Tuesday, March 6, 2007

I Don't Relate To Gay People

I know this sounds weird, but I have to be honest here. I don’t really have GLBT friends. My closest friends are all straight, and I don’t think I could ever have better friends. I can count on one hand the number of gay bars I’ve ever been in, and I really don’t care for places like that. But I have become more and more curious about other gay people, so I have been making an effort the best way I know how that would still be comfortable for me—organizations. But I just feel hopelessly uncomfortable around gay people. Yes, part of that is I am not used to speaking openly about my sexuality. But that’s a small part.

For one thing, I feel like a fraud around gay people. I feel as if when you walk into gay bars, organizations or anything else that is specifically for gay people, they assume and expect you to be this out, open gay person with all the knowledge and experiences that allegedly come with being gay. But I know next to nothing about these things. So often when I’m listening to and/or being included in conversations with gay people in these environments, I feel like I’m talking to people from an entirely different planet. Many of them at my school comment on being "the only out gay person" in their program when we’re at meetings, assuming we’re all on the same level and that we all think something is wrong with not being out. So I feel afraid to just say, "I am new to this. I’m not out" much more so than to tell a straight person that I am gay. I am more afraid of gay people than straight people. I fear I won’t be well-received if I admit my lack of involvement, my lack of knowledge. And I don’t want lectures about why I should come out, particularly when you don’t know my circumstances or the things I wrestle with in my head. We have to learn that the experience/situation differs for every gay person, and that we must do things on our own timelines and make our own decisions.

At the same time, though, I feel as if a lot of gay people see through me when I’m around them and have a problem with what they see—and with what they don’t see, i.e. me as an out gay person—and I don’t like that feeling, either. I don’t like all this pressure, and this is pressure I don’t feel when I’m around straight people, oddly enough. I feel like straight people have no clue because they don’t want to. They assume most of us are straight until we say we’re not, which I know can be offensive. But I must say—I find straight people more tolerant of who someone is than gay people. Even though straight people might not realize that not everyone in the room is straight, I believe they do, at least, expect differences to exist among everyone in the room. With gay people, I get the feeling that they go, "You’re butch. Therefore, you’re X. You’re femme, therefore, you’re Y" and so on. We're expected to be similar in most ways and only different with regard to these labels. And that’s all that is allowed. That’s why I am more afraid of gays. I feel more pressure to be someone I’m not when I’m around gay people than when I’m around straight people, and I know that strikes a lot of gay people as strange.

And I’m very much like a straight person. As I mentioned, that’s more of the look I have, if you place people into that kind of box. I do like to wear t-shirts, jeans, hoodies, tennis shoes. But I also have long hair, long nails, long eyelashes and other feminine features that keep people from wondering about me, at least not based on looks. I am very mainstream in terms of the things I like, so I tend to have more in common with straight people I meet than with gay people I meet. Yes, I watch college football, but so do over half the girls at my school since we have a top football team. In addition, I watch soap operas daily and love "cheesy" girly artists, such as Celine Dion and Britney Spears. And even just being around gay people in predominantly straight environments is much better, because I feel like gay people do something black people do—they switch how they communicate with people depending on that person’s perceived identity. So when I’m around gay people in gay environments, I feel that they tend to draw on gay stereotypes and expect everyone else there to fit them, relate to them, etc. The discussion centers around being gay, which is something I have limited experience with in practice. In straight environments, gay people and I talk about so much more, and that’s what I prefer…because I am not just a gay person, and being gay is not something I am particularly concerned with.

Honestly, that’s one reason why I like being in the closet. I feel that if I were out, people would look to me to be a spokesperson, to care about things I don’t care about, to have interests and hobbies that I don’t have, to fit stereotypes I don’t fit, to want to discuss things I don’t really want to discuss, and so on. I fear that, for me, being out would be more difficult than being in the closet…and not for the traditional reasons. I don’t worry about being physically attacked or people telling me I am sick, perverted or whatever. I don’t worry about being called a "dyke" or other names. I am black, so I am jaded as far as discrimination goes. That’s the least of my worries, as far as being an out gay person. I don’t really even care about the so-called ‘N’-word—I expect people to use it in a derogatory way and have even started using it myself, mainly when I’m mocking non-blacks. It's not a "painful" word to me because I can make it comical and because it has lost shock value. And, honestly, "dyke" and "faggot" lost shock value to me before I ever really told anyone I could be considered one of those.

But this is one reason why I partially feel sorry for gay white people—I feel they treat being gay so much worse than it probably really is, but I think that’s also why so many of them think being out is so nice…because things generally don’t turn out to be like they thought it would be. They’re not as rejected by straight people as they expected to be, at least not up close and personal. Of course, that’s not all gay whites who come out. Some do have very bad coming out experiences. I’m just saying gay whites come into a world of discrimination from a world of privilege, so they take the transition to being gay harder than a black person with my kind of personality would because they don’t have a context for experiencing discrimination prior to coming out. So I think I, and many other blacks, view coming out differently and have something quite different to deal with…which is another reason why I don’t really want people telling me why I should come out. I’m not saying coming out is easier for black people…

Part II here!