This week, The Vancouver Sun is running a series on how, in our age of social media and supposed connectedness, so many of us feel disconnected from each other, like we don't belong. The problem is apparently worse in large cities, where you'd think, because of the proximity of so many people in such small areas, they'd be more likely to greet strangers, or make lots of new friends, or have busy social schedules–in other words, to feel connected to those around them.
I remember when I moved from one of Metro Vancouver's suburbs to the West End, right in the center of the skyline that's come to define the city over the decades. I didn't feel I belonged in the suburbs, where it seemed most of the people were single and straight, or married with children. Once I got to know Vancouver better, I learned the place I needed to be was the West End, where the majority of the city's young, single, gay community lived.
What happened next can only be described as ironic. When I lived in Burnaby (the suburb), I managed to become friends with two wonderful single gay men, whom I remained close to for many years–until one passed away in 2000, and until I lost touch with the other. But when I moved to the West End, I made no new friends. Not one. I saw plenty of people I wanted to meet–a few of whom became temporary acquaintances–but none became close friends (other than Chris, who became the closest).
The reality of the gay male community, I found, is that true, close, platonic friendships are tough to make. Because sex is a constant undercurrent in the community, gay men are more likely to look at each other as sexual prospects than as mere friends. I'd be curious to know how many gay men have close friendships with other gay men–that is, you could count on them for virtually anything–yet have never had sex with each other, initially or at any time during the friendship. My guess is, not many.
I can't tell you the number of times I wanted to meet someone–not for sex but just to connect with them as human beings–and I was blown off. In many cases, if I even looked at them, I got the cold stare of death (if they bothered to do that). They couldn't remove themselves fast enough from my orbit. At the time, I assumed it was because they thought my looking at them meant I wanted to have sex, and, obviously, I wasn't attractive enough, to have sex, let alone be friends, with.
I don't remember a time when I didn't feel like an outsider in the gay community, because I wasn't conventionally pretty enough to appeal to the boys, and because I was conservative in my lifestyle (that is, I respected myself enough not to have sex with just anyone). I know I'm not alone. Many of us within the gay community are marginalized, because we don't meet some cultural standard of physical beauty, or because we don't smoke, drink, or drug, or because we're old, or because of whatever.
But we need to change this. Honestly, there's no reason on earth to account for why, when all of us have experienced rejection from the straight mainstream community around us, we should feel like we don't belong to the gay community* (if there is one). We can do better than that. We must do better than that. So I'm challenging you to reach out to other people who you know or suspect are gay. Remember, friendship isn't about sex, it's about validation. And who better to validate us than each other.
(*Two or more people–in this case, with the same sexual orientation–can be considered a community.)