My coming out process as a gay man wasn’t an easy one. I was suicidal, I didn’t want to be gay, I couldn’t imagine myself doing the “honey I’m home” thing with another guy, and there weren’t any positive role models in the media that showed what life as a gay man was really like. My first exposure to gay relationships on the big screen was a movie called Partners with Ryan O’Neal and John Hurt and it terrified me. One gay stereotype after another was exploited for laughs in this comedy of the early 80’s. If this is what it meant to be gay, you could count me out. Eventually, with lots of therapy and support from my family (turns out I was the only one who had a problem with me being gay), I learned to accept myself and went from experiencing constant anxiety and fear, to pride and self confidence. I learned that the many gay stereotypes I feared growing up, were just that. They lacked truth and I could discount them as hate fueled propaganda. That is, all except one, and it continues to bother me to do this day.
One of the first things I learned as a teenager in therapy is the importance of boundaries and how we count on them in almost every aspect of our lives. From standing in line at Disney World, to the grocery store, we do so because we know the behavior benefits everyone in the long run, even though none of us like to do it. Boundaries at the workplace, in the form of policies and procedures, help keep us all feeling safe and offer a sense of security. Everyone has seen the disastrous consequences when those lines are crossed procedurally, inter-personally or even sexually. Personal space is also a boundary, one that we cherish and hold in high regard. Letting someone into that space is often a sign of love and is a factor in forging strong relationship bonds. With all this being said, I think I’ve illustrated how important boundaries are to me, and probably most of the population. However time and time again I see members of my own community, challenging and crossing them, with little or no respect for myself or others. And you really have to wonder, how did we get here?
In 1969, the Stonewall Riots marked the beginning of the Gay Civil Rights movement. We literally were so tired of being pushed, prodded, beaten and murdered, we fought back and sent a huge message. We weren’t going to allow our boundaries to be crossed and disrespected any longer. We wanted the same sense of security as everyone else, and wanted the laws that governed others, and protected their boundaries, to do the same for our community. Gays and lesbians organized, marched, and in turn began to push boundaries as well, in an effort make everyone aware of our cause. This was fully justified and warranted. In the 1980’s, a health crisis warranted an even stronger, almost radical approach to getting our message across, and ACT UP was born. Our brothers and sisters were slowly dying everywhere and many people considered this to be some sort of purge, devised by nature, God or even government scientists to rid the world of homosexuality. The Gay and Lesbian community came together like never before and made our faces known to the world.
The year now is 2017 and we’re enjoying freedoms that we never thought possible. Marriage is something two men or woman can actually dream about happening and it might come true because it’s finally legal. In the process of uniting to fight the greater evil, the community as a whole became a tight family. Still, like in many aspects of evolution, we are left with vestigial traits that we can’t seem to shake. You find examples of this everywhere, as behaviors that served to help our collective organism thrive and succeed, are still lurking in the shadows, looking for a cheap thrill. We’re still hanging onto the past, as exhibited in our personal choices. For example, there are countless places, except where it’s legal to marry your cousin, where it’s completely safe for a gay man to sit at a Starbucks, get some coffee, and smile at another man they find attractive. Yet many gay men find it more preferable to meet that same man in the bathroom at Starbucks and engage in anonymous sex. The community is still incredibly connected to obsolete behaviors, from a time when risky bathroom interactions were the only source of finding anyone else in the world that felt the same way you did. We’re not lonely nomads anymore, wandering the city for signs of affection, yet we continue to act as we are. And it seems to be still perfectly okay and acceptable in many circles.
Gay men aren’t often recognized for their skills at maintaining long lasting relationships. I take myself as a perfect example. I’ve been in three long term relationships, two of which almost lasted ten years. In the gay world that’s pretty huge, and I’m often congratulated at social gatherings. However in the straight world, I’m on my third husband and I’m probably a mess and have more issues than Time Magazine. Could this duality be attributed to something pretty simple? Like gay men just can’t keep it in their pants? Could the boundaries presented in a traditional relationship, subconsciously be another issue they feel a need to fight against?
I recently just created my first Facebook account for the purposes of publicizing my blog and getting people to read what I have to say. I’m in the Information Technology profession and my area of expertise is electronic content management, or ECM. So trust me when I say that after a long day in the office, the least thing I want to do is manage more content. My partner Eric actually likes the idea of me being on Facebook, he’s linked me to his profile and now the world knows he’s my snuggums. However I wasn’t prepared for the reaction I received from the Facebook community… I’m consistently being propositioned and hit on, as if the entire system was some bathroom or dark alley for gay men to cruise in the middle of the night. And for some reason this is once again perfectly acceptable behavior by so many, even though I’m in a relationship. It’s okay to violate my boundaries on different levels, simply because I’m a gay man and I should be used to it. If there are apps on phones specifically geared for hooking up, why approach someone who’s intentions are not even remotely similar? There’s a time and a place for everything, if that’s your thing… even week long events for people, gay or straight, that want to explore alternative means of meeting people, if you know what I mean. Just stop making assumptions that because I’m gay and I workout, I’m looking to get laid.
This concept of complete disrespect and lack of humiliation has roots in gay pop culture as well. With a few exceptions, drag queens almost exclusively use vulgarity and insults as the sole basis of their acts. The more boundaries that are crossed, the better the performance and the more popular you become. Before you decide to hunt me down, I’m not saying drag queens are horrible people, I’m just saying their success is based in part of a culture that likes to push the limits, in some cases, no matter how offensive. Yet another example is Lisa Lampanelli, a very popular comedian in the gay world. She earns her living spilling out painful verbal assaults on minorities and different religions, and gay men eat it up like free porn on the internet.
I guess I shouldn’t be surprised that after so many years of having to push the envelope on so many social issues just to stay alive, that there wouldn’t be some sort of recoil or overcompensation. I hope I’ve done my best to explain this part of the gay and lesbian world that bothers me so much. I understand we’ve pushed boundaries for generations and that’s helped us to survive, organize and get the rights and privileges we deserve, not just as US citizens, but as human beings. I understand that not too long ago, we couldn’t experience love and affection unless sometimes we took a walk down a dimly lit street. However times have changed and while we continue to passionately fight for what we believe in, can we check the attitude and horniness at the door? I’m seriously concerned how the new generation of gay men will grow up in this world of glorified bitchiness and overt sexuality. It’s not always funny and it’s not always welcome.