May 9, 2013 | by Michael Radkowsky
Gay Charlie Brown syndrome?

 

body image, hot body, abs, gay news, Washington Blade

(Photo courtesy Bigstock)

Dear Michael,

Last week, at my 40th birthday party no less, a friend told me that I’ve passed my “sell by” date. I think he’s right. I’ve never been much of a success as a gay man, because I’ve never fit the image that seems to define what a gay man should be. I’m not skinny, I’ve been balding since my 20s, casual sex holds no appeal to me, I don’t like alcohol or recreational drugs and I’m bad at one-liners, catty conversation, fashion and fabulousness in general. So I’m pretty much a wallflower at bars and parties.

Now, with this aging thing, I feel more and more excluded from the club to which I thought I had a guaranteed membership, but which has never really accepted me. I’d love a boyfriend, companionship and some decent gay friends (who don’t insult me at my own birthday party). But given that I’m apparently a dull round peg where a sleek skinny peg is required, should I just give up?

Michael replies:

Your experience of feeling marginalized in the gay male world is common, shared by many who don’t fit a certain narrow age-body-beauty demographic. If you, like most gay men, have grown up in a gay-unfriendly culture, your present sense of not fitting in can easily re-activate old trauma and feelings of worthlessness. The result: when you stand on the sidelines at a party or get snubbed by some glamour boy, you feel as bad as you did at 14 when you were picked last for the baseball team. Other past experiences of feeling “less than,” not directly tied to being gay, can also get activated by present-day feelings of rejection and lead to your feeling as rotten about yourself now as you did way back when.

I urge you to start challenging your own negative view of yourself. Remember Eleanor Roosevelt’s words: “No one can make you feel inferior without your consent.”  You have accepted a notion of what it means to be an ideal gay man that is based on appearance and behavior, but there are countless ways to be a perfectly fine gay man that have little to do with what is on the surface. Every time you disparage yourself, you are reinforcing those old pathways in your brain that make it easy to see yourself as a loser.   Conversely, if you would consistently make the effort to find (and cultivate) attributes that you respect about yourself, then seeing yourself in a positive light would become easier and more habitual. Another reason to work on your self-esteem: when you walk around believing that you are a failure, other people are likely to pick up on that energy and see you in much the same way as you see yourself.

Would you also consider reducing the time you spend with people who do not welcome you or who put you down? Be aware that you may have a hard time giving this up: Experiences and ways of thinking that are old and familiar, even painful ones, can feel somewhat comfortable, so they are difficult to abandon for something new and unknown. But if you will widen your lens, there are many gay men out there who are generally friendly and accepting of others. Challenge yourself to find and spend time with people who share your values and interests. This will be a powerful antidote to your ongoing experiences of rejection.

Reading these words may give you some ideas for new ways to see yourself and your situation. But one advice column is unlikely to deeply alter your negative view of yourself or help you become more hopeful in a lasting way. Such changes are absolutely possible. But they take time and ongoing effort. Therefore, I urge you to find a good therapist to help you challenge yourself to create a life that consistently affirms your worth as a gay man and a human being.

Michael Radkowsky, Psy.D. is a licensed psychologist who works with LGBT individuals and couples in D.C. He can be found online at personalgrowthzone.com. All identifying information has been changed for reasons of confidentiality. Have a question? Send it to Michael@personalgrowthzone.com.

15 Comments
  • Dave Edmondson

    It's common for gay men to think that there is a narrow definition of what it means to be an acceptable gay man and that they don't conform to it. To the letter writer, it's evidently what he sees at those bars and parties. To me when I first came out, it was the politically correct hive mind.

    What helped me was to interact with different groups of LGBT people in different settings, such as churches, social organizations, and those goal-oriented organizations that didn't follow the orthodoxy. I learned that the club to which the letter writer refers is actually many clubs and that I fit into some of them just fine (and don't get insulted at my own birthday party).

    P.S. Re the sell-by date, I know gay men in their sixties who get hit on routinely.

    • I don’t believe that this is a belief unique to gay men or the community in general. We are all responsible for our own feelings. You are what you believe you are, regardless of your sexual orientation…

  • Dave, thanks for your inspiring comments!

  • Marco Stevanin

    You're fat and bald man, what did you expect?

  • Peter Montgomery

    Gay people come in all personality types, shapes, sizes, flavors, etc. Not everyone can be or wants to be the belle of the bar, entertaining the crowd with a quick wit. If that's not your scene, and you live in a decent-sized community, you can probably find social organizations devoted to everything from bowling to jogging to square dancing to camping (both kinds) as well as gay-friendly houses of worship, political groups, etc. Figure out what you enjoy and seek out others who share your interests – and at the same time, stay open to surprising connections with folks who may seem different.

  • Peter Montgomery

    Gay people come in all personality types, shapes, sizes, flavors, etc. Not everyone can be or wants to be the belle of the bar, entertaining the crowd with a quick wit. If that's not your scene, and you live in a decent-sized community, you can probably find social organizations devoted to everything from bowling to jogging to square dancing to camping (both kinds) as well as gay-friendly houses of worship, political groups, etc. Figure out what you enjoy and seek out others who share your interests – and at the same time, stay open to surprising connections with folks who may seem different.

  • Daniel English

    I personally feel Michael Radkowsky is full of it in responding to the letter writer. How is an individual supposed to fight a culture that has adopted essentially a mentality of marginalization? Yes many gay men find themselves being isolated or cut from the herd. Namely because the values gay men in general have adopted center around being beautiful and young. I just turned 30 years old and live in a very rural area. It has not escaped me how life tends to be in urban areas and rural areas for gay men. You have more chances of finding someone in an urban area. Yet, the standards by which men operate often create a social mechanism to marginalize those they don't find physical attraction with. It would be nice if there were large all inclusive groups of gay men that don't go for the categorizing of bears or twinks or whatever. However, for the most part this person writing in is expressing what most of us realize. The problem is not with the lonely individual. It is with a society which has lost its moral fiber and inclusivity.

    • Dave Edmondson

      Have you ever heard the saying, "Do not complain about anything to which you need not subject yourself"? Instead of bemoaning your fate at the hands of society and the culture, you can use the workarounds that other commenters have successfully used or even do your part to change the culture.

    • Have you heard of the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence? We accept all manner of gay men into our orders. Thinks bears muscle boys.

    • Sorry thinks should have been twinks and the Sisters have changed culture for 30 years.

    • Daniel English

      Dave Edmondson I am glad you are all knowing. I am glad that you so fully know the limitations of my life and station. Some people are more intimately bound to things than many who decide to run away than face their problems. And lets face facts that is what many gay men do when faced with living in a rural area they flee to the city. I have changed culture. Namely the culture of my area by fighting for gay rights locally. I fought a college to start the very first gay/straight alliance and had the rules of the school changed to protect minorities. Do not think yourself to know me because rightfully you don't!

    • Chandler Foster

      Amen… say this comment through Jimmy Poteat… Totally true!

  • Marco Stevanin

    You're basically saying that it's the gay community's fault if you can't fit in? Let's make this clear: not acting like Carry Bradshaw is what we call "being socially acceptable" in this stupid, homophobic work.
    You act manly? You're not intersted in fashion? Omg, you're so special, man, you will surely never have a boyfriend because of these terrible things. IF I WERE YOU, I would concentrate more on ME being fat, bald (shave your head, man) and on the whole boring, instead of blaming an entire, already ostracized community.

  • I think the advice seeker’s point of view and feelings of marginalization are not unfamiliar ones in "our" community. I think what galls, what hurts, is that this is a community that has been widely marginalized and for a long time so we don't expect to feel marginalized within the community. Every time I feel bad about being marginalized I think back to Orwell's Animal Farm and realize as inhuman as it is, it appears to be human behavior: once you are no longer the oppressed there is a kind of satisfaction in oppressing others.

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