Different

Although you were several years my senior
There was an awkward kinship between us
An unspoken acknowledgement
Both swimming against the tide
Of social constructs around masculinity and gender

Once, while being being chastised for having long hair
And being called “effeminate”
I used you as an example
Of a Christian who seemed both gay and femme
I was sternly corrected with
“He’s just different”

Several years later
After I had come to terms with my own sexuality
I ran into you at a local gay bar
We shook hands
Both seemingly relieved that the pretenses
Were no longer necessary

I heard things about you through
The Gospel Grapevine
Religious tongue-waggers
With nothing better to do than
Ridicule those who are different

About your failed attempts at relationships
How you ultimately joined the Catholic faith
And devoted yourself to it
Much like a priest shelters himself inside the Church
To hide from his perverse inclinations
You probably felt you had a sickness
That you needed to protect yourself from

But you should have known that you
Like everyone else
Were fearfully and wonderfully made
And deserving of God’s love and acceptance
Whether or not God’s children ever gave you either

I heard you passed away the other day
And the thing that bothers me so much
The one question that nags at me is
Were you ever truly happy with yourself?

I hope so…

To thine own self be true

Much has been made recently of comments made by Russell Tovey, one of the stars of HBO’s gay-themed Looking. During an interview with the Guardian, he said the following:

I feel like I could have been really effeminate, if I hadn’t gone to the school I went to. Where I felt like I had to toughen up. If I’d have been able to relax, prance around, sing in the street, I might be a different person now. I thank my dad for that, for not allowing me to go down that path. Because it’s probably given me the unique quality that people think I have.

While he has since called his statement “inarticulate,” it is easy to see why so many in the LGBT community found his remarks insensitive and outright homophobic. After all, how many of us grew up in similar circumstances where we often felt the need to hide our true nature from family members and friends in order to fit in with social expectations?

We live in a time when the effeminate male has become a bit of a pariah within the gay community. The standard for a desirable man is often described as “straight-acting,” and many guys are quick to point out they only want masculine, non-effeminate men. Because so many of us exhibit behavior that could be considered feminine, one has to wonder if this is symptomatic of self-loathing within the gay community.

I certainly wasn’t what one would consider a boyish child. Sure, I did my fair share of tree-climbing and the like, but I was just as comfortable playing Barbies with my sister or going shopping with a car full of women. As I got older, there were times when this kind of behavior was discouraged by adults, but most of the negativity I received as a child came from other kids. I absolutely despised being called a sissy. “Only girls play tambourines,” said one boy at church, much to my chagrin.

On the other hand, my maternal grandmother practically encouraged my girlish behavior by saying I should have been born female. She even gave me, my sister, and our two girl cousins matching dolls and strollers for Christmas one year, explaining, “I didn’t want him to feel left out.”

Even though I tried to alter some of what I thought were undesirable traits as I grew older, I never was able to morph into the idealized concept of masculinity. As an adult male, I still have characteristics that most guys would consider feminine. I cry easily while watching television. I love dancing like a slut to Beyoncé music. I worry incessantly about how I look. I’m pretty sure I have at least two periods a month.

But really, why do we care so much more when female traits are exhibited by a man than when masculine traits are exhibited by a woman? I suppose our patriarchal society can’t help but attribute power and strength to masculinity while relegating anything feminine to the weak and defenseless. It does a huge disservice to women when gay men allow themselves to be brainwashed into such a misogynistic way of thinking.

Human beings are complicated, but I wish we could evolve beyond our imperfect expectations of what we think male/female and gay/straight should look like. I wish we all could just accept ourselves as unique and whole persons without pressuring ourselves to become something we can never be.

“This above all: to thine own self be true, And it must follow, as the night the day, Thou canst not then be false to any man.” – William Shakespeare

Did molestation make me gay?

I used to think what happened to me when I was a child was what made me attracted to males. I blamed my uncle for my sexual orientation for many years, and while I definitely believe what happened shaped my sexual interests, I am not so convinced of the connection anymore.

Those encounters are my first memories of sex, and they greatly altered my views of affection and intimacy. As a counselor once told me, the guilt the victim shoulders is because the attention and sexual activity feels good even though it shouldn’t.

Because I was too young to understand what was happening completely and enjoyed the attention, I didn’t want it to stop. When my parents found out what was going on, I was upset because I knew it wouldn’t happen again. It didn’t.

From that point, I acted out sexually with boys whenever I had the chance. There were only two that I did anything with, but it went on for several years. It was always just fooling around to me. I never felt emotionally attached or like I had a crush on either of them. Even though I know it is normal for kids to mess around while they are learning about sex, I have had a lot of guilt over the years about those encounters.

There were guys that I did have crushes on who I fantasized about incessantly, but I never acted on those impulses. I was too scared and also too ignorant to really understand my sexual inclinations. These guys were like idols to me. I watched the way they walked and talked, admired and imagined their bodies, and rarely ever said a word to them. I had them placed so high on a pedestal that they were unattainable.

As I grew older and began to figure out what it meant to be gay, the crushes continued. I fell really hard for a couple of different guys my age, but, again, I was too scared to act on it out of fear of rejection. We would have sleepovers and spend as much time together as possible, but nothing physical ever happened. In my juvenile mind, the guy would be my boyfriend. Both times, the parents of the guy stopped the friendship because they grew uncomfortable with all the time we were spending together. Both times, I about lost my mind from the grief.

When I finally grew up a little, I met a much older man who took advantage of me in many ways. I was ignorant and inexperienced, so I poured everything into a clearly dysfunctional relationship. When that relationship ended, I began another with a man several years my senior. It was also dysfunctional for many reasons.

Looking back, I realize I was substituting sex for affection. If a guy liked me, I felt like I was supposed to sleep with him. Friendship needed to progress to sex in order to mean anything. This was obviously a direct result of what happened with my uncle. Sex equals friendship equals affection equals love. It wasn’t enough to just hang out and have a good time; I needed them to prove they liked me enough, and the ultimate expression of that was sex.

Over the years, I have changed that line of thinking. I met someone 9 years ago who cherished me from day one. He didn’t expect me to show my appreciation for his company through sex (even though I wanted to). He has been patient and kind and anything but a user. I am one of the lucky ones.

My uncle never faced the consequences for his actions 35 years ago, but I know, one way or another, he will. He denies it happened now, even though he admitted it when it was first revealed. I am a forgiving person, but I refuse to consider forgiving him until he admits it and accepts responsibility for his actions.

I said all of that to say this: It would be easy to assume what happened when I was a kid made me gay, but that is oversimplifying it. I know plenty of gay people who weren’t molested, and I know plenty of straight people who were.

Regardless, I am what I am. Whether I was born this way or made this way, I didn’t have a say in the matter. I know being molested shaped my views of sex and intimacy, but those are things I have struggled with and continue to work on. It makes more sense that I was born with this orientation, and the sexual abuse was just a terrible thing that happened to me along the way.

Being effeminate

Years ago, while living with my grandparents for a short time, my grandfather and I were driving home from work when he took the opportunity to bring up some things about me that he had issue with. As he drove, he lectured me about helping them out more financially before getting to the heart of what he really wanted to talk about.

He started by telling me I needed a hair cut. I had been letting my hair get sort of long. It wasn’t even shoulder length, but was several inches long on the top and sides. Although having short hair was a requirement for men in the Holiness faith, this wasn’t exactly the reason he brought it up. As he talked, he recalled a verse in the Bible about being effeminate.

Know ye not that the unrighteous shall not inherit the kingdom of God? Be not deceived: neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor effeminate, nor abusers of themselves with mankind, nor thieves, nor covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor extortioners, shall inherit the kingdom of God. – 1 Corinthians 6:9-10

Now we were getting to the root of his issue with my hair. It wasn’t just that it was longer than normal for men in our tradition, it was that he thought I was trying to look like a woman (I was really trying to look like Michael Jackson, but whatever).

Not sure how to respond, I brought up two highly-respected men in the Holiness community who were very effeminate. Both had soft voices, had never married or exhibited any interest in women, and were perfectly manicured. “No,” he said, “They are just different.”

I began to get angry, more at his refusal to admit these men fit the very definition of effeminate than at his insistence that I did. Surely he could see what I saw, but just refused to accept it because these men claimed to be holy. My anger took a more personal slant when he told me I was being a bad influence on the younger males in our church. I realized this talk we were having was more about his fear of me being gay than the length of my hair.

When I get mad, I usually clam up and stew in it. That means I have to find other ways of releasing my anger. When we arrived home and he finished belittling me, I decided to go for a walk. I removed the cap I normally wore to work and let the wind blow through my hair as I journeyed down the country road in front of our house. I always loved the feeling of having my hair in my face, so I enjoyed it as long as possible. Then I returned home, grabbed the clippers, and shaved my head in the bathroom. From my perspective, this was an act of rebellion. If I couldn’t have long hair, I would have barely any hair at all.

After showering and getting dressed for church, I walked into the kitchen. My rebellious act wasn’t seen as such, but was embraced as me having finally seen the light. Both of my grandparents exclaimed how much better I looked, but the damage was done. I knew I no longer wanted to live with them, and I moved out a few weeks later.

It is worth noting that a couple of years later while visiting a local gay bar, I bumped into one of the effeminate Holiness men that I had mentioned to my grandfather during our conversation. That was definitely an enjoyable moment for me.

The other man never married, but maintained a close relationship with a single Holiness preacher. Apparently they traveled around the country together and often slept in the same bed. Maybe they were in love, maybe they weren’t. It was a long time ago and doesn’t really matter anymore since they have both passed away.

So, what does that verse in Corinthians really mean? I don’t know. Some newer translations have changed it to “men who have sex with men,” but I think that’s a bit of a stretch. Perhaps the Apostle Paul just had a problem with women, and by extension, men who looked or acted like women.

Misogynistic, if you ask me.

Gay or straight: Thank you for being a friend

Honey and I have very few gay friends. This weekend, if all goes as planned, we will travel to watch two of them get married. We were at their commitment ceremony a few years ago, but since they have moved to a state that recently recognized gay marriage, they will make it official this Saturday.

I am not sure why we don’t have more gay friends. We don’t typically visit places where gay men congregate, and the few gay people we have met at church usually offer nothing more than a courteous hello.

Although it is unfair to paint everyone with the same brush, most of us gay men are downright nasty to each other when we first cross paths. It isn’t unusual to get a judgmental sneer or some side-eye. Whatever the reasons, I suspect it has to do with male aggression and competitiveness. Much like a lion defending his pride because of reproductive rights, we don’t want any interested parties sniffing around. Relationships are hard, but because gay relationships have even more challenges to face, it stands to reason that we don’t want to invite trouble.

Although it would be nice to have a few more gay friends who personally understand all the issues that gay people face on a day-to-day basis, genuine friendship from anyone is the ultimate goal. And, frankly, I have wonderful straight friends who are supportive, accepting, and understanding without being judgmental.

True friends are priceless, regardless of their sexual orientation.

Remember it

Some people say homosexuality is a sin. It’s not. God is perfectly cool with it, God feels the exact same way about homosexuality that God feels about heterosexuality. Now you might say, “Whoa, slow down. You move too fast. How could you have the audacity, the temerity, to speak on behalf of God?” Exactly, that’s an excellent point and I pray that you remember it.

Ted Alexandro