When I first started speaking and doing honest videos about my experiences with depression, molestation and suicide attempts seven years ago, being called “gay” was one of my biggest fears. Imagining my authentic and vulnerable sharing being met by derision and mockery kept me silent for too long. By the time I got such a comment it actually made me laugh.
My podcast, Real Men Feel, has now gotten it’s first “gay” comment. An important threshold has been crossed! I have yet to decide how or if to respond. I’m finding myself particularly triggered by this one. I think it coming from someone with my own name is making me want to fight back as opposed to laughing it off, or thanking him for being a scholar and a gentleman. What would you do? You can watch it here if you like.
Being called “gay” is the put-down that goes back the farthest and was the easiest to throw at anyone when I was a kid. Anyone or anything not seen as tough, macho or in proper alignment with being a man (which was never clearly defined), would be labeled as “gay”. In elementary school, I was in the school band, chorus, and plays, but by the time I was in high school I stopped doing all of that—even when I had a genuine interest in continuing. It was all over peer pressure and my fear of the judgment of others.
Begin called “gay” has never struck me as sexual. I never took it as though they are calling me a homosexual. It wasn’t like kids went around screaming, “You’re attracted to men!” at each other. The hurling of that term, “gay”, was saying I wasn’t a man. I wasn’t enough. I wasn’t right.
“That’s so gay.” “Don’t be gay.” “You’re so gay.” Anything being called “gay” was the ultimate dismissal of it. As a kid, there was no acceptable response. When I first began hearing “gay” as a put-down I don’t think I was even aware of what homosexuality meant. Maybe for a boy who knows he is gay today, a response of, “Yes. I am gay” might shut bullies up, or perhaps it makes the torment increase. When I was growing up, continuing to act in whatever way was being ridiculed only guaranteed more ridicule and mockery.
The same day that the Real Men Feel episode got the “…don’t be so fucking gay” comment, another viewer posted positive comments on three other videos. This reminds me of advice I received five years ago when one person kept posting negative comments on my videos about my experiences, and I took them all very personally. A friend asked me, “Why do you focus on the one negative comment as opposed to the dozens of positive ones?” I had no answer. That woke me up to the fact that any comment attacking me was outnumbered by dozens of comments thanking me.
Other people have pointed out that “gay” originally meant carefree, happy, joyous, and lighthearted. Some European friends say that is still the primary meaning there and that they didn’t realize this was somehow a put-down in the US. So over the course of the 20th century, American masculinity decided that being happy, joyous and lighthearted was not something a true man should have anything to do with.
Recently I noticed someone shared a Real Men Feel show link on Facebook saying “for my sensitive male friends.” Sensitive is another word that makes me bristle a bit. I was often called sensitive growing up and it never seemed like it was a compliment. My own wife was told by a friend that I was sensitive before she met me, that always struck me as some sort of warning to her, but she failed to heed it.
Being called sensitive is right up there with the notion of “nice guys finish last.” I can’t remember where or when I first heard that but it was embedded in my mental programming at an early age it seems.
So what the hell is so wrong with being sensitive? Nothing. Yet, for whatever reason, that adjective is not one I like being used on me. And does my being bothered by being called gay mean I really do have some sort of internalized homophobia? That is more difficult to answer. I can see that possibility. I’m not homophobic to the point of treating others differently, but there is still some societal bullshit in me that wants to make sure nobody thinks I’m gay. I don’t know what I can do about that, but one thing I can do is dedicate an upcoming episode of Real Men Feel to this notion of internalized homophobia. I even replied to that other Andy Grant (#NotMyAndyGrant), inviting him on to the show.
Any change starts with awareness and open discussion. Perhaps in time, my new natural response to being called “sensitive” or “gay” will be a heartfelt, thank you.
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