Why didn't gay rights cure gay loneliness?
March 2, 2017 5:04 PM   Subscribe

The challenges of masculinity get magnified in a community of men. “For years I’ve noticed the divergence between my straight friends and my gay friends. While one half of my social circle has disappeared into relationships, kids and suburbs, the other has struggled through isolation and anxiety, hard drugs and risky sex.”
posted by jopreacher (107 comments total) 80 users marked this as a favorite
 
I'm embarrassed to admit how many "oh my god it wasn't just me" moments I had reading that.
posted by PMdixon at 5:33 PM on March 2, 2017 [14 favorites]


Holy shit, that is as validating as it is devastating. I mean reading it was like a longform panic attack. I was just telling someone, I don't even know if I can function for a while, after reading that.
posted by mittens at 6:07 PM on March 2, 2017 [12 favorites]


I kept waiting for the essay to come right out and say the words "emotional labor." The gay men profiled here** are less healthy, less socially connected, and less able to process their emotions because those are facets of emotional labor and they've neither learned how to do it themselves, nor found women to do that work for them.

**Specifying this because I definitely know gay men who do know how to do this very well. But I don't think your average gay man is any better at emotional labor than your average straight man, and why would he be? He's been socialized in the same patriarchal stew as everyone else.
posted by pretentious illiterate at 6:08 PM on March 2, 2017 [54 favorites]


I don't understand how emotional labor applies here...when people are working through trauma, but the trauma keeps happening, don't we usually focus on the trauma needing to stop, rather than a lack of emotional skill on the part of the victim? I may be misunderstanding, though?
posted by mittens at 6:18 PM on March 2, 2017 [23 favorites]


I'd like Chianti with my Patriarchal Stew please.

There were a ton of OMG its not just me moments, as well as the long scrolling text wall of devastation.

Emotional labor is real work. So many lines about toxic masculinity but emotional labor and its value is awkwardly absent. Considering the only real bright light in the article for some people is therapy and it does legitimately help - yes, emotional labor please. Do you take my insurance?

Mittens - We should stop the bleeding, but you have to repair and heal. The comment about the usefulness of therapy to me is the blacklight in the hotel room showing us all where that emotional labor needs to go. (That was a terrible metaphor. Sorry)
posted by jopreacher at 6:23 PM on March 2, 2017 [12 favorites]


"You go from your mom’s house to a gay club where a lot of people are on drugs and it’s like, this is my community? It’s like the fucking jungle.”

This was my life through most of my teens, twenties, and thirties -- high school, college, and almost 20 years beyond. I kept expecting and hoping for community and never found it. Eventually, I lost myself in confirmation bias and cynicism and I shut out any real opportunities to build community in a blur of endless anonymous sex, drugs, and alcohol. I came very close to suicide a couple of times.

The part of this very well-written piece that goes unstated is the image that's put out there these days of the sunny glories of gay activism and gay life -- which, I know, is a needed corrective to the accumulated weight of seemingly eons of negative cultural images -- but the downside is that it ignores the dark side of gay life, which is that it can be fucking brutal, lonely, and bleak as hell, especially the older you get.
posted by blucevalo at 6:30 PM on March 2, 2017 [22 favorites]


I don't mean to dismiss the aspects of trauma, and certainly don't mean to blame anyone! I like the way jopreacher put it: emotional labor is a huge part of helping people heal from trauma; it's about forging the kinds of social links and healthy habits (regular doctor's visits, therapy, self-care) that serve as both a balm and a protective shield.
posted by pretentious illiterate at 6:34 PM on March 2, 2017 [6 favorites]


As a queer woman who shifts between queer and straight worlds a lot, this really resonates in what I've seen in the worlds of both the gay and straight men that I know. It's staggering and makes you really think about just how deeply entrenched structural and hegemonic inequality is structured.
posted by yueliang at 6:40 PM on March 2, 2017 [10 favorites]


My heart goes out to all of you who see yourselves in this. Love.
posted by Joseph Gurl at 6:55 PM on March 2, 2017 [29 favorites]


but the downside is that it ignores the dark side of gay life, which is that it can be fucking brutal, lonely, and bleak as hell, especially the older you get.

This. And in this current political climate the dark side feels stronger at times. It is part of why I was always a "marriage is not the only priority" person. So much other darkness was ignored to focus on just that. And people don't want to talk about the skeletons in the queer closet because "we are not that different from you/just like you, so we should have the same rights as you" is such a comfortable argument. But it's not true.
posted by anya32 at 7:09 PM on March 2, 2017 [11 favorites]


So. Yeah.

I've had many thoughts over the years about the effects of The Closet on myself. But what I never thought of until this article was the degree of, like, biological trauma. When I saw that pull quote header, "our bodies bring the closet with us into adulthood," I gasped, because of course.

Some highlights.
1. Realized I was gay around 6th grade, the exact same time my parents began a divorce that got ugly for about 2-3 years. I actually remember making the conscious decision not to tell anyone because "my family can't deal with this on top of everything else right now."
2. Reading an article on the early cases of AIDS in my dad's Discover science magazine, and thinking "well, at least they'll cure it before it's time for me to start having sex."
2A. Almost forgot - Dad started taking me to some therapy sessions as a teen because he felt I probably needed it cuz of the divorce and how that all went down. I was too scared to tell the therapist I was gay cuz I thought he'd tell my dad. And that was probably the time I needed that help the most.
3. High school in suburban Kansas City. Not telling anyone. Re-training my body how to carry my books down the hall because boys carry books one way, girls another.
4. Junior year high school. I'm an "arty" smart kid, which has safely isolated me from any of the jocks who might have caused trouble. But it's drawn the attention of a new-to-the-school, rather loud and obnoxious girl that I don't really like all that much but she's suddenly crushing on me seriously hard, and one night in desperation, thinking that it will help back her off, I tell her. It only helps in the sense of someone to be more honest with, even if it's not who I would have chosen.
5. Some stories I'll skip over about senior year when all my friend group somehow paired up boy/girl boy/girl which left me having to make a show of interest in a certain girl, who I gather did really like me, but I had to put on performance the whole time. Taking her to a movie and to prom, terrified of how to avoid any intimate contact without cluing her in or making her feel bad about herself because it's not her problem.
6. Getting to college, having always thought this might be the clean break I needed to get out of the closet, only to find it harder than I thought and taking two years to tell anyone, then another year of only telling others slowly, until only the last year did I have friends who never knew I'd been "in."
7. Graduating college without ever having sex. Because see #2 above. Closest I got was I brought a guy back to my dorm room senior year. We made out a lot, and it was great to finally be doing that, but I think when I told him I never had before he backed off and it didn't happen. I think we maybe had a couple phone calls after that but next time I saw him in person it was like nothing happened.
8. Oh, and I forgot. The friend in college who'd guessed and had been trying to get me to come out all my sophomore year - I finally did at the end of the year, but when Junior year started, instead of being a helpful friend and "showing me the ropes" he turned into "oh no, I'm WAY too cool to be dealing with any newly minted gay boy drama, you're on your own." So yeah. Fuck him. He remains on a short list of people I will never speak to again in this world, even if he walked right up to me and said "Hi."

Think I'm gonna stop there. But I could go on, all the way up to my current age of 47. Been seeing a therapist since October. Think I might email him this link before my next appointment.
posted by dnash at 7:38 PM on March 2, 2017 [50 favorites]


I don't understand how emotional labor applies here...when people are working through trauma, but the trauma keeps happening, don't we usually focus on the trauma needing to stop, rather than a lack of emotional skill on the part of the victim? I may be misunderstanding, though?

I'd be willing to bet that emotional labor is one of the big differences between the results for gay men vs lesbians - women are socialized heavily to do a lot of emotional labor, and I'm guessing that this is the reason that we're having better outcomes on this even though we have a lot of similar issues around isolation - the pressure to be the perfect child because so much of what we're "supposed" to be isn't possible for us, etc. There was a lot here that resonated with me, but the lesbian community is different in some substantial ways including not being nearly as much of a hookup scene and lesbians being more likely to have kids than gay men are. We've definitely got issues with alcohol, drugs, and loneliness though.
posted by bile and syntax at 7:48 PM on March 2, 2017 [30 favorites]


I found this article frustrating mainly because the problems it raises are so very real. The thing is, the article is basically framed as "being gay makes you selfdestructive even after it's legal to get married and people are raised by accepting parents"--but if I were writing about the exact same data, I'd have framed it as, "homophobia, racism, fatphobia, femmephobia, but most of all fragile masculinity cause serious damage to gay men."
posted by DrMew at 8:45 PM on March 2, 2017 [42 favorites]


I skimmed this article earlier today, and I even though I'm older than the group profiled, and I've been in a relationship for decades, and have a good circle of friends, a lot of it resounded really hard. I think about how difficult it was for the men in my circle of friends in college, when most of us were first learning how to be independent at the same time as learning who we were when we weren't in the closet. We at least had each other to lean on. I can't imagine how much more difficult that would be if your only introduction life as a gay man is grindr.

Also, at the same time I was skimming the article I was cynically wondering, when this was posted here, how early in the comments someone was going to blame all this on men not doing relationships like women. 3rd comment was way earlier than I thought. There's a fuckton more to this than just failing to do enough emotional labor.
posted by conic at 9:10 PM on March 2, 2017 [28 favorites]


This is me. Or anyway a lot of it is.

I think in general, sure, lower cultural expectations around emotional labor and the negative impacts of patriarchy in general contribute to this. Emotional labor is a powerful concept and applies to lots of stuff. I'm not sure it explains this though.

I find myself often being the guy people go to to talk about their problems. I'm often expected to be the one who's on top of everything. I often feel slotted into a kind of group sidekick role when I'm in a group of straight people I'm out to. Both of my parents, even, talk through their marital issues when I'm alone with either. Recently a lot of care of my mentally ill brother has fallen to me. And sure, I probably get more noticed and appreciated for that kind of thing than a woman would because, you know... misogyny. But I think there's a subset of gay men who are very familiar with emotional labor. And I think the kind of isolation and loneliness this article goes into exists for them too.

It took me a long time to accept that I was gay. I was a bit bi enough to maintain plausible deniability through college. Since then, I've done a lot of stuff I've been proud of. I taught English in China for a year, I did the peace corps in Rwanda, and I'm currently starting my fourth AmeriCorps chainsaw crew. I keep going on all these adventures where I think I'm going to meet someone amazing just by chance, be friends, start dating. But the dice never roll that way, and I don't go out of my way to make it happen. A lot of the choices I've made and the things I've prioritized have ended up with me pretty isolated, romantically.

I'm one of those category of introverts who can make big leaps in their life but gets deep-seated anxiety on the way to a party and will probably chicken out in the car. I think I'm a parallel universe, a straight version of me would have been one of those marry-your-highschool-girlfriend types. I think being gay has allowed me to grow in ways that that me wouldn't have. But damn, the gay dating scene is so terrifying to me. Loud bars where everyone is drunk and looking to hook up make me want to just fuck the fuck out of there IMMEDIATELY. And the performance of masculinity where like a frat bro is the best possible thing to be is just real real gross.

I'm in the process of trying the internet. We'll see. But the lonliness, goddamn. There's only so many times I can reread Jane Austen and novels where gay werewolves fall in love and solve crime before the engagement notifications on facebook make me want to, just, like, I don't know, lie down in the road. Or maybe take over a tumbled down european castle and learn taxidermy in solitude.
posted by Rinku at 9:34 PM on March 2, 2017 [30 favorites]


This article, I can see a lot of myself lurking in there, and a lot of people I know.

There was a point, in my mid twenties, when I looked around and realized that I didn't want to be drinking all the time, I especially didn't want to be drinking all the time with the gays I knew because they were mean, and I didn't want to be mean to people any more, mean in that way that passes for wit amongst drunk people. I feel vaguely guilty that I don't have many gay friends, I barely date, and I have almost nothing to do with the gay community outside of the parade, but I'm also a lot happier outside the community than I ever was in the community (if I ever was, I never felt like I belonged). It feels like a sick admission to say that I am happier being alone than staying in that dating scene, I think if I had stayed haunting the bars and dreaming of having a six pack I would have died of alcohol poisoning.

Also, I think more people need lesbians in their lives. The most fun I ever have hanging out with the LGBTQs is being the designated driver for hard drinking lesbians, they are a hoot. Just putting that out there.
posted by selenized at 10:00 PM on March 2, 2017 [13 favorites]


Specifying this because I definitely know gay men who do know how to do this very well.

The implication that of course the men profiled in the article don't know how to do emotional labor made me very angry.

I have spent large portions of my life performing more emotional labor for others than honestly I should have. I frankly am pretty well offended by the assertion that the reason I and many of my peers are suffering like this is due to a lack of women in our lives to perform emotional labor for us, for multiple reasons. And for you to let that start the thread is ugly.
posted by PMdixon at 12:40 AM on March 3, 2017 [19 favorites]


Shit, these days for a lot of guys being in the closet is more about performing a form of emotional labor than physical self protection. "It would upset/be inconvenient for/require processing by/etc other people if I were gay, so I won't be."

How dare you.
posted by PMdixon at 1:36 AM on March 3, 2017 [16 favorites]


(Just commenting on the article, not from any personal inside knowledge, so feel free to disabuse me of any misconceptions.)

PMDixon: I think emotional labour can come in both negative and positive varieties. The positive variety is supportive and re-inforces societal bonds. The other is just as much work, but is inward facing & less visible - it’s the labour of avoiding confrontation, of trying to mould yourself into the expectations placed on you by society.

The message of the article is (perhaps?) that gay men learn to be good at the latter, but not so good (on average - obviously there are exceptions) at the former & the consequence is a community that provides little or no emotional support to it’s members as almost no one is doing the positive, life enhancing kind of emotional labour. It doesn’t help at all that outward emotional labour is coded as 'femme' and young gay men learn very rapidly in the modern world that the 'gay community' puts femme-ness at the bottom of the social ladder, resulting in a vicious circle where young gay men are traumatised by their early experiences and then go on to traumatise others in turn as they perform the 'masc' ideal they have internalised as the only way to maintain social status.

Shorter version: network effects can be pernicious, self-reinforcing and very hard to break out of.
posted by pharm at 2:59 AM on March 3, 2017 [3 favorites]


Even if you take it for granted that gay men can't do emotional labour (still hopeless men after all!) I believe it is possible for them to have good female friends. They don't have to live in single-sex bonking communities.
posted by Segundus at 3:01 AM on March 3, 2017 [1 favorite]


It just seems weird to blame the victims, not the social conditions.
posted by Segundus at 3:04 AM on March 3, 2017 [8 favorites]


I found this article frustrating mainly because the problems it raises are so very real. The thing is, the article is basically framed as "being gay makes you selfdestructive even after it's legal to get married and people are raised by accepting parents"--but if I were writing about the exact same data, I'd have framed it as, "homophobia, racism, fatphobia, femmephobia, but most of all fragile masculinity cause serious damage to gay men."

Agreed. There is a reason why gay marriage was illegal in the first place, and homophobia doesn't magically disappear with the signing of a new law - especially in such a short time frame. He does seem to be trying to make the point that the expectation of some gay men was that once we did get the law changed that things would get better but haven't or that if you were raised in a space where you had the advantages of community support, legal protection and an accepting family that your life would be a gay Disney fairy tale, but it's not.

I think there is more depth in the article around the community itself and the increasing isolation due to the toxic bar scene and internet hookup culture. There was a lot of good community around fighting for our civil rights. As gay marriage is won and those communities get smaller - what community remains especially for people in less densely populated areas? When the local small town gay bar has been replaced by Grindr which is just an interactive insult-throwing sears catalog of sex, it isn't that surprising that people have fewer friends.

At least when you had to go to the bars to find dates you generally made a few friends that you would band together with for your weekly experience. Then groups of friends would collide and introduce each other and there would be a network affect. Grindr is just 1x1 repeatedly.
posted by jopreacher at 4:10 AM on March 3, 2017 [9 favorites]


being in the closet is more about performing a form of emotional labor than physical self protection

Right after reading the article I felt like I had to talk to someone about it--which is rare--and I ended up in a discussion about how the closet is a really, really inaccurate figure of speech. How instead of a closet there can be this weird fractal boundary between me and the world, changing how open I am depending on threat level--and, like you describe, it's not necessary a threat-threat, but could be a "let's not stress anybody out about this" threat. "If I say this I'll be a bother."

This was most recently brought home to me during a birthday party for my kids. All in the same room were members from every threat-level class -- people who I'm out to and fairly open about it, people who know but I have to walk on eggshells to protect their feelings, people who don't know and I can't assess how they'd react, and straight up 'phobes I know I have to be silent around.

I'm already pretty much socially nonfunctional due to anxiety, but this collision of boundaries was straight-up mind-boggling. Like, trying to remember the rules for each person, trying to make sure that at no point did the accepting people make any comments that might make me seem femme, trying to make sure I didn't sound femme, which is really hard because it's a kids' party and there are games and I am excited and want to just be myself for god's sake. Trying to maintain that boundary. Protecting myself, but also protecting everyone else. Considering everyone's feelings.

I guess this is why the emotional labor comments just don't make sense to me. I'm not bad at processing these particular emotions because of a lack of practice, I'm bad at processing these emotions because there's never any space to do so, because I have to constantly be on guard, and constantly doing other people's work for them so they never have to react to me.

What is weird is seeing how similar the emotions described in the article were to my own, even though I live in such a very different, exclusively straight community.
posted by mittens at 5:23 AM on March 3, 2017 [50 favorites]


The lgbt rights movement is still fairly young. We won't stop seeing the negative effects of homophobia until homophobia is gone. We are a long way off from that. The best things we can do are work to counteract homophobia and create communities of support until our larger society pulls its head out of its ass.
posted by domo at 5:26 AM on March 3, 2017 [4 favorites]


pharm, I don't take issue with that as a synopsis of one thread of the article. However, it leaves out the closet. (And mittens' description of the closet as being some fractal mess of threat levels is great, much better than the usual "you never stop coming out" attempt at the same thing.) I don't think you can have a conversation on these behavioral patterns among gay men and omit the closet, as you and others are. And it's honestly pretty homophobic to include shit like "nor found women to do that work for them." I'm fighting the temptation to do the analogy thing but I'll just say that that short phrase maps onto a whole bunch of classic homophobic tropes.
posted by PMdixon at 5:43 AM on March 3, 2017 [7 favorites]


PMdixon: Taking a /really/ generous interpretation, perhaps what was meant by that phrase was that straight men starting from the same emotional level often do find women who will do that work for them rather than meaning to imply that gay men are incapable of doing it in the absence of women? But yeah, the straight reading is not great.

The importance of that emotional load that mittens so eloquently describes was meant to be contained with my first paragraph; Mittens perfectly describes what I meant by the labour that is “inward facing & less visible - it’s the labour of avoiding confrontation, of trying to mould yourself into the expectations placed on you by society.” I could have been more explicit & certainly didn’t intend to minimise the importance of the impact that the closet has - apologies if it came across that way.
posted by pharm at 6:07 AM on March 3, 2017 [5 favorites]


I don't understand how emotional labor applies here...when people are working through trauma, but the trauma keeps happening, don't we usually focus on the trauma needing to stop, rather than a lack of emotional skill on the part of the victim? I may be misunderstanding, though?

I think pretentious illiterate has a point about the emotional labor, but the importance of emotional labor isn't just about being able to perform it. The entire Emotional Labor Thread was full of women attesting to the fact that it is isolating and exhausting to perform emotional labor when nobody's doing it for you. Humans need networks where the members are all performing emotional labor for one another. If your network is primarily made of people who have not been taught how to do emotional labor, then it will not be able to provide you the support you need in a crisis.

It's even worse if your network is full of people who, from birth, have not just not been taught emotional labor, but taught providing and receiving it is orthagonal to their gender identity ("real men don't do that"). If your society tells you that your sexual identity is bad and gross and wrong and anti-masculine and associated with weakness, then it will imbue within you the additional pressure to never seek out emotional support or show "weakness". To be "the best little boy in the world". Not to mention the ways the societal rejection of your sexual identity makes it difficult to form those networks in the first place.

It's not about not having women. It's about the specific ways homophobia and toxic masculinity hurt gay men.
posted by Anonymous at 6:44 AM on March 3, 2017


Taking a long complex article about suicide, minority stress, in-group discrimination, violence, and gender norms, then slapping on it a theory that's primarily about behavioral disparities between straight men and straight women in straight relationships, and selling that here as the solution that would have explained the entire problem if only the author reads the pop-psych fad of the year on metafilter.

A fair bit of minority stress that I deal with is this constant, "let me explain to you your own experiences using my favorite theory." Not that I disagree with emotional labor is a thing, but ignoring the other issues to jump to emotional labor seems very much like using a hammer to pound every screw, bolt, and staple in sight.

And I'd say part of the problem is that the development of LGBTQ models for social, emotional, and religious support is still a work in progress. Emotional labor as discussed often veers into territory that's heterocentric and gender normative to different degrees. "The problem with men is that men don't do ritual thing." Often there is minimal discussion that ritual thing is also a heteropatriarchal construction and maybe there are better ways to meet the needs that ritual thing serves. That ritual thing may be completely irrelevant to LGBTQ families and support networks.

I'll also agree with mittens and PMdixon that I put in an asston of emotional work to avoid offending the sensibilities of straight people around me (even allies).
posted by CBrachyrhynchos at 6:49 AM on March 3, 2017 [56 favorites]


Some stories I'll skip over about senior year when all my friend group somehow paired up boy/girl boy/girl which left me having to make a show of interest in a certain girl, who I gather did really like me, but I had to put on performance the whole time. Taking her to a movie and to prom, terrified of how to avoid any intimate contact without cluing her in or making her feel bad about herself because it's not her problem.

That's my story senior year of high school too, down to the wonderful girl who really did like me "for who I am" (though she didn't know I was gay, because even I didn't really "know" I was gay at that point, she must have suspected or at least gotten vibes), although I'd never really hung out with her much at all, who agreed to go to prom with me when I asked her. We wrote a couple of letters to each other (this was back when you still wrote letters) when I went off to college, and then I never heard from her again. Not that it would have mattered if I had. It was just that there was this horrible performative thing called the prom that both of us "had" to act out, even if it meant lying to myself, lying to the girl I was asking to go with me, not having any intimate contact beyond pretend close-dancing to some horrible mid-1980s pop music, and both of us knowing at some primal level that this was all a really shitty sham that we were both enacting.

There is some level at which all of the changes of the past 10 years in gay life, at least the cultural ones, the ones that make it possible for a major TV network to spend money on and broadcast a four-night primetime miniseries about 1980s and 1990s gay activism, of all things, are moving way faster than the actual societal changes underneath it all. That's what scares me. The instant that a Trump administration decides that it is a priority to find new enemies because it's politically expedient, LGBTs will be -- and already are, in some cases -- some of the first to be thrown under the bus. Then there will be legislative hell to make life even more of a living hell for a lot of us in this country than it already is, Obergefell notwithstanding.
posted by blucevalo at 7:02 AM on March 3, 2017 [12 favorites]


The whole article repeatedly mentions loneliness, an inability to accept or give kindness to partners, having unrealistic expectations of what will make you happy, feeling rejected, how being in the closet is emotional rather than rational, and too many more examples to list. Of course providing emotional support to people is a necessary (without ever being sufficient) component of fixing even one of those things. Therapy, which is one form of paid emotional labor, is one of the few things mentioned as being helpful. The gay-affirming therapy mentioned towards the end of the article seems like the best of all, actually grounded in specifics of gay male life instead of stuff invented with the assumption of straightness baked in.

And emotional labor problems aren't rooted in straight sexuality so much as in the historical patterns of gender and race. As always, toxic masculinity hurts everyone.

If you think the article has any truth to it at all, it's hard to miss that emotional labor in the form of support and friendship, of loving relationships, is so desperately needed and yet is not present. Because the only people who can understand and articulate the specific trauma of gay male minority stress and suggest workable solutions on either a personal or societal level are the very same gay males who are struggling right now. Supportive parents and a bit of legislation and Grindr aren't substitutes for someone who genuinely gets what you've been through and will experience next.

Survival is so important now with the resurgence of the right-wing. But mere survival is pointless if you can't have self-love and self-care and the joys of connecting meaningfully with other people. That takes emotional skills which are barely even recognised as valuable yet.
posted by harriet vane at 7:21 AM on March 3, 2017 [12 favorites]


schroedinger: It's not about not having women. It's about the specific ways homophobia and toxic masculinity hurt gay men.

Which needs to be discussed on its own terms, and not by applying a heterocentric model to gay lives. You can't just slap heterocentric ideas about toxic masculinity onto gay, bi, and queer men (and AMAB persons) and expect to make sense. Especially when you're ignoring the half-dozen other problems discussed in the linked article to beat that drum. (One of those "specific ways" is that most women enact homophobia to different degrees, but that's not an issue addressed by the fucking article and therefore, shouldn't be belabored here.)

harriet vane: And emotional labor problems aren't rooted in straight sexuality so much as in the historical patterns of gender and race. As always, toxic masculinity hurts everyone.

The entire theory of emotional labor starts from and centers on division of familial labor within heterosexual relationships. So do historical patterns of gender. That's of limited applicability to people who are outside of those frames. Of course, toxic masculinity hurts everyone, but not in the same ways.

Can the specific ways that GBPQ masculinity (plural) are affected by toxic masculinity be addressed using a heterocentric framework of emotional labor? I don't know. If you think so, write you own article to get linked here rather than crudely doing post hoc editing of this one.

On the subject of therapy, a central issue is widespread medical discrimination. I have a therapist who, for the first time in a decade, doesn't ask obnoxious and invasive questions about what I really mean when I describe my sexaulity.
posted by CBrachyrhynchos at 7:45 AM on March 3, 2017 [13 favorites]


I'm with PMDixon; the early comment framing this article in terms of emotional labor and women makes me angry. It's a way of dismissing what this article is really about: gay men's experiences with homophobia and the closet. This essay has been popular among my gay friends because it describes an experience a lot of us have in a way that helps us understand ourselves better.

Of course feminism has a lot to teach us about gay men's trauma. Homophobia and misogyny are two sides to one coin. Toxic masculinity harms gay men too, just like it harms women and straight men. Emotional labor is a useful tool for understanding the gay experience; PMdixon's observation that being in the closet is a form of emotional labor is absolutely true. And I'll concede that one problem in some gay men's lives is they don't have female friends, live in an entirely male world, and that's unbalancing.

But the emotional labor thing is just one facet of the gay experience. I'm sorry to see this discussion so derailed by it. There's so much else in this essay that's important for gay men to consider. Drug culture. Youth obsession. Sex obsession. The difficulty of figuring your own sexuality out, then figuring out how to present that to others. Fear of AIDS. The constant stress of being a reviled minority. The pain of watching bigots like Pence and Sessions take power in the US. The difficulty of having children.

This essay is powerful because it discusses all those topics and synthesizes it in a way that helps gay men like me and my friends understand better what emotional stresses we deal with on a daily basis.
posted by Nelson at 8:02 AM on March 3, 2017 [22 favorites]


Hey, just wanted to apologize for tossing in a comment that derailed the thread - I totally see where people are coming from, and would've asked the mods to delete if I'd seen the follow-up conversation earlier. Your points are well-taken, and I'm sorry for the thoughtlessness - I've really appreciated both the article and the ensuing conversation.
posted by pretentious illiterate at 8:27 AM on March 3, 2017 [14 favorites]


At this point I'm less upset at you in particular as much as the context that makes that the most favorited comment in the thread.
posted by PMdixon at 8:34 AM on March 3, 2017 [9 favorites]


“The trauma for gay men is the prolonged nature of it,” says William Elder, a sexual trauma researcher and psychologist. “If you experience one traumatic event, you have the kind of PTSD that can be resolved in four to six months of therapy. But if you experience years and years of small stressors—little things where you think, Was that because of my sexuality?—that can be even worse.”
I recently found out about Complex PTSD, and read Pete Walker's excellent book, Complex PTSD: From Surviving To Thriving. What makes it Complex is that the trauma associated with this syndrome is applied over a period of months or years. The symptoms also differ.

From the US Veteran's Administration website:
  • Emotional Regulation. May include persistent sadness, suicidal thoughts, explosive anger, or inhibited anger.
  • Consciousness. Includes forgetting traumatic events, reliving traumatic events, or having episodes in which one feels detached from one's mental processes or body (dissociation).
  • Self-Perception. May include helplessness, shame, guilt, stigma, and a sense of being completely different from other human beings.
  • Distorted Perceptions of the Perpetrator. Examples include attributing total power to the perpetrator, becoming preoccupied with the relationship to the perpetrator, or preoccupied with revenge.
  • Relations with Others. Examples include isolation, distrust, or a repeated search for a rescuer.
  • One's System of Meanings. May include a loss of sustaining faith or a sense of hopelessness and despair.
Now, I'm not saying this corresponds directly with every gay man's experience. I'm saying that there's relatively new research that indicates that prolonged trauma and helplessness can cause distinct problems with human relations down the road. And the experience of the closet is prolonged emotional trauma.

I'm glad this area is getting some attention, because growing up gay really does come with some associated trauma, and it's been dismissed for too long. I hope we see some good research going forward.
posted by MrVisible at 8:36 AM on March 3, 2017 [14 favorites]


(but it is a loss that this thread is now about emotional labor parallels because there's so much else going on here. What about 'knowing' since before puberty that if you have sex you'll get AIDS and die?)
posted by PMdixon at 8:56 AM on March 3, 2017 [7 favorites]


Mod note: It's been hashed out a bit already but I wanted to add a note to reinforce that as much as the concept of emotional labor has some relevance to aspects of this subject, it'd have been better for the thread for it not to have swung immediately in that direction early on at the expense of more topic-specific discussion of the linked article. At this point I'd say if you want to argue further for why emotional labor is a/the valid lens into all this it'd be better to just give that a pass as something more than covered already and let the thread move back toward folks being able to discuss the article and their experiences more directly.
posted by cortex (staff) at 9:15 AM on March 3, 2017 [2 favorites]


What about 'knowing' since before puberty that if you have sex you'll get AIDS and die?

Do people talk about this one a lot? Because I'm trying to think back and find a conversation I've ever had about it, where someone else mentioned feeling this way. I'm drawing a blank. Which doesn't make sense, because this was SO SO SO important when I was growing up and going through teenhood.

In fact, even mentioning it brings back such a vivid rush of memories, seeing my cousin dying in his hospital bed, volunteering at a different hospital and being walked through the AIDS ward, which was sectioned off from everyone else...I just associate this so strongly with these wasted figures twisting in hospital beds. And yes, absolutely, it's like, "if you're going to be queer, this is where you will end up, emaciated, spotted, dead."

What's strange to me now is how disconnected that seemed from what I was doing at the time with my guy friends. Like, the stuff we were up to wasn't gay--heaven forbid!--so it wasn't subject to the fates these men in the hospital were going through. But then like the second I came out-ish in college, it all clicked into place and I was TERRIFIED. Like, when mutual interest was expressed, I would just freak out and stop speaking to people, because they might as well have been made of cyanide.

But nobody else seemed to express that same fear. So some part of me figures that fear is just me being my ol' neurotic self.
posted by mittens at 9:21 AM on March 3, 2017 [14 favorites]




Do people talk about this one a lot?

I think it's taboo for a variety of reasons, some good ones like not wanting to contribute to HIV status stigmatization, some probably more shame based.
posted by PMdixon at 9:50 AM on March 3, 2017 [3 favorites]


I remember the last time I brought up AIDS in discussion, and was told, by a man flashing every self loathing sign, that AIDS was a made up thing, a kind of false flag attack on queer life. I was so stunned I filed it away as one does at a peek into the void.

There's a weird class division that was created with the cure, it seems. A kind of unintended consequence maybe? The cruelty I've seen among well off queers regarding that past is deeply troubling for me.
posted by Strange_Robinson at 9:54 AM on March 3, 2017 [2 favorites]


There are I think major cohort effects among the psychological impact of AIDS - observationally I would say that under 25-28 or so, it's a basically thought of as a very abstract, almost theoretical thing like most people do cancer, especially since PrEP; a narrow band from 28 or so up to about 35, during whose puberty-and-adjacent-development AIDS was understood but basically considered a death sentence; and then you get into the cohort who buried some nontrivial portion of their friends and lovers.
posted by PMdixon at 10:01 AM on March 3, 2017 [14 favorites]


I don't know about talking about it a lot, but count me among those who were never quite able to delete the programming that sex=death. It wasn't until I got settled into a trusting monogamous relationship (and marriage) that I was able to begin having sex without being riddled with anxiety that *this* was the act of intercourse that would saddle me with HIV.

I have really complicated feelings about this article, not because it's *wrong,* but because I think it paints with too broad a brush. It'd be easy for someone to come away from reading it with the notion that hey, maybe homosexuality really is a pathology, given its outcomes.

Upthread was the contentious emotional labor debate, but nowhere do I see a discussion of the harm done by the male gaze- both the external and internalized varieties of it. It made codependency the principal mechanism by which I operated- I could never approve of myself without external approval. Dealing with codependency was actually the way I regained my mental health. Now I'm a married suburbanite who's exploring the adoption process.

disclaimer: I'm class privileged and had access to therapy. I'm only speaking about my personal experience, not saying how anyone else should go about their lives.
posted by BuddhaInABucket at 10:12 AM on March 3, 2017 [21 favorites]


I hear that on the generational aspects. I may not give that fact nearly enough weight.
posted by Strange_Robinson at 10:39 AM on March 3, 2017


Yeah, how about that always-wearing trope that used to get trotted out by my family members anytime I went on a date with a guy: "I hope you're being safe" - translation: "don't get AIDS! That would be inconvenient." Or "do you really need to broadcast you're gay so much?" In response to a 3" rainbow flag on the lower part of the bumper of my car. Translation: "get back in the closet so we do not have to see it"

I don't see either of those as being affected by toxic masculinity as much as I do sheer ignorance on the part of people who *think* they're helping.
posted by disclaimer at 10:46 AM on March 3, 2017 [8 favorites]


...and the more I think about how this thread has gone, the more pissed I get. You know what? Stop, metafilter, for a moment, and think about how fixing a "toxic masculinity problem" sounds to men identifying with this article: "if you men would get your shit together you'd be happy". Or the overall tone of "feminism will fix this". No, not today it won't.

Please give us the space to process this article without applying high-flying concepts ten thousand feet in the air to individual men who are lonely. It's not helpful.
posted by disclaimer at 11:03 AM on March 3, 2017 [13 favorites]


disclaimer, I find that "toxic masculinity" is a systemic issue. It's something that happens *to* men because of the way patriarchy works. It's not an indictment on individuals, it's something bad that happens to them.
posted by BuddhaInABucket at 11:11 AM on March 3, 2017 [6 favorites]


But toxic masculinity, as that concept is normally packaged, leaves out so. Much. To take the simplest, it's not just toxic [standards of] masculinity, it's always already having failed at (toxic) masculinity in the most fundamental way (because the root imperative of toxic masculinity is "don't be a faggot") and knowing it, but trying to achieve it anyway because what else are you going to do? And don't even try to tell me straight guys who can't get laid have the same experience.
posted by PMdixon at 11:17 AM on March 3, 2017 [10 favorites]


'Toxic masculinity' seems to me similar problems to 'emotional labor' in that a lot of what it refers to is power relations between men and women, and gendered relations between men are different in character.
posted by Zalzidrax at 11:19 AM on March 3, 2017


It takes a long time for a community with history to build. It needs people and shared experience and known history. The AIDS crisis and the rampant and active homophobia probably had a lot to do with shaping gay men today simply because we had a whole generation, their histories and personalities, and their thoughts about their own community just decimated.
posted by 80 Cats in a Dog Suit at 11:35 AM on March 3, 2017 [8 favorites]


Buddha, I guess what I'm trying to say is that there are people in this thread who are clearly relating their own experiences to the article, and identifying with the issues talked about in the article. We are doing so emotionally, psychologically, and quite personally. Our own experiences are being related in that article.

When those issues are brought here, people (of all stripes, whether or not they have any personal stake in the conversation) want to (a) define a societal or systemic problem to which it relates; (b) discuss in excruciating detail the exact ways that the societal problem hurts everyone, not just the people to whom the article affects; and (c) ensure that everyone knows that if we could just fix the huge, over-arching patriarchal issues around it, things would be MUCH better. Without ever getting close to the "here's how to fix it" part of the conversation, because that's the hard part, isn't it?

You know what would be helpful? If people would reflect on the relationships they have with the people in their lives, see if any of the points brought up in the article and in the discussion here relate to those relationships, and talk about the article with those people.

Case in point: I'm a gay dude who was socialized very early on to suppress my homosexual identity to ensure that straight people were not made to feel uncomfortable around me, to understand that I would not find a partner in "polite society" and that the best place to meet a guy was in a gay bar, and that (as has been mentioned earlier) if I have sex I'm going to die. For better or worse I was also "brought along" in gay society to believe that you won't know if you're compatible with a potential partner unless you sleep with them first.

Today, I believe a great many gay or queer people are socialized to believe that it's okay to be gay as long as you (a) don't parade it in front of the straight people (b) only use social media to arrange hookups (c) gay bars are for old creepy men, all the action is in the straight bars...where you won't be able to easily identify potentially like-minded people. Oh, and if you have sex you're going to die UNLESS you use PREP. And if you DO get HIV, it's okay, it's a manageable condition.

Do you know what it means to gay people to hear from people of ALL persuasions that even if it sucks, even if WE don't have answers for them, that we have their back? That we support them, and that we WILL help even if all that we can do is acknowledge the suckiness?

Are there people in your life, metafilter, who believe the things I said are true (even if they're not, in your area of the world)? Go talk to those people. Tell them you saw the article, or send it to them...and tell them that you have their back and that you care and that you respect their decisions and their agency. THAT is what would be helpful.
posted by disclaimer at 12:10 PM on March 3, 2017 [12 favorites]


The thing that struck me while reading was how much representation matters. Multiple stories of boys and men feeling despair at the thought that they had to choose between straight romance or gay porn as paradigms for their entire lives is just a reminder that the invisibility of other options causes real harm. Not being able to see yourself in the world is a wound.

The concept I was surprised not to see mentioned was allostatic load-- it was referred to in a roundabout way, but the concept that a lifetime of trauma (even if your lifetime is only 12 years long) causes epigenetic damage that will shape your health for the rest of your life seems especially pertinent here. Wikipedia definition: "The allostatic load is "the wear and tear on the body" which grows over time when the individual is exposed to repeated or chronic stress. It represents the physiological consequences of chronic exposure to fluctuating or heightened neural or neuroendocrine response that results from repeated or chronic stress."

AL has largely been discussed in terms of racial disparities, but recent studies into the effects of allostatic load have been focusing on it in LGBTQ contexts as well-- particularly for transwomen of color. The pressure of living in a world that explicitly and implicitly rejects you is not "just" psychological-- it literally alters our physical bodies for the worse. It is like CTE, except the traumas don't start out in physical form. The more I learn about this concept, the more dangerous and cruel our cultural obsession with "suck it up" and "it isn't that big a deal" and "shake it off" life philosophies turn out to be. Our traumas are woven into us, and kindness is actual medicine. Homophobia is a weapon that kills, even if a hand is never raised.
posted by a fiendish thingy at 12:44 PM on March 3, 2017 [23 favorites]


I can see how discussions of the theory behind understanding these issues creates a safe buffer from having to engage with them emotionally, disclaimer. Thanks for encouraging me to consider that.

I always wonder how my gay 'awakening' would have been different if I had healthy role models. I wonder if there are opportunities for gay adults to mentor youth. I should check with my local LGBT center.
posted by BuddhaInABucket at 12:45 PM on March 3, 2017 [1 favorite]


1.
What about 'knowing' since before puberty that if you have sex you'll get AIDS and die

When I came out to my mom, she said she'd known since I was 8 or 9. I asked her, what was the giveaway? And she said that we were on a long drive somewhere, and she'd let me buy a magazine to read (probably Life or Time), and it had an article about AIDS in it (this was mid-80s). After a long period of silence, she noticed I was frantically looking over my body, lifting my shirt, straining to look at my sides and back, peering at my fingernails. She didn't know what I was doing, but she assumed I was just being weird. A few minutes later, I started sobbing and hyperventilating, and wouldn't tell my mom why. She pulled the car over and turned to me, baby, what's wrong? Just tell me, ok? And after a long period of reluctance I apparently told her something like, "these bumps on my arm... they mean I have AIDS, don't they?" I have only a tiny memory of this drive (in my mind, I had a panic because the article made a big affair of saying gay people get AIDS, but it didn't say that sex or body fluids had to be shared as a prerequisite). But thank god for rockstar mom, for calming me down with loving kindness and making sure that the next decade was as welcoming as possible until I could come out to her.

2.
Today I bristle a bit at the insistence, often by very visible queer thinkers, that the comfort some of us find in monogamy, marriage, and parenthood is somehow an exercise in heteronormalization, nothing but wool over our eyes and self-denial. That we, as queers, should invent something new and free and tailor made for us. Well, ok, sure, that's an ideal, but I tried to fuck my way into enlightened freedom for 20 years before I found someone with whom I suddenly, and genuinely desired monogamy, and family, and eventually marriage, and owning a home together. For years, I felt like I'd abandoned some sacred creed against heteronormalization. That didn't last long. The meanness directed at us from our queer peers made the criticism wear thin. It was an isolating experience, and I still cringe when "heteronormative" is blithely thrown out at practices and relationships that people very voluntarily engage in--because it's thrown out as a weapon, only ever a weapon.

3.
We have a long way to go. I'm happy to have read this. I'm happy to see that so many others have read this. I wish the response wouldn't dwell so much on furrowed-brow slap backs. There's room for that, but let's move on. I honestly think that this article will be the thing that gets me to try therapy. I don't feel a pressing need for it, but... I can't deny that I have room to work on myself. Question for readers who know more about therapy than I do: for those of you more familiar with the kinds of counseling mentioned in the article: is it as simple as printing out this article, taking it to a therapist, and saying, "Whaddya got?" How do I start? Feel free to PM me--genuine question.
posted by late afternoon dreaming hotel at 12:53 PM on March 3, 2017 [34 favorites]


Disclaimer: I'm bi, and genderweird. I don't have a great deal of experience socializing outside of college where it was so easy. I'm in a relationship that passes, although that comes with its own problems as we're both dealing with negotiating gender presentation and dissonance at middle-age. My feeling is that the last decade or so has been profoundly gender-normative both within the LGBTQ community and larger world.

The prevalence of trauma-related CPTSD, anxiety disorder and major depression among LGBTQ people needs to be central to any discussion of gender among those groups. Straight men generally don't invest in rituals of emotional intimacy. Many of us can't without the aid of medication or outside of formalized attempts to create that. The number of men I can comfortably be alone around is currently one, my father. My relationships with women are not much better.

shadenfrau: As far as I can tell, no one is arguing that GBPQ men don't need better communities of emotional care. But you can't begin to discuss how those communities can possibly be built away from the context of pervasive, systemic, systematic, and violent homophobia (and biphobia to a lesser extent). My emotional labor is a limited resource, and I find that my ability to participate in networks of care is greatly undermined by the labor I need to invest in hypervigilance and not offending those around me. (And I do invest labor into building those networks of care.)

How do we build social networks and connections safely, when many of those connections can be abusive to different degrees? How do we learn two radically different ways of interacting with other people, one to protect ourselves from homophobia, and one to build the networks of care we need? And figuring out when to turtle up and when to reach out is yet more emotional labor.

Prior discussions of emotional labor here on metafilter have been heterocentric and gender-normative as heck, (and I'd argue that's a good thing for straight people.) Meanwhile, we have 60 years (arguably more) of literature, research, and practice into the problems of masculinity and intimacy among GBPQ men. Throwing out "emotional labor" into that discussion, as if the problem of pervasive homophobia can be fixed by a card or a call to a friend, is remarkably tone deaf.
posted by CBrachyrhynchos at 12:54 PM on March 3, 2017 [10 favorites]


This hit home in a big way. I think it gave me permission to forgive myself a bit more for having some of my long-standing issues that fall at various points on the anxiety/depression/social-isolation continuum. I should know better, but I, too, kept thinking, "Wow, so I'm not the only one . . . ?"

I didn't know anyone was studying this. I didn't know it was a thing that could be studied. That feels kind of amazing and validating.

One thing I'm really glad the article talks about is how incredibly mean gay men can be to one another, especially at the first sign of any weakness or insecurity. Discovering that after coming out of the closet and attending my first few LBGT campus association meetings was devastating and genuinely traumatic. It's still the reason, nearly two decades later, that I don't generally seek out gay friends or go to gay events.
posted by treepour at 2:03 PM on March 3, 2017 [18 favorites]


It's still the reason, nearly two decades later, that I don't generally seek out gay friends or go to gay events.

I don't go to Boystown basically ever because I can't tolerate being around the sort of catty bitchiness that is the default interaction mode of the sort of late 20 something who goes to Boystown.
posted by PMdixon at 4:09 PM on March 3, 2017 [4 favorites]


Wow. There's... A lot of food for thought here. My first response is that I'd like to be friends with so many of you; I'd like to build community and check in with you in small ways and listen to what you have to say and what you're dealing with. In fact, I think I've mentioned before that Metafilter's queer/LGBTQ threads form a valuable and sizable part of my own access to queer community. I think that friendship, that sense of connection, is fucking crucial. And at the same time I'm mad at myself for being scared of reaching out more, for being worn out and bad at reciprocating right now, because I want so many connections and I've lost all sense of focus.

I recognize a lot of what the article is talking about, both in the fears and concerns cis gay male friends of mine have talked to me about... And also the ways that I have been treated by cis gay men that have lead me to withdraw from some of those friendships. We had a discussion here a while back about misogyny towards women from gay men, and I marched in and vented about the number of gay men I've known who seem to think that the first thing you do when we're bonding over being mutually queer is to start insulting vaginas, or some other aspect of how women look. It's an irritating as fuck tendency, this idea that criticizing harshly each other's bodies is how we bond as queer people, and it is usually something I have run into from queer guys who seem to primarily interact with other cis gay men.

The article reminds me: well, if that culture makes me alternately pin back my ears in aggravated boundary setting and vanish into the crowds in terror of being labeled Not Really Queer Enough if I stay... At least there are other spaces, at least I can self sort hard on looking for people who seem a bit more like me and be welcomed (mostly) as a fellow member of a slightly more specific in group, or at least a political sister in arms. It horrifies me, thinking of who I'd be without that ability to write things off as "queer community for not me, I guess" in my head and immediately knowing to go elsewhere.

I'm ace, remember; I identified as ace long before I worked out that if identifying as ace publicly isn't an option, "lesbian" is probably the next best bet. So I'm... Oh, fuck, I don't know. I see some parallels to that experience here in the context of suicide and mental health support, particularly when you also bring in comparative rates of mental illness and suicide in bi identified people. The more isolated you are dealing with this shit, well, the more you turn it inward, the more you struggle with it. And it builds up and if you don't find someone to support you, if you don't find that chosen family we all speak longingly about, then it erodes you as surely as salt water dripping over ice. And it's so hard to do that.

I wanted to knee-jerk respond that oh, politically focused groups are the way to find that community, or that queer women have definitely got a better handle on this problem, but on reflection I'm not sure it's true. I think those spaces can be just as toxic but in a very different way, with political (and personal) purity substituted for aesthetics. That same biting impulse for criticism, looking for perfection, isolating each other as we vent our stress on each other... Well, dynamics from that in queer circles left me with panic attacks at the thought of entering a queer space it took years to fix. It's one of the reasons I value online space so highly.

I do have to say, I wonder if the current political climate might be a way to help build those relationships back up and reach out to each other. I know that I've made all kinds of new and interesting Facebook connections as the activism vortex settles out, and the more I talk about what's going on in my life and see theirs and awkwardly comment with support and cheering, and even more awkwardly receive theirs back...

Well. I hope we're building a support network. And there's a lovely gentleman in my life who wasn't there before and a dozen other folks who are enriching my life in a new and pleasant way. I hope those connections, the results of that traumatized and terrified impulse to reach out or die... I hope they last and I hope they continue to grow. Relationships nothing; community sustains us better and more stably.
posted by sciatrix at 4:17 PM on March 3, 2017 [26 favorites]


I need to bail out of these discussions on metafilter. I don't have a sense of gender other than defense mechanisms I've adopted in response to homophobic violence and abuse. And then, my midlife crisis has been like being a teen all over again: panic attacks in the restroom, extreme shyness, and ritualized safe routes. Only the panic attacks got a lot worse a few years ago. I'm struggling with the coming out process all over again ten years cold this time. And gods, the things I just didn't think twice about doing at 20 are so much harder to at 45.

One of the things I appreciated about this article is in making that connection between abusive homophobia and gay masculinities. (And I think it's very important to use the plural there.) Metafilter, not so much. A lot of talk about gender socialization feels superficial, as if it's talking about being socialized into a Coke household. It took me two weeks for my tastebuds to adjust to club soda and tea, and no one gave me shit about it.

My experience of gender has been ugly, brutal, and involuntary. I have no metaphor there. When that experience is abstracted away behind generalities, theories, and "should," it comes to my ears as rape/abuse denial. (In some cases, it is.) And then I get pissed off. And then, I feel like an alien because other people in the discussions apparently feel comfortable talking in that language. With the increased severity of my physical symptoms in recent years, it's becoming less and less healthy to go there.

I found myself a few days ago wanting to scream at the lyrics to Portishead's "Glory Box" a few days ago. Something about the moment caught me wrong. And then I have to do work to recognize that I'm not the audience, and what for me feels like a fresh coat of paint on the prison walls is likely revolutionary for someone else.
posted by CBrachyrhynchos at 8:50 PM on March 3, 2017 [9 favorites]


There's a lot I recognize here. The article stirred up a lot of emotions for me and I'm not really sure I can articulate them right now, but thank you for posting this.
posted by en forme de poire at 10:24 PM on March 3, 2017 [3 favorites]


The thing that struck me while reading was how much representation matters. Multiple stories of boys and men feeling despair at the thought that they had to choose between straight romance or gay porn as paradigms for their entire lives is just a reminder that the invisibility of other options causes real harm. Not being able to see yourself in the world is a wound.

That struck me too. As a straight lady, I don't have to be literally having sex or dating to have my heterosexuality affirmed. There are lots of spaces for me in this culture to talk about and experience and relate with others about the joys and pitfalls of heterosexual relationships. And for LGBT people there's just . . . not. That has to be incredibly isolating.
posted by chainsofreedom at 5:55 AM on March 4, 2017 [2 favorites]


As a straight lady, I don't have to be literally having sex or dating to have my heterosexuality affirmed.

As a dyke, I've had men hit on me and my girlfriend when we're out on dates. Nothing insulates us from constant invalidation. We go from "not real" to "threat" often with no space in between, because all too often those are the only frames straight society has for queer folks.
posted by bile and syntax at 7:57 AM on March 4, 2017 [1 favorite]


“Marriage equality and the changes in legal status were an improvement for some gay men,” says Christopher Stults, a researcher at New York University who studies the differences in mental health between gay and straight men. “But for a lot of other people, it was a letdown. Like, we have this legal status, and yet there’s still something unfulfilled.”
This hit me as a 20-something who's been trying to square progress with reality lately. New Yorkers have had marriage equality since I was in high school, and my community is liberal and accepting when many others are not as lucky. It sometimes feels that because there's been so much groundwork done by people who fought so hard for cultural advancement, still having those unfulfilled feelings is wrong or ungrateful.

It was relieving to have that anxiety validated in the sense of a common experience across generations. It makes it less alienating, though it's also a sad realization. An important read.
posted by Kronios at 9:51 AM on March 4, 2017 [4 favorites]


I just got back from Moonlight, which is 1) highly relevant to this discussion and 2) a rare film with a gay man and possibly the only film with a bi man created with a distinct lack of commodification, objectification, titillation, or typecasting as punchlines, sluts, or villains.
posted by CBrachyrhynchos at 4:47 PM on March 4, 2017 [8 favorites]


I thought this article really captures the issues I had with the original piece (despite also feeling sympathy for and sharing similar feelings with the subjects):
Gay Loneliness Is Real—but “Bitchy, Toxic” Culture Isn’t the Full Story
posted by MCMikeNamara at 7:52 PM on March 6, 2017 [10 favorites]


Oh, that's a really good piece, McMikeNamara. Thank you for bringing it here.

As someone who immediately took advantage of the legal gains promised by both Windsor and Obergefell... this bit struck me and resonated:

An uncomfortable byproduct of the monomaniacal quest for marriage equality has been the creation of a new form of minority stress—the stress of the gay man who does not find a husband, or who doesn’t want one, or maybe wants two, and therefore cannot participate in this new and strange celebration of conservative values we’ve constructed as the ultimate goal of gay life.

Because dude, the weird pressure from people from a number of orientations and backgrounds about my marriage and why I have it and how I conduct my relationships is honestly more stressful than supportive most of the time. I don't even particularly like or value marriage as an institution, but I needed access to the legal rights attached--but there's this weird resistance that I get when I point out that I am grateful for the legal shit and not, like, the big fluffy wedding I didn't organize or the huge romantic gestures that my partner and I both hate. I prefer the chosen-family and alternative-relationship models the author mentions later in the piece and have since I was old enough to find them for myself, and neither of us does the performative romance well. Which is a problem, because it seriously feels like the world is watching us to see if we perform marriage right. Bleh.
posted by sciatrix at 8:50 PM on March 6, 2017 [5 favorites]


I thought this article really captures the issues I had with the original piece (despite also feeling sympathy for and sharing similar feelings with the subjects):
Gay Loneliness Is Real—but “Bitchy, Toxic” Culture Isn’t the Full Story


I find it interesting which elements of the piece people took from it. I personally didn't take the "mean gays" piece as the main thrust, but obviously a lot of people did. FWIW, in response to the slate piece, the guys who were splashing this all over my fb were the guys performing drag on Tuesday night or bartending at Cell Block.
posted by PMdixon at 7:51 AM on March 7, 2017 [1 favorite]


While that reply article has some points, it also annoys me for a major undercurrent of "if you're a white gay guy, your problems aren't a big enough deal because you're not also some other minority."

Their status doesn’t necessarily invalidate their struggles, of course, but focusing on the melodrama of the secret failings of the elite—especially amid an epidemic of murders of trans women and in a political moment full of profound and immediate threats—comes off as a bit obscene.

In other words, sure I have struggles, but since I'm a white guy I guess I should just shut up and suck it up because I don't have it worse?

While I’m glad we won it, marriage does not have the power to magically erase our difference or to make people feel whole.

For sure, but the main basis of the marriage rights fight wasn't about erasing difference, it was about securing legal protections for our difference. Without those legal protections, partners were getting kicked out of their homes when lovers died, or denied visitation in hospitals. Most prominently that was happening during the height of the AIDS plague, but I've no doubt it continues to this day.

And while I too love the notion that queers are free to create our own relationship and family structures, and perhaps point the way for straights who don't find that marriage and monogamy work for them either, but we can't put down gays who really do just want to have a partner and a house and kids. That doesn't make them "not gay enough" or something.
posted by dnash at 8:10 AM on March 7, 2017 [3 favorites]


For sure, but the main basis of the marriage rights fight wasn't about erasing difference, it was about securing legal protections for our difference.

It was also an assimilation project, in framing and, as a result, in fact, which is why "gay marriage" became "same-sex marriage" became "marriage equality." It was ABSOLUTELY about erasing difference and making queer lives "sensible" to heteronormative society.

That doesn't make them "not gay enough" or something.

No, but it does make gay politics and queer politics—gay rights & gay liberation—different propositions.
posted by listen, lady at 8:16 AM on March 7, 2017 [9 favorites]


No, but it does make gay politics and queer politics—gay rights & gay liberation—different propositions.

Yes. They are. But separate from the merits, there seem to be at least as many people interested in the assimilationist project as the separatist one, and I think it needs to be OK to not be interested in full bore queer liberation, and for there to be writing that doesn't assume that as the goal. (I go back and forth, personally)

I mean, you may think they're misguided or suffering from internalized homophobia, and you may be right, but I think if nothing else it's a tactical error to count everyone who has a basically heteronormative ideal as undeserving of respect or in some sense not queer enough to stick up for because of that.
posted by PMdixon at 8:29 AM on March 7, 2017 [4 favorites]


Belated MeTa.
posted by PMdixon at 8:44 AM on March 7, 2017 [2 favorites]


While I agree with some of the criticisms of marriage equality, IMO it was a fight we needed to have because it was never about marriage equality for the religious right. The religious right banned same-sex marriage in jurisdictions where it did not exist and had no hope of existing in the foreseeable future, because private employers, a handful of municipalities, and a small number of courts dared to give same-sex couples very limited recognition.
posted by CBrachyrhynchos at 8:52 AM on March 7, 2017 [5 favorites]


I think it needs to be OK to not be interested in full bore queer liberation,

Sure, fine, whatever, but my issue is the notion that "the main basis of the marriage rights fight wasn't about erasing difference."
posted by listen, lady at 9:06 AM on March 7, 2017 [1 favorite]


Fair, I didn't read your comment closely enough.
posted by PMdixon at 9:11 AM on March 7, 2017


[I haven't read any of the other comments]

As a trans and gay guy this article was like a lightning bolt. I am constantly in fear of exposure, especially now with the increased visibility of trans people, which is such a double edged sword. I'm told other people "can't tell" I'm trans but I'm always, always self-conscious out in public and it takes its toll. I have to be more masculine than I might prefer, for my own safety. I can't wear this purple sweater because it hugs my hips and looks feminine. I can't shave my face because I might be mistaken for a woman. I wear baseball caps because they're a masculine signifier. My trans male friends who say "fuck it" and wear earrings and feminine signifiers get harassed and beaten.

From the article:
"One of the most striking studies I found described the spike in anxiety and depression among gay men in 2004 and 2005, the years when 14 states passed constitutional amendments defining marriage as being between a man and a woman. Gay men in those states showed a 37 percent increase in mood disorders, a 42 percent increase in alcoholism and a 248 percent increase in generalized anxiety disorder."
I'm trying to avoid the news & social media but it seems like every day there's something I actually need to know. HB2 in NC, SB6 in TX. Closer to home, a trans male friend was pulled out of a train station bathroom by security. Another trans friend had his state gender marker changed without his consent. Another trans friend was punched in the face a few miles away from my house. Wisconsin is going to re-introduce a bathroom bill. TSA is going to introduce more invasive pat-downs. I have to pay constant attention to this shit because it materially affects my life and it's fucking exhausting. And I have no hope of it getting better with our current White House, GOP congress and state legislature.

Every single trans person I know struggles with depression and anxiety, and a lot of the gay trans guys I know have turned to drugs and/or alcohol and/or anonymous sex. I've turned a lot of my sadness into righteous unbridled fury but it does catch up to me. Right now I have the flu and I'm very sure it's due to the minority stress they mention. I've been almost a constant wreck since the election.

Honestly, being gay is kind of an afterthought to me. I have no place in cis gay society anyway; I've been roundly rejected both on apps and in gay bars. I don't want to diminish the struggles of cis gay men; if I weren't trans I'm sure I'd still experience a lot of the same stress as in the article. It's just such a double whammy.
posted by AFABulous at 10:27 AM on March 7, 2017 [17 favorites]


I think it needs to be OK to not be interested in full bore queer liberation

wow... this is just a jaw-dropping comment and illustrates why I have so much trouble trusting cis gays.

Yes, sure it's fine to want the husband and the white picket fence. I'd be fine with it myself! But I really don't think as many people are disputing that as the marriage crowd thinks. The problem is that, as you illustrate, many of the "marriage equality" crowd just declared victory and washed their hands of the rest of us after Obergefell. I honestly don't even know why T is in the acronym anymore.
posted by AFABulous at 11:13 AM on March 7, 2017 [1 favorite]


wow... this is just a jaw-dropping comment and illustrates why I have so much trouble trusting cis gays.

I'm at work right now so I can't respond with the deserved seriousness at this second but: a) I probably worded myself inartfully and should not have used the phrase "queer liberation" in particular; all I meant to say is that most people, period, aren't radicals, and expecting them to be so is setting yourself up for disappointment which leads to b) I read you as saying that being meaningfully supportive of trans people is an inherently radical position. Is that an accurate takeaway? I'll have to chew on that if so.
posted by PMdixon at 11:24 AM on March 7, 2017 [1 favorite]


The religious right banned same-sex marriage in jurisdictions where it did not exist and had no hope of existing in the foreseeable future, because private employers, a handful of municipalities, and a small number of courts dared to give same-sex couples very limited recognition.

Note that said religious right also did things like ban private employers and said municipalities from offering the benefits that came alongside that limited recognition. I'm not bitter about that at all--it definitely wasn't terrifying and exhausting and hurtful to discover that not even being legally married was initially enough to let me put my spouse on my health insurance when they moved on down here.

Well, I said did, but it is still happening--there's a case on same-sex spousal benefits and whether the city of Houston can spend taxpayer money on extending them to same-sex married couples currently being heard at the Supreme Court of Texas tomorrow. So, y'know, that's a fucking thing.
posted by sciatrix at 11:39 AM on March 7, 2017 [2 favorites]


I read you as saying that being meaningfully supportive of trans people is an inherently radical position

I don't know how you got that out of what I said, neither of us used "radical" in our statements. No, I don't think supporting basic civil rights is "inherently radical." I mean, we're not asking for anything other than to be treated as people, with the same rights to public accommodation and healthcare as anyone else. That's not fundamentally restructuring society. It means we want to be able to pee when we go to the mall without breaking a law or being terrified of assault. We want our medical treatment covered by insurance. We want recourse when we're fired from a job. Etc. I don't understand how any of that is radical, and why anyone would want to stand in the way of it.

The assimilationists who stopped at marriage equality have the same "fuck you, got mine" attitude as Republicans and I won't stand for it.
posted by AFABulous at 12:07 PM on March 7, 2017 [4 favorites]


I don't understand how any of that is radical, and why anyone would want to stand in the way of it.
It's not, I don't, I'd like to help you push those who are out of your way.

The assimilationists who stopped at marriage equality have the same "fuck you, got mine" attitude as Republicans and I won't stand for it.


OK, I think we're just applying labels somewhat differently and would probably mostly agree about the acceptability/obligatoriness of any particular action. I would agree that there are lots of people who stopped doing work especially on behalf of others after Obergefell, and that those people are assimilationists, and that that is pretty shitty. I don't think that the assimilationist project, such as it is, requires or endorses those things - I would say that the goals you're listing out above are more around assimilation than not.

I really shouldn't have chosen to quote "queer liberation" because it's a phrase that everyone understands slightly differently. I meant the fairly narrow sense of, basically, decentering heteronormative monogamy from societal institutions, such as by removing spousal benefits - that is, contrasting "rights" and "liberation." I did not mean to set in opposition "gay" and "queer," but I see that that's possibly a more obvious reading than what I meant to convey.

(I'm using "assimilationist" without a particular value judgment attached - I have varying levels of affection for the idea)
posted by PMdixon at 1:33 PM on March 7, 2017 [3 favorites]


Today I bristle a bit at the insistence, often by very visible queer thinkers, that the comfort some of us find in monogamy, marriage, and parenthood is somehow an exercise in heteronormalization, nothing but wool over our eyes and self-denial. That we, as queers, should invent something new and free and tailor made for us.

OK OK OK the thing is . . . maybe it's okay if it is? People have to make choices that work for them, and sometimes they are compromises. I was married and it WAS assimilationist & heteronormative. That's okay! That's fine! There's nothing wrong with that! None of this is an ideological purity regime. I'm of the mind that simply because a person who's queer does a thing, that thing is not necessarily queer, and that is fine. Free and tailor made is exhausting, lonely, and full of new pitfalls no one can exactly warn you away from. It's fine. It's fine! The discourse of the moment that's all "you can't be an A if you Z"—well, yes you can. Lots of people are, in fact, As who Z. I think an ideological critique doesn't necessarily have to align with lived experience!
posted by listen, lady at 5:32 PM on March 7, 2017 [5 favorites]


Why are monogamy, marriage, and parenthood inherently heteronormative compromises in the first place? I understand of course that there are pressures to perform all of those, especially in specific ways, that are certainly heteronormative, and of course just because a queer person is doing them doesn't make them queer. But if heteronormativity is the repression of queerness, shouldn't the opposite be not enforced queerness but the lack of repression? How does a choice to be monogamous (or to care for children) fit into that framework, particularly a conscious, intentional choice in the presence of other options? That choice may not be "queer" specifically if you take queer to mean "that which is proscribed by cis het society," but it also doesn't seem to me that it is non-queer or repressive in the way that I understand the term "heteronormativity" to imply. Framing it that way just seems to me to unnecessarily cede a lot of territory -- it seems like it allows heteronormative culture to silo queer people, which is after all another form of control. (I especially don't see why it should be thought of as "nothing but wool over [one's] eyes and self-denial." That just seems like accusing someone of false consciousness.)

I'm also uncomfortable with the idea that one of the major distinctions between a monogamous, committed relationship and something more specifically queer-lib and newly-invented is that one is safe and the other is lonely. Committed relationships between queer people can be safe, but they can also be deeply alienating, and they can require people to work through past traumas in ways that actually have lots of unforeseen pitfalls -- particularly when those traumas are specifically queer in nature, like what's under discussion here. On the other hand, casual sex can be both safe/comforting and lonely, and it can also be either or neither, depending on the person and the situation. Even the framing of queer relationships as lonely and exhausting seems kind of essentialist to me -- why does queerness necessarily have to go hand-in-hand with loneliness?

(FWIW, I feel weird and ambivalent about both marriage and about other ways of organizing one's romantic life.)
posted by en forme de poire at 10:20 PM on March 7, 2017 [5 favorites]


I find it interesting which elements of the piece people took from it. I personally didn't take the "mean gays" piece as the main thrust, but obviously a lot of people did.

Yeah, I agreed with a lot of what I read the second piece but also felt as though it kind of missed the point of the FPP article. One of the reasons it was so powerful, I thought, was the way it tied together the psychological, epidemiological, and political. The near-exclusive focus on affluent white gay men was a flaw and for sure, there needs to be more work talking about how this interacts with race and class. But I think it's also well worth pointing out that none of us have immunity from the effects being described (as e.g. Skip Gates is aware, class does not immunize you against racism either, and this is similar, I think). And I think it's also worth emphasizing how these effects are not just inconveniences but part of a serious public health problem, which persists despite the external narrative of progress -- and that's not just progress in the literal fact of increased access to marriage, but in the sense that we live in a time when, for example, a majority-Catholic nation with a socially conservative history could establish gay marriage by referendum, and it wouldn't even be close. Which was totally unthinkable to me in, say, high school, or even college.

Just validating that disconnect, between how things are "supposed to be" and how they feel internally, was important to me. I'd heard individual psychologists compare growing up in the closet to abuse or traumatic stress before, but seeing the concrete effects gathered in one place was very powerful.

I remember that for a while the term "post-gay" was being thrown around a lot in trend pieces to describe how millenials related to sexual orientation -- and it was even treated as a sign of progress, that a specifically "gay" identity would no longer be necessary as queer acceptance continued to increase. And just hearing that made me feel really alienated, because I still feel like there is nothing "post" about my gayness! The damage done by coming out to my family persists, I'm still unlearning to scrutinize myself for feminine presentation to avoid harassment, I still can't help but be aware that when I'm around strangers at least some of them are likely to be literally the same people who joked about beating up faggots in high school, etc. The experience of having grown up gay centrally shaped the way I interact with the world.

I even had a further disconnect from the author of the article, because while I'm also a white gay dude from a blue city in a blue state in his early thirties, my parents were actually the opposite of supportive when I came out. They put me through a very difficult time as a result -- and as an aside, I just wrote and deleted "traumatic," because part of me still feels like I'm being histrionic by calling it that, and part of me doesn't want to upset any member of my family who might read this, but the fact is that the experience was traumatic and my reluctance to identify it that way is probably kind of telling. People often seem shocked to discover this, because of course that's not "supposed" to be the case! Ironically, I think the distancing I felt because of this reinforces the article's point, because when your own experience feels so different from what is being projected onto you, and the message that you're getting is that you "should" be fine, you start to just assume it means you are bad at being a human, instead of seeing the psychological, social, and structural problems in context.

I don't know. I could go on for a while about this but I'm worried I won't be able to stop so I'm just going to call it here for now.
posted by en forme de poire at 11:15 PM on March 7, 2017 [7 favorites]


I'm worried I won't be able to stop so I'm just going to call it here for now

I know exactly what you mean. I haven't commented since really reading the first article, because it would be a massive incoherent wall of text.

As for the Slate piece, I think it raised additional points that are important to remember. But honestly, those are the same points that are raised every time there's any mention of an issue facing white gay men. Accompanied with the explicit or implicit message to stop your petty whining.

That's why I think the first article had such an impact on me, and also all the comments here and elsewhere acknowledging just how common so many of these feelings are to so many gay men. It's been an incredibly validating experience, and it feels to me, for probably the first time, that these feelings are legitimate.
posted by conic at 11:57 PM on March 7, 2017 [3 favorites]


I mean I completely understand the frustration with cis white gay men, and I think as a group we do need to be better at not getting defensive when we're called on our shit and at lifting up other members of the larger gender/sexual minority community. I do sometimes get an Oppression Olympics vibe from people about gay men's issues, though, i.e., the sense that these issues are primarily unserious luxury problems unless compounded with oppression along some other axis. (I suspect that latter view can sometimes be related to homophobia, possibly internalized -- there can sometimes be an instinct to reflexively minimize gay men's problems, or a feeling that we need to be strong enough not to dwell on "weak"-sounding things like trauma and mental illness.) I think it's important to parse out those two things separately, so we can continue to rally behind and signal-boost the most vulnerable members of the community while not foreclosing on valuable discussions like this one.
posted by en forme de poire at 12:41 AM on March 8, 2017 [7 favorites]


I'm also uncomfortable with the idea that one of the major distinctions between a monogamous, committed relationship and something more specifically queer-lib and newly-invented is that one is safe and the other is lonely

Whoa, I wasn't saying anything like that.

But: I don't think "heteronormative" is automatically repressive--but I also don't think it's something you can be sure isn't operative. The choice I might make in that regard is informed by an entire lifetime of messaging and social penalty. I think the sex I like isn't necessarily--in isolation-- what's "queer" about me. Gay! Sure! But not queer, which I do not use as an umbrella term, but as a sociopolitical one.

I wasn't accusing anyone of false consciousness! Just sloppy copy-paste.
posted by listen, lady at 4:26 AM on March 8, 2017 [2 favorites]


Which isn't to say "gay community" is not queer. I'm talking abt a particular individual level.

But also ... it's just my opinion. My having it doesn't make anything happen in the world. It being in alignment, or not, with what any given person thinks about their own life is not a reflection on that person. You know your own life, and that makes neither of us wrong. (It's also a minority opinion. So all of that, more so.)
posted by listen, lady at 4:32 AM on March 8, 2017 [4 favorites]


How does a choice to be monogamous (or to care for children) fit into that framework, particularly a conscious, intentional choice in the presence of other options?

Oh also I guess I think it's a spectrum, and we make choices, and they're not perfect, and sometimes they're sort of queer and sort of not!
posted by listen, lady at 5:26 AM on March 8, 2017 [1 favorite]


I'm worried I won't be able to stop so I'm just going to call it here for now

I know exactly what you mean. I haven't commented since really reading the first article, because it would be a massive incoherent wall of text.


Yeah but I'm really enjoying your massive and totally coherent walls of text, so if you're mostly worried about sucking up air or something, well - - don't stop on my account, dammit! (I actually just read en forme de poire's first comment out to my very patient spouse in the car in enthusiasm. They commented wryly that it's not like there's a single unified queer culture anyway, so anti assimilation narratives have always struck them as a bit weird because whose cultural experiences are we defending from the straight hegemony, anyway? Which coming from the perspective of a different identity with a different history, and different cultural shibboleths... Struck me in an interesting way that I'm wandering off to chew on, anyway.)

I, ah, also have incoherent thoughts, but I'm enjoying listening to all of yours. Is my point.
posted by sciatrix at 8:15 AM on March 8, 2017 [1 favorite]


I do sometimes get an Oppression Olympics vibe from people about gay men's issues, though, i.e., the sense that these issues are primarily unserious luxury problems unless compounded with oppression along some other axis.

Yeah, I wrote out and then deleted a whole long comment about the reason for that vibe and the framing things that can cause other strains of queer people to get really crabby when we center cis gay men's issues and concerns, and then I thought about it and decided you probably already know most of it. I also thought about it for five minutes and noted that this specific article (and this specific FPP, I'd like to note) took severe pains to avoid the framing issues that cause people to get pissy about spaces centering cis gay men, which because people have then gotten in the habit of being crabby in these contexts didn't actually help the discussions as much as you'd hope.

Anyway, the point I was going to make after like four paragraphs of 'splaining was that I think it really hurts cis gay men to be... I want to say almost only having access to "pan LGBTQ" spaces that are sort of unstatedly centered around themselves, instead of having pan-LGBTQ spaces that are focused on a variety of experiences and histories alongside spaces that are very specifically centered on cis gay men and this is okay. I think it's bad for you guys not to have those private, in-group discussions or even spaces that honestly and openly do center you so available, and that makes me pretty sad. I can see how it happens, it's not necessarily malice on anyone's part or anything, but it's harmful all the same.

I even had a further disconnect from the author of the article, because while I'm also a white gay dude from a blue city in a blue state in his early thirties, my parents were actually the opposite of supportive when I came out. They put me through a very difficult time as a result -- and as an aside, I just wrote and deleted "traumatic," because part of me still feels like I'm being histrionic by calling it that, and part of me doesn't want to upset any member of my family who might read this, but the fact is that the experience was traumatic and my reluctance to identify it that way is probably kind of telling. People often seem shocked to discover this, because of course that's not "supposed" to be the case!

I think there's this weird frustrating generational thing sometimes with older queer people in particular and especially older gay folk that I encounter, where people want so badly to believe that things are better now that there's almost this expectation that we young twenty-somethings have of course gotten things better growing up and we don't know how bad it used to be, or that we've had more support and come out younger because it was safer to do so. And that... for me, that just makes me feel like my generation is on our own when it comes to negotiating this stuff for ourselves, because maybe we're not getting beaten up as much but these subtler traumas and gaslighting are so, so hard to negotiate without being able to rely on help from anyone with more life experience to negotiate them and help us understand why we're being so damn hurt by them. And at the same time I think that desperately wanting to think things are better is something of a coping mechanism and a way of dealing with trauma on its own. You've got to build optimism from somewhere, you know?

And I mean, I didn't grow up in a blue state but I also didn't grow up in like, rural hickville either. I grew up in a middle-upperclass family in Atlanta suburbs with parents who swore up and down they totally were supportive of the gays and gay marriage--it just wasn't acceptable that I might be mistaken for one, or that I might ask for someone to change their rhetoric because it was hurting me because I might be mistaking them for a homophobe and that would be really bad. You know?

When those really hard times we get from our family of origin don't match the rhetoric we see about what it looks like to try to come out in an unaccepting environment, that can feel like we're on our own or even responsible for the trauma we experience--and when you're dealing with complex invalidations cloaked under plausible deniability, well. How the hell can we negotiate that without models of what it looks like and why it hurts so badly? How can we keep ourselves from turning that pain inside and hurting ourselves worse in an effort to control the trauma we're receiving from people we've been raised and trained to love, because there's nothing to help us understand that it isn't our fault?
posted by sciatrix at 9:19 AM on March 8, 2017 [6 favorites]


This was a really great article and a really great thread. Thanks for posting it and for commenting. This a given me a new perspective on a lot of things that I truly appreciate. I know I will be sharing the article with some of my gay friends, as I suspect they will identify with it like many of you have.
posted by Rock Steady at 6:01 AM on March 9, 2017


Just a nagging thought. Many closets are built from love as much as fear. "Don't break their heart by talking to them about it."
posted by CBrachyrhynchos at 6:40 AM on March 9, 2017 [5 favorites]


I know we've (well, gays) have made legal progress but I have real trouble accepting things are better when the worst mass shooting in US history took place in a gay bar less than a year ago. Our local LGBT center has had its windows smashed twice since the election. The Tulsa LGBT center just had shots fired into it this week (AFAIK no one was hurt, but it's too traumatizing right now for me to even look it up). I'm sure similar things have happened around the country. Passing ENDA will be impossible in the near future, and we're staring down the barrel of FADA. So on a person-to-person level, yeah, I guess your coworkers are less likely to flip out, but on a systemic level, except for marriage and progress in HIV/AIDS healthcare, I don't feel we're much further along. And even progress in marriage and HIV prevention are tenuous because the administration has said they want to roll back marriage via SCOTUS, and IIRC the HIV funding (CDC or HHS?) was just cut (again, can't look it up due to trauma).

Back to transphobia for a second, you can't separate it from homophobia. Trans women are killed primarily because the straight men who are attracted to them have internalized homophobia, and/or people around them call them gay. Trans men usually don't face the same dangers, but are routinely written off as just butch lesbians (and thus lesser than both "real" men or straight women).

I don't use the word "triggered" lightly, I feel it's lost its potency with overuse, but this article plus recent news stories really did it. I felt like a lifetime of trauma surfaced and is trying to drown me.
posted by AFABulous at 7:12 AM on March 9, 2017 [6 favorites]


Jesus I hadn't heard about the shooting in Tulsa. Here's the local TV news story, which I mostly link here out of rage because they frame this attack as "vandalism". You know, like kids writing on a wall with a marker. Not like a terrorist in a pickup shooting at a building with a gun.
posted by Nelson at 7:17 AM on March 9, 2017 [2 favorites]


I hear you, AFABulous. The Orlando shooting was pretty... Fuck. I don't have so much to say here except I feel your trauma and I share your fear and every time I turn around there is something new to be terrified of or to grieve.

I've been louder here than I should, but. I hear you. I hear you.
posted by sciatrix at 8:12 AM on March 9, 2017


I think it's bad for you guys not to have those private, in-group discussions or even spaces that honestly and openly do center you so available, and that makes me pretty sad.

One thing I've observed by being... adjacent? to the leather community is how much more space there is for this. "This is your corner, this is our corner, this is the shared play space, this is the airport hotel bar where we get blotto and leather bingo happens." Not to say the dynamic is eliminated, but it's much more muted, and more conversations like this can happen in the open, with varying levels of prettiness.

On safety, on trauma reactions: I want to say more, but yeah, it's never not been dangerous, just less so, and now it's a lot more dangerous, and there's a lot of people, mostly but not entirely straight, who are all "we did gay rights OK all done now everything is fixed." I don't know what to do about the last - I find that these days the people I can least deal with are the ones assuring me there's not *much* of a smoke smell and I'm probably overreacting.
posted by PMdixon at 8:33 AM on March 9, 2017 [5 favorites]


A trans (white, male, gay) acquaintance got the utter shit beat out of him last week in Sweden FFS to the point of requiring a multi-day hospital stay. I'm not saying that has anything to do with our election, and I don't know what the general rate of hate crimes is there, but I was shocked because Sweden is generally regarded as very progressive. I mean, I would've expected that in Uganda but jesus, it's Sweden.
posted by AFABulous at 9:52 AM on March 9, 2017 [3 favorites]


That's awful what happened to your friend, AFABulous.

There is an obvious uptick in hate crimes since the election here, and in a really broad sense, I think it's all tied into the rightwing movements all over the Europe and North America.

I am still convinced that there's been huge progress in the acceptance of homosexuality in American culture, despite Orlando, and the news from Tulsa. I found this news story from 25 years ago, talking about Boystown. I lived there at the time, and the fear of being bashed kept a number of people I knew from leaving their apartments at night. A friend of mine was beaten badly enough he was in a coma for 2 weeks, and for a while there were almost weekly requests for donations to help pay someone's hospital bills. I never had any really horrible experiences, but I did have homophobic insults yelled at me from cars lots of times, and eggs thrown at me a few. I haven't experienced that level of confrontational hate since that time.
posted by conic at 4:14 PM on March 9, 2017 [1 favorite]


OK. Now I want to know what leather bingo is and how you would play it in an airport lounge bar, despite having no interest in leather whatsoever.
posted by pharm at 1:06 AM on March 10, 2017 [2 favorites]


Just a nagging thought. Many closets are built from love as much as fear. "Don't break their heart by talking to them about it."

This is going to sound awful and mercenary and immoral and I can't even believe I'm typing this, but: After my father died, as sad as I was, part of me was sickeningly hopeful that one more barrier to coming out had fallen away. Now there's only my mom, who knows, but pretends she doesn't know--we've managed to have maybe one conversation about it in my entire life, a conversation that lasted maybe five sentences and ended with me saying, "I don't want to talk about it," humiliated and embarrassed and ashamed. And I keep thinking one day she'll be gone, and I'll finally be free to say what I am, without hurting my family.

It's like instead of a closet there's a timebomb inside me and as long as I am careful and absolutely silent then it won't go off and hurt the people I love. As long as I deny and pretend and am silent, everyone is safe.

But carrying a bomb with you for your entire life is surprisingly tiring.
posted by mittens at 6:19 AM on March 10, 2017 [7 favorites]


mittens: That sucks. About half of my life was spent walking on eggshells around an emotionally abusive grandmother. And part of that included being the right kind of grandson. I understand that relief.
posted by CBrachyrhynchos at 6:27 AM on March 10, 2017 [3 favorites]


Oh mittens, don't feel guilty for how you feel. It is your parents that are at fault, they are the awful and immoral ones. And you're the one bearing the pain of it, trying to not hurt your family. I mean I don't know you and I'm not a therapist or anything, but I feel bad for you with how difficult that must be. I hope you have a supportive environment away from your parents where you can be yourself without fear.

Like CBrachyrhynchos I also had a emotionally monstrous grandmother. But fortunately I knew she was awful and so I never internalized her homophobia. I hid it from her but that wasn't too hard for me. I still felt a great sense of relief when she died. I don't feel the least bit of shame about that; she was a hateful anti-gay bigot.
posted by Nelson at 8:23 AM on March 10, 2017 [3 favorites]


I used to fantasize about something horrible happening to my parents or something terrible happening that meant I couldn't come home for holidays and oh, wasn't it sad, but I had to stay at work and it just wouldn't be possible to deal... because the effort of coming home and trying to figure out the one appropriate way to be myself without risking explosive bursts of panicked and/or angry "that's so weird, why would you do that" if I dared to be too obviously queer was too fucking much.

So, uh. I hear you, buddy. I hear you. Love can be as much of a chain around your neck and a heavy burden keeping your metaphorical closet door from opening as anything else.

And hey! my fifteen year old sister came out to me a few weeks ago in the middle of a fight trying to get me to reconcile with my mother after I told my mother that she needed to stop trying to interfere in my marriage and maybe rethink telling me how weird my extreme gay lifestyle was when I expressed that I was tired. The context was her telling me that she was gay and Mom's totally fine with it, she's going to classes now and everything! And, and, I can't do this any more and my heart's broken for my baby sister and I think she's naive about what it's going to mean to be out now, and I wanted so badly to be there for her--I wasn't exactly surprised about it for a number of reasons--but I don't know how to when no one in the rest of my family will get behind me enough to even acknowledge that I'm hurting for legitimate reasons. And I know with terrible clarity that as/if I sever ties, she'll be next targeted, and I can't do anything about it.

So. Uh.

I fucking know how you feel. I guess right now I'm hoping that picking out the shrapnel from deliberately exploding that bomb will eventually hurt less than the exhausting tension of catering to it and keeping it safe and protected and gentle did, but I've thought I exploded all of it like three times now so who the fuck knows.

Aw, shit, I wish I had something better to give you than fellow-feeling. Um. If you want--I think I PMed someone else with this information, but if you guys didn't know, you can search for therapists by specialty (where transgender issues are listed) and also by orientation (gay, bi, lesbian) on Psychology Today's therapist finder, and you can email people whose profiles might work for you and see if they might be helpful. It's.... sometimes it's helpful if you try to access therapy to look for someone with at least enough personal context to actually get at what you're thinking about and going through.
posted by sciatrix at 8:41 AM on March 10, 2017 [4 favorites]


Yeah, when my dad died there was a distinct feeling of relief on that score. Followed by the rest of the family assuring me that they were cool with me being me for the first time in a very long time.

You're not alone, mittens. I hope for you.
posted by disclaimer at 9:44 AM on March 10, 2017 [4 favorites]


Now I want to know what leather bingo is and how you would play it in an airport lounge bar, despite having no interest in leather whatsoever.

It is regular bingo MCed by someone in leather who is probably not very practiced at doing bingo and does irritating things like saying extraneous numbers. Also the prizes are generally NSFW but also frequently much less interesting than you'd expect. Or they're cigars. Somebody had clearly donated a lot of cigars to give away that time.

But I get to drink bloody marys and have like six cards in front of me and daub aggressively.


mittens, while none of the overt causes of conflict in my family are to do with me being gay, I'm currently maintaining very close to no contact with my father for self protective reasons. And he was diagnosed with terminal cancer recently. You don't have to feel like being self protective is bad. (and I know what you mean about the time bomb)
posted by PMdixon at 10:00 AM on March 10, 2017 [2 favorites]


for some reason my conscience is demanding I disclaim that drag bingo usually drives me nuts, probably because I'm much more invested in the quasi-gambling than the generally-iffy stand-up. once you've heard the same read a dozen or so times it stops being funny
posted by PMdixon at 3:07 PM on March 10, 2017 [1 favorite]


It was also an assimilation project, in framing and, as a result, in fact, which is why "gay marriage" became "same-sex marriage" became "marriage equality." It was ABSOLUTELY about erasing difference and making queer lives "sensible" to heteronormative society.

If getting material rights, by law, to the property my husband and I jointly own is erasing difference, then hell yes erase the fuck out of that difference. In the last few years, I've gone from having a complicated and legally questionable arrangement to make sure my husband and kids get my post-mortem benefits (hello, adoption of your adult partner as your child to ensure benefit validity) to an easy, sensible, clear-to-fucking-all certificate of marriage that clears it up for every possible creditor from here to eternity.

Bridges, Not Walls
posted by late afternoon dreaming hotel at 7:50 PM on March 16, 2017 [2 favorites]


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