Netflix has just released another volume new true crime series, Conversations with a Killer: The John Wayne Gacy Tapes, which recounts the true story of the serial killer through new tapes and recordings.
Gacy an aspiring politician, beloved local contractor, and part-time clown-for-hire who murdered 33 young men (that is known of) between 1972 and 1976 in the Chicago, Illinois area. Burying most of them under the crawlspace of his house.
Known as the “Killer Clown”, because of his job dressing up for birthdays and occasions. He also worked as a local contractor, and hired many young men to help him – many of which were never heard of again.
Gacy would lure his victims to his home and subject them to periods of rape and torture before killing them. And in the 1970’s and 80’s with so many runaways in the country those victims who were reported missing were routinely dismissed by the Chicago PD. And if the missing person happened to be gay. There would be no movement on the report/cases at all because of the homophobia that was running rampart in our country at the time. And indeed many suggest that Gacy himself was a deeply homophobic, self loathing bi-man.
John Wayne Gacy was convicted of murdering at least 33 people and sentenced to death in 1980. He was executed by lethal injection and died in 1994.
We are a community. We are diverse with our own styles music preferences and goals. We want to be treated as an individual being that has different aspirations and dreams and driving force that gets us out of bed each morning. We may not all engage in the same activities or have the same interests. We may not prefer to participate in activism or show up for Pride each year. We may not have any resemblance to what is referred to as a gay lifestyle. But we are still a community that shares a commonality that sets us apart from the rest of society.
Even though the word and meaning of community itself is used too broadly or has been pontificated too extensively we are all still members of a diverse community of men and women that share one commonality in that we are different than the rest of society. A difference that may take a lifetime to accept but once it happens, becomes a milestone of growth. So much of our time as activists and leaders is spent on eradicating this truth that we are different while advocating for equal rights to the point now that it’s laughable. Some of us have yet to understand that different doesn’t mean better or worse. Just different.
So while posters are made to illustrate how we all want families with the perfect spouse that precedes having perfect children and perfect careers and perfect lives, it completely omits the fact that we love having sex with other men. Numerous seminars and endless lecturers going across the country explaining that the reason we deserve the right to marry is because we are all the same when we aren’t. We are different than our straight counterparts and it’s an injustice to who we really are to argue otherwise. What we should be doing is showing how those differences should have no bearing on our rights as citizens of this country and how we should be celebrating these attributes rather than hiding them.
Those of you who’ve read my past assertions know this isn’t the first time I’ve spoken about embracing our differences because that is what brings real change in society. Real change does not happen by assimilating or replicating some notion of normality that closely emulates the rest of society. This is usually what I say when talking to some zealot that calls us sinners but today I’m reiterating this message for us as well. Because truthfully nothing aggravates and saddens me more than seeing fellow gay men who harbor on the perceived negative attributes of this community so much that they feel the need to separate themselves from it. Or even worse campaign against it. This is much more than a criticism or observation on how we need to improve. It’s outright contempt that leads to their own dissonance from this community and is so strong that they renounce their gay membership.
At some point some of us felt that in order to have all the rights as the rest of society meant that we have to distance ourselves from the people who are the most like us. So in turn you’ll see some that’ll place themselves on a pedestal while giving some wistful humorous sermon about how degrading gay culture is. They’ll haughtily laud about messy bottoms and the degrading obstacles to quench their thirst or tops who don’t know how to be a man all while projecting their obvious self-loathing on to everyone else.
They will only focus on the adventures in bathhouses with disdain or worse that they will disgustingly treat the men in our community living with HIV as if they’re lepers while making tacky, tasteless jokes. Sadly this behavior is not limited to those living with HIV. The apathy towards the transgender men and women in this community still astounds me to this day. The ardent disregard and dry puns while these men and women are being beaten and murdered with hardly any stringent federal laws to protect them. We even have so called LGBT leaders that dismiss their transphobia as being too sensitive.
Those leaders will start misguided campaigns all to increase their agency and once their hot button reaction has become apathetic they move on to their next object. All this while not listening to those who are in the trenches seeing the harsh realities every day rather than in suit and ties at a gala for celebrities that want to boost their image. They’ll constantly say how we need to better ourselves while all they do is bring nothing but their own negativity and bitterness. They are too jaded to give real constructive criticism on how to further enrich our community.
Sometimes wanting to distance oneself from the community is about the rejection from others within this community. Because when some of us feel so much pressure to fit into this mold of what we’re supposed to say or do that we feel lost and without a voice. As a result they feel there’s no other alternative than to completely distance themselves from anything they associate with being gay out of self-preservation and maintaining their sanity. It all becomes so overwhelming because they feel as though people will only see gay and nothing else.
It all saddens and frustrates me to no end. Each time I come across these men I challenge them to seek out more than what is so easily seen on the surface because I’ve learned that no matter how much you assert that you need distance from this community that you will always be a member. The more you insist that as a whole, we are nothing more than a bunch of hypersexualized drug addicts looking for the next conquest to fodder over on social media that you are still a member of this community. No matter how you’re not into the gay scene or whatever you entail that to be. No matter how disheartened by what you believe to be superficial or uncaring about this community you are still a member.
Just like I will always be an African American, no matter what it is a part of who I am. Sure I could distance myself as much as I want from rap and rhythm and blues and Afros and cornrows and dance moves like twerking or stereotypes like eating fried chicken or watermelon or any other cultural aspect that identifies me will never separate me from the truth that I will always be a black man and society will always remember that as well.
Because if I deny all that is associated with being an African American then I’m also denying the March on Washington and Dr. Martin Luther King and Bayard Rustin and Rosa Parks. I’m missing out on learning more about the collective history and embracing a history rich with an aesthetic that instills survival and perseverance that taught me how to stand even when it seems meaningless. Observing it enables me to know how I want to be treated and how I choose to interact with others. This mindset helped me understand that simply submitting to my adversaries or their oppressive objectives leads to more oppression.
And the same goes for being gay. Distancing yourself from gays that go clubbing is like distancing yourself from those that stood up for their right, our right at Stonewall Inn so that you have the right to choose. Saying that you’re too good to associate with gays that are too effeminate or too girly is like saying you’re not really gay because wanting to be with another man is a feminine trait. It’s this type of self-hate that people who have the proclivity to renounce gay life that is so damning it rivals the bigots that make it their life mission to campaign against us. It’s counterproductive and it needs to end. You will always be gay and no amount of fitting in or assimilating or emulating or distancing from the rest of us is ever going to change that.
All of this I’m sure I’ve mentioned before but this installment is the result of talking to a guy I spoke with today that told me that he hates being gay because he is tired of being seen only as one big stereotype that society will never accept. And he’s even more disheartened by what he describes as the constant animosity he experiences within the gay community. The conversation knocked the wind out of me because he essentially disliked his identity and those associated with it so much that even with the unwavering support of his loved ones he hates being gay and hates himself. And it broke my heart a bit hearing him have such a hopeless resolve.
He expressed that he doesn’t feel like he has the freedom to truly embrace who he is without being judged as being too feminine or not manly enough. And when he does embrace those aspects of himself that men say his aren’t good enough for him and that men that do accept his “gayer” side that he encounters aren’t interested in anything outside of those stereotypes of sex and drugs. He went further on this point by saying he doesn’t have the perfect body so feels like he’s constantly being critiqued. So he feels that he has to distance himself from the rest of us because no one will ever see him as more than a stereotype. Naturally I sympathized with this sentiment as I myself felt animosity towards this community I was made to feel as though I’m a magical negro that’s only purpose was to fulfill any sexual desires of the men I slept with.
But I explained to him as I’m explaining to you all know that while the actions of others can detour you from wanting to associate with the community as a whole that you cannot let that stop you from seeking out meaningful friendships and relationships from this community. As I spoke my words became more passionate because while I understand where the urge comes from to show your individuality, giving up on finding something meaningful from other gay men does nothing. While I realize that the man I spoke with today may just have a general depressive affect men at this point of his life his sentiment is experienced by a lot of other gay men.
So in my opinion it’s imperative that we remember we are a community. Regardless of the circumstances of why you are in conflict this is still a part of you. Challenge yourself to see the diversity and be an active member of your own life that seeks out what relationships you want from other people. You can choose to give into believing that whatever you perceive to be superficial all that exists within this community and miss out or keep looking and asking. Never settle for what you see on that surface.
What an incredible few weeks it has been for the LGBT community. More evidence that our victories are reflective of the evolution that our country has seen this past year. With the news of Rhode Island and Delaware officially becoming the 10th and 11th states to recognize same sex marriage our efforts are truly showing progress. That coupled with Jason Collins, a veteran and still active NBA player coming out of the closet, a new precedence in our history illustrates what an immense breakthrough for our entire society.
Though there have been a few detractors that have strayed away from the significance of Collins’ coming out, this story has inspired so many men and women already to live and celebrate who they really are no matter what. It shows the world how the process of coming out is a harrowing but worthwhile journey, Even in this day and age it takes courage to come out no matter the circumstances or demographics an individual represents. Yet coming out on such a large scale, knowing the varying scenarios that can arise as a result of such a personal admission needs to be recognized.
I was so happy to see the amount of support this man was receiving for, unknowingly to him, taking LGBT community into another level of awareness. It shows the true diversity that this community is comprised of different ethnicity and races while providing greater emphasis on our different interests like sports. This story also showed that as a whole we do not reflect the stereotypes often projected in the media and even if we do, that we are so much more than those perceived notions of behavior. It brought tears to my eyes seeing an outpour of love that basketball fans and just progressive people that are willing and able to accept our sexuality is remarkable.
But for me a moment of pride and celebration was muted and met with a building frustration as time progressed. Because I began to think of Brittney Griner, an up and coming WNBA star that just came out last week as she was drafted. I kept thinking where is the outpouring of support for this woman? Are there not women that are still in the closet that may have just as hard a time coming out than a man? These questions began to swirl around and I felt that asking them was somehow diminishing the impact of Collins’ story. So I waited to write this because I did not want my opinion to seem as though I was trying to overshadow or diminish the monumental part of our history in the LGBT community when Jason Collins came out this week.
I didn’t like this feeling. I did not like that if felt that our society values the experiences of a man more so than a woman. That her story is not given the same value of a man. And when I brought this up in social media and in general conversation, the responses like “who is that?” or “who cares about the WNBA” or that lesbians don’t have to endure the same as gay men it frustrated me even more. It did more than that; it angered me, deeply.
The media itself did not do much better. Griner was given a 30 second spot on the 11 o’clock news and not much else. Nike even signed a deal with Griner and most LGBT news sites, blogs, and other reporting outlets have barely spoken a word about her, if they mentioned her at all. And Collins has had 24 hour coverage since his story broke. No covers on magazines. No invites to speak on radio and numerous tv interviews. As far as I know she hasn’t been invited to the White House either. Though her story has just as much impact on the women that are still in the closet, and looking for a face to show them that they can succeed at all their goals.
We forget how there was a long, arduous struggle that women had to endure just to be able to play sports yet it is still openly acceptable to criticize, even joke about their participation professionally. The Suffrage Movement was what led to the civil rights movement of the 50s and 60s which led to the civil rights movement of today. To learn through our history how much women;s history influenced so much of our own only to be given less emphasis is unsettling. To be shown so little respect deeply disturbs me and once again reminded me of the other times where this community is not as welcoming as it appears.
As I read more breaking stories about Collins, more of the news read event as “Jason Collins, The First Out Professional Athlete” when that was not true. Men and women have been coming out in professional sports for years. We’ve had representation in boxing like Orlando Cruz along with a plethora of women that have come out in nearly every professional sport. It showed me where our priorities are and have always been and it does not feel like true equality.
This community does not fight as hard for the rights and recognition of women. How the bisexual men and women in this community are often laughed at and not given the platform of gay men in this community. How race/ethnicity is at times just as big an issue in this community as it is in the rest of society, sometimes even more so when there are gay men that believe that it is impossible for them to be racist. At times the open misogyny that some practice in this community angers me more than the total disregard of intersectionality, which women in this community also have to endure. I can only imagine the experiences women have to endure when they are slighted by a community that does not reach out to them.
It angered me to feel that the same misogyny that society embodies as a whole still has a grasp and is being kept alive by some members of this community. When I brought this to the attention of HRC they ignored it, which with some of the stories and rumors of their transphobia and lack of diversity within the organization I should not have been surprised. That angered me even more as I thought about how too often organizations like HRC and GLAAD set the tone of what this country sees as LGBT when it’s mostly comprised only of affluent gay men. They either didn’t feel a woman coming out was not as important or did not care
Our society still sexualizes women habitually and when she discloses her sexuality it is fetishized and not respected. Because we all know that there is this belief by some that it’s easier for a woman coming out. That us gay men have an immensely hard time coming out because of all the societal pressures, cultural norms and gender roles placed on us. That we are bullied more, threatened and attacked more as gay men.
It’s a common belief that most if not all women that play professional sports in any capacity is written off automatically as a lesbian when that isn’t true either. And if people believe that, since their sexuality is inferred that lesbian, bisexual, and transgendered women athletes have it easier. But if f we took the time out to read the varying challenges that women like Griner face, like bullying, fear of being judged, inner turmoil, then we’d give stories like hers much more agency.
Women are teased if they do things that no other women do or see as “normal” . Yet as a community our understanding of how similar the adversity we face is forgotten. Even with how much as some of the leaders of this community pride themselves on pushing forward equality in the rest of society, we need to do the same thing within and properly recognize the issues we do not focus on enough.
Women, like Griner, and their accomplishments should not be met with such disregard and apathy. To hear this kind of rhetoric from gay men, that know the varying degrees of discrimination and insensitivity directed towards us would with such a flat affect deeply disturbed me. I had to reconcile my strong opinion with adequately explaining the justification of my immense frustration on how easily we lose insight and focus of other members of this community.
I understand how important this story is because it challenges so many disparaging beliefs of what gay men look like and goes even further to illustrate that gay men are athletic and fit into the broad definition of what society thinks masculinity looks like. That we can love throwing a 3-point shot as much as he can love hair and fashion. But the stories of our sisters are ignored, overshadowed, or forgotten far too often.
We cannot ignore this problem, or continue with this air of displaced interests and lack of love toward the women in this community who deserve to be recognized just as much as the men. We need to remember that just as there’s some guy in college that plays basketball feels he can be out and proud because of James Collins that the same must be true of a woman feeling proud of what Brittney Griner has done for women. Let’s give the same recognition to women as we do men. We can do better.
It appears that earlier this week a New York University canceled a scheduled appearance by an adult film (aka porn star) Conner Habib because they felt that his appearance would be a detriment to the LGBT movement/rights. Here’s more:
College president Katherine Douglas told members of Equal, a lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender student group, she was canceling Habib’s scheduled “Sex Week” talk. The cancellation was first reported by BuzzFeed. Douglas said she didn’t want gay rights to be linked to pornography, Habib told the Post-Standard.
“Mr. Habib’s celebrity status as an adult film star is inconsistent with the educational theme of this program,” Bill Little, the college executive director of the office of institutional advancement, told the Star Gazette.
One of the promoters/organizers that invited Habib was allegedly pulled aside and told that the university could not have the porn star speak there. Habib wrote about the controversy specifically pointing out how we need to examine how we see porn and sex.
Okay so I need to rant here for a moment. First off, I think what the university did is wrong because it is teaching these students that people coming from a different perspective or disposition in life are unable to provide satiable, relevant contributions. They make the vague excuse that a porn star would be able to talk about sex, the very thing that they are paid to do? Would you rather hear about sex from someone that can only provide textbook definitions or someone that has a plethora of experiences in trial and error?\
Because let’s be honest here, we all have watched pornography at some point. Aside from physicians, they know the anatomy of our bodies better than anyone else. And with that experience they can provide invaluable information on safety as well as technique. So why not have someone who takes their clothes off talk to these students?
We have got to stop this heteronormative mentality where we are so concerned about image rather than actual content. I’m sure Habib wasn’t going to show the group how to do various sex acts. This move by the university administration was about how it would look to the straight counterparts. The “oh no what will the straight people think? They’ll say we’re a bunch of deviants”.
Well let me tell you something, those that are close minded bigots were going to think that regardless, unfortunately. Never mind the fact of how beneficial this could have been to students that have spent so much of their lives suppressing their sexual nature instead of embracing it and on a subconscious level this is what you are teaching them.
Think that I’m being extreme in my assessment of potential repercussions? As a community we need to be less concerned with how it looks to the rest of society and making everyone in this community feel welcomed. From gay geek, to the model-esque gay to even the gay porn star. That’s how we learned that we were different, how we discovered we were LGBT. Through observations of others and listening to how our feelings. our behavior, was not the same as everyone else.
Eventually we learned how our differences do not dictate moral character. Our life experiences can in fact enriches the lives of others through open communication. It’s about thinking outside of the box. And not repeating the same, archaic way of thinking by some of our straight counterparts. But this stifling who can talk about it teaches internalized homophobia.
We should be able to discuss a wide area of topics when we take examinations of our physical nature. Openly and without fear of suppression.
Several weeks ago I was asked to do an Op-Ed on whether an HIV negative man should date someone who is positive. Being completely honest, I was nervous. Not because the subject matter of discussing HIV/AIDS makes me nervous, but for fear that I wouldn’t fully encapsulate my point correctly or present each side of the argument accurately. So I held off for a while to ruminate and collect my thoughts. Methodically trying to map out how to present it to a community that has such a taboo about even discussing the subject, fearing an association to something that affects the entire community.
During this process I kept revisiting excerpts of different points I wanted to bring up and as time went on thought they were too convoluted or sounded insulting or just was too random to be of use in the article. I then came across a brilliant and honest depiction of what it was like for a man living with HIV to go out seeking romance or possibly love. David Duran’s story about being positive and navigating through social dating apps really touched me because I truly felt the frustration he expressed about disclosing his status to men he could have some potential sexual relationship. I related to it because I felt frustrations when I’m discounted or erroneously judged because of race in the gay community, another taboo subject rarely discussed.
As I thought about the comparisons it made me think of how taxing that has to be on the gay men that have to endure the silent ridicule and muffled disdain for something that could have happened to any of us. Now some may chagrin to that statement I just made but they would do well to remember that condoms do sometimes break. They should remember that just because someone says that their STI test came back negative doesn’t always mean that they don’t have the virus because it hasn’t shown up yet. So yes it can happen to any of one of us.
This reflective journey made me remember an incident about understanding what HIV is after I came out. I came across a journal entry dated a little over six years ago where I attempt to process whether or not I would date a man living with the virus. I’m going to share a part of this entry to show some of the mistakes I made as a younger gay man and how this experience may resemble the reactions that David and other men have faced. I hope that even though it shows a bit of my own ignorance back then that it may also open eyes to the misconceptions and negative attitudes surrounding it. Because as I always state in these articles, nothing ever changes if we don’t talk about where we went wrong and how we can overcome these flaws.
Saturday January 27th 2007
Tonight I feel like I messed up big time. My first real venture into socializing with gay men, something I dreamed about was a wash. I was finally able to openly flirting with a guy..but in the end it just came out awkward. I was grateful that William had invited me out cause even though it’s been over a year since I came out I don’t know anyone other than the man I’d loved and lost as a circumstance of bad timing and a couple of random guys I fooled around with. This was supposed to be a big step but it..just didn’t turn out right.
I got along with everyone and flirted with the guys and that was received well. Later on this guy walked in. Black hair and the most brilliant luminescent emerald green eyes I can remember. Checkered shoes with a matching scarf and pinstripe suspenders. A hipster from head to toe. I was so taken by him. A few drinks and I felt comfortable enough to say more than hey. We talked about school and politics. He was as so sharp and articulate as I always think I am.. Sweet smile and his butt. Amazing. After we went out back to talk more we leaned in to kiss but he stopped before we made contact. Saying he had to tell me about his status and I was so in the moment it wasn’t clicking to what he was referring to. He said he was positive.
A few seconds of confusion until I realized he was talking about HIV. I was just so caught up in the moment..but I wasn’t able to hide how hard the statement had brought me back down from fantasizing about us throwing each other against the house and me having my way with him. The starry gaze in my eyes was replaced with shock. I could tell he’s seen this expression before and it makes the whole thing worse. And I noticed that he noticed my initial reaction that was in my face that easily to him said “no” when I didn’t know what I would do. But I know he’s seen that face before and a resolve that nothing would come of our earlier flirtation. Shaking and so upset, probably heightened by the alcohol, my reaction condemned this man and I felt so ashamed, that I may have hurt his feelings. I began to cry.
Spontaneously crying, like I always do when I feel I’ve deeply offended someone unintentionally. He was trying to say something like “it’s okay, I understand” but all I could do was profusely yell how sorry I was if I made him feel bad or that he wasn’t desirable. Because I felt like at that point I couldn’t just save face and say of course it’s not an issue but my reaction said differently. Even worse that I know what that feels like on some level to be rejected on something you can’t change, though not to the degree that he had to have felt. Too often I’ve had resolve to rejection as sometimes as an African American you have to brace yourself as some people do react to you this way.
And here I am most likely making this guy feel that way. Both of us embarrassed at the moment I was having I flagged a sober friend to drive me home…Could it have been the era I grew up in? Definitely. I grew up in the 80s and 90s in the south, the time of the Cold War and the Reagan era that seemed to completely and utterly fail to diminish the impact of the virus. AIDS was on the news almost every night. And people were terrified I was terrified. These all sound like more excuses about whatever I’m subconsciously afraid to say.
Growing up I remember so often when the subject of gay came up it was automatically synonymous with AIDS and then death. Back then it due to the reprehensible negligence by the government so it really was a death sentence. I wonder if that image was ingrained as I was processing the fact that I was gay; maybe that had some weight in how I reacted. I just remember being so afraid growing up thinking if I’m gay then I’m automatically destined to inherit this disease? Of course I know better than that now. I know antivirals helps a person live normally. But back then that was all I knew. Maybe it’s all an excuse.
Why did I react that way? Why am I trying to justify being so wrong. This isn’t like me. It’s not like I have anything to worry about. I get tested for STD’s at least once every six months. And if we were intimate together I would take the same precautions that I always do. So why did I respond that way. William called and said the guy wasn’t offended and understood but I still feel like a horrible human being. I wonder if it wasn’t completely subconscious, or lingering fear. Maybe that’s why I panicked because I had internalized all the lies and manipulation I had been taught growing up from the media. All I know is that I was embarrassing tonight. And probably hurt someone’s feelings. I hate this feeling and sorry for all this,
I remember during this whole ordeal I kept thinking that if I referred to it as a disease instead of a virus that it was insulting. Or what if it’s the other way around or both or neither. I was just so afraid of offending this man and those amazingly beautiful emerald eyes of his. More likely it was fear that I still had not dealt with and it all came to the surface that night. I needed to reconcile that because no matter how open minded I believed I was, for whatever reason I was seeing a status rather than a person. That was why I had that reaction. For me, I needed to change that outlook immediately and I believe that I’ve done so.
Some things are the same as they were then. I still slightly look away when I make eye contact with someone I’m extremely attracted to and smile. I still have terrible one liners that somehow makes the guy I’m talking to laugh..still don’t know if it’s out of civility or genuine affection. I’m still immensely drawn to hipster. I still use protection every time I have a sexual encounter and get tested at least once every six months to make sure that I don’t have any STD’s. But now I do not treat a man that is positive as some fragile being I need to tiptoe around. No longer through my awkward, panicked behavior do I treat these men as though their status is the only thing I see. I view these men as men, just as deserving of love and affection as anyone else. As it should be.
So maybe the worse thing I did through that experience was be afraid of offending someone else’s feelings (which is at times still a flaw). But it was necessary for me to go through and learn some of the prejudices that I may not have been aware of back then. As the years have went on I grew to see people as people, no matter their circumstance. I now know that I would consider dating an HIV positive man the same way I’d consider dating any other gay man. Would there be lengthy discussions and all precautions before during and after sex be taken? Absolutely as I take those precautions with every man I’m with sexually, as we all should be.
So how do we challenge ourselves to stop letting stigma dictate how we treat these men? How do we evolve and overcome the insensitive and sometimes downright ugly reactions that we may have when these men are looking for the same things we’re looking for? Talk. Just as we did when we first discovered that we’re gay. We sought out after answers about what our sexuality meant and what sex would someday mean to us. We learned the mechanics of protecting ourselves and those we sexually engage. We learned that we don’t want to be treated differently on the basis of one aspect of ourselves.
Sometimes it is necessary for us to revisit the lessons of the past and apply them to a different situation. The one thing all of us can do, regardless of status, is talk openly about HIV. I’m not saying that anyone has to share the exact same opinion on this because I understand why people would have reservations about it. Who knows, maybe I still do as I have not dated anyone who is positive. But at least I am ready to talk about it and learning more. Because I do believe there are valid concerns, just like any relationship you embark upon. Education is paramount, not only in prevention but in understanding what it means to those living with the virus.
All relationships have obstacles that we will all have to face. But that doesn’t mean that you have to treat these men so distastefully. As David has said, we are all kin, and status doesn’t remove our sexual nature or desire or our humanity. Basically the only thing I ask every gay man to do is challenge and examine why they have a certain view on this topic. Question where your beliefs come from, question what you fear, and ultimately do what’s right for you. And always protect yourself. Talk.
Thank you David for being my muse and inspiring me to find the right words to express how I feel. And my journals for yet again showing me how reflection is always necessary for growth.
When I wrote about the issues that can occur with ethnic/racial minorities that are gay and some of the challenges or internal conflicts that may arise, I was surprised in the reaction I got from it. Not the actual responses and emails about wanting to hear more about these issues but there were those of you out there that actually identified and wanted to hear more. And I’m very thankful for the open dialogue that it has begun as that is how awareness happens and how things begin to change when we talk about them.
One of the questions I received yesterday wanted me to talk about if there is another side of that coin to the concept of tokenism. What happens when we look at how gay Caucasian men may look at their race and how that relates to their identity in the gay community. So as before I spoke with my group of friends to brainstorm and examine if we felt some aspects of this phenomena existed in different ways. Or if race could play a factor in ways we hadn’t thought about that’s never really examined.
During this conversation we talked about if gay Caucasians could feel cultural/racial dysphoria, or uncomfortable disdain for their own race, if these individuals would possibly adopt another race/culture. Too often it’s overlooked that there are personal conflicts in relation to race, no matter if it’s a part of a minority or majority. Most often when you hear about a pundit, politician or religious extremist that is relentlessly denouncing homosexuality in any form, what are some of the things that you notice?
Of course they have one commonality (other than ignorance) is that they are most likely Caucasian. It is an accepted truth that many of those that oppose equal rights are from the same race. But what about those that oppose these archaic ways of oppression? Many of our leaders in the LGBT community are Caucasian as well.
We talked about how that may lead some to becoming so disgruntled about their own race that they no longer see themselves as Caucasian. It goes beyond them seeing disparities among a minority. They may no longer hold their own race as a part of their identity and any associations with their own color are negative. There are several reasons that I attributed to this phenomena.
The biggest is that because as we are fighting for equal rights and we are being denied fair treatment, and anything we commonly associates with oppression will be denounced. This rejection happens with the group that is oppressing/discriminating against us, even if we belong to that group. Regardless of the inherent perks or advantages that come along with that race, any identity with the native group is abandoned.
Some of us in our discussion theorized that as a result, some gay Caucasians, especially gay men, may no longer identify themselves as Caucasian and only see themselves as gay. It could be the result of internalized guilt that they may associate with their race because of the stigma and prejudices that the LGBT community still face. We talked about how in some of our experiences people may even become offended and very defensive if you refer to them as Caucasian. There’s evidence of that when we hear gay Caucasian men refer to these radicals as “straight white males” or use other classifications of race as a detriment to the gay civil rights movement. And it’s something that we should take notice of.
Over the course of the night we talked briefly about how the ideal of tokenism, or the belief that a community will welcome a few select members of a minority so that they are not accused of racism or prejudice. It was also discussed how the concept of tokenism may drive some gay ethnic/racial minorities to assimilate and isolate themselves from their racial/ethnic identity. They may result in them not dating people of their own race or other discriminatory practices like racially insensitive jokes.
Could something drive a person reject an identity of their own race to not be associated with the same negative generalizations? Of course we can as that was the topic before about how sometimes ethnic minorities separate themselves from anything or anyone that they associate with their own race for fear of reprisal or association to negative stereotypes. So why wouldn’t the same principle apply to some gay Caucasians. But is this the reverse of tokenism and can we apply these principles? I can see why some would believe that there is some sort of racial dysphoria involved. Because instead of a community adopting members of other ethnic backgrounds this is the actual rejection of the community they belong to and their beliefs.
We were able to tie in a part of our nation’s history as evidence of why this happens. For instance the 60s during the fight for interracial marriage. It was believed that if you dated or married outside of your race( (more specifically an African American) then you were stripped of any privilege that came with being Caucasian. You were actually seen as an African American. It has of the aspects of a US vs. Them mentality.
As time went on, we saw less and less of this overt racism but we still see these acts against African Americans and any race that associates outside their own race is still seen by some on level as abandoning their native race. It may not be openly discussed but the belief is still there. And this theory could also apply to LGBT. As a result of identifying as gay and because of these beliefs or prejudice from their group, they isolate themselves from any categories/labels or names associated with their group before it can be done to them.
Another point that was brought up was that even though overt and institutionalized homophobia/racism still exists, there is still a belief that how you are viewed within the society is different. Being gay may be identified in the same way. Some may actually feel as though they have to abandon any identity as race because of history and to their own unique experiences. Now the opposite of this averseness is when people say they don’t see their race at all and unable to see the perceived privilege that they have in society. Some believe that even though when individuals refer to their own race they have to keep in mind that they are still Caucasian. They still do in fact have some privilege.
It certainly isn’t in the same vein of their straight counterparts like ability to get married. But they are still allowed, in some extent to be vocal and have their opinion heard. Even though our requests for not equality are not met, when a Caucasian man speaks about an injustice, he is still much more likely to have his beliefs recognized. This is not the same for gay ethnic/racial minorities that are not made to feel as though they can at least express what they see as discriminatory or prejudice. But we felt that it’s more complex than that.What problems arise as a result of those that feel dysphoria with their own race abandon that identity and decide to take on aspects of another race?
It is natural to take on different cultural aspects than our own that we like. In fact we may sometimes identify with other races more than our own race because of the discrimination they’ve experienced and the rights that they have been denied. They may also identify as an adoptive member as a result and ignore or refuse any association with their native group. I’m not suggesting that it’s a bad thing that some may date their race or other races. Date or relate to whomever you wish but don’t associate the negative actions of any community as if they are all participants.
Maybe this is what we see the adaption of African American customs, mannerisms, and behaviors with gay Caucasian men. Because these men are able to see the struggles of that African Americans, and more specifically, African American women have endured for centuries and even in some aspects today. African American women are always depicted as no nonsense women that are passionate, direct in thought and behavior, and willing to stand up against any perceived threat, as most African American women are depicted this way. And we also discussed that though there is nothing wrong with this aspect in theory, it’s important those that do partake in this behavior do not caricaturize or over inflate stereotypes. Because naturally we are all more than a stereotype.
When I gathered some of the same friends I had discussed the previous topic with, one of my friends who is a gay Caucasian man agreed with this ideal of adopting some aspects of the African American culture. He talked about his experiences and how he watched 70s movies growing up and how Pam Grier, was his inspiration. When coming out was unbearable to him he’d watch her movies that always were about empowered African American women and how that gave him courage when he felt he had none.
My friend believed his adaptation happened because taking on and embodying these believed personas of the African American woman gave them a sense of strength so that he could come out. He found strength in a culture that he felt praises differences and how this culture saw femininity was synonymous with strength, not weakness. Of course we know this isn’t every gay Caucasian man’s story or reasoning for liking certain aspects of African American culture, but I do think it’s food for thought.
Some of you are inevitably saying right now “why are we even talking about race? I don’t see color” Yes you do, and unless you have some type of visual impairment you see color. We all do as humans because we automatically categorize everything we see. And because of our history and experiences we inherit ideals that too often are never questioned. We have be willing to talk about it because race still plays a role in our beliefs, concepts no matter how much we may not want it to be that way. Talking about everyone’s ideals on it helps ensure that it is not the only thing you see.
We brainstormed some more with lots of charts, jargon and even a dry erase board to think of ways this could be mediated. After arguing for an hour we decided the most important aspect is that those that may feel included in this aversion to their own race may remedy this by specifically identifying the differences between showing empathy and feeling guilt. That’s is what I believe to be the most prominent way to understand these feelings so we can open dialogue about racial differences and the injustices that some minorities still feel.
The point to all of this discussion was to show how no one wants to be identified as just a race or only by their sexuality. But by looking at how race can still impact all of us and how we see ourselves makes it a worthy discussion to have. So that we are aware of what can happen when we let those things define us instead of us deciding how we define ourselves. We are all complex beings with varying interests and attributes that show who we really are and what we have to offer. The group of us that discussed this were comprised of different races and sexuality and we discovered that when we enter with an open mind that we can make surprising discoveries that can foster understanding how these things affect us and our perceptions of others. So talk about it to learn more about yourself.
When I write these Op-Eds, I always attempt to present a topic and viewpoint that either is never talked about or approach a subject in a completely different manner as it related to various issues that I see in the LGBT community, and in particular with gay men. When I divulge my own experiences with this formula it is in hopes that I in some way illustrate why I came to that conclusion. But the topic I’m discussing has so many layers that I may be unable to fully quantify the ramifications of what is attributing to this issue.
So when I write about the infrastructure of the gay community I’m hoping to spark some dialogue because I see so many divisive tactics that we have in the community. From internalized homophobia to latent racism I try to shed some of the motivations behind them and how we as a whole can learn from them. And while this issue is about someone’s own personal issues/problems we as a community may also be part of the cause of why this happens.
Sometimes people will do just about anything to feel as though they belong. Because none of us truly want to be alone. We crave some form of validation from the people that we either admire, feel commonality, or that we aspire to be like. And unfortunately race is still an issue within the gay community, despite those that make asinine claims to the contrary with statements like “I’m gay I can’t be racist”. We know that isn’t true. But we hardly see examinations into how this misbelief as well as others affects other gay ethnic/racial minorities. More specifically, we don’t talk about what negative stereotypes and behaviors this group do to themselves and other gay men of color.
I wanted to discuss this specific topic as a result from, believe it or not, a TV sitcom. It all started as a result of my queuing up a show saved up on DVR. There’s a show by LOGO called DTLA that depicts the lives of 30 somethings of all different backgrounds, races and sexual orientation navigating their lives and loves in Los Angeles. The premise of the show is what I always fantasized being gay would be like for me but it wasn’t. Maybe it’s because I have a tendency to romanticize every possible scenario, as we all do. I’m in the south but to be around that many people that are diverse in opinion and get along is hard sought after here.
Anyway, this led into further discussion of shows like Queer As Folk and Noah’s Arc that feature gay male characters as well as the plots, implications and our own desires about the hot cast members. But as my friends and I were discussing the plot along with the eye candy the dramas provide, a friend randomly asked me if I ever felt that race makes me feel as if I actually had to distance myself from other gay African Americans and other gay ethnic minorities. I was at first shocked, insulted that he believed that I would ever limit the human experience by isolating my interactions from people that share a part of my ancestry.
Then a few seconds later I knew exactly what he was referring to. What he meant by that line of questioning was if I felt I needed to distance myself from other ethnic minorities so that I would feel like I fit in with the majority of the gay community. There’s a belief that this happens as a result of tokenism, or when a select few members of a minority are accepted into a community. The minority’s acceptance is supposedly a sign of good faith that they’re not harboring prejudiced ideology. In fact it doesn’t even matter if the group practices this type of initiation as it’s only necessary for the minority that believes this phenomena to be true.
So gay minorities that believe this phenomena to be true and are consciously agreeing to the terms will go out of their way to make themselves stand out. They will show that their behavior is like that of the other Caucasian men in the gay community and not associate with members of other races, especially their own. They feel that it is a consequence to this perceived tokenism and feel that this is more pressure for GOC (gays of color) to assimilate into an ideal of what is acceptable mannerisms and customs commonly associated with gay Caucasian men.
Sounds so outlandish when you think about it but this works in the same way as internalized homophobia. where a gay person will openly condemn homosexual practices and cultures assimilate and show allegiance to a favored group. I wish I could say this is all just theory but I’ve witnessed this behavior and even questioned if I was embarking on it when I first came out. But my philosophy has always been to reach out be inclusive. I’ve never had that reaction where I felt like I couldn’t date my own race or embracing my various racial background as a gay man.
However I do remember a time when I was at a gay club and asked another African American if he wanted to dance and he was so hot. Great smile and laugh to accompany his very muscular physique. He said no thank you and I was fine with that until he leaned over and said “we can’t have the rest of them thinking we’re hoodrats” I was taken back because we weren’t doing anything other than talking. When I asked what he meant he continued by saying that “whites didn’t like it when too much of us are in one place. Then offered to meet me somewhere later if I gave my number and instead of lecturing him, I simply walked away.
Whenever I think of this tokenism happening I refer to my Race and Racism professor discussing this tokenism phenomena that can occur with our innate need to belong. He talked about how on a subconscious level, African American men that journey outside of their native community may do all that they can to stand out and completely isolate themselves from any members. No matter how compatible they are in ideology and insight a person may avoid all interactions for fear that they will be associated with any negative stereotypes. he will even go so far as to laugh at racially insensitive jokes or even engage in using them himself all in an effort to belong. All the while these men will always have an internal struggle of who he is and what he believes constantly challenging his position in the community he is trying to adopt.
My story about the guy at the bar illustrates what my professor taught about how this phenomena occurs with gay ethnic minorities. They will not openly get into dialogue with other gay men in clubs and other hangouts for fear they will be grouped as just another minority that exhibits the same undesirable characteristics. They may openly say something like “I don’t do black guys”, much like you would see from a prejudiced Caucasian’s profile on Grindr or other dating apps. Their need to assimilate and be seen as one of the adoptive community is so strong that they don’t recognize the hatred they’re harboring for a group they belong to and for themselves. This behavior is a clear indication of deficient self-esteem where they may fear association from their race so much that they become prejudiced to it.
Jargon aside, even though this skewed vision that a gay ethnic/racial minority may have is of their own issues and experiences we as a whole community can do more to -prevent this jarring behavior. We can talk about race a bit more. A lot more. Because too often the experiences of what it’s like to be gay and from an ethnic/racial minority is classified as the same experience when that is completely untrue. They are on two different planes of conscious.
Phenomena like this affect all of us because it shows that sometimes we can be our own worst enemies both from members within the community and to ourselves. And that these beliefs, however extreme they are valid come from somewhere. We need to examine that and be willing to give each other a voice so that anyone, no matter the topic, feels like they are being heard and respected. We can all have dialogue because these are things we never talk about.