Mark and I sat at a high top, drinking beer out of tiny glasses. The place charged by the ounce. We thought it was the greatest thing ever. We could try all the beers, only drinking a little. But there was a problem—they charged by ounce! The bill ended up being a whole lot larger for a lot of tiny tasters. But we weren’t here for the beer. We were here to talk about being gay. Come to think of it, that might have actually been the problem. You can’t tackle that topic over one beer, let alone some tiny beers.
Mark had found my blog and reached out to me, wanting to share his story and get advice on coming out.
Mark and I weren’t exactly friends, but we were always in the same circles. In other words, we didn’t know how to interact with one another over our tiny beers.
Mark’s eyes searched, dancing around, looking for a hook. And like the obnoxious, sarcastic person I am, with a flare for the dramatic, I poked at the intensity with directness.
“So you wanna come out, huh?”
While I let words splatter out of my mouth, Mark is not like that. He’s methodical. Thus, the searching eyes. Even with a yes-or-no question, Mark took his time. He sat, eyes searching for the right words as he nodded gently. “Yeah… I think I do.” His eyes finally met mine.
“Well, welcome to the worst sub-culture in existence!” I threw back the last of my beer for dramatic effect, then slammed down my tiny cup.
Now before we jump into reading an article where a gay man criticizes the culture he finds himself in, let me outline what this is and is not:
It is not ammo for straight, non-affirming people. You don’t get to use this to say, “See! I knew those homos were x, y, or z.” I could very easily write an article criticizing straight culture. Every culture has its criticisms. None of us are exempt. But like all issues within a culture, they’re systemic. They are not isolated, and have roots in culture at large. That’s what this article hopes to address.
Second off, this article is uncomfortable. You will be confronted with stories that might be hard to hear. But in spite of the awkward ruffled rainbow feathers, please read to the end or stop reading now. I’m gonna need a non-verbal commitment that I will never hear or have any accountability for before reading on. Good? Cool.
Here we go.
Five years leading up to this moment with Mark, I tiptoed around the realm of gay culture. Being honest about my story had allowed me to look at it and test the waters here or there. But I really didn’t jump in headlong till I started dating a man for the first time and posted a coming out video on Facebook two years ago.
Overnight, tons of friends and strangers reached out to me, thanking me for my video. My stuttering, stumbling, unedited feed somehow gave strength to strangers and friends to come out or begin the conversation. Like Mark.
I was so excited and honored, thinking I was doing something revolutionary, when in reality, more heroic individuals had paved the way.
But something had happened in the timespan of posting that Facebook video to meeting with Mark over tiny beers. I was fed up with the gay culture, and I wasn’t the only one.
“Don’t end up with a dude, Zach. They’re all terrible!” Matt blurts out, as Zach and I sit on the couch, drinking martinis. Matt and Zach are roommates, gay (well sort of), and not partners. In fact, they’ve never had sex with each other. Not once. A fact that every gay man has raised their eyes to, as if to say, “Yeah… right…” As if to say, “Gay men can’t be just friends. They’ll eventually sleep with each other.”
“I’m serious, Zach. All men are terrible! You’re better off with a woman.” Matt is on his third martini and is getting more and more vocal and more and more slap happy. Literally. I have red marks on my thighs to prove it.
Zach has been exploring the sexual rainbow for a few months, trampling all over the spectrum. He’s been with men, women, young, old, ugly, sexy. It doesn’t matter who it is, Zach just wants to have sex. However, Zach and Matt had just gotten back from Denver where Zach had a terrible encounter with a group of gay men.
“I genuinely thought gay men were different. I thought I could be myself and be accepted, but these guys were assholes!”
“What Zach is trying to say,” Matt elaborates, “is that he pissed these gay men off because he said, ‘All gay men are easy’, and they tore in to him!” Matt slaps Zach in between each word for emphasis, then giggles to himself.
“What? It’s true!” Zach says. “It’s a whole lot easier to get in a guy’s pants than a girl’s.”
“You think that’s true, Matt?” I pipe up from the other end of the couch.
“Most homosexual men I meet are trying to become sexual as quickly as possible. Even with my ex, we had sex on the second date. I thought that was going a bit fast, but he didn’t.”
Honestly, Matt had a point. With my ex-boyfriend, we had sex on the second date too. And outside of dating, I could get a hook up with a guy a whole lot faster than with a girl.
This past summer, I visited a friend in Oakland. I had recently broken up with my boyfriend and I just wanted meaningless sex. So what did I do? I do what every gay man does when he wants booty as quickly as possible. I downloaded Grindr.
The following are actual profiles on Grindr that I copied the other day:
Looking for now. Looking4Hung. Let’s play RN. Horny. F***MyHole.
What the profile names on Grindr lack in creativity, they make up for in blatant candor.
Within two minutes of downloading the app, I had a boy and apartment at my disposal. And that’s truly what it was—disposal. Both men using each other to get something out of the other. It’s not a night of passion. It’s a transaction. A fact that has made it hard to even consider having a loving relationship with another man.
“What about gay marriages?” I’m back with Matt, attempting to eat ice cream while I drive, and I’m failing miserably at it. White and brown seep down my arm and onto the steering wheel, as Matt gracefully laps his ice cream with a napkin on his lap. He’s a lot better at this than I am.
“I’m cynical of gay relationships.” Matt says.
“I am very suspicious of any homosexual, male couple because I feel like they are all open.” Matt goes on to talk about his good friend on the East Coast. He had been married for three years, but had recently solicited Matt for sex. Turns out their marriage was open.
“What the hell? All gay men have open relationships! Does anyone believe in sanctity anymore?!”
Why was Matt so upset about this? Why was I upset with him? I think it’s because we are all holding our breath, hoping someone will be different, that someone will give us hope of something to look forward to, but we keep getting let down. In my years of coming out and stepping into the gay culture, I have yet to meet a gay couple that hasn’t been open at one point or another.
“Do you have any gay role models, Matt?”
“Gay role models??? I feel like that’s an oxymoron.” Matt crunches down on the last bit of his cone and slaps his hands together to get rid of the crumbs. Matt then shares there isn’t a single gay man he looks up to and how he views most gay men as “damaged goods.”
Many of my gay friends and gay strangers alike have used this exact phrase on multiple occasions—”damaged goods”. It’s always said so matter of fact, as if it’s some reality we just learn to live with.
In fact, one time, while sitting in a hot tub, at a local bath house, a man went at length, talking about how broken and repressed other gay men are. We’re literally in a bath house, soliciting random strangers for anonymous sex in a building with cameras and metal doors to make sure people don’t know we’re here, and this guy is criticizing how broken and repressed everyone else is in Colorado Springs?
We’re self-destructive, calling out deficiencies in each other, eating our own, all the while contributing to the problem.
Where in the world does this come from? The answer would come so casually, I almost missed it.
The first gay club I ever went to was with my now ex-boyfriend. In an attempt to “act straight”, we found the straightest thing we could do in a fog filled, laser light, go-go dancing warehouse—we played pool and drank beer.
As we attempted to look like we knew what we were doing, a gang of lesbians watched us. And it was a gang. Like a pride of lionesses, I felt at any second, they’d pounce on the two gay boys and show us how it’s done. After all, all lesbians know how to play pool.
But after I realized I hated pool and that I’m terrible at it, I started people watching. I was so perplexed by this new environment.
Stranger danced on stranger. Bartenders served shot after shot in nothing but thongs. Thunderous bass shook us all to the bone.
By all counts, this should be a happy place. Alcohol. Music. Dancing. But everyone was so somber.
“What’s wrong?” I had stared too long. My boyfriend had noticed and spoke up.
“Everyone just seems so sad.”
My boyfriend followed my gaze. “Well, when you put a ton of people that have experienced so much trauma all together, you’re bound to be sad.” He drank his very “straight” beer and went back to pool as if the thought was so obvious. But it wasn’t so obvious. It was profound!
Yes, LGBTQ individuals have been given the right of marriage. But decades of hiding in the closet doesn’t go away overnight. The fear and anxiety of being attracted to the same sex doesn’t magically disappear with legislation. The very fact that my boyfriend had to play pool and drink beer to not look “too gay” is evidence enough. In fact, the day he met my parents, the first words out of his mouth were, “I’m gay, but I’m not a faggot.”
The repression continues. The closet continues.
Michael Hobbes wrote a powerful line in his essay on gay loneliness that summarizes this thought. “Whether we recognize it or not, our bodies bring the closet with us into adulthood.” He goes on to share that even though we’re experiencing more liberties as gay men than ever before, more and more gay men are finding themselves utterly alone.
And it’s so true. I feel it. My friends feel it.
The repression that was our ally as a child is now is our enemy. And what happens when a people are repressed for too long? What happens when a piece of you has been shoved into a corner for years? What happens to a child that will not be heard?
The child screams.
And just like a child, I think our sexuality is screaming. It’s demanding to be heard, and the only way we know how to get that sobbing piece of us to shut up is to appease it with sex.
“Where do you think this comes from, Matthew?”
“An entire minority group has not been allowed to express themselves, and then suddenly being able to express their pent up sexual identity… I think we’re still feeling the reverberations of that.”
I agree with my friend. We are still feeling the reverberations of it.
It wasn’t too long ago that I watched Love, Simon alone at Tinseltown. While the rest of the viewers congregated to the left side of the theater, I sat on the right. I had a feeling this was gonna be a rough one, and I did not want some randos staring at the sobbing mess holding himself in fetal position. I was right. Except the fetal position part. Like I said, I have a flair for the dramatic.
As Simon’s mom began talking with him about how she’s felt like he’s been holding his breath, I literally had the hardest time breathing. I heaved for air, desperate for that kind of conversation. For someone to mirror my pain, for someone to see I was hurting, and for someone to give me permission to be. To not make it such a big deal and to reaffirm their love for me, specifically at that critical age. It would have been so freeing to just date a guy in high school, for it to not be a big deal, and see if I even wanted that type of relationship.
But instead, I had to navigate these turbulent waters in secret and shame, like sailing a pitch black ocean in a raging typhoon. Years wasted on porn. Countless conversations with strangers. Endless nights littered with tears. All the while, the tension and pressure in my chest continued to rise. These “releases” weren’t releases at all. They ultimately increased the heat, causing my confusion and attractions to boil over.
I am now 28, and I can feel more confused and pent up than any of my younger years. Some days I genuinely wanna be with a woman. Then on others, I’m downloading Grindr, my repression exploding like a shaken Coke can.
A lot of nights I wonder, if I was priveleged a story like Simon’s, what would my story have looked like? Would the curiosity be appeased and being with a woman be my actual desire? Would a healthy gay relationship seem possible? Would I have dreamed dreams rather than nightmares?
Regardless of outcome, I truly believe I wouldn’t live with this pressure incubating in my chest. I would have thought through what I actually wanted, without this surmounting hormonal tension billowing inside me.
It’s for that reason I scream for this fight—not for myself, but for the little Simon’s and little Mark’s and little Matthew’s suffering in silence, locked in an air-tight closet, desperate to breathe.
We’ve got to destroy the closet or it’ll haunt us forever. We have to make it okay and safe for our little ones to ask questions without fear, so they won’t seek refuge in the shameful darkness. If we don’t change this narrative, if boys and girls and intersex individuals continue to find solace in the nooks and crannies of the world that ultimately isolate themselves, how will they find help? How will they know they’re not alone? How will they learn to trust? They’ll ultimately carry that shame of the closet in their bones far beyond their teenage years. Their youth will haunt their adulthood. The screams of their adolescence, of our adolescence, will echo, climaxing into a corrosive crescendo—a sexual rage screaming to be seen, screaming to be heard.
That’s what I see on the dance floor with my then boyfriend. That’s what I see in the Grindr profiles on my phone. That’s what I see in me as I wrestle and rage against myself.
For the love of millions of young ones, let’s burn the closet down. Let’s make it okay for our children to step into the light. Let’s make it okay for them to “breathe the free air again.” To “exhale” as Simon’s mother put it. Then, maybe then, in the light of love, life can grow.