I came out in front of a lot people because I felt I had something to say. I was in a safe place, a small liberal arts college with a pretty accepting community, I figured. So in August, 2006, I started my freshman year of college fresh by being honest and open about something I was afraid to share. In high school I came out early on and was verbally and emotionally bullied as a result. I wanted to see how differently things would go in a new environment. So at this event, where various college community members shared their stories I said something like this:
Um, hey, my name is Josh, and before I get to the thing that I want to say that might scare people, I want to say a few things. I worked with the rock critic from the Chicago Tribune in high school, I lectured about Billie Holiday at the Music Institute of Chicago in high school… and I’m gay. Now part of why I wanted to share this is because right now I’m really upset with a cousin of mine who made this really stupid comment last year… well, basically, his brothers were hugging or something and he said, “You two look like butt lovers” and I was just like, “Fuck you!” So here’s a letter I wrote that I haven’t sent him yet.
I’m sure your brother told you that I couldn’t come up to see you guys this year. And part of it is preparing for my college orientation, but part of it is something I haven’t talked to you about. And that has a lot to do with something you said… well, take a guess what it might be.
Once you realize what it was, think about how someone as sensitive as me would feel about you saying something that dumb, ignorant, and, yes, hurtful. And think about how I felt the year before last talking with you about music, feeling like after a long time of loneliness, I had a friend in my family. And if I’m crying as I read this, don’t even THINK of calling me a faggot—I am not dumb, I am not vapid, and I do not give a FUCK about fashion… well, like that matters.
Anyways, I’m sure you’re over it—you apologized, and that was probably enough for you. But I just wanted you to know how I feel.
People told me later how cool it was that I did that, and how “that was one of the bravest things I’ve ever seen in my fucking life.” At the same time, there are parts of this story that I recognize now that I could not admit at the time: as someone who has dealt with a lot of internalized homophobia, part of my reaction to my cousin’s comment had a lot to do with shame, like feeling that maybe he was right to make a comment that homophobic; I was raised to think of a lot of “gay activity” as gross, too. Not only that, but in a way I was agreeing with heterosexist norms by distancing myself from guys who were dumb, vapid, and fashion-conscious. I hadn’t only bonded with him about music; perhaps I’d set my expectations too high for him to be the perfect friend who acted the way I wanted him to. Thankfully, since then we have patched up our friendship, and we support each other tremendously.
Still, I remember the pride I felt when people told me how much they appreciated my coming out at that event. Later that year, a student was complaining at my table in a cafeteria about a kid in his class by saying, “Remember that kid that got mad that his cousin said something was ‘gay’?” I interrupted and said, “First of all, that was me, and second, it wasn’t ‘gay’, it was ‘butt lovers.’ Thanks.”
I had a right to feel pride, and I still do when I post facebook statuses like this:
Memo to other men. If you've ever thought it was cool or funny to appropriate "gay" behavior as a joke, I have some words for you: fuck you. To some (not everyone, I know), I don't fit the stereotype of a gay man, and as much as some gay men do fit such stereotypes, I'd like to say something I was never allowed to say growing up: I have a right to get angry when I hear guys make fun of gay people like we're all the same vapid, dumb, fashion-obsessed fools. I am not vapid, dumb, or fashion-obsessed, and I am proud of who I am, and for once in my life I know I'm not being wrong or oversensitive when I say that my or others' mannerisms (whether or not they fit stereotypes) are not for you to make fun of, ever. And if you think I'm being too serious about this, I ask, when was the last time somebody told you there needs to be more people who act like you in this world? Because I have heard that about me, and I hope one day more people act with as much courage and compassion as I do. That's better than bigotry.
However, it's also clear that I still need to get rid of homophobic norms in my mind: if I do have a problem with guys who are “vapid, dumb, fashion-obsessed fools,” it’s up to me to find out how I can feel gay pride without opposing that of others.