Why I Reject Gay Culture
The recent Washington Post article featuring TNG co-founder Zack did a decent job of charactarizing what we are trying to do with this site. However, it got one aspect wrong: that TNG is a resource for young people. The article impled that our efforts are for the Gen-Y and “Millennials” but that implication misses the mark. Two of TNG’s three co-founders are in their 30s. You don’t have to be young and just coming out to want more from live than what mainstream gay culture has to offer.
Let’s first get out of the way the fact that being “gay” and being a part of gay culture are two different things. Being “gay” or “queer” or “lesbian” means that you are attracted to members of the same sex. Being a part of gay culture means you accept and go along with a monolithic, single-minded “culture” mostly composed of people who are attracted to the same sex. A culture that, unlike all other minority cultures, you aren’t born into. You have to go seek it out.
Unfortunately, at least in my experience, it isn’t very easy to break into this gay culture. Firstly, it’s very male oriented, and white. If you are a lesbian or a person of color, you’re already have a few strikes against you when it comes to acceptance by greater gay culture. However, us white guys don’t necessarily have it all that easy, either.
Somehow, gay culture has evolved into a very homogenious and anti-intellectual stage show. People who pride themselves on their indiviuality often have a hard time fitting in. You have to look a certain way, like certain music, be interested in the lives and times of celebrities, and dumb yourself down. A friend of mine went to a grad student mixer while at UC Berkeley a few years ago, and an attractive young man walked up to him, asking “So, what do you study?” When my friend replied that he was getting a PhD in mechanical engineering, the other guy replied, “Well, we obviously won’t have anything to talk about” and walked away with a flourish. If a gay male graduate student at a relatively elite university judges another for his scientific and intellectual pursuits, something is very wrong with our “culture.”
My personal experiences growing up have provided me with a very suspicious nature. I experienced a lot of rejection in elementary school and junior high school. It wasn’t until my sophmore year of high school that I actually made a good group of supportive friends who helped me feel that I had something of value to contribute to the world. Up until then, I was always the butt of jokes. Always the one told he had yellow teeth by his locker neighbor. The one picked last in gym class, only to be horrified to learn that we were playing two-on-two shirts vs. skins basketball, and I was a “skin.” Growing up with two domineering older brothers who were very athletic, and who equated athleticism with masculinity, the uncoordinated kid I used to be was often called “gay” before I even realized what the word meant.
In order to survive that sort of childhood, we social rejects, we kids-picked-last-in-gym-class had to develop defense mechanisms. We built walls. We focused on music, art, academics, solitary walks in the woods. We learned to find nuggets of self esteem wherever we could find them: long hair-coming sessions with mom on her bed; small pep talks from encouraging teachers; other reject friends who, when compatible dysfunctions could be found, provided a few months of friendship that quelled the urge to commit suicide or start planning fratricide or a Columbine event.
One thing that my mother used to tell me when I was feeling down and out is that I shouldn’t need the acceptance of a group in order to love myself. Of course, she couched this conversation in Catholicism and told me to reach out to the love of Jesus. However, I was able to glean some truths from her council: Be yourself, love yourself, and find happiness. I took that to heart and focused on pursuits that made me genuinely happy, having faith that one day my self-development would make me a person who was likable, or maybe even lovable. Part of this process was to stop trying to be liked by people who didn’t like me. I stopped making efforts to endear myself to my brothers and their common friends, the neighborhood kids whose post-pubescent interestes began to diverge from mine, the classmates who deigned to share their notes with me when I missed a day of school. I learned to stop begging for acceptance from people that didn’t want me.
Fast-forward a decade or so: After 5 years in a very sheltered same-sex relationship, I came out to a whole new world called gay culture. At the age of 27, I made my first gay friends with whom I shared very few interests besides an attraction for men. These new friends accepted me very tentatively, unsure of who I was or what I had to offer. And within a year, I experienced the same sort of complete and utter rejection from them that I’d experienced over and over again as a kid. Somehow, I’d learned how to be myself as a person, how to get my needs met when it came to friendships and socialization, but I forgot it all the moment I tasted this potential acceptance by this new group of gay guys. And I set myself up for a crash so hard that, at one point, I had to pretend that poor quality Thai food was the reason I was crying while eating drunken noodles with a friend who’d screwed me over.
After such an incredible year, a year like a rollercoaster of ups and downs, side turns and queasy stomachs, complete 180s and 360s, I remembered what I’d learned as a kid that got me through grades 7 through 12. I retrenched myself emotionally, and repealed all of the exemptions that I’d made for the sake of being more open to people. I redoubled all the laxed standards to which I’d formerly held others. I picked myself up and started seeking out quality people outside the gay mainstream who also needed community and were sick of seeking it from all the dumb white aberzombies. And I was successful. Within a year, I had a good group of friends who, beforehand, all felt like social rejects from the gay scene. Finally, we felt accepted by each other, and that was enough.
The title of this post “Why I Reject Gay Culture” is actually a misnomer. I didn’t reject it. I attempted to embrace it, even lowering the high standards that my tough childhood necessitated for self preservation. I tried.
Gay culture rejected me.
To all of you who perceive our effort with TNG as an attack on gay culture, you are the lucky ones. You’ve been able to find comfort and acceptance in a mainstream culture that accepts you for who you are. Good for you. Roll with it. But please don’t feel threatened by rest of us, those of us who want more out of life than what mainstream gay culture has to offer; those of us who want to be friends with the entire spectrum of queer culture, including women, people of color and transfolk; those of us who believe in self-actualization instead of self-destruction and self-deprecation.
Please realize, mainstream gay guys, that we aren’t rejecting you. We’re simply reacting to you having rejected us. If it feels like rejection, well, maybe now you finally know what we’ve been through.
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