When I first came out the closet in 2004, I thought that I would share this magical bond with all gay people; I had an attitude that conveyed the message, “Yeah. This guy is like me, we’re cool.” My notion was that we, as gay people, are united.
I was wrong.
I was 22 when I first came out. I felt like I’d be joining an exclusive club for gays only; a gay utopia, if you will. We would live in our gay community, do our gay shopping and live our merry gay lives with our gay families. As I started to get involved in the community – going to pride meetings, bars, clubs and various other social gatherings – what I soon noticed was the exact opposite: there was a lack of unity.
So, I joined different cliques that lead to meeting more people. I thought if I would just search for it harder, I would find more unified voices within different groups. What I found was that the gay community is no more unified than any other group of people. In fact, we are less of a community than what we project. I had the idea that as soon as I came out I would be accepted amongst my “own” people. That was a false notion.
The first thing I encountered after coming out was the racism and stereotyping of gay black men. As I am black, as was seen as being as such. Therefore, I was not considered attractive to some, or I was fetishized into being just another black man with stereotypical attributes who would love to dominate white males.
In fact, there was even one incident where this guy wanted me to sleep with him while he called me racist names.
Needless to say, I did not go through with it.
And the black gay guys were not any better, for the most part. Many of them told me that they only dated white or Latino males.
I also encountered sexism and women hating. Being new to the gay community, I thought gay men were surely more open and understanding toward the fact that sexism and sexist remarks are tools that oppress both women and gay men. Regardless of orientation, we are taught that if you really want to degrade a man you can do it by comparing him to a woman. Words such as sissy, bitch, cunt, and fag degrade women just as much as gay men. Homophobia is just a symptom of sexism.
I was shocked to see so many gay men use these terms to describe themselves and other women. And I was just as shocked when I went to the gay bars in Chicago and some bartenders would purposely skip over women clientele that were in line to serve the men behind them. Needless to say, I was shocked to see some of my gay friends talk about women with the same disregard as some straight males do.
I also encountered this obsession with appearances, both physical and political. People of different body sizes are so often rejected or judged just because they happen to be bigger or they don’t fit the stereotype of being a “jock” or “frat boy.”
Then there are the political ideas. There is this idea that gay people aren’t religious: not true. And if you are gay then that makes you a Democrat: also not true. Or that you should support issues such as the repeal of “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell” and support same-sex marriage: you guessed it.
And I have not even yet mentioned the discrimination that transgendered and bisexual people face within the LGBTQ community. And the list goes on and on.
Coming out felt like I just jumped out of one box into another. I am now 26 and I know my way around the gay community (which should really come with a map to guide new comers). I have come to realize that this idea of community-like-family is abstract. Racism, sexism, and body image issues are just some of the issues that exist within the gay community, and we shouldn’t hesitate to confront them. These issues exist in the rest of society, as well, but if we don’t address them in the context of the gay community, we well be less of a unified voice when it comes to common. mainstream issues such as same-sex marriage.
I want to see strong advocacy for broader issues such as same-sex adoption, homeless gay youth, same-sex domestic violence, and transgender issues, as well. These are issues that plague our society as a whole but very often are seen as just “gay” issues. We should address them with the same diligence as we do with same-sex marriage. Challenging the barriers within our community is a good thing – it creates more political power and helps us move as a unified force.
Through everything, I am left with a question: Are LGBTQ people trying to change society or are we trying to fit in?