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.