I came out when I was seventeen, the experience was rather dramatic in both the first instance of coming out and in telling my parents, but we’ll just leave it at that. This isn’t really an “It Gets Better” article, in my opinion it really only gets a little easier to live with yourself after you come out and it’s not going to get better for you unless you make it better (though suicide is certainly not the way to make it better, but that’s going off into a whole ‘nother thing, and this is supposed to be a lighter article). Instead, in the years since I’ve come out and been generally open about my sexual orientation, I’ve noticed a few things that I wouldn’t call up or downsides, but more “features”. FYI, you’re not likely to find any of these mentioned in an M/M romance. 🙂
5. I’m Expected To Have Fully Functional & Infallible Gaydar
It was one of those car rides where everything’s generally silent save the radio which is mostly on to dissuade conversation, and I was in the back seat, trying to get some sleep as I’d just gotten back from a long flight and the person who was picking me up started talking about a mutual acquaintance of ours. I wasn’t all that interested, but I nodded along on the general updates in the guy’s life, until suddenly I was asked, “So… do you think he’s gay?”
I’m pretty sure every gay person has been through some version of this, and some of us, I’ll admit, can spot “family” from a hundred yards away in a crowd. For some people, yeah, it’s an easy pick, you just have to listen to the timbre of their voice, sometimes there’s something about the face, whatever, but generally, the people you can pick out are the people who are consciously projecting the fact that they’re gay, either to attract a boyfriend/date/whatever, or pride, or just a “this is who I am”. But it doesn’t for everyone, not every gay guy has a copy of Steel Magnolias stashed somewhere on his Netflix queue, and thanks to metrosexuality, there’s plenty of “flaming straights” out there.
The thing is, we’re still expected to just know. There are people in my family who give me the barest of details about people I’ve never met, and then ask me if I think that person’s gay, and they’ll take my word for it. Do you have any idea how difficult it is not to abuse that kind of trust? Seriously, if the only qualifiers for someone being in the closet were a string of failed short-term relationships with women, 90% of my social circle would be gay.
For the record, my gaydar sucks. I didn’t even think that Sean Hayes was gay, okay? That’s how bad I am at this. Please, Mom, stop asking me! It only got weirder, though, after I was asked that, because I’d come out to my friends, and suddenly…
4. I Had To Explain Why I Wasn’t Hitting On My Friends
I know that there are plenty of stories about guys who have crushes on their best friends, and carry those feelings in secret, until they finally, bravely, put themselves out there, come out to their friend, and confess their attraction. Invariably in these stories, it turns out that the best friend is either gay as well, or “gay for him”, and much sexings commence. In fact, there’s an entire subgenre of M/M romance built precisely on this premise. In fact, this is the basis for for an overwhelming amount of slash-based fanfiction.
All of my friends were straight when I came out. Guess how many tore their clothes off and told me they’d been hiding mutual feelings and grabbed their ankles? Not a one. And honestly? I thank God for that. Most of them felt rather uncomfortable around me for about a week, until I finally confronted them all at a gathering and told them if they were worrying about me making passes at them or being alone with them, they didn’t have to worry about it, because I didn’t want to have sex with any of them.
And then there was a great chorus of relieved sighs.
And then, “Wait, why not?” “Yeah, what the hell’s wrong with me?”
It was among the most awkward moments of my life as I had to distill people who’d been my friends down to single negative traits to put them firmly on the “no” list, because apparently, “Uh, you’re straight, so what would be the point?” and “We’re friends, so it’d be weird as fuck?” apparently couldn’t get the job done.
Instead, after several minutes of contemplation, I came back with, “You’re too tall. You’re too hairy. You’re too muscly. I don’t go for redheads. And you, well, that accent makes you sound like you escaped from a renaissance faire.”
What’s funny? My ideal guy is a 6′-plus Scottish ginger bear built like a rugged mountain god with a thick accent. Knowing my luck he’s out there, but he’s straight. Plus he’s likely in Scotland, and long distance doesn’t work, you know? I have had to explain myself since then to my friends, but mostly? They just needed to get used to idea that one of their friends had jumped to the other side of the fence, but there really wasn’t a fence, per se.
Besides, my friends picked up on something a hell of a lot faster than I did now that I was out of the closet, and that was that…
3. Women Suddenly Just Locked Onto Me
The irony wasn’t at all lost on me that in the weeks before I came out I was trying, and failing miserably to get a girlfriend in my last ditch attempt to prove to myself that I wasn’t gay and I could have a normal life like everyone else. I treated the girls I was interested in with respect, I was a gentleman, followed the protocols I thought were in place, listened to what they were saying, and I struck out every single time. Then, within months of coming out, women had zero problems hanging out with me, a couple even approached me to ask me out, one was even a drive-through worker at Burger King that I had to let down.
Maybe it was confidence, but I didn’t have much self-esteem at that point, maybe it was because broody/tragically cute guys were in, or maybe it was because when I talked to a woman I actually listened to what she was saying, engaged in conversation with plenty of back and forth, and pretty much had zero interest in finding out what was going to get me in her pants. It was my friends who first noticed this, one of them even taking me out to a bar to chat up the women while they drank so they’d be easy pick-ups at the end of the night when they finally found out that, “Sorry, I’m gay, but my friend here isn’t!”
The weirdest story I have about women locking onto me? I was at the gay student union in undergrad, and I was hanging out in the office, chatting with people about movies that had come out, and one of the women mentioned “Lost Highway”. I confessed I wasn’t all that familiar with David Lynch’s work, and I was practically dragged to her dorm room because I had to see it right that minute oh my god it was the greatest movie EVER! So, I sat at her desk and watched it on her computer, and during it, her girlfriend came over, and, since I was gay, and watching the movie with headphones on, they figured I wouldn’t notice if they had sex five feet away from me in my peripheral vision.
Suffice to say, I’ve never seen the end of Lost Highway since I left after that.
And yes, my friends were fast to tell me that “Dude, being gay is totally wasted on you.”
I’ve never made an effort to see the end of that movie, anyway, I’m not much for David Lynch stuff. But one thing I did realize is that…
2. Being Gay Came With Certain Cultural Expectations, Which I Ignored
I will admit that for the first couple weeks after I came out, I wasn’t really the person I was before or am I today. I came out in my late-teens, that magical time where you’re still trying on identities, and let’s face it, when it comes to the “gay identity” there are a few boilerplate expectations. I had a friend who lived down in Atlanta that I knew was going to come out about three weeks before he did, mostly because he was going through a lot of the same things that I was.
Then he came out and my friend disappeared. In his place was a club-drone who couldn’t make the “s” sound last less than two seconds and wore more foundation than an entire Covergirl commercial. It was as if he’d taken The Birdcage as the manual for gay behavior. I went to gay clubs in my area (well, let’s be honest, the gay club in my area), and eventually I’d have to leave because I couldn’t stand the music and every guy seemed to be the same.
To be perfectly honest, I think it’s just a phase of coming out and self-acceptance. For some people, being gay is a political statement, or some it’s a sense of fashion, or a taste in music and books and movies, and for some people it’s a combination of all three. Eventually you find the person you are and you’re okay with it.
For me? Being gay means I like to fuck guys. Exclusively. That’s it. I don’t like Judas Priest because Rob Halford is a god of leather, it’s because I like heavy metal and God damn does that man have range. In my opinion, that’s all being gay means, simply who you sleep with. Gay rights on the other hand is a different creature, and yes, that’s about a lot more than just who you sleep with. Gay culture is a different thing too, but it’s often conflated with the gay identity itself, I’ve found. But, it’s through making those distinctions that I discovered likely the best thing about being gay (after having sex with guys, that is)…
1. I Was Free To Like Whatever I Wanted
While I had made my distinctions and defined what being gay meant to me, it didn’t mean that the rest of society was on the same page. Just because you buck certain expectations doesn’t mean people are going to let you forget them. At the same time though, particularly with my friends, there were plenty of things I was into they were thankful I was willing to “go straight” for.
For example, if you ever observed me watching a football game (American football, for the sake of my international readers, I won’t use the “s” word), you’d be convinced that I was wholly capable of taking the life of a fellow human being if they’d only blunder into melee range. My team is the Seattle Seahawks. You didn’t want to be around me the days, er, weeks… months… Hell, we’re STILL sore about Super Bowl XL. This has nothing to do with spandex, hiked asses, or any other of the other myriad ways football is called homoerotic. I wouldn’t care if my quarterback looked like Quasimodo as long as his completion rate was over 60% and my defense could run a Cover 2 scheme.
The same goes for the music I like. I’m into heavy metal, hard rock, classic rock, some rap, and alternative. But I can also listen to/tolerate a lot of music, like say, Nickelback (I would have to say I definitely meh Nickelback. If they came on the radio, I would totally leave the song on while I found a place to park, instead of shrieking, making a big show of changing the station even though I was alone in the car, and possibly causing an accident). I can listen to trance, house, electronica, industrial, country-western, classical, game music, and even a little Lady Gaga here and there.
And for all of it? If someone takes issue with it, more often than not they’ll shrug it off because, well, I’m gay, and them gays are into some weird shit. I’ve found it’s been a great gateway to that “don’t really care” place where you can go see any movie you want, whether it’s arthouse chic or formulaic romcom and you get a pass because, well, you’re gay. There is so much that I can watch now that I don’t have to feel weird about seeing.
To be perfectly honest, I think it’s why I’m not all that much into gay literary fiction, mostly because I just can’t identify with the leads. The only “flack” I’ve picked up for being able to go target shooting while meditating on Sarah McLachlan songs is a term that was bandied around in the 70s, 80s, and 90s, and still a bit today, “straight-acting”. Generally, it’s a term that’s used to describe a gay man who’s “discreet” about his sexuality, a guy you could take come to your slightly conservative parents who worried you’d pick up some guy at the Pride parade and bring home a Harbinger of the Rainbow Apocalypse. Thing is, I, and quite a few other gay men aren’t acting “straight”, we’re just acting outside the stereotype. If there’s a term for us at all, it’s “gay guys” or something like that.
Still though, after a few years out of the closet, I have to count my blessings, and definitely among them is the clearance to like what I like simply because I like it and not catching too much shit for it.
That and sex with guys. That really seals the deal right there. 😉