I’m no longer oblivious to how easy I have it, when it comes to people accepting me being gay. Compared to the horror stories I’ve read of other guys and girls being rejected by their parents, I’ve never had a single issue with either family members or friends accepting me. A major part of this luck is the liberal Methodist church environment that my family participates in, which preaches unconditional acceptance of others.
Ever since I came out to myself, I’ve realized my personal luck is, in spite of what I naively believed, not universal for other non-straight men. Factors such as where you live, what type of religion you’ve grown up in, and others easily influence whether or not your peers will accept you. After studying coming out testimonies from other men, specifically professional athletes like Michael Sam, I’ve come to understand that the perception of a man’s masculinity is a huge influence towards the outcome.
I’m no stranger to this incredibly frustrating social issue. Anybody who knows me knows that I’m only 5’3, barely weigh close to 140 lbs, and overall, my appearance is anything but masculine. In fact, you could definitely call me a more effeminate guy than most, and I don’t take offense to that. Heck, I’ve lost track of the number of times I’ve been mistaken for a girl by strangers and even co-workers of mine. Of course, there have been incidents where random people have attempted to turn my effeminate qualities into a source of shame for me, but oh well.
After becoming more aware of what leads to other non-straight men refusing to come out, it’s become clear to me that there is an ingrained issue in our society with men terrified of being perceived as “unmanly” or “weak”, things that are often attributed to gay men.
The Worst Homophobia is Inner
During my four years at college, I encountered a number of more masculine guys who, through their attitudes and manner of speech towards me, expressed varying levels of nasty homophobia without me doing anything to prompt them, other than walk into their line of sight. It was frustrating, depressing, and above all, confusing. I couldn’t for the life of me understand what was driving these men to single me out among all the other people around them. Around my junior year of college, I started to understand that chances were, the vast majority (if not every single one) of these male homophobes were reacting so negatively to my mere presence because they themselves aren’t straight either.
In Freudian psychological terms, taking out your repressed feelings of shame and disgust over an inherent part of yourself is called projection. When it comes to repressed gay men who despise the undeniable self-known fact that they aren’t straight, one means of denying this is taking out their self-loathing on other gay men who better fit society’s stereotype for who gay people are. Thus, my theory is that whenever these guys saw me walking across campus, they attributed me with what they fear to be perceived as by other people, and chose to verbally lash out at me as a means of aggressively denying themselves.
Some people might say that masculine non-straight men who are better able to hide their sexuality from society thanks to not fitting the stereotypical image of effeminate gayness have it far easier than boys like me, since they’re not usually directly targeted by homophobia like I’ve been.
I would argue otherwise.
Yes, of course, unlike me, a more “manly” guy will generally be able to avoid direct homophobia thanks to their apparent lack of effeminate qualities. They can avoid all outside sources of homophobia because nobody might realize that they aren’t straight.
But the one source of homophobia that they can’t ever escape from is themselves, the cruelest source of all.
I found a brutally accurate opinion article that sums up this whole charade perfectly. From our childhood, all boys are taught that anything “girly” is weak, to be despised, and to be avoided at all costs. Boys are taught that if they are perceived as “girly” by others, then they will also be perceived as weak. They’re taught that in order to be a man, you have to be aggressive, “tough”, and to avoid any behavior or traits that could lead to them becoming branded as the opposite. It’s poisonous, and leads to intense self-hatred when a guy finally full-on realizes that there is a part of him that will be forever despised by society.
I guess you could say that thanks to me fitting society’s definition of what a gay guy is, I don’t have to deal with societal expectations on being a “true man”. After all, how could a tiny, sometimes flamboyant and quite effeminate boy like me ever live up to the ridiculous standards for manliness set here in America?
My more masculine counterparts have it so much harder than I do, and there’s nothing about their situation that I could ever envy. They have to deal with society’s unending demand that they be “manly” at all costs; if they try to be true to themselves, then society is certain to scream that these men are “invalid” due to the apparent conflict.
Society needs to understand that “gay” and “effeminate” can, and are, two mutually exclusive terms. There are plenty of non-straight men out there who are fully masculine, who constantly defy the stereotypical image of gay men that society desperately clings to. The few athletes who’ve come out as gay are perfect examples.
Michael Sam and Homophobia’s Depth
Remember the story of Michael Sam, the gay football player who came out in 2014. While he certainly had supporters, numerous vicious opponents surfaced on social media, expressing vile thoughts towards him through tweets that the Huffington Post lists here. One of Sam’s enemies accused his father of failing his son:
Another Twitter user demanded that Sam and all other LGBTQ people “get back in the closet”:
Somebody else used gun emojis in their tweet, potentially implying a desire for violence against Sam and others like him:
In a now deleted tweet, a different user, named “KingPaggi3”, accused Sam of “betraying God” by coming out.
Michael Sam can easily be interpreted as the embodiment of American’s desired standard for masculinity: he’s tall, powerfully built, and he’s a star football athlete. For the biggest adherents to this ideal, Sam coming out as gay, which is perceived by these people as a mark of weakness, Sam became invalid in their eyes. All they saw in him was his sexuality, and his choice to come out of the closet was all they needed to despise him.
That’s the thing with homophobes: it doesn’t matter if you’re kind, brave, selfless, etc. The instant people like that find out that you don’t fit society’s definition of “normal”, they choose to treat and view you as “less than”. They prove to God and the rest of the world that they lack unconditional love for others, and this rings especially true when a parent rejects their child accordingly.
No doubt, while Sam coming out will help other young non-straight athletes do the same, the malice he’s had to face for his bravery will also fuel their fears with real reasons to remain silent. If they see nothing but contempt while they’re in the closet, then they’ll see no reason to attempt coming out.
Humans and Sexuality
Humans aren’t supposed to be solely defined by their sexuality. It’s simply an important part of us, alongside our personality, morals, and other personal components.
For the guys I’ve met in the last four years who’ve shown signs that they’re repressing their sexuality, I’m worried about the issues they have to struggle with in comparison with mine. I assume that they could struggle with their family and friends disbelieving them should they come out, and then disowning them promptly, things that I’ve been able to escape my whole life.
I’ve had to focus on praying for, instead of despising these homophobic guys that I’ve encountered in my life, after realizing that they’re likely struggling with interior homophobia worse than I’ve ever had it. I hope that one day soon, these guys let go of their self-hatred, reject society’s unfair demands and accept themselves as the children of God they were made to be.
I pray that they trust God like I did, so that they can be open to His assistance. God was, and still is the only reason I was able to come out at all, because if it wasn’t for divine guidance up until that moment, I would still be in the closet to this very day. Only God can help them entirely release their fears, and I wish that all of the struggling men I’ve encountered learn to do trust Him to do so.