Being gay in this country is hard. And part of the hardship is having to pretend that the hardship is absent. A related source of difficulty, particularly unique for those without talent of pretending to be heterosexual, is the act of having to keep core parts of yourself from others.
The preceding paragraph might come across as a complaint. And it is. A complaint often serves to give voice to realities which needn’t and shouldn’t be. And at the heart of this particular complaint is a desire to introduce fairness into the runnings of the world. Here is a case: I am sitting in the office and a senior manager, who makes it a point, and is surrounded by colleagues who make it a point, of making everything about God, is asking me about my girlfriend and why there should be an absence of delay in my getting a wife. Where do I begin to tell this religious superordinate that whatever model of marriage s/he might have in mind needn’t be applied to me?
What I have found myself do is give truthful responses, while making efforts to keep blind whoever comes across as religious. While I recognise that my effort to keep religious folks blind is from a motive to stay safe, I also have to admit that applying it is an exhausting endeavour. I’ve found this act of giving a truthful response while investing in keeping religious people blind to be less than satisfactory. There is a sense of loss that comes from not having been truly and fully expressed and not having been truly and fully seen. I should be able to say, “Religious Senior Manager, I think you are mistaken. The possibility of me getting a wife is at the time point of never. I am a man with an orientation to be – in romantic terms – attracted to men.” In a fair world, I wouldn’t feel tongue-tied by the possibility of saying this.
When placed against a backdrop of all the unfairness gay people experience – the child who is disowned by family and driven out of home; the man who is stopped on the road and beaten because there is a femininity to his walk: the person who is never asked about the existence of his homosexual love life – The act of complaining of feeling constricted, while occupying a kind of space – one marked by abundance – can seem both insensitive and somewhat trite. But this is really the point: There is something to complain about, that irrespective of the space occupied, gay people inhabit an atmosphere poisonous to their nature. And something has to be done to cleanse the atmosphere.
One problem I have come to learn about as it relates to taking on the project of cleansing the atmosphere is wanting to bring about the cleansing in one full sweep, wanting to wake up the next morning to see a society where people with same sex attractions are full, i.e., able talk about the romantic aspects of their lives without feeling a need to censure themselves or cook up false stories. When it comes to making society conducive to gay people it can be problematic to be loose about the idea of incremental change, as it amplifies the work required to bring about desired shifts to the running of things.
A workplace filled with religious homophobic people can be a source of despair but it also points to the work that has to be done. While living within the tedious atmosphere can be exhausting, leaning into being and staying exhausted needn’t be the path to tread. So here are a few things to keep in mind when despair weighs heavy.
It has a cliche ring to it because there is truth to it. Staying positive in times of despair can sometimes be the difference between misery and bliss, or at the very least it can be the difference between misery and sanity. By stay positive, I don’t mean keep smiling when someone says something offensive. I mean knowing your values and trusting you can live up to those values.
Know that Privacy is a Thing, (and its ok to be selective of who you allow into your private life.)
Perhaps the most painful aspect to being a gay man is having to endure the absence of courtesies extended towards your romantic life. Most of us gay men know the pang that comes when someone asks, “do you have girlfriend”. This denial of romantic courtesies can make you filled with a desire to shout at everyone you encounter that they remove the scales from their eyes and see that the world is filled with gay people and you happen to to be one. But this tends to be an impulse to direct attention to strangers who haven’t earned the prerogative of being introduced to your private life. Be comfortable with the number of people of you can disclose the details of your inner life. Some people can open their inner lives to the whole world. You might be comfortable with selecting just one person. In this context, one is valid as one billion.
Context points to the conditions that informs a situation. There is a lot of talk about courage and its role in living an authentic life. But it can be helpful to keep in mind the words of Simon Sinek who says, “Our courage comes from the support we feel from others.” The courageous thing a gay teenager whose livelihood depends on a homophobic family can do isn’t always to come out. (That would border on recklessness). It could be to remain in the closet while making and actioning plans towards securing his livelihood. Being able to account for and bring mitigation to the worst case scenarios is courage practiced right, as it makes possible the measured creation of path towards your ideals when the conditions that inform reaching your ideals are less than favourable.
In conclusion, it would be great if society was sensible in its attitude towards gay people. It would be great if the first question people asked in relation to romance was “do you have a romantic interest?“. But society seems anchored on heterosexual norms. It can be an exhausting thing for you, as a gay person to be overwhelmed by the need to keep core aspects of your life from others as a result of living within a heteronormative atmosphere, and to have despair as a response to the exhaustion. However, the project to bring about a cleansing of the atmosphere, the project to introduce fairness, requires not despair but devotion to the work needed to bring about the desired shift to the current running of things. Trust you can live up to your values. Ignore the impulse to receive validation from strangers. And keep in mind that shifting your situation has a lot to do with understanding the conditions that inform your situation.
Remember: You are Awesome.
Question(s) of the day: What steps do you take towards staying sane in a heteronormative society? Feel free let me know in comments.