As A Gay Man, Other Gay Men Still Scare Me & It’s Affecting My Ability To Be Normal

And it festers within internalized homophobia, jealousy, and sadness. It’s something I’m seeing more and more as days pass by. Why do I put so much of my self-worth into pretty gay people?

I’m proud of being a gay man. Surrounded by a community that lifts each other up without being dependent on race, monetary stature—whatever the case may be. In the coming months before June, which has been declared as Pride month, San Francisco (more specifically) gets overrun with the idea that to be apart of what “pride” superficially is, it looks like X, Y, and Z. And you can say, “well I don’t see that,” and that’s valid. For myself, it starts from within and comes outwards.

But wait, why am I talking about this? Why even write this narrative? It’s a narrative I’ve been writing for years—it’s still on-going. The feeling started subtly when I was 18. I just had moved to San Francisco to begin my four year university and coming from a small town with a LGBT community as small as the entree’s at French Laundry, I paved a way to make friends who were gay, lesbian, bi-sexual, and so on. I luckily met those friends who were balls of energy and color, character studies from what I thought gay men and women were portrayed as on television and the internet. 

Is It Egotistic or Am I A Sore Loser?

I’ll say it, I’m not the ideal or even conventionally “attractive” body type. I struggle with wanting the idealism of a gay man’s body and the unyielding ‘courage’ of owning the skin I’m in. You’re told (from a hetero point of view), you’re in the skin you own, so own it. Women are told that every body is accepted, every body is welcome—a space is made for them to be loved, feel sexy, and be at whatever standard “weight they wished.” Why can’t this apply to gay men? The topic of how and why gay men are affected by this repeatedly appears within the popular gay press (I.E Gayletter, Hello MR r.i.p, Out Magazine) and sparks controversy within the gay community.

And I think, would I fit a better mold if I were to ditch more feminine ideals for hyper-masculine ultimatums?

For instance, Bergling reported on gay men who rigidly enact traditional masculine ideals and experience a “fear” of effeminate gay men. Frontiers Magazine—a Southern California gay entertainment magazine—featured a cover story entitled “Butch is Back,” which explored how the repackaging of a Los Angeles leather-themed gay bar was redefining masculine ideals in the local gay community.—“A site for [gay] guys that like sports, can change their own car’s oil, or just don’t fit the effeminate stereotype” (text taken from Website’s homepage)—offered an on-line discussion area where many posting revered traditional masculine ideals and expressed hostility towards effeminate gay men. And I think, would I fit a better mold if I were to ditch more feminine ideals for hyper-masculine ultimatums?

If you’re a good looking gay man, you’ll get farther in your life because society puts visually pretty people at the forefront of what a community looks like. Fact.

Photo by Toni ReedPhoto by Toni Reed

Photo by Toni Reed

What is Masculine and Feminine, Truly?

Masculinity and femininity are descriptors commonly used in everyday language. These terms are often associated with physical and biological differences between men and women (e.g., body shape and size; However, most of the characteristics that are associated with masculinity and femininity are socially constructed. In describing this traditional masculinity, David and Brannon (an independent journal) suggested that this ideology is dictated by four main rules: men should not be feminine; men must be respected and admired; men should never show fear; and men should seek out risk and adventure.

Consequently, the general perception is that gay men are not masculine.

When scrolling through the dozens and dozens of profiles Grindr has to offer—these commonalities stand out. Loves hiking, seeking adventure; educated professional, wants respect and admiration; the want for “in-shape” guys, men should not be feminine. The similarities are frightening to a capacity. Even though there may be specific ideals associated with traditional masculinity, Thompson and Pleck proposed that there is no singular type of masculinity. Rather, many masculinity ideologies exist within the U.S. varying between cultural and ethnic groups. Thus, different groups of individuals may define masculinity differently and hold different standards for men.

Many gay men are seen to break from traditional masculinity ideology mainly because of their affectional and sexual orientation. Consequently, the general perception is that gay men are not masculine. While such perceptions regarding gender roles are of little consequence to many gay men, there are gay men who do not perceive themselves to be feminine at all and who value traditional masculinity. Is that problematic? Are they in their right to be as hyper-masculine as they want?

Gay men scare me, why?

Growing up—being gay wasn’t something that was freely expressed as it is today. We’ve come a long way for the kids born in the year 2000. I never had a boyfriend, never had a homecoming or prom date, and I yearned to have that regular teen experience. Small towns foster heteronormativity to a level that’s unbreakable—it’s you against the world. So instead of being shunned, I decided to go with the normative flow.

Ultimately, bad habits die hard, relearning new habits take time.

For eight years, coming out formally to friends in the 5th grade to graduating high school, I hid my hyper feminine aspects. I wanted to experiment with make-up, I wanted to experiment with nail polish, I only really got away with having longer hair than normal. But the day came to make a choice, a choice to grow up. I moved to San Francisco the fall of 2010. What a year it was. Within the first four months, I met gay men and women of all backgrounds who had nothing but love & support to share. Going from nothing to everything gives you a mental whiplash that one can only recognize in hindsight.

You essentially need to make categorization out of the people you meet—everything from hot to not, friendly not friendly, and everything in between—you never really stop to smell the roses in the LGBT community. There isn’t a handbook, it’s all about living life fast. So coming into my late twenties, I feel like I’m beginning to start to lay back in terms of quickly jumping to conclusions on others in this community, it’s a young mindset to make assumptions about those you don’t know. Ultimately, bad habits die hard, relearning new habits take time.

The Power of Shame

“Shame shapes gay men”, says Steve Cadwell, the author and PhD, Group Therapy with Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Populations on Shame, Gender, and Sexuality in Gay Men’s Group Therapy. “Often in our group of origin (our family), we suffered from neglect or abuse. We didn’t have secure attachments and emotions were not regulated.”

And Steve has seen it all when it comes to gay men in the eyes of the public, “Over my career, psychotherapeutic theory and technique have evolved to appreciate the fundamental power of relationship in our development and healing.” He tells us, “I have done my own part in furthering this vitalizing work. I co-edited a book on psychotherapy with gay men in the age of AIDS, both specific to HIV and broadening to the frontiers of therapy in general. I’ve worked to support caregivers overwhelmed by the traumas of HIV. I’ve studied and written on gender, sexuality and shame—themes which are both specific to my gay male clients and also are resonant universal themes.”

But about the themes, I couldn’t understand me. A lot of my one on ones with other gay men happen more intimately then in public settings, Steve elaborated on this, “for gay male couples [or single men], intimacy has its own challenges. Early shaming about being different in gender role and different in sexual desire fosters defenses which protect the gay man from further exposure but at the same time create a barrier to being fully known. Homophobia and gender role constriction leave scarring hardships that often show up as barriers to intimacy.”

It hit me. Am I my own internalized homophobia? When a gay man shames another gay man is that innate homophobia?

What about Pride 2019 Can I Do To Make Better?

Back on habits, it’s hard to unlearn negative stereotypes subconsciously. On the habit of shaming within the community, “because gender and sexuality are so central to one’s sense of self early deep shaming of a gay man’s gender role and sexuality can have a devastating impact on his fullest experience of self and connection to others.” These real-life examples and the suggestion that masculine ideals significantly affect many gay men may surprise people who are not intimately familiar with the gay community—a community that is often perceived as accepting of individual differences. Yet, the reality is that traditional masculine ideals affect how gay men feel about themselves.

I’m still learning to be a functional member of the gay community. I don’t think I’ve quite gotten a hold on myself and I’m trying hard everyday to express love openly and honestly and to drop the shame game.

// Feature photography by Yannis Papanastasopoulos.

As A Gay Man, Other Gay Men Still Scare Me & It’s Affecting My Ability To Be Normal
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