The following has been reprinted, with permission, from Saskatoon Well Being's February 2013 issue. The article originally appeared here. Text edited (beautifully) by Sarah Stefanson.
I may not be the manliest of men. I can’t chop wood or hunt game and I
have no interest in hitting a ball and then walking around to find that
ball and then hitting it again (and if you can explain golf in terms
more accurate than that then you’re a wizard or a liar). But I’m
certainly a man with man parts and man friends and I wake up next to a
man every morning.
I’m not sure why gay men like me aren’t seen as authorities on
masculinity when you consider all the time and energy we spend not only
being men but using our masculine wiles to attract other men for a
non-stop man party. Gay men in pop culture are often portrayed as
completely asexual and exist only to dole out advice to their gal pals
over brunch (which we’re happy to do, by the way, but not just that).
But in real life, gay guys have more to say than, “Your hair looks
fabulous today!” (which again, it does, what are you using? Never mind,
text me later). In real life, if you’re reading this, you know actual
gay people. Maybe you don’t think you do, but statistically, you must.
You have gay coworkers, gay neighbours, gay family members, maybe even a
gay kid. Maybe you are somebody’s gay kid and you’re reading this right
now. Moms and Dads, if you’ve got teenaged sons, just leave this issue
lying around conspicuously. Gay kid, if you’re reading this, I’m so
pumped, because this is my chance to talk to you about being a man.
Straight kid, if you’re reading this, read on anyway. You might learn
something about the estimated 10 per cent of the population that you’re
going to encounter throughout your life.
Dream: Get a message to the gay kids about being a man.
Goal: Achievable. Sex and lifestyle columnist Dan Savage garnered
amazing responses to his It Gets Better campaign: a series of YouTube
videos made by adults who are LGBT or support the LGBT community,
targeted to young people who might be struggling with their sexuality.
Savage said the impetus for the campaign was the onslaught of news
stories about bullied kids, some of whom took their own lives. It Gets
Better spawned hundreds of videos, articles and news stories, and may
have indeed helped countless young people around the world. So if I have
a message for the gay kids and a platform to speak from (thanks,
magazine!), someone might read it and learn some stuff.
Plan: Share what I know as a gay man.
A Disclaimer: I’m speaking of my own experience, which may not be
yours. I don’t mean to speak for any or all gay men, blah blah blah. If
you’ve got a problem with LGBT-affirming information, go to your local
mall food court and yell your objections into an empty shopping cart
like any other deranged, bigoted fool. Anyway, here’s what even the most
supportive parent or sympathetic guidance counsellor won’t tell you,
not for any malicious reason, but because if they are straight, they
probably won’t know the following information:
You get to learn an amazing amount about both genders. Some
stereotypes can be justified and the idea that women and gay men get
along like houses afire might be a tired trope, but it’s often true. Gay
men and women see something of themselves in each other and you will
soon find an unbelievable intimacy and connection in your friendships
with the women in your life. But the crazy thing is, if you’re a halfway
decent human being, you’ll find yourself with straight male friends
too. If you’re in high school right now, you might see your straight
counterparts as bullies or homophobes, and some of them might be, but
some of them are just dudes who want to hang out and eat nachos and
watch hockey or whatever. If you can stomach the carbs and tolerate some
sports jargon, you’ll soon find that guys can be as complex, emotional
and intelligent as the girls you’ve already befriended. You suddenly
have access to both worlds and you’ll learn so much about people that
way. Guys and girls are more alike than they are different, with the
same strengths and insecurities, and you get to be privy to all of it.
You will develop an enviable sense of taste. If the preceding
paragraph about your bevy of amazing friendships sounds insane and
extremely unlikely to you, I get that too. Maybe you’re in the closet,
fearful of being outed, so you have difficulty socializing. Or maybe you
feel too different to befriend anyone. Both of those things will change
in time, but for now, I bet you’re spending a lot of time on the
computer. If you’re not hanging out with friends every second of the day
(and who is?), chances are you’re spending at least some of your time
cultivating a unique and fabulous obsession. Maybe you’re getting into
the albums of Joni Mitchell or the films of John Waters. Or many
YouTubed nights of Amy Sedaris or Billy Eichner have you dreaming of
meeting them someday. You love Megan Amram’s Twitter feed or David
Rakoff’s essays or Pedro Almodovar or Bob Fosse or French cinema or
fanfiction or photography or Halston hats. Again,
I’m speaking in generalities here, but gay people don’t often see
themselves adequately represented in pop culture and mass media and so
seek out new forms of information and entertainment. It is these strange
fringe obsessions you have now that will make you cultured and
interesting later. At a party, people will listen with envy as you opine
about something obscure and nuanced and will later remark, “Man that
guy knows some stuff!”
You get to carve your own path. It’s amazing that gay people enjoy
the rights and freedoms today that so many previous generations never
lived to see. How thrilling that we can get married and adopt children
(at least in this country). But it’s all so recent and, unlike many of
our straight counterparts, a prescribed lifescript isn’t foisted upon
us. People won’t hound you with questions of, “So when are you gonna get
married?!” or “When are you gonna have babies!?!?” because these
options are relatively new and these decisions deeply personal and often
difficult and no one knows exactly how it’s supposed to go. So people
just leave you alone (for the most part, I can’t do anything about your
progressive hippie aunt or grandchild-hungry mother).
Look, gay kids, being a gay man isn’t the hand-wringing,
stance-taking, trail-blazing experience you might think that it is. It’s
like being a straight man, but with all these awesome extras! Guess
what else? You don’t have to wait until you come out to everyone, or
turn 20, or graduate high school, or move to a larger centre to reap the
benefits. Sidle up to the most stylish girl in drama class and crack
wise. Listen to Julie Klausner’s podcast and see how many references you
get. Consider telling the people you love the most your biggest secret,
because chances are that most of them know and none of them care. Worry
less about finding someone to love and instead direct some of that
energy into loving yourself. Know that not only does it get better, it
is better, right this minute, because you’ve decided it is so. The world
is yours for the taking, so take it like a man.