So after a visit to the library on Sunday I decided that it was time to have my first gay experience.
At Barnes & Noble.
In the gay & lesbian section.
That was lame. Sorry.
But in a way, it probably one of my first steps in coming out publically, if only in a small way. I started reading Bruce Bawer’s “A Place at the Table” and was absolutely floored by how he managed to pinpoint every issue I have with the gay community (and some I wasn’t even able to fully articulate).
In any case, I located the book in the store and my mind briefly shorted—not like I didn’t have a clue where it would probably be found, but the part of me that is still afraid of being outed, or of people thinking that I’m not straight. So I did what I usually do.
I walked straight into the lion’s mouth.
Turned right around, walked over to the business section and located the shelves. There it was, like a big, gay neon sign. In signage hunter green and white. So after sifting through copies of The Joy of Gay Sex, The Velvet Rage and copious amounts of erotica, I saw the “Arranged by author” label and went “Oh.”
My inner librarian looked down at me over his horn-rimmed glasses and poked me.
There it was. In paperback, even!
Here’s an excerpt from the author’s note:
If to many gays “homosexual” sounds like a clinical diagnosis, to many heterosexuals “gay” sounds like a political statement . . . I tend to favor “gay” when discussing subculture-oriented individuals and “homosexual” when discussing individuals who are more mainstream-oriented. I’ve chosen not to use the word “queer” which is favored by some gay activists and academics but turns off almost everybody else, gay and straight (13-14).
The book begins with an account of the author observing a “lean and handsome” teenager standing at a wall of magazines, anxiously working up the courage to pick up a copy of a gay weekly.
The image of gay life promulgated in these publications did not reflect actual gay life in America; rather, they presented a picture of gay identity as defined by a small but highly visible minority of the gay population . . . What was wrong was the image that they projected had, for decades, strongly influenced the general public’s ideas about homosexuality. Thanks to their extraordinary visibility . . . many heterosexuals tended to equate homosexuality with the most irresponsible and sex-obsessed elements of the gay population. That image had provided ammunition to gay-bashers, had helped to bolster the widely held view of gays as a mysteriously threatening Other, and had exacerbated the confusion of generations of young men who, attempting to come to terms with their homosexuality, had stared bemusedly at the pictures in magazines like the Native and said to themselves: “But this isn’t me.” (19)
This has been one of my primary hang-ups with coming to terms with my homosexuality—the fact that I’m not like them. I don’t fit the “profile” (whatever that means). Bawer goes on to write what he wanted to say to that kid at the magazine wall, and presumably what he wants to say to every young man who feels the same way (including himself at one point):
“Being gay doesn’t oblige you to be anything—except yourself . . . You’re you. You’re the boy you’ve always been, the boy you see when you look in the mirror. Yes, you’ve always felt there was something different about you, something you couldn’t quite put a name to, and in the past few months or years you’ve come to understand and to struggle with the truth about that difference. You’re beginning to realize that the rest of your life is not going to play out quite the way you or your parents have envisioned it. You didn’t want to accept this at first, but now you know you have no alternative. And you want to be honest with yourself and your parents about this; more than anything else, you want to talk to them about this momentous truth you’re discovering about yourself. But you can’t bring yourself to do so, since you’re pretty sure they’d be angry. You resent them for this. And on top of that you despise yourself, because even though you’ve always talked to them about everything, you’re hiding from them a very important part of who you are, and because—even though you didn’t choose to be gay (who, after all, would choose to experience the fear and loneliness and bewilderment you’ve known?)—you feel as if you’ve done something awful to them by being this way. (20-21)
That’s pretty much it in a nutshell. As a Christian, add to that the fact that I felt that I’d betrayed my faith, G-d, my family, my church, and damned myself to an eternity with the other sodomites, empire-builders, autocides, gluttons, and highwaymen of the seventh circle of hell. So to read those words actually brought tears to my eyes. I’d known that there were others who’d shared my experience, but to hear it stated to succinctly and accurately was rather disarming. And heartening.
One of the things that characterize us silent gays is that, unlike the more visible minority of gays, we tend not to consider ourselves “members” of anything . . . Yet as the debate over homosexuality has escalated, some of us have grown increasingly impatient—impatient with the lies that are being told about us by anti-gay crusaders; impatient with the way in which TV news shows routinely illustrate gay rights stories by showing videotape of leathermen and drag queens at Gay Pride Date marches; and impatient with the way in which many self-appointed spokespeople for the gay population talk about the subject. (26)
He uses the phrase “professional gays” to describe these activists, and that’s a pretty good way of putting it.
The loudest voices on both sides rely in their arguments not upon common sense, reason, and democratic principle but upon the exploitation of negative emotions, chiefly fear and anger. Radical gay activists trade on the antagonism of many homosexuals toward the parents who rejected them, toward the bigots who insult them on the street, and toward the men of power who treat them as second-class citizens; professional gay-bashers, for their part, trade on the ill-informed fears and suspicions that haunt the minds of millions of otherwise decent heterosexuals. (28)
[The presence of visible, rancorous homosexuals has] helped to spread among heterosexuals an appalling, and profoundly distorted, image of homosexuality—and, indeed, to yoke the very idea of homosexuality, in the minds of many, with the most far-out images of the 1960s counterculture. Radical gay activists’ advancement of the notion that homosexuals are a socially, culturally, and politically homogenous group, furthermore, has made it harder to for many heterosexuals to see gays as individuals, and in particular to make distinctions between the largely invisible millions of gays who lead more or less conventional lives and the conspicuous few who don’t. (32)
The central irony of gay history is that laws and social conventions regarding homosexuality have long had the effect of discouraging monogamous relationships and of encouraging covert one-night stands . . . Indeed, far from helping to foster among young people who discovered themselves to be gay the self-knowledge, self-respect, and sexual self-discipline that would make possible meaningful, enduring relationships, the mentally cultivated by the Gay Liberation movement tended to induce young people to throw self-discipline to the winds; self-knowledge, they were led to believe, mattered less than self-expression, self-respect less than self-indulgence. (33)
There is no one “gay lifestyle,” any more than there is a single monolithic heterosexual lifestyle. There is in fact a spectrum of “gay lifestyles.” Near one extreme one might imagine a gay man whose sense of identity is centered upon the fact of his sexual orientation, and whose tastes, opinions, and modes of behavior conform almost perfectly to every stereotype . . . Toward the other end of the spectrum one might image a gay couple that most heterosexuals would not even recognize as gay. They live not in a predominantly gay community but in an ordinary neighborhood in a big or small city, town or suburb . . . In its essentials, their “lifestyle” is indistinguishable from that of most heterosexual couples in similar professional and economic circumstances. (33-34)
This is one of the big reasons why I was hesitant to come out in the first place, and why I’m still careful about broadcasting the fact that I’m gay—I don’t want to be lumped in with that lot. I don’t go to gay restaurants or clubs. I shop at Target. I often dress like a lumberjack. I’m politically and morally conservative. I have no desire to be promiscuous, consider myself a one-man guy, and have no affiliation with Gay Men’s Health Crisis, Queen Nation, or any AIDS-related organisation.
Like most adult heterosexuals, most adult homosexuals simply don’t want such a life [in a “gay ghetto” like Greenwich Village]. They were raised in conventional middle-class homes in conventional middle-class neighborhoods, and they want to spend their lives in similar homes and neighborhoods, and they don’t see why being gay should prevent them from doing so. Nor do they like the idea of inhabiting an exclusively, or even mostly, gay world: such a world feels artificial to them, feels like an escape from reality.
There is a broad cultural divide, and often considerable hostility, between gays who tend toward the two extremes of the spectrum. We might call them, at the risk of dramatic oversimplification, “subculture-oriented gays” and “mainstream gays.” Some subculture-oriented gays accuse mainstream gays of “acting straight,” the assumption here being that in comes naturally to all gays to speak and walk and act in a certain way, and that if you do otherwise you are suppressing your natural self; some mainstream gays, for their part, shake their heads at the stereotypical gestures and mannerisms of some subculture-oriented gays, which they see as a pathetic manifestation of the gay subculture’s lock-step mentality . . . Subculture-oriented gays often blame anti-gay prejudice on mainstream gays who refuse to put themselves on the line for gay rights and to make their sexual orientation known to their neighbours and co-workers; mainstream gays often blame anti-gay prejudice on subculture-oriented gays who way of life only confirms heterosexuals’ sense that homosexual men are a bunch of silly, effeminate, and irresponsible nonconformists. (35)
I don’t have much more to add since he pretty much said it all. My reading time will be a bit limited over the next few days so I’ll be posting fewer excerpts.