Identity vrs. Labels Deconstructed

“We’re all really the same…If only we didn’t have all these labels…you’re putting yourself in box…that’s only a small part of who you are…I care about ‘everybody’” These are words we all hear thrown around in discussions about diversity and people’s differences. Based on the intention of some feigned form of unity. But what if all it’s doing is erasing how people wish to express themselves differently then others? People choose to define their own identity and sense of community. If we erase how they choose to define themselves how is that affirming and embracing diversity? Someone imposing how they want to define you (a “label”) is different to how you wish to define yourself (an “identity”). The difference between these two concepts cannot be stressed enough, and are WAY under discussed.

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There are lots of people who look at the world through idealistic rose colored glasses. They believe the world should be utopian, and we should all get along and ignore the differences that put us in conflict. Actually applied to real life situations of injustice, it doesn’t hold much practical application. As this is a blog about homosexuality, I will start with using the gay experience as an example. As a gay male, I obviously want access to opportunities to share and express my homosexuality. However, I live in a hetero-dominant society. Gay men, even if they are more accepted then they use to be, are a diluted population in a society that is dominantly heterosexual. Someone once told me she didn’t understand what the point of having gay bars and prides were. She believed we should just have an “everybody pride.” Well your idealistic over simplification of the issue is cute, but frankly rather insulting. At an “everybody pride” I would inevitably be surrounded by mostly heterosexuals and even if they accepted me for who I am, they are HETEROSEXUALS and not capable of giving me the potential for sexually intimate experiences. How do I solve this issue? I define myself as gay, I make that known loud and proud, and I seek out spaces that are exclusively gay in order to have a greater sense of access to homosexual relationships. Something that WILL NOT EXIST AT AN “EVERYBODY PRIDE!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!”

This is just one of many ways that the over simplified utopian idealism that we “are all the same” ultimately causes more harm then it does good. I know you want everyone to get along, but you can’t force people to erase things that make them different just to make you feel better about the world. You just can’t. To further show how this becomes an issue sometimes, I will use an example involving asexuality. I had a fellow gay man ask me what “asexuality” was after he got into an argument with someone he offended that identified that way. While I am not asexual, I did want address the conflict in some way to encourage a progressive and egalitarian respect for the issue. I attempted to explain asexuality as a spectrum, but generally someone who defines themselves as asexual doesn’t have sexual feelings or at least does not consider them of central importance to their relationships. Some people who define themselves as asexual may consider romantic emotional feelings more important then sexual ones in intimate relationships. His instant response was that he thought this younger generation of LGBTs were tearing us all apart as a community with these “labels,” if we just only stopped labeling each other we’d get along better. Again, this utopian erasure of people’s uniqueness is impractical. What he was really saying is he didn’t want to listen to how someone experiences love and sex differently then he did and to honor that about them. In a world were people do not define their identities, people would inevitably create unconscious social norms based on what is most common and would not attempt to consider how marginalized perspectives feel. If I didn’t define myself as homosexual, I would not be able to define how I wish to have same-sex sexual partnerships against heteronormative expectations. An asexual person could not attempt to explain how they experience love and sex differently then me and seek out relationships that are compatible with that. Erasing how they define themselves, only serves to enforce social oppression that is in place.

I often find those that identify as bisexual or pansexual really attempt to push the no labels thing. While I think it’s beautiful and wonderful they experience their sexuality and desires for intimacy as “hearts and not parts,” I do not feel that way. I am a homosexual man, I want sexual/romantic relationships with other men only. That is why it’s important we acknowledge our differences and respect that we feel differently about the sexual relationships we want out of life. I am completely comfortable with someone defining themselves as bisexual or pansexual and pursuing whatever relationships they want out of life. I would even respect a group defined specifically for bisexuals and NOT monosexuals and not make it all about me. But I am a monosexual Kinsey 6 homosexual which means I want different things out of my sexual and intimate relationships. There are also plenty of gay men that would be more like a Kinsey 5 (i.e. “homoflexible”). They choose to define themselves as gay but might at times break that norm.

As I say that I hear the “no labels” utopianists screaming “SEE THIS IS WHY WE NEED NO LABELS IF THERE WERE NONE, PEOPLE WOULD JUST DO WHAT THEY WANT!” Hold on Rosey Glasses, these people choose how they want to define themselves and do so for a reason. Maybe they just prefer living a homosexual style of relationships and want that clearly defined about themselves, but also choose to explore outside of that on rare occasion. Not enough to want to think of themselves as bisexual, but enough that they own that about themselves. If they want to define that about themselves. Who are we to erase that? How would that be any different to telling a bisexual “they aren’t really bisexual, they are just in denial about being gay?” How would that be any different to telling a Straight guy, who occasionally messes around with other guys but ultimately prefers being seen as straight and having female partners, that they are really bi or gay? Could any of these spectrum of sexual identities change? Maybe, maybe not. Asking that questioning really isn’t that important, at all. It’s up to them to decide how they define themselves. ITS THEIR IDENTITY. Us choosing to tell them how they “ought to” define themselves…that’s a label. Us erasing how they choose to define themselves…that is no better than labeling them.

Ultimately the difference between labels and identities is how social power is being enforced. Does the individual feel empowered by the terms they use to define themselves? Or do they feel oppressed by terms imposed on them? If they feel empowered, they should be honored in that experience and what they define as important about it. If they feel like the terms your putting on them (or erasing from them) is oppressing them…then maybe your being an asshole. You can’t force people to change their identity to accommodate your desire to get along with them. If your differences are simply too much in conflict…what wrong with respecting each other…but simply not being friends? I believe in egalitarian respect in society (law, government, employment, education, etc.). But I don’t believe everyone should be forced to get along, forced to not have a unique tribe and community where they feel at home. Respect each other? Definitely! Forced to like each other…NO!

I am not ashamed to say gay men are my tribe, it’s were I feel most at home. I also have plenty of other sub-cultures I like. Ethical non-monogamy, kink, Pagans, geeks, etc. I like going to places where people congregate to share and celebrate those specific things in common with each other. In some undefined space where just “everyone” is, there’s not much I get out of that. Could I respect everyone in that space? Definitely! Could I advocate for social justice for groups I do not personally identify with? DEFINITELY! Would I necessarily feel a sense of being at home and able to enjoy that social experience at the level I would in the sub-cultures I identify with? HELL NO! If you feel you have no sub-cultural groups, that’s either a form of social privilege (the dominate population of society represents your religion, race, ethnicity, interests, sexual orientation, etc.). Or it means you may have discomfort in like minded groups or just don’t feel as strongly identified with them as others do. Which is your choice, and I support your free agency to define what’s important in your identity and experience. Is it too unreasonable to want the same respect from you?

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The Importance of Homosexual Joy

Often when gay identity is discussed, it is in the context of social justice discussions. We primarily hear the conversations around gay identity as articulated as a marginalized perspective that faces injustice. I am all for these discussions to be continued and faced head on. However, I think it’s important to also acknowledge that the gay experience encompasses homosexual joys as well. I love homosexuality. It’s one of my favorite passions to engage, share, and celebrate with other homosexuals. What’s the point of being a homosexual if you don’t enjoy same-sex eroticism and relationships? It would be kind of pointless to be gay if you didn’t actually enjoy those experiences after all. One of the greatest tragedies though, I feel, is that many gay men do not develop to a point of this kind of celebration in their gay experiences.

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When I say that I feel a deep sense of homobrotherhood, I mean that to a great depth of my heart. I feel a sense of fraternal bonds with fellow gay men that I simply do not with people who do not share the same experience, identity, and sexuality. Part of that is the fact that I can share sexual intimacy with other gay men, that I cannot with those who do not identify with male loving male desires. But beyond that, I also share a life experience and perspective about things with gay men that no one else can articulate or relate too. There’s a unique connection I share with even platonic gay friends, that just simply doesn’t exist with others. Not that other forms of connections are not nice to also have, but the uniqueness of a homobrotherhood experience simply cannot be replaced in my mind and heart.

Does that mean I am looking at the gay male community through rose colored glasses? No, there are plenty of gay men I do not necessarily get along with, or even particularly like. Sometimes because of petty dramas, or personality conflicts, or just completely incompatible interests. But for the gay friends that I have gotten close to over the years…it’s a family to me. A family of choice that is irreplaceable. One that I feel I will always want to preserve, fight for, and grow through out my life.

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A growing concern I often have for the future of the gay community, is there are not enough of us that get to this stage of identity development. With greater social progress and more acceptance by hetero-dominant society there is less motivation to preserve an internal sense of community. I often hear “why do I need gay friends? I feel accepted the way I am by everyone?” My response to that is because having gay friends is simply about “acceptance” its about having the potential for intimacy that others can’t give you. Its also about fraternal closeness to those that share a similar experience, development, and orientation towards sexuality. Its about being initiated into a proud sub-culture that has fought for the progress we have and must continue to preserve (less we watch it regress). A sub-culture, that has a proud narrative of sacrifice, history, cultural icons, and role models. Is it really the desire of the modern gay man to watch all that fall away because we find more acceptance from heterosexual peers? What’s the point of being a gay man if you DON’T have gay friends and accessible opportunities to develop gay relationships, of ALL kinds?

When I think of the LGBT+ coalition, I do think in terms of how society should change to be more inclusive of EVERYONE. Especially in regards to the public, laws, employment, government, education, etc. But when I think of myself as a gay man, I think of very specifically homosexual male “community.” Which is less about the public and society at large…and more about a specific fraternal sub-culture. One that I am proud to be a part of. One that I feel a great sense of joy and enthusiasm to participate in. One that I also feel is starting to lose internal cohesion due to internal apathy. Not enough gay men feel a sense of homosexual pride necessary to engage, preserve, and build internal community. Part of that pride is about fighting and advocating for justice. But an under-talked about part of that pride…is enjoying homosexuality and the relationships that come from it.

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I’ve made it my goal in life to focus and dive deep into the gay experience. It’s traumas, it’s history, its culture, and most importantly its JOYS. It may not be my place to tell other gay men how they should develop, and how they “should” feel. But I think it’s really said if we as a community cannot come together and feel a sense of celebration, affirmation, and joy in our specifically homosexual relationships. Otherwise, what’s even the point in owning an identity about sexual orientation? I’ve found profound connections with my homobrotheren that have changed my life in positive ways. Some of those connections have been lovers, others have been fellow professionals that support my career development, some have been mentors and role models, others have simply just been profoundly close friends. I never realize how lacking I was in enjoying my homosexuality until I discovered a strong sense of gay community. It felt like coming home, so much so I never realized how lacking in a sense of being “at home” before hand. My challenge to the brotherhood going forwards is asking ourselves how we can make this sense of fraternal community more accessible to future generations. Change gay culture with the times, while also preserving the proud and joyful tradition that it is. We do a disservice to each other if we erase the joy of our experience, and how important it is to have access to that.

Why This Passionate Gay Professional Gave Up On Asheville, NC and the entire South-East

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It doesn’t take long after getting to know me how much passion I have about the “gay community.” All the academic research I have done has related to it, I am grooming my career as a counselor to focus on it, I started and ran and LGBT organization in my undergrad days. If there is a gay who is pretty much about “all gay, all the time” that would be me. That said, I grew up in a pretty gay friendly (or at least mostly friendly) environment. Asheville, NC has been called the gay capital of the south by some tourist magazines. We were called a “cesspool of sin” by evangelical politicians in our state capital because of how queer we are. We were the first city in the south-east to approve same-sex domestic partnerships (shortly after it was over turned by controversial “Amendment One”) back when gay marriage was not yet law of the land. All of that said, I have given up on Asheville and feel all my passion for “gay community” is wasted here, and here is why.

Asheville is a quaint small town, full of liberals, diverse unconventional spiritual/religious identities, and outcasts that do not fit into the surrounding southern bible belt culture. Ashevillians, particularly ones that are newly moved here, feel proud of their counter-cultural identities that unite against conventional southern bible belt conservativism. Or at least this is the identity Asheville attempts to convey to the tourist industry.  As someone that grew up here, I can say I am definitely a product of its culture. I was raised by a New Age/Pagan, single, small business owner, hippie, alternative, Asheville mom. While the rest of my family was conventional southern Baptist conservatives, my mother was the complete opposite. I am grateful and fortunate to of had that experience.

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However, when you’ve grown up here and tried really hard all your life to build community here, you see some limitations that this town has. It’s still a small town, a small town has limited resources no matter how progressive it is. Want an LGBT center here? It’s not going to have full time paid positions. Also, as a gay male, I often feel very isolated from gay men in all the spaces dedicated to LGBT generalities. If I attempt to bring a focus to gay male community building I find I am being chastised for wanting to have that focus. I am not sorry to say that LGBTQIPA+ coalition efforts are not the same as wanting fraternal space for those that share a like identified experience. Also as a gay man if I am looking for professionals that can provide a safe space…I am not sorry to say I would prefer them to personally share the same Identity. I do not hold a double standard about this, I would gladly network a lesbian, someone who is trans, or any other identity differing from mine to professionals with the same identity without taking it personally. I also don’t mind taking affirmative action to try and make it more possible for openly identified Trans, Lesbian, etc. professionals to exist in any particular field. I am also glad to have and participate in an ALL inclusive coalition aiming for a more inclusive and egalitarian society when that is in fact the goal of a group. I am not happy to be isolated from other gay men when all I want is to socialize with them or feel a greater sense of community connection to them. If a gay man wants an opportunity to socialize with other gay men or network with them professionally…he is not going to feel his needs are met in a room full of bisexual women. Not out of hatred for women or bisexuals…simply out of feeling isolated from other gay men. I find my efforts to correct that imbalance are not appreciated in this town.

The only places gay men tend to find community here are apps and bars. The bars don’t even particularly feel gay any more because they are dominated by straight people who think they are being cool by invading what few gay spaces we have. So truthfully most of the TRUE gay spaces left are mobile apps and house parties small gay social circles have with each other which aren’t exactly easy to access to new gays in town. Because they are so personal and private. I am fortunate to have a lot of gay friends in this town. But that didn’t simply just “happen” I had to work really, really hard to find those connections over many, many years. I would like to be somewhere where gay men have a much more accessible, solid, effective, and strong sense of community with each other specifically. Is that so wrong to want?

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Now that I am grooming myself to become a therapist focused on serving the mental health needs of gay and bisexual men…I do not find any sustainable opportunities for that in this town. The little amount of LGBT community here doesn’t appreciate focus on one experience and even if it did, it couldn’t offer full time paid positions with the wages I would need to sustain myself on. Not sorry to say that if you want specialized professionals, you have to make sure they can sustain them selves comfortably in order to serve the communities they specialize in. You can’t expect volunteers to sustain themselves for long. Especially not ones that have invested well over 40-80k $ in debt for their education to be knowledgeable, certified, and experience in the services they have to offer. I am constantly told by people how important it is for me to stay in this town because a gay male therapist with sex-positive/body-positive values specializing in working with gay men is DESPERATELY needed in this town. I agree my services are desperately needed, but they are not valued or appreciated enough to be sustainable. I have unofficially been asked by the local HIV/AIDS network to do my internship with them because their number one clientele is often men who have sex with men, and that population constantly askes for a gay male therapist. But all they can do is give me an unpaid internship, they do not have the resources to give me a full time job. The LGBT center is all unpaid volunteers. There is no specifically LGBT paid clinics in town. So while my services and skills would be greatly needed here, no one has, nor is willing to put the resources into making my efforts sustainable.

In the mean time I have a friend unofficially giving me a potential job opportunity at an HIV clinic in Manhattan with a sustainable wage as soon as I finish grad school. My therapist also is networking me to people he knows at the Gay crisis center there. I have gay friends in Washington DC that are setting up appointments to meet with people working for the HRC orginization established there and other clinics dedicated to LGBT mental health specifically. Why would a professional focused on the mental health needs of gay and bisexual men stay in a town that does not offer those opportunities? I hear people ache, moan, and complain how they wish they had a boyfriend here, how the gay community here is dying out…but I don’t see them putting any time, effort, or money into keeping the gay community alive in this town. Want a supportive network of gay professionals that want to help you?…Be willing to give back.

Futhermore, as I get to explore the big city gay life I see hundreds upon hundreds of groups, bars, clubs, community centers dedicated to gay males socializing. I’ve had a kinky side I’ve always wanted to explore. It’s rare to find other guys with compatible interests in this town…let alone full on groups. In DC or Manhattan there are weekly groups I can go to find gay men that support and share that interest. Not to mention nightclubs and bars specifically dedicated to it. Here over three gay bars have closed down over the last decade and only two remain…I don’t even really give them the honor of being called a “gay” bar anymore because the atmosphere is usually dominated by obnoxious straight people. Given my birthright to celebrate my sexuality with other men that share it…why would I stay somewhere, where the opportunity gets less and less accessible with every passing year as the gay scene slowly dies out. Why would I stay somewhere, where the locals are apathetically just letting that happen? They feel because Asheville is open and “gay friendly” why do gays need a community? Maybe heterosexual acceptance doesn’t encompass all a homosexual needs to be fulfilled. Maybe homosexual relationships with other homosexuals ARE what a homosexual needs to be fulfilled.

So I am not sorry to say I have given up on Asheville and pretty much the entire south east. Both as a gay professional, and a homosexual who wishes to have male homosexual community. To the people that are disappointed that I am giving up, I encourage you not to pin your disappointment on me, but rather on the reasons why the gay community is dying in this town. It’s not a community of pride, passion, and sustainability…Old timers of this community have told me it didn’t use to be that way. They remember a time when Asheville truly was the gay capital of NC. Where the community was strong, passionate, and supported each other. Where well over five fully functional gay bars even had competing bowling teams. You might say it’s Grindr, less oppression giving less motivation for community, local economic changes, the internalized homophobia from the gays that come here from surrounding homophobic areas, or any number of things. I’ve tried hard to find a community of gay men here that are proud, and just as passionate about being together and supporting each other as I am…and I’ve tried hard for nearly 10 years since I came out…I am telling you it’s impossible for that vision to come to life here. So yes…I’ve given up on Asheville and the entire south. My decision has been made, I will be moving somewhere else where gay men create a community with each other that I can be proud of and passionate about. I am tired of my passion, pride, and efforts being wasted here.

 

What Christian Allies CAN Do for the LGBTQ+

This holiday season is just another reminder for me how much oppression I experience because of dominant Christian privilege. Rather it’s the Salvation Army guy ringing a bell for donations that will be used to discriminate against LGBTQ+ people. Or the fact that people get offended when I say “Happy Holidays” to be more inclusive on non-Christian traditions that do not observe Christian holidays. I’ve met many self-proclaimed “progressive” Christians that claim to be allies to minorities and the LGBTQ+ rights movement…yet they get defensive when these problems are pointed out about their privilege and misuse of power in society. I find myself experiencing a lot of anger towards Christianity as a whole, not only as a gay man, but as a Pagan as well. But as some people have suggested, I should define what exactly it is I would like Christians to “DO” if they want change their behaviors in order to “help” rather then harm. So here’s a list of things I wish Christians would do if they have a genuine desire to be allies.

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  • Stop “Converting” People

The LGBTQ+ community has, and still does, experience one of it’s darkest and most severe harm because of this. Ever heard the stories of people who have survived “conversion therapy?” We see jokes that make light of how ridiculous it is…but the truth is I’ve known fellow gay men that have nearly died and been hospitalized because of how they were treated in these camps. It’s no joke, it might as well be called a Nazi concentration camp.

This very serious ingrained belief that Christians have superior beliefs and ways of life is not helpful…it’s harmful. While there may be people who do convert to Christianity and feel it changes their life for the better (no different to how I feel my life changed for the better as a Pagan who is philosophically Agnostic), the tendency to want to actively persuade people to your way of life is a source of serious harm and oppression. It’s arrogant and egotistical to think your God and beliefs about him are superior to others. So STOP IT! If your beliefs are so great, people who want to discover something will discover the beliefs that are right for them, without you trying to covert them. If you’re trying to persuade people that means your fighting against some doubt that exists…let people come to their own conclusions and to think for themselves. I have never attempted in my life to persuade someone to be Pagan. I just am who I am. If someone wants to learn about my beliefs and I feel their interest comes from a genuine and authentic place of them wanting to know something about it for their own growth as human beings…I share what I know and empower them to draw their own conclusions…I don’t seek converts. I DON’T tell them what to believe either.

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  • Acknowledge Your Religious Identity Affords You Social Privilege

The majority of society identifies with a Christian tradition in some form or another. The very fact that people say “Merry Christmas” with the assumption everyone around them celebrates their Christian holiday…is a privilege. Society does not close down on my holy days (I have 8 Sabbats in a year…I do not get the opportunity to have off work/school and go to a community event for them as easily as Christians do). Public facilities, businesses, and families all center their life around Christian holidays…that is a privilege. Christians can also openly discuss their faith in most environments without much fear of offending someone, this is especially true in the bible belt of the USA where I live. If I openly discuss my religious identity as a Pagan I often experience people reacting with discomfort, saying ignorant things, or people that attempt to convert me to Christianity…Christians do not experience this reaction when they discuss anything related to their faith.

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  • Stop Being Defensive, Stop Being Permissive, AND ACTUALLY DO SOMETHING TO CHANGE!!!

When I often point out these problems to Christians the immediate and predictable response is always being defensive. “I’m a Christian and I am not a bigot…Not ALL Christians…Your being intolerant of intolerance!” While your standing their trying to defend your fragile Christian ego…I see you donating to the salvation army, which uses it’s money to harm LGBTQ+ people. I see you talking to other Christians that believe and do homophobic things and not interfering even though part of you knows its wrong. I see you still using your identity as a Christian to erase other religious groups that are different from you from the conversation. So maybe instead of getting defensive when I point out these problems, acknowledge your privilege, acknowledge these behaviors are wrong, and commit to doing something to change so you don’t permit the problems.

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  • Don’t Normalize Gay Christians

Yes there are Christians that are Gay. I am glad they have found meaning in their faith…hopefully meaning that does not instill self-hatred towards their own homosexuality. But I dread living in a world where being Christian is the only acceptable way for me to be a homosexual. So don’t create any expectation what so ever, that being homosexual requires being Christian. I also extend this to my fellow gays that are Christian. You do get social privileges by being a gay Christian that other homosexuals don’t get. Do not abuse that power by normalizing your perspective over others. I am a Pagan. My religion has no concept of Sin, it does not slut-shame sexuality, culturally we have a lot of ethically non-monogamous people in our community…don’t act like we have to be these cookie cutter monogamous gays that act exactly like straight people.

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  • Open Your Mind To Understanding Other Ways of Life…As A GOOD THING!

I am ethically non-monogamous, I live a sex positive way of life. I also volunteer for a non-profit aiming to end sexual violence. I do not find monogamy to be a suitable relationship orientation in my life, nor do I find it to be a satisfying expression of my sexuality. Maybe you find yourself liking gays…but only if they are monogamous like your God intended. My Gods are not your God, they do not control or restrict my sexuality. The only ethic I am bound by as a Pagan is to do my best not to harm others. Beyond that I am free to be my self in any way I choose. You may not want to be non-monogamous yourself, but don’t shame me for living life the way I want to with other consenting adults. I am fighting to end sexual violence for my Gods’ sake! I am not doing anything that is harmful in the slightest, why does it make you so uncomfortable that I am open about who I am? We are all different. We do not solve the problem of social oppression by expecting people to be the same.

 

 

Homo-Eros: The Dark Places He’s Walked

The dark places he walked left a mark on his soul. The very air around him changed where ever he entered.

He was not bathed in light, but rather he was a beautiful creature of darkness.

Real, grounded, tested by reality, fully embraced in the incarnate world of the senses.

He carried the green soul of man, that connected him back to old mystery long forgotten by men.

Darkness can be a transformative place when you know it well, it can even rejuvenate and replenish the soul.

He was touched by the soul of the green man. Male’s other male half.

He is the mysteries in the earth, the life and death of the soil, the mortality and pleasures of the body. He is life embodied.

In a world full of those running from themselves, afraid to feel the power in the earth…afraid to embody themselves in the realities of life…Afraid of their own unclaimed power, it’s good to have the green man as my lover. He helps me remember who I am.

His is the very nurturing spirit man has alienated himself from…but must discover again in the mystery of men loving men.

Picture Colored and Poem Written by Elliott Belue

Concept of the color Green in how it is poetically used as a homoerotic mystery was inspired by “The Secret Lore of Gardening: Patterns of Male Intimacy” by Graham Jackson.

Picture taken from “Color Yourself Furious” by Golden Czermak dba Furious Fotog
http://www.onefuriousfotog.com

My Holy Grail: Homo-Positive Relationships

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

References

[i] https://thoughtcatalog.com/luis-pabon/2014/11/why-i-no-longer-want-to-be-gay/

[ii] https://dearstraightpeople.com/2015/10/14/how-grindr-is-ruining-the-gay-scene/

[iii] https://wewereherefilm.com/

[iv] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cass_identity_model

[v] https://www.amazon.com/Secret-Lore-Gardening-Patterns-Psychology/dp/0919123538

[vi] http://www.apa.org/monitor/feb02/newdata.aspx

Assimilation Is Not Liberation…The Importance of Preserving Gay Culture

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We could have plenty of conversations about injustices of gay people in society. Some having to do with institutional issues, others with social prejudice. Many gays simply just want to live their lives in society without being persecuted for being who they are. A good many would feel satisfied as long as they have the right to marry who they want, and have the same opportunities normative sexualities and gender expressions have for success and happiness. The conversations on “equality” primarily aim to portray us as no more or less “the same” as everyone else. If you are satisfied with a normative life style where you can live the monogamous, picket fence, raising kids, American dream life…this may end your desire to think of what your needs are as a homosexual at marriage equality and social discrimination. However, not all queers are satisfied with “fitting in” and wanting to be the “same as all the straight people.”

There has been a unique sub-culture formed by history, communal identity, common struggles, and the socialization of uniquely “gay spaces” since Stonewall (and even arguably before in some ways). While it is true times have changed and we are nowhere close to the same level of persecution that we use to deal with in earlier times. Our needs to have a sense of community with those of compatible sexual orientation have not changed. Prejudice and institutional discrimination still exists. Just like issues of racism are not the same they use to be, they still exist and likely always will. The same can be said for homophobia. Even in changing times with different (though at times still very similar) challenges, a need for gay togetherness still exists. Personally, I believe it always will.

When I refer to this sub-culture, we can remember that it’s extremely complex and different communities and gays define what it is differently. Some trace it through cultural icons like Judy Garland and Madonna. Others through major social/political events like Stonewall and the AIDS endemic and how it influenced social awareness around gay identity and societal experiences. Others still trace it through common customs, language, and social norms that have come out of gay bars, gay pornography, bathhouses, and prides. These things might include drag, use of the words “top, bottom, and verse” or “twink, bear, and otter,” leather/kink norms that include color codes and ways of non-verbally identifying oneself and sexual desires in a way that is intended for only other homosexuals to know. A lot of it centers around sexuality, but it does become so much more. It becomes something unique you can share with other homosexuals. Something that can create a greater sense of togetherness and connection that can instill a fraternal comradery amongst gay men.

While there are plenty of criticisms one can assign to all these things about the normative expectations they are perceived to create amongst gay men. They don’t have to be expectations…but rather an affirmation of homosexual identity, sexuality, and honoring different aspects of our historical-cultural development. Not all of us are drag queens or have a desire to do drag, but one cannot deny the role drag queens have played in bringing gay men together over the years and fighting for our rights. One does not have to be into leather and kink to appreciate that the leather/kink sub-culture in the gay community has played an important role in our sexual liberation and reminding us to have just as much pride in our sexuality as anything thing else in our gay experiences. Few people want to examine how gay pornography has played important roles in gay rights history. Such as how it pushed boundaries to acknowledge the reality of homosexuality and that it’s equal right to be acknowledged and to be enjoyed and explored. Not everyone perfectly fits into categories like “twink, otter, bear, daddy, and geek” but they are creating a common language amongst us to joke, celebrate, and explore our sexuality and homosocial experiences.

I’ve met many gay men that resist being a part of a homosocial community, that cast judgement on it, that don’t see a purpose in participating or exploring it. I personally believe most of the time this is due to a sense of internalized homophobia/heteronormativity/heterosexism/etc. There is a deep resistance to acknowledging what makes one different as a homosexual and having a sense of pride in that. Perhaps some gay men can live assimilated lives in heterodominant society and feel fulfilled. In which case this entire conversation is a moot point that becomes impractical to their sense of fulfillment as homosexuals. But there are many homosexuals out there that deeply struggle to feel connected to other homosexuals. They have supportive heterosexual friends, may or may not live in a supportive environment…but have little to no access to other homosexuals. They only see being gay as an unimportant part of who they are instead of integrated and inseparable to the totality of who they are that deserves acknowledgement and defines certain social needs they have for access to intimacy and others like them.

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I’ve seen a huge transformation in gay men many, many, MANY times when they finally begin to discover a sense of fraternal brotherhood to other gay men. When they finally begin to tear down those internal barriers they’ve carried all their lives to feeling connected to other gay men. They no longer carry a narrative inside themselves that sees being gay as “just a small part of who they are, otherwise they are no different than straight people” and it’s simply “yay gay!, gay pride! Gay is AWSOME!” There is no longer a need to compartmentalize homosexuality to a small part of your existence. It can be expressed in all aspects of who you are in any way you want to express it. You begin to see gay relationships as not merely sexual, but social fraternal bonds too. I am not trying to imply all gay men have to have this experience to be fulfilled nor is it fair too…but I am saying I’ve seen it happen a lot…and I do see a deep need in many gay men to continue to have a fraternal culture of gay brotherhood that is exclusively for us and amongst us alone. It’s a beautiful and heart warming experience for me, when I see other gay men shift from a sense of isolation from both themselves and other homosexuals, to having a sense of pride and feeling a sense fraternal brotherhood to other gay men.

Many are having a continuous debate about the changing times and what purpose gay community has in it. There are those that feel we should just leave the past behind and assimilate into society, not making our homosexuality set us apart from anyone. Others feel assimilation is an erasure of unique needs and experiences that make us who we are as homosexuals. I lye on the latter end of the of the two perspectives. I don’t want to see gay culture and the community it has created be erased simply because we have less political battles to fight then we use too. We can co-exist with a larger society and community, while still having a gay community and sub-culture too. I see no reason why we have to erase gay uniqueness, history, communal togetherness, and so on to be a part of society. I see no reason why I can’t pursue a life of seeking and celebrating gay brotherhood and also be a citizen of larger society too. If we erase where we came from, what makes us different, and our need to have our own unique social spaces and experiences…we erase who we are and assimilate into a social structure that will never fully fulfill our need to have homosexual relationships. It’s great to be in a society that doesn’t persecute us nearly as often or intensely as it use too (and it still definitely does and I think it likely always will to some degree)…but if all you have is supportive heterosexual friends and little to no gay experiences, friendships, and relationships…are you truly fulfilled as a homosexual? Therefore, assimilation is not liberation. We do all homosexuals a disservice by erasing our unique sub-cultural identity and the community it creates for us.

Homo-Eros: A Mark in Dedication to Gay Brotherhood

A Mark in Dedication to Gay Brotherhood

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In dedication to the brotherhood I wear this permanent mark.

Forever shall I hold my homobrothers within my heart.

10 years of owning who I am, and 10 years of seeking connection.

I once felt so isolated and alone, but because of the gay community I found my home.

We are not merely a movement of rights, or a network of dating and hook-ups on the DL at night.

We’re a brotherhood, a community, a tribe. I am your family and you are mine.

I wear this permanent mark of pride on my skin.

To honor my brothers whom I love and will never be forgotten.

In spite all the pain, fear, and sadness. I have pride in our communal gladness.

Forever and Ever shall I hold my brothers in my heart.

We are family no matter how far we are apart.

 

Poem Written by Elliott Belue

Endnote:

This is my first tattoo. In honor of my 10th year anniversary of coming out and of the sense of pride and emotional bond I have with my brothers in the gay community. The Poem is written from a deep sense of connection to the gay community. One that I hold near and dear to my heart.

Homo-Eros: The Man with Strong Arms

The Man with Strong Arms

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He was a military man, one longing to be free…full of regrets and shadows that haunted him.

He was so use to living a lie, he could even fool himself into thinking he was happy.

I loved him, more then I had any man. His big strong arms made me feel protected and safe. His boyish smile was infectious and I could never stay mad at him for long because it was too damn cute. He gave more then any man I ever met, and he never expected anything back…from anyone. He nurtured and showed his love by making those around him feel safe and cared for.

The tragic part was, he showed love by protecting others…but he never felt safe himself. His own brothers in arms once violated him and because of public policy during that time…he could never say it happened. Who gave him PTSD? Not terrorists his country wanted him to fight…his own brothers in arms his country expected him to live and even die with, if necessary. He was use to being a protector…but no one would protect him, even those he was suppose to rely on most.

Behind that boyish smile and charm, and those big strong arms…was a tortured soul who sacrificed everything for others…but no one ever sacrificed for him. He never learned how to let people in because he was too use to hiding behind closet doors so he could feel safe.

We got close to sharing our life together, but all he knew how to do was hide.

So he shut me out and sent me away, despite my attempts to love him. Some will never know how harsh and cruel homophobia can be. It tears lives apart. It destroyed a Love that I will always look back on wondering what could of been.

I will always remember how tightly he held on to me each night, as if our closeness was the only thing that grounded him and kept him alive. His desire to serve his country and be close to the man he loved were in conflict, and they shouldn’t have been.

I had never had a man look at me with such care and love as much as he had. Yet the world would not give him the decency to love who he wanted, and let that person love him back.

Despite the mistakes he made, I know deep down how he truly felt and had the world been more accepting of how he loved…he would of never lived a life of lies, and shutting others out.  If only more people knew the pain a closet will inflict on someone, how it slowly destroys them from the inside out.

So forever a chronicle of the man I loved shall stay a memory in my heart. Always an after thought of what could of been had the world of been a little more accepting. I will always miss his strong arms holding me tight as though we were the only two people in the world at night.

His giving, charming smile, and protective nurturing nature will always be honored in my heart…and so will the tragedy of what could have (and should have) been.

Picture Colored and Poem Written by Elliott Belue

Picture taken from “Color Yourself Furious” by Golden Czermak dba Furious Fotog
http://www.onefuriousfotog.com

Homo-Eros: Let Men Be Roses

Hello readers. As I am trying to be more creative in how I explore homoeroticism. I am going to try my hand at creative writing and artistic expression. I’ve gotten a homoerotic coloring book that lets me color black and white pictures of men with tattoos. Every time I complete a page I am going to take a picture and write a short homoerotic poem with it. I am not an expert creative writer, I’ve always been a more intellectual/analytical writer. So I am not trying to compete with major professional homoerotic literary standards. I am just giving myself permission to non-judgementally express my creative side and share it with friends and readers who find it interesting. I hope you enjoy. I will be making this apart of a series I am calling “Homo-Eros” named after the God Eros of Love and Desire.

Let Men Be Roses

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Men are so taught to cover up. They are so taught never to show who they are naked and exposed.

I have known men naked. They are beautiful, delicate, and soft. I have seen them exposed.

They say beauty, softness, and delicate sensation is not the role of men. Who said this?

For I have seen the bare skin of men as soft and sensitive as rose petals.

I have whispered in his ear how beautiful he is and felt his softness close to me.

What toxic message is this that tells men they cannot love men, they cannot be “pretty,” they cannot be soft like roses?

Never have I seen anything so beautiful as the softness of a man naked, shedding the prison of masculinity behind.

For in this moment he defines himself not for what he hides, but what he is.

Let men be roses: soft, beautiful, and delicate. For when men are free they are like roses: soft, beautiful, delicate…and exposed.

Picture Colored and Poem Written by:
Elliott Belue

Picture taken from coloring book: “Color Yourself Furious” by Golden Czermak dba FuriousFotog http://www.onefuriousfotog.com