Thursday, October 15, 2009

Why I Feel Uncomfortable Being Gay

A loyal reader recently contacted me by email to ask about something I'd written in my post entitled "I'm Back," published on October 5. The question was around my comment that I'm still not comfortable being gay. The reader wanted to know what that meant, exactly.

It's a fair question. When I take a close look at my life right now, being gay shouldn't be much of an issue for me. Unlike some gay people, I'm completely out to my family and friends and have been for twenty-five years. That considerable hurdle is long past, and I'm grateful for that.

While I spent all of my twenties and early thirties alone, lonely, and looking for the right person to share my life with, I've spent since I was 32 onward in a loving, committed, and monogamous relationship with one of the most wonderful human spirits on earth. No lie, every day I count my blessings that I met this young man, and that he shares my life with me. I couldn't be more fortunate.

Despite my concern that when we moved at the end of April of this year to a largely blue-collar neighborhood in __________, comprised mostly of straight couples and children, Chris and I wouldn't be accepted because of our sexual orientation, I'm happy to report that those living closest to us have been nothing but warm and friendly. And we haven't once felt like we aren't welcome here or that we don't belong.

And, finally, as a gay man, living in Canada in 2009, I live in a progressive society. Chris's workplace recognizes same-sex couples, extending to me the same benefits that he's entitled to; gay marriage is legal, granting Chris and me the same rights and privileges that straight people enjoy; and being gay at this point in time is pretty comfortable. I've experienced no overt discrimination, bigotry, or intolerance, and life's as good as it's ever been for gay people in general and me in particular.

So what's up with feeling uncomfortable being gay? What would make me feel that way?

I've done a lot of thinking about this, even journaling about it to try to understand what's holding me back from fully embracing my sexual orientation, and here's what I've come up with, so far:

1). I admit that so much of my discomfort associated with being gay has to do with the past. While being gay now is much easier than it was many years ago, I grew up in the 1970s and came of age in the 1980s, when homosexuality was still largely misunderstood and ridiculed. I think the bad experiences of the past will always be with me to some degree, no matter how much better things get. Perhaps, then, one of the biggest challenges I have around being gay is overcoming the hurt from the past. Just when I think I've put it behind me, something else comes up, and I'm reminded all over again of how I felt during those years when I was insecure and vulnerable. Anyone still living with issues from his own past--and which one of us isn't?-- can relate to how tough it is to let it all go and move on with being the fully realized person he's meant to be. But I know it's something all of us must continue to work on if we are to make the most of our limited time on this earth.

2). Being gay is about being different in a way that isn't widely understood or always accepted. Think about it. Not only do I connect emotionally more with men (the basis of being gay) than women, but also I have sex with one too, my partner Chris. The physical act of sex between men is difficult for many people to accept, and, in our Judeo-Christian society, man-to-man sex is judged according to passages in the Bible that have been used to prove it's unacceptable and an abomination in the eyes of God. Do I think I'm going to hell because I lie with another man? No, I hope not. After all, who wants to burn in the fires of hell for all eternity because a). he was the person he was born to be, and b). he had sex with other men? But if I had my choice of how to be different from everyone else around me, I wouldn't choose to be gay. I'd choose to be something seemingly easier, where no moral judgement is applied and where the act of having sex isn't involved.

3). I just want to fit in with everyone else. Despite the differences between human beings, there are still only two sexes, men and women (although intersex individuals would beg to differ with me). I'm not intersex--that is, I don't have the sexual organs of both men and women--but I've always felt not quite masculine and not quite feminine. I've joked that I'm somewhere in the middle, which makes people laugh at the absurdity of my comment, but there's more truth to it than they realize. So I'm uncomfortable being gay because of my effeminate tendencies, and because of my ability to understand women better than men, to identify with women more than men, to possess some of the emotional characteristics of women over men, and because of the alienation and isolation I feel from men, especially those who are straight.

4). Related to the point above is that, as long as I'm alive and gay, I expect I'll have issues with my masculinity. I've written numerous blog posts about this in the recent past, approaching it from different angles in an attempt to understand it better, but, from what I can tell, it goes something like this: I was born biologically male. For all intents and purposes, I appear male to the world. But I'm not as male as I want to be. Perhaps, for once in my life, I want to be nothing more than a stereotypical male, both physically and emotionally. That is, I want to look more physically male than I do, including a heavier beard and a hairier chest, and I want to act more male, including tinkering with cars, playing sports, and coming on to women. Emotionally, I want to think more like a man. I want to be more cool about everything instead of being so uptight. I don't want to care about the little things that drive me nuts. In short, I want being masculine, or manly, to come to me naturally and easily. I don't want to have to work at it. I want it to be what I am, not who I aspire to be.

5). I want to try the normal life for a change, the heterosexual life. The world has made being male and straight easy. It's the natural order. It's the most common route for men, the one they are expected to follow: Meet a girl or a woman, get married, have children, grow old together. It's been said that we always want what we don't have, so perhaps that's the case with me not wanting to be gay. I want to be straight and married and a father because that's what other men are. That's the traditional role of most men. It's worked for them; it's supposedly the greatest role they play and their greatest contribution to the earth; and it doesn't draw negative attention from other people. It's the line of least resistance. It's what real men were put on earth to do. It's who men are. I want some of that. I simply want to know what being a real man, in every sense, is all about.

6). If I were more of what men are expected to be in our culture, then I wouldn't be isolated from them. That is, if I were a straight man--I looked more like a straight man, I conducted myself more like one, I lived the full and complete life of one--other straight men wouldn't disconnect themselves from me. I cannot honestly say I've had close relationships with any straight men--not my father, a brother (which I didn't have), a male relative, a male friend, or a male colleague. If a straight man has the least suspicion that you're gay, he has nothing to do with you. Plus, I have nothing in common with straight men, so when would we ever have the opportunity to become close friends? Since I'm not close to any straight men, I feel removed from my own gender, like I don't belong. I exist out there somewhere, not completely male and not completely female, belonging to neither one. Over the years, I've had plenty of female friends, and I'm most grateful for what we've shared. But I crave what I don't have, and that's straight men in my life, feeling validated by them, like I belong to them, like I'm one of them. All of us need to feel that we belong somewhere.

7). One of the things that I think is more natural for straight men than it is for gay men is growing older. And, now that I'm growing older, I feel how important this point is in my life. In the past, I've seen plenty of older gay men, trying desperately to hang on to their youth in a youth obsessed culture like the gay culture is. I've seen them go to extraordinary lengths to maintain a youthful appearance--dyeing their hair, having the skin on their faces tightened, pumping iron and trying to achieve a youthful, muscular appearance. In the end, they come off looking ridiculous. I've seen them trolling the gay clubs, looking for someone young and cute to go home with because they're old and lonely. I've been the victim of their come-ons, when they were old enough to be my father and they were interested in getting it on with me. Today, I'm fortunate enough to be coupled, but I don't know the future. What if something happened to Chris, and I found myself alone? Older gay men don't want older gay men; they want young gay men to pay attention to them, to fill their lives with. I worry that I'd end up spending the rest of my life alone and lonely because gay culture doesn't value aging. Worse than straight culture, gay culture turns its back on those among them who are considered older and not as appealing. Being gay might well be fun and exciting when you're young and pretty, but it's nothing like that when you're old and not so physically attractive anymore. That's just the way it is.


  1. There's a lot to chew on here, Rick. You've been so transparent and I think you've hit on a few key things - some of which I totally get, and others I am not so sure about. I suspect we have fodder for further discussion here!

  2. You've piqued my curiosity, Wendy, about the items that you're not so sure about. I look forward to hearing what they are. And you know I always look forward to our discussions. They always make me think about things I hadn't considered before.
    I look forward to hearing from you on this.

  3. I hope I am not being intrusive and ignorant regarding your feelings but I will try to address some of the points that you have raised, especially regarding the 'real man' thing.
    First of all, I am sorry that you feel disconnected to your own gender. I understand that sometimes you desire to have some traits that resemble what you called a 'real man'. The thing is there are many straight men out there who do not resemble this old matrix of how a man should be and how he should act, what he should like.
    I am a woman and I have been in a relationship with a wonderful man that couldn't be further away from some of those traits. He hates football and he's not very passionate about other sports either, he has a passion for shiny gems and he's very sensitive. Also, I've been friends since middle-school with two amazing guys, both of them straight and pretty cut off from this sport-loving car-fixing ubermanly culture.
    What I mean to say is that I believe that you shouldn't doubt your masculinity because it comes in a great variety of shapes. It may not conform to some typical pattern but then again, the nerdy guys, the shy ones, the scientist/artist types don't conform either but that doesn't make them any less manly. Perhaps you simply didn't find the right group of guys to interact with, that share your interests.
    (I notice that this is something of an older post and I hope that by now you have found the right guys to interact with.)
    All the best!

  4. Anonymous, you are so sweet and kind–first, to have taken the time to read this very long post, and second, with your generous and heartfelt response. You have no idea how much I appreciate it.

    You're right. I wrote this post some years back and had forgotten what it said. Reading it again just now, I was reminded of what was on my mind at the time, and what I obviously felt compelled to write about.

    For about the first two years I kept this blog (April 2009 to January 2011), I wrote to purge. I had just turned fifty, and so much of my life was about unresolved issues related to being gay. In addition to going through a difficult mid-life crisis, I was going through a sexual orientation crisis, too, wondering when, or if, I'd ever be able to put the matter of being gay behind me.

    Well, I'm pleased to advise I have done that. But not without a lot of reflection and writing on this blog. I put it all out there, holding nothing back. I found my voice and finally put words to feelings I'd had my entire life. If anyone doubts the cathartic effect of writing, all he has to do is take a look at the very different direction my blog took, once I'd gotten everything out there that I needed to.

    In January 2011, this blog became a place for gay and lesbian people to learn to understand, accept, and love themselves. I had worked my way there, and I was confident I was in a position to share something through my writing that would help others.

    I'm pleased that has been the case. I continue to hear from people around the world, who tell me they have been comforted by my words. You can't imagine how good reading that makes me feel.

    Of course, you're right. There are many definitions of masculinity, and you don't have to play sports, know cars, or date women to be a real man. I always knew that, but I was blind to it because I was still very angry about being gay.

    I'm so happy to tell you that's no longer the case. I haven't had those feelings in a long time. Today, I try to focus less on any inadequacies I might feel about myself, and more on how I can help to make the journey for other gay and lesbian people an easier and happier one. Focusing on others has really helped to make my life a richer and more fulfilling one.

    I want to thank you again your kindness. It gives me great pleasure to hear from people like you. I hope you found what you were looking for when you came to my blog.

  5. I was married to a man for 7 years before I came out, we had 2 children during that time. Growing up in the 70's and early 80's I felt attractions to women but never told anyone because homosexuality wad not accepted and I didn't know any gay people. I got married to a man because I felt like I had to do the normal thing,,,after 7 years I met a woman at work and it was an instant attraction.. I was with her for 5 years and went on to date only women aftet that.,,I have been with my current partner for 8 years and am struggling because I am no longer comfortable being gay...this is not the first time I have felt like this.,,I need someone to talk to ..,I am uncomfortable in my own skin.,,I am constantly thinking about being with a man...please help

  6. A couple of thoughts come readily to mind as I read your comment, Anonymous.
    First, it's possible you're bisexual–that you find yourself alternately attracted to men and women, seeking in one what you don't find in the other.
    But, more likely, you have some outstanding issues with being gay. You haven't yet made your peace with it, and you haven't been able to move to a place where not only can you accept yourself but also you can love the wonderful human being you are–just as you are.
    So…how to get from here to there?
    I'm guessing you're in your 40s. That being the case, would it help if I told you you've already wasted too much time trying to come to terms with being gay? You must get on with the rest of your life now, to put your sexual orientation into perspective, and to recognize it as the blessing it is–if you let it be.
    You write, "I need someone to talk to." That may be the case (and I'm here for you if you want to keep the discussion going). But I think you have some talking to do to yourself first.
    One of the biggest things that helped me overcome my hatred of being gay, and of myself, was writing about it, which I did here in my blog and in my daily journal. Pick up a pen and purge. Or write your own blog, about coming to terms with being a lesbian. Get it out of your system. You need to clean it out.
    But here's another little trick I learned. Usually, the only difference between looking at something one way or another…is changing your mind about it. Frankly, you can talk to a counselor for years about not wanting to be gay and never get to the other side, because you refuse to change your mind about it. Or, today–this very day–you can decide you won't do this to yourself anymore. You will accept what you are, and you will take the necessary baby steps to turn what you think and say into action.
    If you haven't already, I strongly recommend you look at the posts I've written here in this blog, especially those under the headings "self-esteem" and "thought for the day." I have no doubt they will help.
    But, in the end, only you can do this. No one can give you self-acceptance. Remember, there’s only one you in the world, you are special and wonderful just as you are, and you deserve to live your life fully, without being encumbered by your sexual orientation.
    Thanks for your interest in my blog and for your comment. I hope you’ve found this helpful.

  7. I know how you feel in a lot of ways..I'm 19 years old and have never really felt like I've been "apart of" either gender. I've mostly grown up having close relationships with women but I've had periods over the past couple of years where I literally craved male companionship. I've always been able to have conversations with guys but there is never that level of comfort that I have when talking to a girl. But being around a bunch of girls constantly isn't something I'm fond of either. It's all very confusing. I get what you mean, as a human being I can't help but yearn for a place to belong. Sometimes I feel masculine and am very comfortable with it and other times I feel feminine and uncomfortable. Sometimes it's the other way around. Thanks for this post, it feels good to know that there are gay men that feel the way I do in some ways.

    1. Wonderful comment, Ian, and thanks for taking the time to read this post and respond to it.

      The good news for all of us is that there really is nothing new under the sun. You can be sure that, if you feel it, someone else either has or is feeling it right now, and ultimately that helps us feel we're not alone.

      I think the trick is that we need to integrate all parts of ourselves. If I've learned anything, it's that everything that goes into making who I am is fine just the way it is. It's okay to feel frustrated sometimes and to feel satisfied sometimes too.

      I'm so glad what I wrote in this post comforted and helped you in some way. That's the whole reason why I started, and continue to work on, this blog

      Thanks again for the positive feedback. I appreciate it.