there are no small parts
Warning: This post contains information of a personal nature about my past that's difficult to discuss sometimes. Proceed only if you're ready to know much more about me today than you did yesterday. I'm serious about that.
Steve's recent post about the motivations for coming out has got me thinking. Even though I'm not quite “out” on this website – well, I'm probably out privately to the majority of my readers – but this is a question that we all have to face sometime. Before I can really talk about being “out”, I guess I need to lay the ground work and talk about what it means to be “gay”. That is what I'm being “out” about, after all. Talking about the nature of gayness is often painful, for me anyway. It's painful because it forces me to face some areas of myself that I'd rather not see, and because of my internalized homophobia.
Gay or just sexually greedy?
The second person that I ever truly “came out” to (the first being myself), was probably my best friend in the whole wide world. We'll call him “Benedict”. No relation to the Pontiff, of course.
It was a difficult and emotional conversation, with many tears shed between us. Benedict is a conservative Christian, and ultimately told me that he couldn't accept my “lifestyle” (still waiting for my Gay Lifestyle Starter Kit in the mail, btw), but accepted me as a human being. Better than nothing, I guess.
During our conversation, Benedict confronted me with a few facts that he found inconsistent with my orientation.
“Haven't you had fantasies about women, though?” he asked, “You've been aroused by women too, haven't you?”
“Well, yes, on occasion.” I admitted, trying to gather my thoughts
“Well then maybe you aren't gay. Maybe you're just sexually greedy.”
Now, from here I could launch into a whole discussion of what it means for a queer such as myself to get a stiffy from watching straight porn. I could do that, but I wont. Not for prudish purposes, but because it's completely besides the point. The very question that Benedict asked me was an implicitly homophobic question, although I didn't realize it at the time.
The homophobia lies in the assumption that I'm attracted to men because women “aren't enough”, while conversely, being aroused by women is the right, normal and non-addictive thing to do. If I had been smarter at the time, I could have turned the question around and asked “Well then, perhaps it's my attraction to women that's evidence of sexual greed! Maybe the normal, regular sex-with-men just isn't cutting it for me anymore!”
Benedict spent the rest of the conversation leaning towards the opinion that I'm really straight but just over-sexual, and thus attracted to men. Or perhaps that I'm really just Bi. Benedict planted these troubling seeds in my head. They're troubling because they question the very reasoning behind coming out and identifying oneself as gay. If one begins to question whether one is simply a straight man who occasionally dabbles in gay love out of boredom or curiosity, or if one is “Bi” (which often seems remarkably similar to the last definition), then the painful, heartbreaking and often dangerous process of coming out seems to not be worth it anymore. Why risk everything if my “orientation” is nothing more than a private kink?
So I began a “fearless moral inventory” of myself, my memories and my experiences to see if Benedict's ideas carried any weight. I tried to think back to my earliest experiences that could be remotely described as “sexual” and work forward from there. What I found was surprising – in that it confirmed what I had come to believe, namely, that my queer orientation is no more a fetish than Benedict's straight orientation is.
I remembered the first time that I ever felt something truly sexual. Thankfully, I was never molested by anyone (take THAT Paul Cameron), so my first feelings were quite innocent. I was about nine years old, I believe. Maybe even a bit younger. I was playing out in the school yard during recess when when of my male friends came up to me with a big smile on his face. There were some girls nearby – standing about and playing amongst themselves – my friend wanted to gross them out, I guess. So, being at the age when nothing is more gross than members of the opposite sex, he knew just the trick. My friend took off his shirt and started to parade around in front of the girls, strutting his stuff like a rooster. The girls took off with a scream, but I remained.
Something awoke that moment when I saw my friend's naked chest. I felt strangely excited, like there was electricity flowing through my veins. I wanted to reach out and touch his chest, to connect with him somehow. Watching him prance around half-naked made my heart quicken in a way that I had never felt before outside of running, but I wasn't running. I was just standing still and watching.
Remember, I was still far too young to associate these feelings with the desires that we call “sex”. I had no idea what I was feeling, except that I wanted to feel it again. I knew instinctively, however, that the teachers on duty would frown on my friend and I dancing shirtless together, so I pushed the desires down and left them alone for some time.
Fast forward a few years to when I'm about 11 or 12. Just barely on the cusp of puberty. I was over at my aunt's house for the weekend and was playing with toys in my cousin's room when he quietly walked in. My cousin was only two or three years older than I (odd that I still can't remember), and we played together often.
“Look what I found” he said with a grin.
He flopped a few copies of Hustler magazine down on his bed and opened up one up to a random page.
“Rusty gave these to me,” he said, “He got them from his older brother. Pretty cool, huh?”
I was speechless. Naked people! With parts! I had never seen a naked woman before, really, and I did get a little aroused. Now, of course, I realize that I was aroused from the sheer novelty of it, but nothing could prepare me for what happened next...
My cousin flipped on through the pages: naked woman, lesbians having sex, couples having sex, page after page of women, women and women and men and women. Eventually one he flipped to one of the pages and landed on a full picture of a lone male model.
I went from zero to sixty in about three seconds. I had never really seen penises before either, but penises were much more interesting than breasts, as far as I was concerned. It's a feeling that's impossible to verbalize – that visceral reaction to manly flesh that all of my queer readers know and love. You just take one look at that towering mass of muscle and you just know thats what you want. Forgive me if I sound crass, but I think I'm not too far off the mark here.
Eventually, of course, we come to learn (or most of us come to learn, I hope) that penises are not independent creatures, that they're connected to men with feelings, thoughts, needs and desires of their own; men who must be respected and loved as such. Eventually we come to learn that, but the locus of our desires are born, for better or worse, in the fiery furnace of carnality within those first experiences. The redemption of that carnality comes later.
Anyway, my cousin quickly turned the page. Without thinking, I grabbed the magazine from his hand and turned it back.
“Don't look at that!” he cried as he grabbed it back from me, “It'll make you a fag!”
Too late, cousin. God already took care of that one.
That was just before puberty. As time went on, the feelings for other boys and men grew stronger, and so did the shame. At this point, my story could be any one of a million similar stories. It's probably not too different from your own. The social awkwardness, the furtive glances in the locker room during gym class, secret fantasies thought up and stress relieved under bedsheets and in the shower. If you belong to the younger generation, then you can also identify with the secret nighttime trips to Dad's home office computer. Don't forget the shame, guilt and religious sado-masochism, of course.
A Life Remembered
It's been a long road from the school yard to where I am today. Lots of bumpy roads and sharp turns, but looking back, a clear picture of my sexual development emerges. Yes, I have occasionally been turned on by women. Or by the thought of loving intimacy with women, anyway. But ever since I was a child, I learned that nothing could truly excite me but maleness. As much as I tried to deny it or pray it away, the desires would always be there. I would even watch huge amounts of straight porn to try and take my mind off men -- only to discover that I was continually more aroused by the straight-male porn stars and their parts than any woman on screen. Although I didn't know it at the time, I was having the same feelings towards men (and feeling shameful for it) that my straight friends were having towards women (and being lauded for it).
Homoaffection, in other words, is not something that I learned from an evil molesting relative, or from a distant father, or from an overbearing mother, or a sexy kink that I picked up somewhere along the way. I have loved and desired males since before I knew what those words really meant. I've desired to experience sex with men before I even knew what sex really was.
I am gay.
It was Benedict's questions and this answer that ultimately cemented my convictions and caused me to truly come out, especially on this blog and elsewhere. Although Benedict was trying to sway me in a different direction, his tough question ultimately confirmed what I had secretly known and tried to deny for years.
I write this for the young men (and older men!) who ask these same questions of themselves and may eventually come across this post somehow. If your story is similar to mine, then perhaps you're wondering if coming out is really worth it. You're wondering if the joy and freedom will ever balance out the heartache and pain. Well, if your story really is similar to mine, then I've got something to tell you.
You're orientation is 1) not something you chose and 2) more than just a sexual act. It's something that's apart of you, that shapes your very being and outlook on life in ways that you can't even imagine right now. Don't listen to the people who tell you that you're “normal” minus the weird places you want to stick your genitals. You ARE normal, and your desires are more than just genital-placement coordinates.
Your desires started out raw, fiery and careless. Senseless, too. Don't worry, straights' desires started out the same way. Were all not too different in that respect. Your desires will always retain a tinge of that no matter how old you get or what happens to you, but eventually you will delve deeper into the soul of Man. You'll grow and learn that being gay is about loving men and being loved. Ultimately, it's about drawing closer to another in Love and closer to Love Itself. Does that sound like a haughty goal for a “mere orientation”? It shouldn't, because that is the goal of all human activity, I think.
The point that I'm continually trying to drive home here is that you are more than just a “normal” person plus gay desires. Gay isn't even something you do. It is you. And you are worth it.
Now, the desire for honesty and self-disclosure shouldn't come at the cost of personal safety. If you're in a situation like I am, where your person is threatened by coming out, then perhaps it's best to take things slowly. If you can't be out to anyone, be out to at least yourself. That's the first step.
Being “out” is ultimately about being human. Straights can (and are) “out” too, I think. “Out” is a public recognition of humanity, of Love and honesty. It sounds like such a tall order for such a supposed small part of our lives. But we are Human Beings, and in our lives, like in a good play, there are no small parts.