To help me with my answer, I consulted The Oxford Dictionary of Current English, to be clear on the definition of antagonist, and learned that it's an "opponent or adversary." As I thought about my novel, I didn't see how any of my characters are opponents or adversaries of each other, so I wasn't sure where I'd find my antagonist.
Then I decided to consult the notes I'd made from reading the chapter on "Antagonists" in Maass's book. Here's what he had to say: "Sometimes the antagonist is nothing more than life itself. Infertility, divorce, married lovers, thwarted creativity, terminal cancer--the antagonist can be the relentless, small, unavoidable domestic tragedies that happen to us all [see p. 68]." This got me thinking that maybe my antagonist wasn't a human being. Perhaps I needed to look at it on a broader scale.
Then it came to me. My antagonist was homosexuality, the condition of being gay. But that didn't sit right with me either. Sure, all my characters are gay, and what they want most is probably the result of being gay, but how could the concept of homosexuality be an antagonist, even in a work of fiction?
Of course, I could personify homosexuality, make it like another character, even give it a goal, so that it could act against the other characters in various ways to achieve its goal. But it seemed to me that being gay was simply a condition, a state of being, with no personality, no goal, no want or need to achieve anything. Like many other situations in life, being gay is neither good nor bad, it just is. It's what we do with it, or our reaction to it, that makes all the difference.
A-ha. That's when it started to make sense, and I found my real antagonist. Internal homophobia was my characters's opponent or adversary. Now I was on to something. Since all of my characters are gay, all of them necessarily have reactions toward being gay that affect their lives in ways they may or may not realize. Their reactions may be slightly different, but the results end up being mostly the same.
At some point, I sat back and started to take a closer look at my own life. I had to ask myself the question: Is internal homophobia an antagonist in my life? And, unfortunately, I had to answer, yes, it is. Many of the blog posts I've written over the past year reflect the permutations of what that looks like. For me, as I'm sure is the case for many gay men, internal homophobia results in self-esteem issues, which manifest themselves in our lives in so many ways, directed toward other gay men and toward ourselves, whether or not we're aware of them.
In the case of other gay men, I've written about this before, but it's worth repeating. Not all gay men are created equally. There's a class system within the gay male community. Those who are better able to hide their homosexuality look down on those who can't. Like the fems and the fairies and the queens--the ones who many of us laugh with, or at, and think they give us all a bad name. Why don't they butch it up, we ask. Why do they have to dress in sequins and feathers? Why do they have to gesture so wildly? Why do they have to sibilate? They attract attention to themselves for all the wrong reasons. Thank God I'm not like them, we think. Thank God I don't have to be around them. If I spent time with them, even dated them--the thought makes me sick--they'd make me look bad. People would think I'm gay.
Do you know why I know this happens? Because I do it myself. When I had difficulty accepting myself as a gay man, I didn't want to be in the same room as these faggots. They were creepy. They put me off with their screaming flamboyance. You know why they put me off? Because I saw me in them, although that's the last thing I would have admitted, to myself or to anyone else. Truth be told, every gay man has a queen inside of him. It's part of what makes us gay. Some are just better able to control the inner fairy than others.
You know what used to piss me off? Back in the day, I read personal ads in the local newspapers. I was looking for a relationship, so I had my nose constantly in the "Men Seeking Men" section. How many times did I read descriptions like "straight acting, straight looking, expect same" or statements like "no fats, no fems need apply"? I haven't read a personal ad in some time--I know most of that business takes place online now--but I'll bet you still find words like these in the ads that run today. We don't like gay men who are obviously gay, who show us what being gay looks like, and who rub our noses in the fact that we're gay, too, and share the same territory as them.
But I believe the most damaging manifestations of internal homophobia are directed toward ourselves. For example, I've long believed that the smoking, drugging, and the excessive drinking of alcohol are among the most prevalent examples of internal homophobia in the gay community. When countless medical reports confirm that all of these activities lead to a myriad of health issues, from addiction to heart disease to cancer, why do we continue to do them? The only answer I can come up with is because we hate ourselves, and we don't care if we live or die. How else can they be explained when we know better?
It's no different for the obese person. He's heard it preached time and again that eating healthy food and getting plenty of vigorous exercise is good for him. But it's not until he comes to the realization that there's no greater reason to get healthy than for himself that he's likely to take any of the advice and incorporate it into his own life on an ongoing basis.
I've always felt that promiscuity is another manifestation of internal homophobia and low self-esteem. Sure, men are dogs, and we like sex, whether we're straight or gay. I get that. But, over the years, I've witnessed countless gay male friends screw nearly everything in sight. While I watched from the sidelines, because I had more respect for myself, I tried to understand how perfectly rational, attractive, and desirable young men could indulge in such misbehavior. And the only explanation I could come up with was because, like everyone else, they needed to connect with other human beings, but they would only allow themselves to connect physically--which was looked at as nothing more than getting themselves off--rather than emotionally--which involved admitting to themselves they were really gay, and their physical as well as emotional needs could only be met by other men. Just like the gay men who will have sex but not kiss on the mouth, because the latter takes them too close to having to admit who they really are.
I used to think the greatest homophobic threat against me came from the straight community--the religious fanatic, the thug on the street, the girl with the bottle of liquor in her hand, hanging out the open back window of a car, yelling gay epithets toward me and my partner as they quickly sped by. Sure, I took a lot of teasing about being gay at the hands of impertinent straight people, including some of the young males I attended grade school with. But the teasing ended over thirty years ago. If anyone has done a number on me, in terms of making me feel badly, time and time again, for who I am, it's been me.
I've flagellated myself far harder over the decades since school than anyone ever did then. Sure, the roots of my own self-hatred originated in what others said about me and physically did to me as a result of their own homophobia, but, overall, I've lived a good life as a gay man. Virtually everyone I've told I'm gay to over the years has been supportive beyond expectation. For the past eighteen years, I've been in an openly gay relationship that's been as much of a marriage as it can be without having the license. And I've never once felt like I was held back, in either my personal or professional lives, because I was gay.
No, the biggest homophobic threat I've ever experienced has come from within me. More often than not, I've been my own worst enemy in terms of perpetuating what I believed everyone else thought about me. I've been ten times, no, one hundred times, harder on myself because I believed everyone around me had these negative thoughts about me, and I obviously believed I should have them about me, too.
Being gay is like everything else--if you don't live consciously, you continuously tell yourself things that hold you back, that take away a bit of your soul every day, that prevent you from loving the one person in your life who most deserves it--YOU! When you become aware that you're doing something, because someone points it out to you, or because you finally wake up and realize it, you have the power to change it. Of course, it's easy to fall back into the old behavior patterns because that's all you've known for years, even decades, and, whether it serves you or not, it became your M.O. over time, the way you lived your life, the way you looked at yourself. But when you know better, you do better.
Consider yourself told. If you exhibit any of the signs of internal homophobia, either against other gays and lesbians--whom we should support because we're all part of the same community anyway--or, worse, against yourself, stop it. STOP IT NOW. From this point forward, you know you do it. You have no excuse for continuing to do it. Just imagine how much stronger we could be, individually and as a community, if we stopped hating ourselves and each other, and focused on what makes us intrinsically worthwhile and valuable. As I see it, there'd be no stopping us.
Stop allowing internal homophobia to be an antagonist in your life. Give forgiving and loving yourself a chance. You deserve it. You're entitled to it. You might even like it.