You Have No Power Here: Deactivating the Mean Gays
Grade school gym class. 1996. Its time for the weekly ritual of picking teams for dodgeball. No matter how often we do this, it will never cease to be humiliating. It’s not that I’m the fattest one, though I’m quite chubby. No, even the fat girls can throw better than I can. I stand there, hopeful, as it’s down to me and one other. Facing the toughest decision of his life, a weaselly boy named Tim examines me and the other remaining candidate, as if he’s choosing between an Indian Rug Burn and a Texas Titty Twister. I’m hopeful that this ti…never mind, last again! As the game commences in gloomy fluorescent lighting appropriate for an outdoor funeral service, I try to navigate the game while causing myself the least embarasment possible, which this time means hanging in the back farthest away from the other team. This approach works well until I suddenly realize there is only me left. I freeze. Half my classmates are on the attack. I know I’m going down. My team is watching angrily from the bleachers. They can’t come back in until I lose it for us. “Just get out, fat-ass!” Tim screams angrily. This hurts, but instead of crying I allow myself to daydream. I dream of getting out of podunk Farmer City. Right now I feel like a loser but I know something all those other fuckers don’t: that deep inside waiting to come out, is this handsome devil:
He’s gonna show them all! He’s going to be successful, he’s going to find love, he’s going to hire a personal trainer, and most importantly, he’ll live in a place where people “get” him. He’ll be warmly welcomed into a community of other gay men who appreciate and adore him in all his wonderful goofy uniqueness.
Suddenly, I feel the stinging sensation of a rubber ball smashing into my chubby cheek, causing my braces to cut my mouth. The fantasy is over. I remember that I’m left with this:
This boy does not yet know hes gay, but the bullies figured it out long ago, and they will make him pay. Every detail is subject to ridicule. The boy-boobs I can’t hide, the shiny polyester shirt from Gadzooks I think is super cool, my love of Madonna and Cher, I will be shamed for all of it. Sometimes I cry, but mostly I shove my emotions deep inside, speak in monotone and try to present the world a safe, neutered version of myself, an emotionless shell least likely to attract ridicule. To show my pain is perilous, but the greatest danger of all would be to show my joy. For if I get lost in joy I may laugh too girly, I may dance too freely, I may lower my guard so much that I’ll expose to the bullies parts of me I can never get back from them. No, I must save that vulnerability for the day I finally step off the bus and get swept up in that big gay utopia of acceptance, inclusion, and understanding.
Its no coincidence we often refer to other gay people as “family.” We’ve faced people who hate us, people who wish to hurt or kill us and entire political operations designed to shame and dehumanize us because of who we are. When our ability to safely let down our guard and be ourselves depends upon being able to distinguish who’s a threat and who isn’t, there’s a great sense of relief in knowing you’re in the company of other gay people. “Family.” “Whew. At least I’m safe here with them.” It can be heartbreaking when we discover that sense of security was unfounded. For many gay boys our deepest longing was to find community, to leave our small towns or circles that did not understand us, and be healed with love and brotherhood until we’re free to be the most complete, beautiful expression of ourselves. Most of us have gotten a hell of a lot closer but there have been some roadblocks. Imagine you found that utopia where you’re surrounded by others just like you, who should theoretically accept you for all that you are, and they rip you to shreds for all the same reasons your schoolmates did.
It’s time to talk about the Mean Gays…