Dameyon Bonson has a few stereotypes he’d like to dispel.
“The strong guys we pretended to be are not the strong men we have become. Being gay didn’t weaken us. It’s irrelevant.”
I’m pretty sure a lot of gay men would think the same. Now I don’t know a lot of gay men, but fill a room with strong men who are gay and it’d be a scrum, a wolf pack, or to use the kangaroo vernacular we’d be a mob.
I was born male in the 70’s and grew up “gay” in the 80’s and 90’s. That’s my teens and early twenties. I realised in my late 20’s that being gay didn’t, and shouldn’t, define me. That it is as arbitrary as having blue eyes. What has prompted me to write this is a comment that was directed toward me in my workplace: “I’m not sure the office is used to having a Gay Aboriginal Male around”. And by “office”, I’m going to call it as “the people I work with”. I am no longer offended easily by the way, ‘cause whatevs. But this irked me a little. Although now I am a professional and I am in my 40s, I can still be a little naïve. So, I don’t expect “stereotypes” and “assumption” to be the driver of how people interact with me.
Disclaimer: I’m also 6’6″, bearded and have a solid build. Which can be, by default, intimidating in itself.
I am also learned and educated.
I first placed myself within a space full of just men in and around about 2005. An opportunity to access some leadership learning arose and I acknowledged to myself that if I wanted to work in Men’s Health I needed to become accustomed to being around all men—and become adaptable to hypermasculine heterocentrism. I say hypermasculine hetercentrism because I can say safely “boys will be boys”, “fellas will be fellas” but what I learnt from this experience was that not all men are created the same. I learnt that despite my fears, there was a place for a guy like me amongst this group of men. Not only is the hypermasculine heterocentrism not as compatible with some of my gay brethren, but also with some straight brothers.
I have presented both nationally and internationally on Aboriginal men’s engagement in health and I speak from the experiential, the observational and the professional. My familial, my environmental, my personal and my political also inform me.
I believe I know my stuff and others do too apparently. I am also an introvert.
That last part is important—both parts. Lately introverts have been lighting up the internet and we seem kinda en vogue. Numerous articles can be found here here, here, here and even here called ‘Black, Male… and Introverted’. I was first awoken to being an introvert during some counseling (I’m of a social work background so I know this stuff is worth the time to do). Nothing was particularly wrong; I just knew there is no harm in having a chat about, well, stuff. My husband is relatively new to the country; we had recently moved interstate for the second time in just over a year, and we both have new jobs. So the introvert stuff. 12 months passes by and I come across this little gem, Introvert Myth #3 – Introverts often don’t see a reason for beating around the bush with social pleasantries’. It ignited something inside my brain; my heart and soul went BOOM. Things began to make sense. Not just in my marriage but in all my interpersonal relationships.
Actually, the whole “10 Myths About Introverts” changed me forever. So much made sense.
Back to stereotypical assumptions. I’m probably not like that Gay guy you’ve met before at work or in the playground that you’re used to being your fabulous gurl friend. I do admittedly have my moments. Also, I probably do not conform to your expectations of an Aboriginal male. Yes, I’m in touch with my identity. Yes, I know what it means to me to be Aboriginal. But please do not exceptionalise your behaviour toward me based on your stereotyped assumptions.
And by exceptionalise I mean this—don’t treat me or my “sisters” as the fabulous or the sensitive. Don’t treat me or my “brothers” as the stereotypical non-engagers, violent, hypermasculine savages of nobility. We engage, and we are just as likely to be victims of violence as we are potential perpetrators. Some of us are not hypermasculine without being gay, and as equally sensitive. Yes we are noble, but let us show you how and why we are noble.
Back to me, and here’s where it gets kind of tricky. Intersectionally Tricky = Gay (assumptions + reality) + Aboriginal (assumptions + reality) x introvertism.
My sexuality and ethnicity intersect in ways that even I have trouble articulating. Add introvertism and well, tic toc. But that’s ok, because it’s ok for me to be that way about me. However, because I am yet to articulate what that means doesn’t indicate that you get to default me to your own experiences of Gay men or Aboriginal males. I’m working on my “social pleasantries” because I look back over my life and can see where I have not been, or in fact interpreted as been, pleasant. I own those moments and I apologise. I understand myself more, and I am aware that I cannot live, work, rest or play in isolation (which I crave) and I have to become adaptable to you and accepting of the world. But, please become adaptable to me. Human first. We are unique humans first.
We will become friends in life, both in a workplace and outside a workplace, when we acknowledge each other as human first. That’s how I would like to be friends with you. I will respect you as a professional from the moment we meet. I will honour you as person from the moment we meet. That doesn’t change unless there is reason too. I do not bruise easily from being told what I don’t know or what I am corrected on. I ask the same.
Men in health have been around for a while. But “Gay Aboriginal males” like me might be something new to you. For me the best way to teach or share something new with someone is to take the time to get to know who they are and what they know. I believe this can happen in tandem. That is, at the same time for both of us.
Please don’t be offended if we do not become “sisters” or that I don’t become your “fabulous” gay friend. Please don’t be offended if we don’t become “bros” or that we don’t become “brothers”.
In my professional life delivering human service provision I respectfully ask you to not be offended if I prevent you from exceptionalising or stereotyping me or my fellow Aboriginal and Gay men. Human first. Let’s start here. We all have the same needs. How those needs are met is based on our uniqueness. If we are going to treat each other equally we must be prepared to treat each other differently.
So what’s this got to do with being a strong man? I am one.
photo: vinothchandar / flickr