Wednesday, July 29, 2009


Let's see if this makes sense.

Over the course of numerous posts on this blog, I've shared with my readers more about my insecurities than most people do with their closest family members and friends. I wrote about struggling with the way my body looks, to the extent that it's difficult for me to go shirtless in public, even when I'm exercising and overheated during this hot summer weather. I wrote about struggling with how my face looks, especially in pictures, when the image captured of me isn't representative of how I want to appear to the world around me. And I wrote about struggling with the creative process, the constant doubt I have about having anything worthwhile to say, or, if I do, not having the talent or ability to express myself in the best way possible. Let's just say that I'm a human being, with the need to understand myself better, and with the goal of speaking for other people who possess the same insecurities. There is power in knowing you're not alone.

Here's another insecurity that I've been working on recently to understand fully.

In the same way that straight men are attracted to women, I, as a gay man, am attracted to men. But, if I were really honest with myself, I'd have to admit that I'm most often attracted to straight men, not in a sexual sort of way--that is, I don't usually fantasize about having sex with them--but rather in a covetous sort of way.

I was very aware of this envy many years ago, when I was in my late teens and early twenties, witnessing the emergence of physical masculinity in many of my straight peers at grade school and in college, as compared to the lack of physical development in me. While many of the boys I went to school with physically turned into young men before my eyes--developing beards, growing hair on their chests, etc.--I remained a boy, my face and body mostly hairless until well into my twenties.

I don't know what it is about hair on a man's body, but I, along with many other people as evidenced from various websites, have always equated it with physical masculinity. Hence, in my mind, the hairier the man, the more physically masculine he is. At a rational level, I realize that the concept of masculinity is so much more than how a man physically develops. But, if you stay with me for a few minutes, you'll understand where I'm going with this.

It won't come as a surprise to most people who know me that I was (still am?) effeminate when I was growing up. I wasn't a flamer in the most extreme definition of the word. I didn't prance around school hallways, lisping every second word, and wearing flamboyant clothing that screamed "faggot" to everyone who saw me. But I had a softness to me. I spoke with certain inflections in my voice. I was affected in my mannerisms. I wasn't adept at sports. I never wanted to get physically hurt. And, in my later teens, I tried to dress fashionably, which, to many of my peers, was what gay boys did. Let's just say, you would have been able to pick out me as the gay one in a crowd of people.

But, at the time, I was just me. I looked and behaved as I did because that's what I instinctively knew. I may have been gay, but I didn't know anything about that. I grew up in the 1970s, a more innocent time, in a small, tough, northern BC town, where being different made you a target. And, in 1974, when my family moved to Kelowna, I remained a target because, while my place of residence may have changed, I hadn't. I was still the person I'd always been. I didn't know any other way.

I was picked on at school for so many years that I didn't know what I could do to get the bull's eye off of me. I learned to downplay the fashionable clothing; fashion may have worked for young men in bigger cities, but it didn't for me in a smaller community. By necessity, I learned to keep to myself, all the while trying to stifle the inflections in my voice and the affected mannerisms that made me stand out. The less attention I attracted to myself, the better. But, of course, by then, my reputation was set. Everyone knew I was a fag.

In the meantime, I became aware of some of my male classmates growing into young men. As early as grade ten, several of them were already able to shave and grow sideburns. As soon as hair began to grow in the center of their chests, they left their shirts open, ensuring everyone knew they were turning into men--at least in the physical sense. I still remember these fellows today and can name them--Don U., Rick B., Chad B., Terry M., Todd C., Cliff R.--because they made a huge impression on me. Because I was so envious of their maturing bodies. Because I wanted to be them.

I didn't realize it at the time, but I must have thought then that if I matured into a physical specimen of masculinity, people might leave me alone and the teasing might stop. If my peers witnessed me turn into a hairy, masculine dude, they might be less inclined to taunt me about being gay. I'd be easier able to hide my still unconfirmed sexual orientation behind my masculine appearance, and, not only would my peers leave me alone, but also I might begin to like myself more.

As I've written before, I believe scores of gay men hide behind their physical masculinity. Behind large, thick mustaches and muscular, hairy chests and arms, they are able to disguise the fact that they are sexually attracted to men. They can come and go in life without attracting attention to themselves for being gay, at least not when it comes to initial impressions (which is all many of us get). And everyone knows it's easier to be gay if you don't look like it or act like it. (Although, over the years, I've seen numerous examples of muscular and hirsute men who, once they opened their mouths or moved a muscle, the deal was over--the whole world knew they were unmistakably gay.)

As I've grown older, I've often fantasized about what it would be like to gay but not look it or act it, to the extent that no one could tell. Straight-looking and straight acting gay men are to the gay male population what brown African Americans are to black African Americans--more desirable because, in our society, straight is valued over gay, and brown is valued over black. That's just the way it is. So why wouldn't a gay man not want to be discernibly gay by appearing ultra masculine because of his muscular and hairy body? I've wanted that for years.

Alas, I never grew the amount of body hair I always wanted. I can't grow a great pair of sideburns or a full and handsome beard. I don't have the luxuriously hairy chest that so many young men today get rid of anyway, because it seems to be culturally preferable to do that in the early twenty-first century. So, in that sense, I never became the physical specimen of masculinity I always wanted to be, able to attract positive attention for being manly and not negative attention for being effeminate.

For that reason, and despite being a fully out gay individual, I still find myself making an effort to downplay whatever physical characteristics and mannerisms I have that cause people to label me "gay." Which is interesting when you think about it because...I am gay. There's no getting away from that. So why haven't I accepted it by now, in all the ways it needs to be accepted, and moved on? Am I capable of doing that, or has the past moulded me in such a way that getting beyond it is impossible?

Do I resent the ultra masculine men who are often better able to disguise their sexual orientation behind their facial and body hair than I am? You bet. I will always wish I was them and didn't come across as being gay in how I look or how I conduct myself. I suspect this will always be the case until being gay is no longer an issue in any way for our society. Then, and only then, I believe, will it be easier to be gay, and will the class system within the gay community break down to the point when it no longer matters whether you look or act gay. Maybe then, just being yourself will be enough.


  1. Rick, I'll send you an email on this topic later, as my comments will likely turn it into a very long one - as you already know I am prone to do! I have been reading your blogs on the self-esteem issue, thinking about how to respond. Suffice it to say that I know exactly where you're coming from in this regard - not as a gay person, but as a woman who has had plenty of self-esteem issues in her past. Another line of discussion for us to follow! Are we making any progress, do you think?

  2. I sincerely look forward, Wendy, to continuing our conversation on any topic, including self-esteem. What will it take for this one to go away I don't know, but, just when I think I've gotten past specific hurdles, I discover some deep-seated feelings and insecurities that set me off balance all over again. I'm just more aware of them now, and more in tune with why they are still important to me.
    On the issue of what I wrote about today, I don't think I will ever be truly happy because I'll never be the physically masculine male that I always wanted to be, and because I will always be gay. I realize I have so many other things going for me and my life--I don't think I need to be reminded of that--but why is it we, as human beings, gravitate toward what we don't have and always wanted, instead of what we do have and never thought we'd get? Something to ponder.
    Progress on self-esteem issues? Yes, I think we are making progress, just because we're getting older and more aware. The first step is always awareness--consciously knowing why you feel certain ways, why you behave in certain ways. I think being human is, among other things, about coming to terms with what you don't have, will never have, and making peace with that. I'm on that road now, but, man, when it comes to this whole being gay thing, I tell you, it has turned my head in ways I didn't even know. I'm only discovering them now and having to do the hard work involved in reconciling them with who I am. I suspect this will continue for the rest of my life.
    Again, I look forward to hearing from you on this subject and any others you care to share.