Sometimes, it can be a challenge to sense whether a person’s hostility is poised towards male-femininity or male-homosexuality. An example of this challenge comes from my own experience: I had come out to Dike, a close friend who identifies as straight. Dike expressed rejection at the idea of my homosexuality. He looked into my eyes with what resembled a plea in his and said, “You can’t be gay.” To his response, I gave responses I could give. Like, “I don’t get to choose what I can or cannot be when it comes to sexuality”. After a short back and forth, his position shifted to one captured by this sentence: “I’ve always kind of known, you behave like a girl.” I pointed out femininity and homosexuality in a person were independent traits, one did not result from the other; I told him to think of Jamal from the television show Empire. Dike’s response to my mention of Empire’s Jamal made it unclear whether his hostility was towards my femininity or my homosexuality. Dike had asked me, “So, why can’t you be like Jamal from Empire? At least he is like a regular guy.” While my answer – because I am not Jamal – was curt and made it obvious I did not wish to speak about myself again, the reason for my having to give it put me into a phase of thinking where Dike’s hostility laid. Towards male-femininity or towards male-homosexuality?
Fast forward a few months from my conversation with Dike, and another friend of mine had invited me to what he said would be a men-only gathering. I remember being excited by his invitation because it came coloured in a suggestive hint, and I remember being animated by this hint. A gay party! My first. To accept his invitation seemed both terrifying and appealing. Images of what the party might be like floated in my mind: Men poised like Naomi Campbell, gathered in small groups at dark corners of a black room, their forms made visible by lights too dim to colour the silhouette of their slim bodies. Music beating through invisible speakers, in rhythm to a disco light spinning overhead. Everyone lost in a dance yet moving as one. And I would be among them, dancing to tunes of freedom while relishing the small chance to be with people just like me.
So it came as a shocking surprise to find myself awash with a different kind of excitement when I walked into the dark room that held the gathering to see, in addition to men I had imagined, men who looked nothing of the description I intuitively attached the word gay: Men who exuded distinct blends of masculinity. One of them, whose scalp shone with smooth skin, all his hair lined into a well-pruned bush around his chin and cheeks, caught my eyes, and I found myself almost floating over to him with joyful tears in my eyes to ask, “are you really here?”
What was most interesting to me at the aftermath of the party was the thought that, had any of the masculine men I had encountered at the party been walking in a mall, say that black coloured one in Maryland, none would have had eyes trailing them and whispers hovering around them debating the nature of their sexuality. A male feminine friend of mine often jokes that if he and his boyfriend (who happens to be quite masculine) were caught in a sexual act, his masculine boyfriend would be led away and given a kind warning while he would be led into a scary dark room to be given a severe beating for leading another man astray. For some reason, I laugh whenever my friend tells me this. But it is sad a narrow definition of homosexuality is mind-hosted by a majority of people and that this definition often only comprises the feminine man.
Try this experiment: If you happen to be in a place with other people, look for a guy who behaves so gay. In your search what kind of guy did your mind bring up, a masculine guy or a feminine guy?
Up until that point at the gay party, I often felt the tendency for people to give ‘feminine guy’ as the response to this experiment was an indictment of the collective ignorance of non-homosexual people. Dike who positioned the importance of being more like Jamal was ignorant (and could only be excused because he knew nothing of the nature of homosexuality). I, on the other hand, who knew about the nature of homosexuality, and had been exposed to homosexuality in masculine men through television shows like Brothers & Sisters, and had all my preposition experiences come from masculine men, should not have been awash with a different kind of excitement upon seeing masculine men in a gay party. My expectation should not have been to see men poised like Naomi Campbell – feminine men. But it was.
This made one thing clear: Ignorance (on homosexual matters) is not the sole affliction of non-homosexual people. This is true. However, a more fascinating idea opened up by this truth is that, in plenty of cases, hostility (toward homosexual men and feminine men) may have nothing to do with ignorance, but quite the opposite: It has more to do with the tendency for each one of us to be influenced by the knowledge in our minds.
Each of us is a slave to the unconscious processes of our minds. A significant portion of all the things we are (and by extension, do) results from collection of knowledge accumulated by virtue of our being partakers in the process of living. We are clueless as to how our bodies digests food. We are clueless as to how disparate ideas colaese in our minds to bring about new ones. We are clueless as to how our skin opens up its million plus pores to allow for the secretion of sweat on a hot day. If we are fortunate, we might have access to read about the mechanisms of these miracles in a biology textbook, say New School Biology, but sensing how these unconcious processes unfold within us lie forever beyond us. We couldn’t, if we really really really wanted to, by the power of will, command our small intestine to stop breaking down food.
This is worthy of note because it offers route to a new frame of reference in our dealings with those we would normally dismiss as ignorant: Many of those we dismiss do not start off from a place of ill-intent. A friend (who identifies as straight) might suggest with earnest urgency that you agree to accept his request of organizing a clean female prostitute so you can taste the irresistible sweetness of a tight vagina. He makes this offer not because he is insensitive, or close minded, or homophobically ignorant but because he cares, because all the knowledge that sways his mind demonstrate that a penis belongs with a vagina and a man’s role is to ensure this stays true. Our place isn’t to dismiss him as ignorant, it is to recognize the knowledge that influences him, how it came to have a grip in the operations of his life and what might be the best way to relax this grip.
There is something to be said about the influence each of us have in controlling our own minds (and by extension, our own lives). I, for example, can decide to steer clear of dairy products to save portions of my life the discomfort that would erupt in my small intestine from lactose intolerance. But recognizing what lies beyond our influence allows space for the actualization of better outcomes. The only reason I know to steer clear of dairy products is because of a recognition that the resulting digestive chaos would be beyond my influence.
Dike’s hostility may very well have been towards one of two qualities I possess, my femininity or my homosexuality – or both. But it can be consoling to note he had little influence in scripting the origin of his hostility; he inherited, along with the rest of us, a script positing the wrongness of male-femininity or male-homosexuality. We needn’t behave as though we never laid witness to this script. It’s influence in our lives springs up (sometimes, in ill-expected times like at a first gay party). We should see our straight friends as capable of reform, even when they demonstrate unbearable levels of ignorance. For it is the knowledge we posses that dictates the running of our lives.
This is the first post of 2018. Happy New Year! 2018 is going to be a great year. You watch.
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