Upon entering my tiny Kowloon apartment, and seeing that I had recently expended some effort to make the place aesthetically habitable, my straight(ish) friend said, “Dude, you are such a homosexual.” I responded with a laugh, and a thanks.
If a peer would have said that to me when I was a teenager in the 1990s, I would have been compelled to react with (feigned) hostility. So what changed? Part of the explanation is obvious: I grew up. But I was never homophobic. I spent my teenage years in Madison, Wisconsin, USA, arguably one of the most liberal cities on the planet. My mother was a psychologist, of the exceptionally touchy-feely, emotionally explicit, LGBT accepting variety. We had openly gay people staying in our house fairly regularly, and it was no big deal.
But I was on the (American) football team in high school, so I had to rigorously defend my masculinity at all times. And though my high school environment was about as accepting as any in the country at the time, there were no openly gay boys. Considering that there were around 2,000 kids at my school, it follows that if there were no openly gay boys, there must have been quite a few closeted ones. And since I liked girls, and wanted desperately for them to like me back (and not just as a friend), I did not want to be suspected of being one of those closeted gays who we all knew must be around, somewhere.
The relevant change is as much about my environment as it is my own maturity. Today, my social circles are unlikely to contain closeted gays because they contain open gays; in my little liberal bubble, hiding one’s homosexuality is regarded as about as reasonable as hiding one’s left-handedness. Because gay men are much less likely to hide their sexual orientation, straight men no longer have to worry about being suspected of being gay. If we were gay, we would just say so. The hilarious Seinfeld clip below wouldn’t make much sense in 2014. Two gay men living in Manhattan are in the closet? An implausible premise, even for a sit-com.
Nearly two years ago, in response to major political victories for LGBT equality in the US, sex columnist Dan Savage wrote a post entitled “Thank a Breeder Day” in which he thanked straight people for their help in the struggle for equality. He also insists that it was the LGBT community that built this movement that has made so much progress lately. For building that movement, I’d like to say thanks to the gays. I know you didn’t do it for us “breeders,” but it has benefited us immensely, if more subtly. Because of the movement you built, I am free to decorate my apartment as I please, free to have close platonic friendships with women and gay men, free to sit in whatever way feels most comfortable (even when this means crossing my legs), free to substitute a side salad for French fries, free to say that I did so because the fries make me fat, free to acknowledge it when a man is handsome or fit, free to admit that part of what I like about sports (and mosh pits) is the physical contact with other men, free to talk about my feelings and my sexuality without the need to conform to some hetero-normative ideal of what a man should be (thus greatly enhancing my relationships with both women and men), free to cry. I don’t think the metro-sexual could have existed as an accepted cultural concept/personality type before the recent progress in the struggle for LGBT equality.
Hyper-masculinity is dangerous. Dangerous for society, and dangerous for those who are forced to conform to it. It’s limiting. It’s part of the reason men are seen as “simple” compared to women, who are allowed to be more emotionally complex. I want more from my sexual relationships than “feed me, fuck me, shut the fuck up,” and it’s of great benefit to both myself and my partners that I don’t have to pretend that I don’t have complex emotional needs. By acknowledging that there is a wide range of consensual sexual behavior, and by being truly accepting of that entire spectrum, we allow each individual to openly be him or herself.
Yet there are still too many places where men and women, girls and boys, gay and straight, cannot openly be themselves. For the sake of all of us, I wish the LGBT community continued success in their campaign for the basic human right to just be who they are. Not just so they can be who they are, but so the rest of us can as well.