One of my go-to responses when people say "Being gay is a choice" is "Why would I choose this?"
Now that's not about shame, or unhappiness. It's about ease, acceptance, the expectation and/or disappointment of parents, the federal and civil protections we still don't have, and the simple truths that we're still overlooked for babysitting duties by people who claim to be otherwise accepting, and that things like holding hands in public can get us a brick to the head, to cite a few reasons of why we're still separate, but far from equal, and why if this were all a matter of a sign-up sheet, my John Hancock probably wouldn't be on it.
Although we've taken big giant steps forward with the last round of marriage equality elections and a President Re-elect who's not afraid to say Gay, being part of the LGBT alphabet soup is still no easy A.
But even as acceptance creeps in from the outside, there are still some parts of the gay life I don't fully relish, outside in and inside out. Like seven odd gay dwarves, here they are in no particular order...
Feminization of Gay Men
In college I used to hang with a group of girls, and they're the first people I came out to. While they were wholly supportive and fully sincere in their support, how they then dealt with me did indeed change. They began to treat me like one of the girls... and, well, I was not. Suddenly, all our interactions were one big slumber party. It was more emasculating than being gay ever was... or ever would be. Cuz it's not, Blanche, it's not.
Gurrrrrrrllll, I don't like it one bit. Sure, there's a camp component to gay life that's fun to pull out at parties... and I have friends who greet me with "Hey, lady!" (one a gay man, the other a straight woman) whenever I see them, and I get the spirit in which they intend it... and I love them for it. I like "having a bit" with them. But these two do it with tongue in cheek, and without mistaking my love of men with a need to be a woman.
I'm not saying there is anything at all wrong with either end of the sliding scale of femme to butch in the gay world (and I can tell you, some of the butchest looking guys...). I just don't like the assumption by some that if you like dudes, you're a lady.
Throwing the Bottoms Under the Bus
Top or Bottom, pro or con: I don't like the baggage placed on the two roles assigned to gay sex. All too frequently, the gay community (including Bottoms themselves) tends to use "Bottom" in an off-handed, demeaning way, even though life on the bottom is very often the position of power, role of bigger HIV risk, and harder "work," but I'll spare some of my straight friends some of those specifics.
And I don't love that we seem to equate "Top" with "Alpha." It makes sex too much about roles and domination, and while that can be fun in the right red light of a leather bar, or to keep the spice in a long-term relationship, I'd like to think that gay sex can be as nuanced as, well, any sex.
I fully realize there is need to clarify roles for reasons of sexual compatibility, since our packaging isn't as self-identifying as straight males and females at first glance. I just don't love the sneer and snicker we sometimes assign to bottoming, or the heroism and super-masculinity we assume of the Tops. Neither is true. And, news flash: roles can - and do - change, by the day, year, or partner.
Straights Trying to Turn Us
I am never offended by female attention. It feels nice to be flirted with, by any gender. Conversely, I think straight men and women should be flattered, not offended, by gay attention.
But when the comments or actions overshoot "flirt" and reach "attempted conversion," things get a bit icky. It implies it's a phase, a choice. It implies that feminine wiles can overcome what I'm hard-wired to be, or respond to sexually, or even romantically.
I know gays are just as guilty, in the opposite direction, as evidenced by the "He's one six-pack away from being gay" adage we love to throw around about Hollywood stars and burly delivery men, and even via some of the subtext of the recent "Gay Men Will Marry Your Girlfriends" floating around. But I don't like the implication from hopeful gay to straight, either. It still makes it about choice and decision... or willpower. And it's not.
Sexualizing the Military
Don't get me wrong: I loves me a man in a uniform, US Navy or UPS, baseball or boot camp (and except for at Halloween, I draw the line at Cub- and Boyscout). But one thing that set me on edge, especially during the height of the attention around the repeal of Don't Ask, Don't Tell, was the frequency of images of hot guys in or partially out of uniform that showed up on my desktop, inbox and News Feed. No surprise, most weren't even really soldiers at all, but hyperstylized versions in soft (or hard) porn, propped, fluffed and costumed to fulfill a fantasy.
But in these instances, it seems like we want to have our soldier and eat him too... we howl with objection to the conservative notion that gay men will turn barracks into orgy when pushing to end DADT, yet completely attempt to sexualize the image of men in the military when it suits our fancy.
I'll admit, when our men in uniform self-post flirty and shirtless videos, dancing and flexing to "Call Me Maybe," and virtually every one in it could land a starring role in any Falcon or Treasure Island DVD, things get a little blurry on where we should draw the line in the desert sand. Same goes for the Facebook page started in support of His Royal Undressed, Prince Harry, where a pale but robust line-up of lads doffed their kits to show support and, well, almost everything else. But then, it's their joke, their choice, not ours. Besides, they're in the line of fire. Let 'em do whatever they want to stay sane and alive.
Perhaps it's just a remnant of my unresolved issues with my G.I. Joe... the hot ginger with life-like hair. His wet suit never seemed to want to stay on. But I digress.
Cruising as Bloodsport
Maybe groups of straight guys or girls do it, too, but I have friends I won't go to bars with anymore, since they think cruising and scoring is a duel to the death, whatever our history. They turn into competitors for a notch on the bedpost when something ripply swaggers in, especially if we have similar taste in men. It often becomes Race to the Hot Guy: who can bag and bed the newcomer, gym bunny, or barback first.
I link it back to our (my?) confusion of sexual activity and general social acceptance, or even the excruciating exercise of being picked for teams in gym class... getting picked, or picked up, first now is our consolation for getting picked last then. Maybe that's a stretch. But I just don't like the concept that "we're all in this together" until we are competing for attention, cock-blocking our besty for bragging rights.
Every time the campaign to lobby Mattel resurfaces, in protest of Barbie's impossible-to-attain body image, and what it's doing to little girls, I think, "You should watch gay porn." Taking, um, size out of the unattainable equation, gay men are largely obsessed with body perfection, and many will drink, swallow, throw up, inject, do, or fake just about anything to attain it. And we idolize those who achieve our current ripped Adonis Holy Grail, even if the means are surgical, steroidal, obsessive, Photoshopped or yes, even when it's hard-fought and worthy or just the blessing of perfect genetics. But we seem to place it above all else on the pedestal. It makes a lot of gay life demeaning, wearing away the spirit and self-confidence when the dude in the bar with the biggest guns gets the most attention.
You Must Be HIV Positive to Care About AIDS.
I end with a biggie, on the approach of another World AIDS Day.
This year, I saw more Facebook posts, shares and Likes about Bear City II than about How to Survive a Plague. Last year's AIDS day, I profiled at least a dozen friends engaged in the fight to educate about and eradicate AIDS, with links, bios and intros. They were my least Liked posts ever, except by the people tagged. I've had bigger response to Tweets about vacuuming. Maybe it was just timing. But there just seems to be a collective and nervous silence when the topic of AIDS is broached in the gay community.
When AIDS was robbing our ranks at an incomprehensible pace, we had no choice but to respond, and no one questioned why our community would dare to do so. It was also frequently that which blew open our closet doors, with a cruel and double whammy of Coming Out and revealing a positive diagnosis to loved ones.
But now, as AIDS has turned all but invisible in most instances, and coming out has become somewhat easier, we seem to think the only ones who should be concerned about AIDS are the ones who've been infected. Where all the other six reasons above irk me, this one makes me sick to my stomach.
When I added an AIDS med condition to my own personal list of demands from Target that would get me back as a customer, a fellow gay man argued its inclusion with me, saying he did not want to further align AIDS with the gay community. I understand that there was once, and still remains the need to clarify that AIDS is not solely a "gay disease." But while I wish it weren't so, it is still largely a truth, and falling silent only adds to the number of new cases happening with each new day, gay straight or otherwise. Turning our back now is what Reagan did then, and people died because of it.
But it is still a reality, still a possibility and for that reason, and to honor the many I've known no longer with us because of AIDS, we need to not turn our back on the topic.
When it comes to talking about AIDS now, what are we afraid of? Why would we rather remain silent, and in doing so, reinforce stigma so many fought so hard to overcome?
I don't care who supposes what about me because of my continued support of places like The Alpha Workshops, DIFFA, Housing Works or Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS. I do what I do for plays never written, fame never achieved, art never painted, families never raised... because of how a misunderstood disease ravaged not only my own own community, but our entire human culture and society. I find no shame in any reason to do so. It pains me that some do.
The Short List
So that's my short list.
Do any of these rank up there with the right to serve in the military, the right to protected housing, the right to declare my love, publicly, for my partner, and the right to visit that partner in an emergency room, nursing home or hospice? Hell no. Except for that last one, these are all more on the level of Pet Peeve than Civil Right, for sure.
I'm not saying everyone is guilty of all or any of these, and for the record, I'm guilty, guilty, guilty, guilty, guilty, guilty of most of the above at one point or another.
Gurrrrrrrrrl, I gotta run. A hot guy just walked in and I have to try to tap that before my friend sees him. And I think she's a SOLDIER! Probably a big Bottom, too. Sssssssssnap!