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I once had an argument with my family about not being able to say men are beautiful. It was during the time when I first started to realize my sexuality and had gotten the first real whiff of how ‘not-okay’ being gay was.
My parents, to my frustration, kept saying “women were beautiful and men were handsome.” English is my second language. I had never heard of the word handsome before. They argued that the words were gendered like ‘bull’ and ‘cow.’ I was having none of it, because I could sense there was an implied meaning behind this new word ‘handsome’ that didn’t quite capture what I was feeling when I saw the pretty boys of 90’s teen series and movies.
‘Handsome’ sounded clinical and detached and made the wonderful parts about men simple, objective assessments. Beautiful sounded more subjective and emotive—clearly expressing an observer’s state of being upon his observation.
The argument didn’t last long. I started to realize that my protest might reveal something. I became aware that my frustration might betray me.
I have had trouble with my attraction to men for most of my life. I know I’m not alone in this. Many of us are given a corrupt education, one piled on in isolation. With our orientations ignored—even by ourselves—many of us learn about ourselves within environments of extremes.
My first and most prevalent interactions for most of my life have come from religious sermons, and then the wide world of internet porn. With no context for gay men as real people—instead, as either sinners or functions of sex—the extremes can disrupt the construction of the self. I either had to contextualize myself as a sinner or someone that existed in sexual depictions alone. Both are heavy to digest.
When your own education derives from detached sexual fantasy and dogmatic sermons, what does a person grab onto to build character?
I like men. I really do. It has been difficult to come to a place where I can say that. I have only ever related to my sexuality and my orientation through fear…a fear so deep it’s more like panic. The sort of panic that makes me want to run for safety. I’m not even sure what I’m desperate to run away from. Is it the situation, the potential of things going sour…or maybe myself?
I have never acted on my liking of men in any real sense. To be honest, love will not be a simple undertaking for me because my very foundation of how to love has been effectively stripped and tortured by my experiences.
I think I need to begin from the start and reconstruct my sense of love, the desire to attach myself to another, without the noise of past demons in my head.
So, let me begin.
The trauma of understanding my attraction to men
Many have written about the trauma of growing up gay in this world. The shame, the loneliness, the lingering fear of betrayal and disownment by family and friends. The severity of trauma in these testimonies varies depending on the geography and the society that contextualizes them. For some, the worst thing that came of coming out was parents excited about having a ‘special’ kid. Others grew up fearing for their lives because their governments declared them worthy of death or imprisonment.
My youth was simply terrible. Growing up in a homophobic society, within a strict Christian faith and inflexible cultural beliefs, the fear I felt for my life was most intense in the context of eternal life doctrine. I was terrified of what would happen to my soul.
I felt like a mistake of creation, as if god made me while he was in a particularly spiteful mood.
God damned me to torment and had secured my place in hell for eternity. I felt like I was built for hell, made for the purpose of burning. Believing yourself existentially flawed does a serious number on the brain.
Every time I felt attracted to a guy, I would be reminded of how much I was a mistake. The existential guilt washed over me with ever-growing strength, until I was completely lost and barely able to function socially.
My family still doesn’t know what happened during those years of my severe depression. I tell them I had a mental break down. When they want more information, I don’t give it. I just can’t recount to them what I went through.
I don’t know how I climbed out of that terrible place, remembering how unstable I was and how much pain coursed through my veins. All I know is that I’m still climbing.
The societal unwillingness to admit the beauty of men
Dealing with the reality of my sexuality has been difficult because for so long I hated that part of me. I didn’t want it. At one point, I vowed to destroy myself before I could ever touch a guy. Society and the media only reinforced the disgust I felt in myself.
The world likes its men to be masculine. Masculinity as it still stands today, especially in environments that don’t have access to the privileged class and their liberal spaces, prefers its men to be a sort of human-beast mixture. Men are strong, rock-crunching things with rough hands and rougher faces. Such an idea of men doesn’t encourage a beauty to be recognized in men outside of physicality and effectiveness.
Men have beautiful eyes, men have pretty lips, men have the kind of voices that sound like music. Many men have lots of hair on their legs that tickles when they wrap them around yours.
That word beauty is culturally-related to things that are tender. Men are not supposed to be tender.
I don’t like men as stereotypes—entities of strength, power, leadership and brooding masculinity that I often read about on the internet where people describe what they like, love or appreciate about men. There is a lot of pandering to typical, gender-positioned fantasies when looking for the beauty in each other.
Gay and bi men also tend to fetishize other men. But instead of wishing to be swept off our feet, many obsess over physical and behavioral characteristics.
I once had a stint on hook-up apps. It lasted a week. I had thought hookup apps were the proper gay thing to do. I walked right into that trick-of-the-mind that mandates performative constructions of identity, where in order to ‘be’ something, one has to ‘perform’ it even outside the bounds of that something, like men and masculinity.
I deleted the apps before I had completed a single bio description on any one of them. I found them quite disturbing, not because I am some serial prude or a Mr. Judge-a-lot. I left and don’t want to go back because I didn’t like how I was expected to interact with men.
Being attracted to a person is a lot more difficult when you think they don’t fit you. I struggle with the idea of humans as parts. That people have distinct and complementary characteristics of being and function, particularly when it comes to sex, is an idea that reduces people to singular variables. It treats relationships like numeric calculations to a certain result.
With equation-like perspectives towards relationships, we can easily sum up people and their interactions. The problem is, it lessens the significance of each person in a relationship because they are first and foremost a part, or ‘type’, not a being capable and worthy of love.
I have caught myself in this bind. When I perceive other men and myself as the same ‘type,’ it aligns with an easy, known formula and disagrees with my person. So within this male ‘type’ confusion, I wonder, what does it mean to be attracted to men? What is it that I find so nice about guys that I prefer them over women?
Then, I realize the question itself is wrong.
Discovering how questions that once directed you in fundamental aspects of life are the ones that have been leading you astray is a shock to the conscience. When our thinking goes against reality, it can lead us to ask all the wrong questions about life, including love.
A more correct question to ask is: “Are men lovable?”
When I ask myself if men are lovable, I hesitate to say an immediate ‘yes.’ I still get scared. The panic drowns out every other emotion, until I find it difficult to answer. I have lived too long in a state of terror from homophobia. How I understand society is unavoidably informed by it. Sometimes I worry I’m too far down the hatch to ever come out.
And then. I see a man with nice eyes. I hear a tenor-toned laugh. It gets to me so deeply.
I like guys. I have fallen for many over the years, even if I’ve not acted on the feelings. Instead of perceiving people as body parts and how they do or don’t fit with others, I believe it’s meaningful to think about how a man should feel free to love all that is lovable—even if it’s another lovable man.
To me, the gay struggle is more complex than the freedom to have sex. It’s about learning to love rather than hate myself, and accepting my own beauty. It’s about not refusing the beauty in another man and loving the beauty I find.
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