The struggle to be a ‘real man’

Two instances, both in high school, with comparable interpretations: One, a boy accosted me in the locker room for “watching” as he changed; second, a girl darted up to me in the hallway, inquired of my sexuality, and insisted on having me as her “gay best friend.” Often I don’t remember occurrences like these; they’re so frequent that I wonder if I should label it as an expectation rather than a micro-aggression. In fifth grade classmates would tease me for surrounding myself with girls; in middle school, when other boys’ voices deepened, I was mocked for a higher pitch; in high school, I was either something to be feared or tokenized; in college, I’m often the odd gay out.

People humor me. In a liberal arts school like Emerson College, where I attend, a straight person will encounter one or two queer people and claim the institution is infected with sexuality—I can’t count the amount of people who have told me I’m the first gay person they’ve known, as if we’re some endangered mammal you observe at a zoo. Yet even here, in this allegedly queer haven, I’m subject to the overwhelming sensation I’ve felt since coming to terms with my sexuality: the cognizance that—everywhere I look, everywhere I go—I’m surrounded by heterosexuality, by some “norm” I can, and will, never fit in to.

On the other hand, I don’t fit in well with my fellow queer community. I never have, and I’m not quite sure why. Maybe it’s the fact that I grew up in a conservative space, thus stinted to queer culture, and because of that I can’t let loose like others, or mold myself to their mannerisms. Personally I’m not a fan of drag, I don’t watch Queer Eye, I’ve never been to a gay bar or club, I’m not familiar with the slang—you know, those stereotypes that are wrong to perpetuate, yet ring nonetheless true. Because of this, I’m always surprised when my straight friends refer to me as “so gay,” or of the like. To straight people, it’s as if to simply be gay is the same as being too gay for comfort.

Here’s the rundown for straight-gay relations: Straight men over-sexualize gay men—they fear from gay men the same treatment with which they treat women. Oppositely, many straight women, in their neoliberal eagerness to integrate themselves into the queer community, not only emblematize gay men but de-sex us. We are either perverts or eunuchs. Male anxiety over homosexuality often manifests as retaliatory violence, while female anxiousness more or less isolates. The truth is, I act “gayer”—whatever that is—with women, because I feel more comfortable and safe around them, while with men I assume different, more masculinely perceived expressions and idiosyncrasies: I’m still not sure which is the more genuine version of me. And within the LGBTQ+ community, there are standards: One must look this way, one must weigh this much, one much neither be too feminine nor too masculine. What to do, where to go, when you’re a gay man who isn’t in love? So we are barred from equal human relations.

As a gay man mostly friends with straight people—moreover, straight men—I’ve hardly, if ever, felt equal among a group of peers. Everything will go well until it doesn’t; for example, if I say the wrong thing, men will hop on the opportunity to mock me, to patronize me. Men form bonds with one another for a means of solidarity to use against women, minorities. If I ever begin to feel equal, this will inevitably find its way to poison my selfhood—I will feel like one of the boys until these same boys gang up on me, and then I understand: Oh, yes, I am gay, and they are not.

Gay men will often resort to the company of women for equal relations. Notions of gender, here, become fuzzy, and as much as I yearn for female friends, I am also a man and contribute to the patriarchy. I feel as if many gay men fail to grasp this. Solidarity between women is the one space where the patriarchy fails to fully invade—if male friendship reinforces the patriarchy, sisterhood dismantles it. Why should I enter, and bring with me my maleness, into the sacred atmosphere of womanhood? If I were to forget my gayness among women, they will not neglect my maleness; if anything, my gayness would denote me to the role of courtier, cupbearer, a shoulder to cry on. Because I am not straight, I must not be a real man—I must be some castrated boy, some contamination of true manhood.

So where do I go for a feeling of equality? I don’t know. Sometimes it feels as lonely—sometimes more—as when no one knew about my sexuality. Possibly, even out of the closet, I feel as suffocated and restricted as I did in it.

painting: “Two Men in White Shirts,” Mark Beard

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