my relationship to other gay men in both their best and worst moments. Because they all reflect things back on myself no one else can, and struggle with me through my best and worst moments too. We need each other, and even in a more progressive world that is more accepting of us, we still need community and fraternal brotherhood with each other. I have come to realize we are the community we choose to create with each other. We are each individually responsible for the community we co-create with each other. That’s not simply the people owning and running the bars, organizing the prides, and all that, but the guys that participate and show up to that space and experience. The guys that bring guys together for GAYming nights at their houses. The guys that invite their gay friends to come out to the bar. The couples that choose to continue to have gay people in their life even though they are settled down with each other. We are creating our experiences with each other. Once I started making gay community a priority in my life and approached it with an attitude of celebration and brotherhood, the kind of community I drew to me became more and more that reality.
The community I have I do consider to be a brotherhood, one that I value deeply and hope to continue to have for the rest of my life. There is no other community in my life that has touched me so deeply, helped me grow and come into a stronger sense of personhood. But I had to put myself out there and take responsibility for my contribution to it, to gain access to it. I want to see future generations of gay men to continue to share this fraternal bond, to see other gay men find this sense of brotherhood. How else will future generations gain access to opportunities to aspire to gay relationships and a positive affirming sense of self in their gay identity without community and kinship with their own? Gay community is so important, not simply to fight legal battles and make social progress, but because of the relationships it provides amongst gay people themselves. That’s why the gay community has become one of my most treasured and valued in my life.