I have used this blog to primarily focus on issues within the gay male community, how we relate to each other, talking about the things we experience with each other in our own sacred spaces. I have found focusing on our unique voice very empowering, and insightful to the issues as to why we struggle finding a positive sense of community with each other specifically. But I have found, just like any marginalized group. The second you attempt to just focus on the unique perspective of gay men, all of a sudden those that are not gay men wish to make it all about themselves. Before you cry white cis-mono-homo-sexual-male privilege let me just say I acknowledge in certain context I have certain privileges and do attempt to be mindful of it when it counts, so don’t even go there! What I am saying is, gay men have a unique perspective and unique life experiences, the way they are marginalized is different to how someone else is marginalized through the experience of being trans or bisexual, or a female homosexual. It’s not about who’s more victimized or less so, it’s just a simple fact that our experiences of adversity happened for different reasons, in different ways, and in different contexts, and this often creates a disconnect between us.
We are All Privileged in Different Ways…We are All Marginalized in Different Ways
There are some things I can prove to you through both quantitative and qualitative research that gay men experience that no other queer groups do in being marginalized and oppressed, I could also do so for people of color (hereafter referred to as PoC), for non-binary queers (such as bisexuals or pansexuals), for lesbians, and so on. I am not belittling how any group is marginalized as “better or worse.” I am only trying to point out that in different contexts we all will enjoy certain privileges the other does not have, and in other contexts we will all face oppression that others don’t. I have had non-cis-white-gay-male friends that have found helpful ways to talk about our differences and create mutual understanding and empathy when we encounter our differences. But then I have also had others that want to make our conversations about a competition about who can prove their problems are ultimately worse then the other (not simply different in specific contexts, which is what a conversation about privilege SHOULD be about). It’s this specific issue I want to explore.
I am perfectly guilty of oppression olympics sometimes; I own up to that. I am not accusing others of something that I don’t hold myself accountable for too. I am saying we could all (myself included) be more mindful of when we get drawn into the temptation to compete about who is more victim then the other or even when bringing up those differences may be completely unnecessary. Me simply stating gay men experience something amongst others who identify as gay men, all of a sudden becomes an issue of bi-erasure or trans erasure. Yet the subject of how cis-gay men interact with other queers that are of a different manifestation of queerness is a different subject to how gay men interact with each other as an isolated group. It’s a discussion worth having of-course, but it may not always be the point of the discussion.
I am reminded of a female bisexual friend of mine who is currently working at a female lingerie shop that also has a selection of sex toys. The mission and primary purpose of the store is to provide a body positive outlet for women to express themselves, yet men will (both gay and straight) often declare they are discriminated against because the sex toy section doesn’t cater to their needs. While she is happy to assist men looking for anal toys or whatever, the purpose of her shop is ultimately to empower women. So there is only so much she can do to accommodate male sexual needs (both gay and straight) without losing the purpose of the shop. With the limit of economic resources, she has to go with what sells well in a store that advertises itself for women’s body positivity. Women wouldn’t feel nearly empowered without a space dedicated to their specific needs. So ultimately the shop really isn’t focused on empowering men wanting to explore the sensitive taboo of their sexual desire to be penetrated.
Is this an issue of a certain group being oppressed? No, this is an issue of a specific group that is oppressed and getting a space designed to focus on their needs. Others that are marginalized won’t get their needs met in that space, if they are marginalized in a different way. Not because their needs are unimportant, but simply because it’s not about them in that space. You could say generally men have more social privilege then women, and in a heteronormative perspective you are right, not if you include the gay perspective however…but to go back to my point that’s an irrelevant point. The shop is not a “gay sex toy shop,” it’s a women’s lingerie store that also has a small “pleasure garden” all trying to focus on empowering women with the products they sell. They’d gladly sell their products to men that are interested in purchasing them, or even special order something they don’t have…but the aesthetics of the shop to maintain an atmosphere focused on women’s body positivity must be the primary mission of the space.
No matter what oppressed group it is, if a space or discussion is attempting to focus on the needs of a specific issue, you erase their needs and dilute the effectiveness of their solutions by making it all about another group. The same goes for gay bars, that’s a space with the primary mission statement of empowering homosexual socialization in a heteronormative society that does not provide that opportunity. Not a space intended to make straight women feel comfortable (which let me be clear, is not something I am against, it’s just not the purpose of a gay bar). Them making it all about themselves in gay bars is not only insulting to the gay men they treat like desexualized GBF (gay best friend) toy poodles, but it’s insulting to the lesbians in that space who’s perspective they erase as they say it’s “their” space not to get hit on as “straight” women. I don’t mind my true straight friends coming with me to a gay bar when I invite them, but it is certainly obnoxious when straight people go to gay bars and expect their heterosexuality to be affirmed there. Or that they can go there to collect their exotic GBF toy poodles to feel fabulous.
It’s Not Always About Me…It’s Not Always About You.
We also see an interesting phenomena unfolding with the issue of media representation. Every queer wants their perspective affirmed with their favorite characters and various entertainment media. Entertainment media is a powerful tool to end stigma, definitely. When you have to watch a story narrative that builds sympathy for a character. It humanizes them through accurately showing their struggles and the feelings they suffer and the unique narrative that unfolds for them…different audiences begin to change their preconceptions about what they may perceive as “gay” or “bisexual” and even “trans.” But beyond building sympathy from society at large, it’s also empowering for the individuals that identify with the character and find meaning and inspiration in their narrative as their story unfolds. But the problem we often encounter is when one group begins to establish their narrative, all the other groups begin to compete for representation. Do I as a gay man find much meaning in the narratives of a bisexual character or in the “L” word…nope. I can appreciate that it’s meaningful to the groups it represents and celebrate with them that they enjoy the story and all the things it means for them. But I am not going to see myself reflected in a comic book character or tv series that explores the lives of people that don’t match my own.
In fact, often queers of all kind, before media began to start attempting to represent us. Have always had to settle for heterosexual, cis-gendered heroes, and stories. We had to find aspects of ourselves that could relate to the stories our culture gave us to find meaning in, with the gay part erased (or trans, bi, PoC, the list goes on). So now that we have a pansexual comic book hero (Deadpool), Queer as Folk, and Laverne Cox…we’ve made great strides to finally finding narratives that bring meaning to the aspects of our existence that are queer in some way. Here’s the problem though. Deadpool does not represent any perspective other then a pansexual one, and even then he hardly even explores male-male sexuality and relationships, at most he just throws in a few homoerotic innuendoes while trying to save his girlfriend for the whole plot of the movie. I am not Pansexual or bisexual, so I can’t proclaim to know if that is a potential issue to them or not…but I can say as a gay man I could appreciate what that means for bi/pan-sexual individuals. But his story still doesn’t capture the realities of my existence and does not represent me.
So when I began to search for Comic book heroes that are full on homosexuals having great penis-penis and anal sex, struggling with male-male relationships and how society treats them because of it, and dealing with the constant expectation to like women when you don’t…all of a sudden that’s Bi-erasure? I have actually had this conversation before. I think it’s great Deadpool was able to be represented as a pansexual character and I have no intentions of taking that away from people who are pansexual. Let him keep his girlfriend if you guys want him too. But don’t get mad at me for wanting characters that accurately bring meaning to my life that would NOT have an opposite sex relationship and WOULD have a same-sex one (and all the things that come with that). Sexuality when studied as a collective of different people’s experiences is certainly fluid…but it’s not necessarily a gender blind experience for every individual in that continuum. When individuals that share the same identified experience in that continuum attempt to explore what their sexuality is for themselves, they really aren’t attempting to represent anything else nor should they have to.
See the thing is, Deadpool’s pansexual-ness and the reality of it, is not about me, it’s about people who identify as pan-sexual when we are having a discussion about culture status as queer representation. But if Iceman is indeed going to be a gay male from now on in X-men movies…it’s about how to accurately represent gay men, who in fact do not have sexual/romantic feelings for women and struggle to find same-sex relationships in a society that does not often have those opportunities and expects them to have opposite sex ones. Here is where the bisexual/pansexual and gay male perspective hit a snag. The characters that accurately represent me are not going to be about representing a bisexual experience and expecting them to have opposite sex relationships does erase the reality of my narrative. Like-wise however me expecting Deadpool to more accurately represent me by having a boyfriend and not a girlfriend is erasing a pansexual perspective. As Deadpool is supposed to be pansexual and not gay specifically.
Some Words as a Gay Pagan
You’d be surprised how powerful narratives and cultural representatives in them are. I think specifically of my background in the world of Paganism. I did my senior thesis in college (as a religious studies major) on the gay men’s movement in Contemporary Paganism. Most Pagans I have met (especially in the modern day as opposed to its contemporary beginnings) are very liberal and supportive of gay rights. Yet the majority of Pagan groups focus on heteronormative narratives in their deities and in the symbology of their occult philosophy. There is no representation for men who love men, women who love women, and transgendered perspectives. They’ll often welcome us to participate, but the central focus of everything is the fertility symbology of penis-vagina interaction. Why as a homosexual who never seeks out that interaction, would I want too worship that? Sure it was because of that interaction that I was brought into the world. I do have a mother and father and I greatly appreciate what they did to bring me life. But it’s not the reality of my experience in life and the sexual/romantic relationships I seek out and have, my sexuality isn’t about creating life it’s about the bond I, as a gay male, have with other men compatible with my sexuality.
I want Gods that represent my experience and help me find sacredness in it. When I shifted the focus of my personal occult and religious practice from heterosexual fertility to the sacredness of homoeroticism, there was a powerful shift for me. Even books that attempt to explore this often cite bisexual Gods whose same sex love affairs are barely even a mentionable footnote and is not the primary characteristic of their being. That might be empowering for bisexuals and I hope they enjoy worshiping these Gods as accurate representations of their experience…but these Gods do not have enough stories and mysteries that focus on the reality of a homoerotic existence that I have. So I invented Gods that do this. Gods that are based on loosely defined archetypes like “the lord of light and the lord of dark” and gave them a unique identity and personality that is ultimately defined by their relationship to each other as lovers. I as a pagan think we create our anthropomorphic Gods and give them life through our worship of them (I know some fundamentalist Pagans have the evangelical attitude that this is blasphemy, but they don’t represent me ;P). So I created Gods in my own image, and my relationship with these Devine lovers have indeed been a fruitful and empowering relationship that the heterosexual Gods and Goddesses simply cannot give me, or even the bisexual ones that primarily have more opposite sex lovers then same sex ones.
The fact I have done this has offended many queers, even though I never once proclaimed my perspective was theirs or that I was attempting to represent their perspective with the creation of my Gods. I am sure my Gods would gladly accept their devotion and respects, and give the benefits of their supernatural powers, nor do they necessarily “expect” such things from those that don’t want to give it…but the reality they are cis-gay men and their patron status to cis-gay men doesn’t change. Anymore so then does a Matron Goddess of women aim to change her woman-ness to benefit men who worship her. She may gladly perform her duties as a Sacred deity for those that worship her and devote themselves to her service regardless of if they are men or women…but she is still the personality she was created to be and therefore maintains the status of matron of that experience for mortals that do find meaning in her distinct woman-ness.
So when non-cis-gay queers critique my “sacred gay spaces” workshop I give them the disclaimer that I announce at the beginning of any gay empowerment workshops I teach: “I am a cis-gay male and my research has focused on that perspective and the unique experience that, that is. I do not proclaim to represent or capture any other experience…though if you find meaning in what that experience as someone that is not a cis-gay male that is great. Though anything other then male homoeroticism is not the purpose of this class. Should you wish to create your own workshop representing transgenderism or bisexuality or even asexuality, I would gladly support your right to do that and respect it as an ally and not make it all about me. Please give me and this group the same respect.” Its sad that my attempt to empower gay men and give them a sense of sacredness in what is their narrative is greeted often with hostility from both straight Pagans, and Pagans that are queer in other ways that are different. Straight Pagans have their heterosexuality and mysteries represented in the normative structure of the religion and I have had to participate in it by default more times then I can count, and done so with reverence and mirth even though it does not represent me. I would like-wise gladly empower other non-cis-gay-male queers to have their own sacred space to explore their unique narratives without being offended and without invading their space expecting their unique experiences to be all about me when we encounter the fact, our experiences and sexual/gender mysteries are in fact not the same.
Its it Possible to get Queers to Solve a Problem, WITHOUT Arguing About Who Has it Worse?
How do we deal with that problem? It’s difficult because this isn’t merely a political statement any more, it includes that, but it’s also a community designed to facilitate relationships and give an opportunity for comrodery. But bisexuals don’t feel an identified experience with what a monosexual-homosexual experiences in every detail and like-wise it’s the same the other way around. I can’t teach a class on dissecting the details of a gay man’s experience and capture all the unique nuances of that, and represent other narratives that differ with out diluting the content and losing the focus that makes it effective. Likewise, a bisexual couldn’t fully represent a bisexual experience if they were being expected to represent a monosexual-homosexual every time they talk about their different version of being queer. We have gotten rather big as a collection of queers. Some would say labels are not important, but I see the implications of that no different then the nonsense of “all lives matter” in response to “black lives matter” statements. People are different and we simply cannot learn how to respect those differences if we don’t point them out. We also can’t expect gay men and women to find any reasonable access to sexual/romantic partner selection in a society that is heteronormative, without them having a space that concentrates exclusively on homoeroticism to provide the opportunities they need to actually be Gay/Lesbian. Bisexuals and non-binary queers often feel they are expected to be one or the other as they navigate either social structure…but how do we resolve that difference? Often when I have those discussions it eventually leads to them saying “we are all really bisexual and are just not enlightened enough to know that.” If not that, they refuse to address the fact we are different and do in fact BOTH have legitimate needs to have different voices. Instead they want to prove how they have it worse, or people on my side of the argument try to do the same thing. That’s not a fair implication to either of us and it degrades into oppression olympics and no true solutions are made, and everyone leaves more pissed off then they came.
Even the gay male community amongst themselves plays into oppression olympics, hating on popular singers within our own community like Steve Grand, simply because he’s white and has a muscular/masculine body. Steve Grand seems perfectly nice to me; I am not his number one fan or anything. But one of his songs is me and my boyfriend’s special song because we listened to is so much when we first met during the holidays of 2015 (his cover of “All I Want for Christmas”). Yes I am Pagan and my boyfriend is atheist the religious meaning of Christmas is lost on both of us, and I do not recognize Christmas as the personal holiday I celebrate during that time. But Gods’ damnit! We both like that song, and it was romantic for both of us. Neither of us have perfectly toned bodies like Steve, but we don’t hate him for it. I have also never heard him say or doing anything to body shame anyone just because he’s a jock either. Furthermore, I have never seen Steve say or do anything bigoted towards any queer. I never saw him put down a single person. Yet people seem to hate him because they think he’s only successful because he is a masculine, white, fit boy that people only like for those reasons and not his talent.
Before I ever saw a shirtless picture of Steve, I only saw that cover music video of “All I Want for Christmas” on my boyfriends Facebook wall and we downloaded it and listened to it together a lot. We liked it because it represented a gay male-male love story perspective, and we thought his voice was great. There was not a single shirtless or sexualized body shot in that video at all. It was only after that initial first introductory to Steve did I discover he had doesn’t of sexualized videos out there. But I guarantee you that was not what originally made me a fan, and even though I know that is something he does. I do not hold it against him. If gays think he’s pretty and that’s part of his market success, that doesn’t mean he also doesn’t have talent and that I can’t just like what I like. I like Sam Smith too, and he’s like one of the top gay culture figures for successful gay men that are not muscle studs. But the fact people hate Steve Grand just because he fits a privileged mold and not because he’s actually done anything bigoted (which he hasn’t so far that I can tell), just says something about the kind of community we have become.
Unless you hold a “most victimized award” certificate you can’t have a voice that’s taken seriously. I hate to break it to you, gay men are victimized. Even though there are times we have privileges in specific contexts. To be honest most gay boys I have met that are muscle studs choose to change their body because they felt either fat shamed or skinny shamed. Instead of putting them down for choosing to fit a mold, why can’t we acknowledge they too at some point had body issues (they often are never comfortable in their bodies even when they do fit the mold). A guy drunkenly told me at a gay bar once when I tried to ask him to stop saying things like “your so skinny you should be looking at a menu; you must be anorexic or something.” Then proceeded to tell me (keeping in mind at this moment in time he was quite a buff guy that could easily go-go dance in a normative muscle gay bar) “you would be one of those guys that would totally ignore me on grindr!” I felt bad for him and acknowledged that at some point in time in his past he endured some fat shaming, from guys that apparently I reminded him of…but it’s simply not true that I would ignore non-twinky-muscle boys on grindr.
I find guys with a burly hairy belly sexy as hell…Some could call me a bear chaser and they wouldn’t be wrong. I acknowledge he’s endured an emotionally scarring experience with the community that wasn’t fair at all, and that I have not endured the same experience. But hating me and insulting me to my face in a bar when he doesn’t even know me or anything about me as a person is a hypocrisy. It’s oppression olympics because he is assuming I am some privileged Twinky that is the very source of any pain his experienced from other guys that treated him that way and appeared similar to me in some way. I am not saying I don’t acknowledge he’s had a problem I have never had to deal with personally, but I am saying I didn’t do anything to deserve being hated and insulted just for being myself in his presence. Frankly now that he obviously fits the “white, cis, masculine, jock” image all the body positive gays I have met would probably assume he’s a privileged prick before even talking to him and getting to know his history with body insecurities.
It was all a big mess, should anyone dismiss the fact he has become fit, BECAUSE of body shaming in his past? Should I have been the target of his aggressions ONLY because I looked like boys that once mistreated him? Even though I didn’t do anything personally to him? I should also point out this conversation between us only escalated to the point it did because I was trying to defend a local gay guy everyone knew from Grindr (I had actually met him in person once) that was trying to point out racism as a black gay man. This white gentleman thought he was TOO mean in his methods of doing so. (One such method was telling a white gay guy in the community once, that he hoped “he got HIV and died” because he was racist for not talking to him on Grindr, one such person did have HIV if I remember correctly from the community gossip). Talk about five billion different marginalized perspectives flying back and forth. A PoC gay male saying something abusive in regards to HIV to another gay male who was white and unknowingly in fact had HIV. A muscle gay with a history of body shaming issues with fat shaming getting mad at me for trying to defend a PoC gay person’s perspective and then skinny shaming me out of reactionary anger. If there was ever an oppression olympics moment, that was definitely it. There was no easy answer. I didn’t think the PoC guy that put down the HIV-positive guy with an abusive statement was “in the right,” but I can’t help but feel sympathetic for a black gay male in a city with a predominately white population with Grindr profiles everywhere saying “no blacks, no fats, no femmes.” I might feel a bit angry and hostile too if I was him. But that’s no excuse to tell a fellow gay man (who actually did have HIV) to “get HIV and DIE.” I felt bad for the guy that was fat shamed in his past, but that is no excuse for hating me because I am skinny, especially sense I did nothing to fat shame him and that I in fact, kind of like beefy guys with bellies.
The Chronicles of Femme and Masc Falling in Love, in Spite of Their Differences
We got a lot of baggage as a community. I have had countless debates with other queers that have ended up a big emotional mess just like this one. We have to talk about our differences, it is important. But to a point that we are competing about who has it worse and everyone is hating each other simply because of privileges they perceive the other to have? My boyfriend and I run into our differences all the time. I never have fit a masculine mold; I could never hide in a closet that would protect me from homophobic straight people if I tried. I was abused and made fun of for being gay long before I ever came out of the closet. He’s a military man, who likes sports, Harley Davison motorcycles, and hunts and fishes with his family that grew up in a rural area. He’s not been visibly gay like I have all my life (rather I wanted to be or didn’t). Yet he also didn’t have a mom that joined PFLAG when I came out, like I did. He didn’t grow up in a middle class suburban family, like I did. However, I have never been in the military when DADT was still law, and in one of the most homophobic countries in the world while in active service. He had shit happen to him that never happened to me and I will never understand this through personal experience.
Sometimes he doesn’t get how I feel so uncomfortable in more rural “rebel flag” environments. After all that’s associated with things that have victimized me all my life and I had to make an effort to isolate myself from sub-cultural environments that would be potentially dangerous to me. Yet that’s his world, and not everyone there is so horrible to gay guys that aren’t hyper masculine in it. Plus, I will never understand what it’s like to see combat, like he has, that is a privilege. Even if the war itself may be morally questionable and obscure in a lot of ways. I have never been shot at in a war zone by people out to kill me and he has. He’s had to learn how to understand some of my insecurities and reservations that come from difficult experiences I have had, that he has not had and to empathize. But I also have had to challenge myself to do the same thing for him. Just because I’ve been a feminized gay male by a patriarchal heteronormative culture, doesn’t mean he doesn’t have a voice. He wasn’t marginalized in that specific way, but there are things he has experienced I never have too. I do not have the monopoly of victimhood and trauma in our relationship, neither does he. It hasn’t been easy, we’ve had some fine arguments. But with mutual respect, honesty, and love we work it out and come to understand each other better, more equally. If we got lost in oppression Olympics, it’s no way to treat each other as boys who love each other nor in the diverse community that is LGBTQ.
Conclusion: We Can Do Better Than This…
We need to find better ways to work through our trauma and our negotiations of representation. Our conversations about privilege need to get more mature, and less competitive for “greater victim” status. We ALL have privileges it’s just a matter of the particular context it is, and WE ALL have adversity depending on the situation. That’s not to say we shouldn’t talk about the inequalities. We just need to realize no one has a monopoly of “world’s greatest victim” in all situations and all discussions on things queer. Sometimes we just need to be okay with the fact that we all have unique narratives and experiences and need different things from society and each other, without it having to be about “better or worse.” If we compete we do each other a great disservice. We need to be better at the mutual understanding and empathy thing, and be more patient with each other when we make a mistake. I have more than enough hands on experience with the LGBTQ community (between prides, leading a LGBT student org, and just hanging out with queer friends over the years through different contexts) to know that is easier said than done. We have to acknowledge each others feelings. We can’t just be crass insensitive jerks that tell each other to “get over it” when there is a problem. But we shouldn’t start falling into “oppression Olympics” either, when we have dialog about our different needs. There has to be a way we can all do better.