I’m living the mirror life of the lonely guy who wrote you recently complaining of feeling excluded from the gay world. I have a lot of friends and a busy social life. But like that other guy, I’m unhappy with all the rules and requirements for fitting in.
Some examples: I don’t like to drink much, but I do because my friends all get hammered and badger me when I don’t join them; also, it’s not fun to be the only sober guy when we’re out. I don’t really enjoy working out — I’d rather ride my bike in Rock Creek Park — but I spend almost two hours at the gym several nights a week so that I’ll have the same great body that everyone else has and won’t get teased by my friends about looking fat. I was vegetarian, but got sick of being ragged about it every time we were at a restaurant, so now I just eat the same as everyone else.
I don’t like sitting around with my friends critiquing each others’ hookups or comparing guys on Grindr. I would much rather play a board game or discuss a cool science fiction book I’m reading, but then I get labeled as a weird geek. I like having friends, but sometimes feel like I did before I came out: acting different than I want to so people will like me. Is this just the way it is? I didn’t come out just to wind up facing a new set of restrictions for how I have to act. But I feel like I’ve had to discard important parts of who I am so that I will be accepted. Are there some other options besides being a clone or an outcast?
Yes, there are definitely other options.
A lot of us think that when we come out we’ll have a world to fit into, but the truth is that there is no single gay community into which you can or will fit. I often hear the thought expressed that gay people should be more welcoming of diversity, or kinder, because they have often been made to feel “less than” over the course of their lives. But of course gay people are just human like anyone else. In fact, it’s quite easy for someone who has been victimized to become a victimizer, putting others down and defining others as outsiders in order to finally feel like an insider. So it makes sense that you’ll find all sorts of sub-groups among gay folks that, to be a part of, you need to fit very specific requirements. And that’s the life you describe currently living.
Because you have come out, you already know that you have the ability to be true to yourself even when there’s a lot of pressure to conform to others’ expectations. And you know that there’s sometimes a price for doing that, just as there are some benefits. You might lose some friends and you might get ragged on if you behave in ways that you respect, but that your friends don’t approve of. But you also are likely to feel a lot better about yourself, because the way to build self-esteem is, literally, to behave in ways that you respect.
I wonder how much you are standing up for yourself by consistently and firmly telling your friends to cut out the teasing and judgment. Clearly, you’re fearful about being criticized, so I can imagine that you’re not eager to jump into any kind of confrontation with your main social group. But keeping silent when you’re put down isn’t likely to change anything in a positive way. And you sound like a guy who wants to stand up for himself rather than squandering his life trying to fit someone else’s definition of who he should be. So here’s an opportunity to get better at coming to your own defense. If your friends are decent and on the road to maturity, I hope they’ll accept you as the man you really are. If not, the gay world is far from monolithic and somewhere out there are guys who like board games, vegetarian food, science fiction and/or biking.
One more thing: pay attention to your own judgments about who you are supposed to be, as well. A simple example: could you tolerate having less of a gym body? It’s easy to pass off our own fears as the concerns of others, so your ideas about who you should be as a gay man may also be getting in your way.
Michael Radkowsky, Psy.D. is a licensed psychologist who works with gay couples and individuals 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.