In this post, I am going to express my personal feelings about something I have all too often casually dismissed, citing some philosophical nonsense about not having a desire to stand out. I have never considered being gay and a member of my LGBTQ subculture to be my only defining characteristic; the whole being greater than the sum of all my individual parts or some facsimile of Aristotle’s original point. Although a legitimate viewpoint to standby, I did not realize in my younger years how much of a bulwark it put between keeping myself safe and being my authentic self.
I will be merely providing perspectives and experiences applicable to me. It is not meant to be a historical foot stomping session down memory lane about the struggles of the LGBTQ population. I will provide information below to said history for those who are interested to read at their own pace.
The other point I want to drive home is I will be discussing experiences which may offend some of you. It is not my intent to do so but let us be perfectly frank. We live in an era where anything can trigger someone’s ire and those who know me best are fully aware, I do not tip toe around certain issues, especially social ones. What it means to be gay and what I have experienced as a result of being open about my sexuality is one of them.
If you are any sexual orientation and find yourself reacting negatively to my written words, I would ask you to take a deep breath and step back to ask yourself, why? In my experience I have discovered both bias and deeply held beliefs about what certain subject matters mean to me are the culprit when reacting rather than responding. Despite what I just mentioned, if you still find yourself getting upset, move on to something else because this post is certainly not your cup of tea.
I will do my best to keep the focus of this blog entry on point, but I feel some context is necessary. Breaking from and challenging societal norms are often so defining it is difficult to isolate one component. After all, you are a sum of your life experiences up to the present moment. Most of you may consider what I just said to be obvious. Trust me, I am amazed at how many out there simply do not get it, which could help explain why our world is a touch on the crazy side right now.
I knew I was gay around eight years of age but never attached a specific term to it. All I knew were the feelings I had for other boys and the reason why did not occur to me. Why would it? I was eight. The concepts of prejudice and marginalizing others because they were different never entered my head, largely due to a mother who always told me to treat others with respect and I was no better than anyone else.
Once I transitioned into my teen years, I learned very quickly to keep everything to myself. Having been born in 1967, the late 1970’s and early 1980’s, were difficult periods not only for the LGBTQ population but also for myself. When it came time to enter high school, my family moved to another district. This resulted in a close friend, one I had bonded with since kindergarten, attending a school on the opposite side of town. It crushed me and I could tell it crushed him as well. I certainly could not tell anyone about how I was feeling, so I put it into a small box and disengaged from the possibility of forming any other meaningful friendships. I projected a convincing front but eventually every veneer will peel or crack to expose the vulnerability lying beneath it.
I served before and during the ridiculous don’t ask, don’t tell policy from 1985 to 1994 as a Security Specialist (aka Cop) in the Air Force. I participated in the first Iraq conflict and survived the prevalent gay witch hunts. I was able to pull through due to two important distinctions; my ability to deflect, i.e. putting vulnerability in small boxes and I did not fit the stereotypical gay male persona. When I signed on the dotted line, taking an oath to defend my county against all enemies, both foreign and domestic, I made a silent vow; I would never be kicked out simply because I was gay. Sticking to this vow did get me through my nine years of service but it nearly killed me, almost literally. Drinking too much and viewing a gun from the opposite end tends to change one’s perspective.
Shortly before leaving the Air Force, I took a leap of faith when I was stationed in Montana to begin putting myself out there by responding to personal ads and attempting to discover where other LGBTQ people gathered. This was the era before heavy internet usage, cell phones and there is an app for that. Meeting others via newspaper ads was much safer than showing up to a gay bar with the military look. I have no regrets taking such a big step because it allowed me to meet my first boyfriend; one I still care about to this very day. Besides, I was 26 at the time and had grown tired of waiting.
This was also my first exposure to gay culture and, suffice to say, I did not care for it. Do you remember when I mentioned not fitting in to the stereotypical gay male persona? Well it was even more evident during this period. I could not color coordinate my wardrobe to save my life. I mean, hello, military person here, I wore green most of the time! Interior design? Forget it. Understanding all the esoteric gay icon references about Judy Garland, Bette Davis or Barbara Streisand? Please.
Honestly, I did not care whether or not I understood those nuances but what left a lasting impression was how I was treated. Not only was there a thick and disgusting drip of pretentiousness hovering around those I looked to as potential dates but often being turned down because I was too straight acting. What, what? Eventually it got to a point where I stopped trying especially when I told the last little bar fly who said it to; Get out of my face and it is not an act. At the time, the last thing my young mind wanted to experience was more judgment and conditional approval based on another set of cultural norms. I still dated, I just started doing it on my own terms. Attitude is everything, right?
If you have read everything up to this point, I tip my hat. It is not easy to put aside our life experiences to view another’s through an equality lens. I must remind myself everyday there are certain, inherent privileges I have simply because I am white and male. Taking it personally when those privileges are pointed out to help us become more self-aware serves no discernable purpose.
So, what does PRIDE mean to me? It is the journey to self-awareness. It is not about a multicolored flag, recognition during a certain time of the year, being campy, or fantastical parades. I see these and other facets of gay subculture as components; ones to be celebrated and recognized so every successive generation understands why and where they came from.
Self-awareness is the realization of how we incorporate those facets into our everyday lives with an understanding we do not need to fully grasp every single one of them in order to be part of the LGBTQ community. It is about inclusion not exclusion no matter what one’s orientation, gender identity, age, or race may be. The minute we judge or sneer at someone who does not stand up to our definition of what it means to LGBTQ, we begin to become what we despise most.
Alas, my dissertation is complete. Happy 2019 PRIDE everyone!
Helpful link(s) on LGBTQ information referenced in this article was obtained from the following sources and not considered exhaustive:
Stonewall Riots: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Stonewall_riots
Sexual Orientation: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sexual_orientation
The Trevor Project: https://www.thetrevorproject.org/