People have said to me many times, statements very similar to:
“It’s crazy… I wouldn’t have guessed your gay.”
“you’re pretty straight-acting.”
“it’s so refreshing that you’re gay, but don’t make it super obvious with how you talk and act”
When people say these things, they think what they’re saying is a positive observation. Something I’m going to like to hear. And 5 years ago, YES, that would be true. Because for the first 20ish years of my life I worked SO hard to be “straight-acting”. I wanted to fit in with the other guys, and not embarrass my dad, and not be ostracized by the majority of my (mostly) conservative Christian peers for possibly being a “man-lover.” (man-lover is a term introduced to my 8th grade english class by this kid named Braden who said that, “being a man who loves another man is the absolute worst thing you can be”. The best part of it is that my teacher didn’t disagree!)
Acting “straight” was pretty difficult for me as I was obsessed with sissy classical music, Sabrina the Teenage Witch, Lindsey Lohan, and most importantly, Rodgers & Hammerstein (thanks mom!). Putting on this straight facade wasn’t very hard…. it was TOO HARD. The energy it took to balance my love for Beauty and The Beast and also seem like a WOMAN-loving man, was so exhausting that I kind of shut down and became very shy and invisible in most social situations. I was always very nice to everyone… but I didn’t participate much in class, wouldn’t talk to people unless they talked to me first, wouldn’t do much of… anything! I just became this emotionless, plain, blank piece of paper. And it felt AWFUL. It sucks suppressing everything you love, just so you’ll fit in- BUT then end up being so boring and lame, that you still don’t fit in!
(I should note that I did have some select friends growing up who I DID feel very comfortable around and felt like I could be myself around. Mostly the other misfits and nerds from band, choir and theater! The best kids!)
When I first arrived to college, I started off the semester with this quiet, unnoticeable, persona, and kept it up for a while… until I started meeting gay people all the time. Out, open, fearless GAY PEOPLE. I was obsessed with them, and was so envious… yet still felt that it was important to keep up this “straight” thing, so I avoided them at all costs. I can’t even remember how the transition went, but I eventually came out, and became the happiest I had ever been in my life, INSTANTLY. I felt truly ALIVE. My high school experience wasn’t horrible by any means… but comparing those years to college makes them seem like dark, awful times. One giant headache. I became so comfortable with myself, and became a very social person with lots of friends, and it was a happy gay ol time.
What’s the point of all this? Now, whenever I’m uncomfortable, or anxious, feel out of place, or inferior… I revert back to this “straight-acting” (I’m going to use quotations around that word every single time, sorry bout it) personality. I close up, don’t talk, and become my high school self again. It doesn’t matter if I’m in a group of frat bros, or in the center of a crowded gay club, or even on a date with a MAN– once I feel uncomfortable I turn into a shy, bland, little bug with nothing to say.
If you tell me I’m “straight-acting”, or “not that gay”… well, its a BAD thing– because it means I’m not being myself with you. It means I’m putting up walls, and hiding, and trying to fit in, and be what I think you want me to be. I’m not saying it’s your fault that I’m not comfortable with you– it could be because we just met, or because I work for you, or because I want to impress you, or think that you’re smarter than me, or many other anxieties.
I often find myself in the company of comedians and actors, who are so funny, and interesting and cool and doing hilarious bits non-stop– and for some reason, no matter how nice everyone is, I just go right back to High School and dry up, can’t think of anything to say, and eventually pull an Irish goodbye and get home as fast as possible. (I am getting better at this, I really am!).
I think it’s really interesting (sad) that when I’m uncomfortable, my first instinct, no matter what the situation may be, is to HIDE MY GAYNESS. BE STRAIGHT. BE COOL.
Because of the environment I lived in for the first 23 years of my life, I have had it drilled into my brain that being gay, or even acting gay, or effeminate is bad. Even in college when I was much more comfortable– a LOT of the other gays took a lot of pride in “passing as straight,” and made it very clear that they were only interested in “straight-acting” guys. “I have nothing wrong with guys that are feminine, I’m just not into them”. That’s bullshit. It’s all your insecurities taking over. I know this is true because I used to have the same insecurities. I feel like such a fool admitting this, but I totally used to think that “acting straight” was an attractive quality, more so than people just being themselves. I don’t know if this came with maturity/growing up, or if it came out of moving to New York City, but now the most attractive thing in the world to me, is when a person is 100% comfortable/confident with being themselves (also very attracted to guys that can sing).
When you tell a gay person that they are “straight-acting”, you are reinforcing an awful stigma that SO many gay people have struggled with their whole lives. Whether you mean it or not, you’re bringing up a comparison that just shouldn’t exist, because it comes from excluding people. It comes from humiliating people. Sometimes it comes from killing people (sorry so dramatic, but it’s true). I wish I had the confidence to just be myself all the time and not have this uncontrollable urge to straightify myself whenever I’m uncomfortable. I’m working on it. Maybe I need a therapist. But yeah if you think I’m straight-acting, you’re right– I’m ACTING straight. Literally pretending to be something I’m not, because I’m scared.
The saddest part about all this is that I know there are thousands of other gay people that have the same basic story…except its WAY worse. Gays that have been kicked out of their homes, or beat up, or lost their job, or simply just have unsupportive parents…its truly fucked up.
Now after typing this long disorganized stream of thoughts, I’m a little worried that I may have said some unintentionally ignorant things– LONG STORY SHORT: Gender norms suck and are pointless, and everyone should be themselves, and everyone should accept everyone.
Sorry that we gays have so many issues and demands and whatnot.