I’m fascinated by gay stereotypes. I wonder what it is about gay men in particular that makes us tend to lisp, talk with our hands and love Barbra Streisand.
No, but really! Why was I, at twelve years old, riding my bike to the public library to pick up Barbra Streisand records? Nobody told me that gay men are required to listen to Barbra Streisand. I did not have a manual to read. But there I was singing in my bedroom mirror… “People, people who need people… are the luckiest people in the world…”
Back on June 1, Robin commented on my post with a gif that was captioned, “You’re a lot gayer than you used to be.”
And I wonder. Am I?
For most of my life, I was trying to “pass” as straight. I remember even as a boy, thinking about how to stand, how to hold my wrists, how to lower my voice. I wanted to fit in.
I remember once in 6th grade, one of my best girl friends said to me, “Matt, you’re the most feminine boy I know!” She wasn’t trying to be cruel, she was just making an observation. And I was mortified. I guess I was just going to have to try harder.
As I grew up, got married and entered ministry, I was able to hide behind all of that. People thought of me as artistic, sensitive, nice. Yes, I loved musical theater, but I was married and had kids, so I couldn’t possibly be gay, right?
Ever since I first started coming out to people, fifteen years ago, I’ve always had people say they’re not terribly surprised. When I came out to one couple last year, the wife ran over to me and gave me a hug, saying “I knew it!” Another couple used to drive home after spending time with me and talk about whether or not I knew I was gay.
When I first came out of the closet, I dove into the LGBTQ community. I joined SFGMC — The San Francisco Gay Men’s Chorus, where I was surrounded every week by 300 gay men of every imaginable type. I started attending, and then working for, MCC San Francisco, a historic queer church. I surrounded myself with LGBTQ people. I went to The Lookout every Monday night and sang karaoke with my chorus boy friends. I started going to the monthly Letter People mixers here in Sonoma County. I wanted to fit in, to learn the language and culture. My friend Jerron and I used to call ourselves “remedial gays,” and we would do things we had never done like watch The Rocky Horror Picture Show and visit The GLBT Historical Society in the Castro.
I guess I learned quickly, because these days my gay friends tell me that I “present gay.” That people assume I’m gay. For the record, I’m perfectly happy with that. How else am I gonna find a husband? 😀 But I do wonder… Am I “putting on” mannerisms? Or am I finally allowing myself to be who I’ve always been? Am I learning the language of a new culture or am I simply allowing the ill-fitting “straight” costume to finally fall to the floor, where it belongs?
And the thing is, I don’t embody all the stereotypes. I was talking with my friend Nate yesterday. He is also newly out of the closet, and we frequently compare notes on our new lives. He was talking about how he primps and fusses in the mirror, how he uses moisturizer to bring out the “radiance” in his skin, and how he is overdue for an eyebrow-shaping. I, on the other hand, rarely spend more than two minutes on my hair, and my clothing choices are typically a mix of Kohl’s Clearance Chic and Plato’s Closet Cheap.
Dr. Alan Downs, in his book “The Velvet Rage: Overcoming the Pain of Growing Up Gay in a Straight Man’s World,” writes:
“The experience of being a gay man in the twenty-first century is different from that of any other minority, sexual orientation, gender, or culture grouping. We are different from , on the one hand, women, and on the other hand, straight men. Our lives are a unique blending of testosterone and gentleness, hypersexuality and delicate sensuality, rugged masculinity and refined gentility. There is no other group quite like that of gay men. We are a culture of our own.”
I loved that passage when I first encountered it. I’ve felt that tension from the time I was a young boy. This collision of worlds within my own body and soul. And I still feel it every single day. What does it mean for me to be a gay man? How do I act? Why? I say I want to be authentic, that authenticity is one of my highest values. But who am I really? For so many years I acted like I thought I was supposed to act. It’s not easy trying to uncover who I really am. I’m still searching.
I’ve met many gay men in mixed-orientation marriages over the past couple of years. One man in particular stands out to me. We talked on FaceTime one day so that I could hear his story and try to be a help and resource to him. The first day we talked, he had this whole “straight guy” vibe. You know, calling me “bro” and acting for all the world like a megachurch pastor. But as we got to know each other and talked again and again over that week, I saw a remarkable transformation in him. He softened. He laughed. His eyes sparkled and he looked and acted so much more comfortable in his own skin. It was beautiful to see him becoming… himself. I was so privileged to be among the first to truly see him for who he is.
David Thorpe, in his 2014 documentary “Do I Sound Gay?”, addresses these questions and more in a highly entertaining way. I was fascinated by it and found so much with which to relate. It’s on Netflix, and I encourage you to check it out if you’re interested in learning more.