Because I'm gay, and lived all of my childhood, and a good portion of my adulthood, at a time when being gay was unacceptable to the mainstream, obviously, I didn't fit in with straight people. Although I had a lot in common with straight people, as all gay people do, there's just this part of you that knows straight people wouldn't understand, or wouldn't want to understand, if they knew about your same-sex attraction (even though love is love, when it comes right down to it).
But you want to know something ironic?
I didn't fit in with gay men, either. You might think that, once I came out, I finally found where I belonged–namely, in the company of other gay men, who, presumably, I had a lot in common with. But you'd be wrong. Sure, we shared our attraction for other men and could at least understand each other on that level. But, when it came to other matters related to being gay, I knew I was different from many of them. In other words, I still felt very much on the outside looking in, where everyone else seemed to be.
This all came back to me last week, when I received an email from a nineteen-year-old gay man who lives in Eastern Canada, and who wrote to me on the subjects of casual sex, promiscuity, and open relationships. The words he wrote speak better for him than I ever could:
I was a little shocked when I learned about the stereotypes of gay men being promiscuous, and far more shocked when I realized the extent to which such stereotypes are true. While I'm just about at the point where I can tolerate others engaging in casual sex when single, I cannot understand why anyone with the opportunity for a monogamous relationship would seek anything outside of it. To me that means you are not ready for a relationship and/or are with the wrong person. To have an open relationship to me negates the whole point of a relationship and cheapens whatever bond there is supposed to be between the people involved.
First, how refreshing it was to hear from a young man–as a matter of interest, the majority of readers I hear from are in their teens or twenties–who, in 2013, has what I would consider old-fashioned, traditional, or conservative (pick the term you prefer) principles, morals, and ideals, which, as it happens, exactly coincide with mine. Exchanges with people, such as this young man, give me so much hope for the future of our world in general, and of gay people in particular.
But, as I wrote back to him, the gay male community is a large and diverse place, and there's plenty of room for all the different ways we have of being gay. Just because you don't agree with this type of gay person, and how he feels about, or conducts himself on, matters that are important to you, doesn't mean you won't agree with that one. It's just a case of finding those you feel most comfortable with, and who validate the way you know yourself to be.
One of the greatest challenges you'll face is finding those people. Unfortunately, we still live in a culture where gay people are unable to meet each other as easily as straight people are. If you're not into the gay bar and club scene, as I wasn't–but I still made the effort to frequent them anyway and ended up meeting my life partner there–then you'll have to be creative and find other places where you're likely to meet a good cross-section of gay people, or where you'll have at least one main interest in common with everyone (like a cycling group, for example).
One of the other challenges you'll face is the temptation, in order to belong, to compromise what you hold most dear and true. Here's what I think it looks like: A young gay man comes out of the closet, meets other young gay men, and, in an effort to finally fit in somewhere–that is, to feel no longer isolated or alone–he goes along with the crowd, and finds himself indulging in substance abuse and/or sexual practices that are not who he is. Unfortunately, peer pressure doesn't necessarily end when you've left high school.
The point I'm trying to make is this: Stay true to yourself. Just because you want to fit in with other people doesn't mean you have to be someone you're not. The gay male community is a seductive place. There are many things you could encounter in it that will turn your head, some good, some not so good. Don't throw out your principles, morals, and ideals because you're finally out of the closet; because you've been led to believe homosexuality is immoral anyway, so why not live an immoral lifestyle?; because you think you have to in order to appear more attractive to other gay men.
For those of you who don't know my story, I'll give it to you in a nutshell: I never smoked, drank, or did drugs. I was never promiscuous, and I've been in a monogamous relationship for twenty-one years this month. I have always lived according to what is right for me, and I've never been influenced by anyone to do something I'm not comfortable with. I've done all right for myself. I don't believe I've missed out on anything important–because I was unwilling to compromise my standards to make someone else happy or to fit in. And, somehow, I managed to meet the man of my dreams, who I'm still madly in love with today.
In other words, if I can do it, so can you. Nothing is worth having if it's too easy to get. So, when you're wondering why you're making things so difficult for yourself, by not going along with everyone else, remember, if you stay true to who you are, and get what you've always wanted that way, you will keep your self-respect, which is, believe me, one of the most important things you can have.
All good things come to those who wait–and, I might add, who work hard to get it.
(My thanks to Chris M. for inspiring me to write this post. I respect you more than you know for the principled young man you are, and for the tremendous character you show by being true to yourself.)