People who’ve gotten close to me over the years know this is one of the things I am most passionate about. There simply isn’t enough affirming and positive feelings about homosocial spaces, sub-culture, and in effect the relationships that come from gay experiences. Between how isolating it can feel to grow up in a hetero-dominant environment, the institutional homophobia/heterosexism we can internalize, and how critical we are of each other within our own homo-social experiences…achieving a sense of uplifting homo-brotherhood is a holy grail that is difficult to find sometimes. Most guys that have stayed in tune to cultural conversations about gay culture have probably read things like “Why I No Longer Want to be Gay [i].” The disapproval of gay life exists from multiple perspectives. All justifying their disapproval of gay men in a shallow surface analysis of our normalized behaviors.
Barriers to Feeling Connected Between Gay Men
Some blame generational changes ruining a golden age of gay culture. Particularly in the prevalence of gay networking apps like Grindr, Growlr, and Scruff [ii]. Yet plenty of men, long before Grindr and the like ushered in a new digital age of gay culture, still felt frustrated with the normalization of certain behaviors in the scene. One such example is how one of the gay men being interviewed in “We Were Here” (a documentary on the AIDS endemic) recalled he didn’t fit into the casual sexual norms of gay life in pre-AIDS-endemic gay culture [iii]. I’ve met a mixture of perspectives and attitudes of elders that lived in earlier times. While they all might have criticisms of how new generational norms have ruined gay culture (which is typical of every older generation that comments on younger generations)…not all of them necessarily feel gay culture was that great in the pre-Grindr era either. So I do not think it’s fair to imply internalized homonegativity is entirely a Grindr era phenomenon or even a generational one.
Homonegative attitudes exist in many different contexts and are justified based on many different kinds of reasoning. When I did a senior thesis project in my undergraduate days of college. I did lots of ethnographic work interviewing many different gay men across the country from different age groups, life experiences, and cultural/geographical environments. One thing I will never forget is no matter what age group, area of the country (urban or rural), or interests they had in gay relationships (ethical non-monogamy, or traditional styled monogamy), the majority of them had something negative to say about the gay community. This was in regards to what they perceived to be normal in other gay men. One who wanted a traditionally styled monogamous relationship commented on how he thought gay men were too experimental, not commitment focused, and too emotionally immature for serious relationships. Another who was a sex worker (who liked his career as an escort) and was all about ethical non-monogamy commented on how he wasn’t a “cookie cutter gay” and how he felt most gay men wanted to find the perfect husband and have a normative life and he simply didn’t fit into that. Both were opposites in how they expressed their sexuality…yet both felt the common behaviors of what the gay community was, was something they didn’t “fit into” and were very critical of that. The majority of the mixed population of gay men I interviewed felt the gay community didn’t represent them, was not a positive experience for them, was not an environment they felt comfortable in, and so on. It didn’t matter if they attributed that to grindr, bars, or prides…it was all some kind of critical statement of gay culture and how they didn’t fit into it for whatever reason they justified.
But I also met a few men in my interview process that had positive things to say about the gay community. The more I talked to them, most of them would say there might have been an earlier time in their lives when they were not comfortable around other gay men…but once they found the right social circle and environment it dramatically shifted their feelings about the gay community. This process was personally transformative for me. I saw a lot of myself in all my informants. No matter what area, interests, or background they had. The common element of needing connection to other homosexuals was underlying all of them. They were struggling to do so because of internalized beliefs and preconceptions about other gay men. This is where I give a lot of credit to Cass’ identity formation model for gay men and lesbians [iv]. While she doesn’t capture all our developmental narratives perfectly…in general there is a long drawn out process of developing one’s relationship with one’s gay identity and how that defines both oneself and one’s relationship with a larger gay community. Depending where you are at in this process. You shift from making gay identity about how you define yourself as a homosexual to how you find, maintain, and feel good about relationships with other homosexuals. Even though Cass’ model was made in the late 70s…it still holds a close to accurate representation of what many gay men go through in their identity development. I know I use to feel out of place in homo-dominant environments. I also didn’t know how to relate to other gay men. It took many years of deconstructing my internalized belief systems, and homonegative feelings before I started learning how to connect to other gay men and develop positive relationships with them.
This struggle is incredibly common. Many gay men are resistant to challenging this discomfort. Perhaps out of fear that being a part of a larger gay experience then their own requires them to change themselves. Yet does it really? Are you really less masculine for celebrating a diversity of homosexuality that may include feminine male expressions too? Do you have to change your personal relationship goals by celebrating a diversity of sexual expressions? Participating in a larger gay community really doesn’t require you to change anything other than your attitude about other gay men who may or may not be different then you are. I’ve met many gay men who are hyper masculine, and hyper feminine, and something inbetween. I’ve met guys in open relationships, polyamorous ones, and monogamous ones. I’ve met gay guys that love pop star divas, and I’ve met gay guys that like rock and heavy metal.
I’ve also noticed a tendency that is fairly common. Gay men criticize each other a lot. “he’s too much of a queen…he’s gotten really fat…he’s a skinny bitch…you don’t know [something about pop culture]?! You’ve lost your gay license…gays are too sexual…he’s a prude…I’m going to ‘read’ a bitch…That bitter old queen…” All this and more. I often wonder why we don’t give each other more compliments…or even particularly notice when we try to. I don’t mean objectifying complements like “you’re hot” which is nice to hear sometimes. I am more meaning encouragers, validating each other’s feelings, being a more nurturing community for each other…instead of tearing each other to shreds and expecting each other to fend for ourselves in an already homophobic and hostile world. There is a huge difference between narcissism and self-esteem. I am not encouraging an unhealthy sense of narcissistic ego coddling, as much as I am advocating for acknowledging each other’s value, feelings, and self-worth. Being a community that is more nurturing of or emotional needs is important.
What Being Gay Positive Is.
Therefore, I am focused on celebrating homosexuality, and being a proponent of homo-positive attitudes. There are so many wonderful things about gay men and culture. We need to take the heat off all the criticism we receive and perpetuate amongst each other. We need to acknowledge the good things that are there, and create the good things that have potential to be there. Gay culture has survived persecution by law, fought for its right to exist (and won), survived the AIDS endemic, and earned greater levels of legal equality. These achievements are no small feat and something to be proud of, to own as a cultural heritage we inherit and carry forward. We have opportunities to be sexually liberated and to non-judgmentally celebrate the pleasures and excitement of homosexuality. Dick is pretty damn great! I like being able to talk about that without shame with other men who appreciate it, and to laugh about it, share stories, and affirm what a wonderful thing sexuality is between consenting adult males. Male beauty is wonderful, and its diverse too. Be it bear, twink, otter, muscle stud, young or old, skinny or big, hairy or smooth, or whatever undefined grey area…we all appreciate the male form in some way or another…we should celebrate and express that. It’s part of the reason I started my Homo-eros poem series on this blog. Coloring beautiful pictures of men and writing homo-erotic poems celebrates my desire of other males, and expresses how good it feels to have that desire. In a culture that is both homophobic and erotiphobic (negative about sexuality in general) we need an outlet to express and celebrate how great homoerotic feelings are and affirm it as something that is a good and wonderful thing.
Just imagine what it would be like if instead of your homosexual existence always being a statement about how hetero-dominant society should treat you or not…you just enjoyed being homosexual with other homosexuals. Imagine you had easy access to homosexual friends and the potential for the different kind of relationships that come with that. You just simply felt good about liking other guys and were around other guys that felt the same way. That instead of worrying about how people will respond to you expressing or sharing things about your homosexuality…you could just say it, laugh about it, enjoy it, and hear them reflect similar experiences. When can we stop trying to justify our homosexuality in a heteronormative world…and just enjoy our homosexuality with other homosexuals? And not have to compartmentalize that either? I don’t think a non-heteronormative world will ever exist, nor a society free of homophobia. An increasingly more supportive but still very hetero-dominant society? Maybe, but we will ALWAYS need to seek out exclusive homosexual spaces for homo-social experiences. What we choose to make of that space, how accessible it will be to future generations, and the general quality of homo-social experiences it produces…is entirely up to us and how we choose to collectively interact.
We need a greater nurturing presence in homosocial experiences too. Just because we are men who love men does not mean we as males cannot contain and express receptive and nurturing qualities. After all it takes men willing to receive to please the men that give 😉 (or men like me that like doing both). As explored in The Secret Lore of Gardening: Patterns of Male Intimacy by Graham Jackson [v], we often rely on this gender binary, heteronormative, ideology that certain traits are masculine and others are feminine…but masculinity can be nurturing and receptive and exists in examples of homoeroticism going all the way back to pre-Christian Pagan literature/mythology. This is especially true in homosexual relationships, and we needn’t even rely on heteronormative assumptions to call it “feminine,” unless that is a word you personally identify with as a male. But we do need to explore that expression of our selves more. How often are we nurturing each other? Giving each other space to express and validate our feelings (in a healthy way, sometimes we are so deprived of healthy expression of feelings it comes out unbalanced and explosively). How often are we allowing empathy to guide how we interact with each other? Whoever this guy is that says he doesn’t want to be gay anymore because of what he perceives the gay community to be…I consider myself proud to be apart of the gay community and if you are reading this blog feel free to contact me. I see you brother <3. I know it’s hard to feel connected in the surface realities of gay culture. Literally I know, it’s been my life work to explore that issue and try to encourage a more connected brotherhood of gay men. There is some real deep pain there for you and others like you in what you’re saying. I am sending you lots of hugs XOXO. We need to stick together because all we have is each other in our struggles, especially if what we want out of those struggles is homo-social/sexual relationships and a sense of togetherness in the gay community.
The Holy Grail of Homo-Social Positivity
My journey started ten years ago when I came out. To try and find connections to other gay men. For me it really was like a quest for the holy grail. Because it is such a challenging and difficult thing. For all the reasons explored above and more. It’s taken me years to finally find the grail and quench my thirst for homosocial connection that is fulfilling to me. It’s a quest of overcoming challenges both external and internal, and learning and growing as a person. Frankly it’s not for everyone. It takes a lot of work to look at yourself, be honest with yourself, and to go against the grain of the social norms you’ve been taught all your life. It’s also hard to love and accept others. Gay men suffer a lot of internalized social conditioning and marginalized stress. It’s no wonder that we show significantly high rates of mental illness as a demographic [vi]. Finding the grail of positive homo-social experiences means not only deconstructing your own internalized baggage…but holding a space for your homo-brothers to go through that process too. I’ve had plenty of gay drama…but I’ve learned how to navigate those experiences effectively over the years. To know where my boundaries are, how to enforce them reasonably, and how to recognize those red flags between friends that will not impose their issues on you and try to grow…and those that are best kept at a distance. All I can say is repeating what a mentor, fellow gay man, and spiritual teacher use to say to me “Unconditional love, does not imply unconditional relationships.” Sometimes you can kick someone out of your life while still hoping the best for them in their journey and in your heart.
I’ve undergone the quest. I’ve tasted the waters of my holy grail of fulfilling gay relationships. Its now just about simply living it and wanting to share it with others who thirst for it too. I’m just enjoying the connection I share with other homosexuals who’ve been walking the same road. I get vitalized by simply being here now with them and enjoying what we share. Rather that’s intimacy with lovers or time well spent with new and old friends. I truly believe deep in my heart and soul there is a spirit of fraternal brotherhood between gay men. But, like the holy grail, you have to go on an initiatory journey to find it. You have to learn how to tap into it. The quest will change you internally and externally, and you have to want it enough to stick with it. Homosexuality is a life force, a holy well spring of energy between homosexuals. We are born into a world that doesn’t prepare us to drink from it…so we have to choose to go on the journey ourselves to find it.
I’ve met many gay men from all ages, parts of the world, walks of life, and still am always meeting more, which is a constant adventure that always leaves me feeling vital and alive even when we disagree on things. One consistent theme I’ve always seen in all of us is a thirst for connection. Sometimes we are so deprived from this need we even convince ourselves we don’t need or want it. Yet every time I see that resistance…I see the guy develop, change, and eventually discover what he’s been missing. Then there are those who simply never do get there, and that’s fine. The journey isn’t for everyone. But there is a deep human and spiritual need between gay men to be connected to each other. Some never will want to dive deep into those waters, because it is a challenging journey. but for those that have, you know how deep those waters can go…and how sad it is when people deprive themselves of it, or don’t know how deeply important it is.
Now that I’ve drank from my holy grail, I can never go back to seeing “gay” as being a compartmentalized and small unimportant part of who I am. Nor would I ever want to. When I spend time with other gay men just between us alone…there is a vitalizing spirit there that exists nowhere else. It’s a life force that only exists in that context between us. Just as there are many different Gods and Goddesses throughout human history, there are many sacred feelings of connection to be experienced in our humanity, and they don’t all have to be the same in all contexts and groups. Homo-social life force is its own unique experience, and I see so many in the gay community starving for it. The best way to make this more accessible is to under go this quest for homo-social connections. Challenge your self to deconstruct your own barriers to having fulfilling gay relationships. Learn how to more effectively navigate gay culture instead of assuming a few shallow assessments of it are the core reality of it Get more comfortable in your own homosexuality. If we encountered more gay-positive guys in our gay spaces…more of us might feel more a part of a community. We always need a space for critiques, so we can grow. But we can’t just simply erase the beautiful experience that is homosexuality and the relationships it can create…if we learn how to tap into it the right way (which is key because many never learn how to). It is because we lack a sense of being positive and celebratory that many struggle with this issue…so be gay-positive and celebrate fraternal homobrotherhood <3.