We are not each others enemies.
by Charles Stephens
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All right, o.k., I admit it, sometimes I get extremely angry with other gay men.
I get angry when I schedule volunteers that don’t show up, and refuse to call and let me know. I get angry when I’m critiqued and the person doing the critiquing does not understand, or try to understand how hard I work. How hard I work for them. Or worst, I get critiqued and the person doing the critiquing has never attempted to offer any help, support, or assistance. I get angry when I’m trying to tell someone why they should be out about their gayness, or should be involved in activism, or should question their religious beliefs, or in someway behave more like me. I get angry when I’m around a group of gay men, and for whatever reason they don’t meet my gold standard of gayness. Some high and unattainable standard that they could not possibly achieve. A standard I probably don’t achieve. This is not good. These feelings force me to question to what degree, for even those of us that know better, we still harbor the residue of internalized homophobia. That I might still harbor. We might not believe we are hell bound heathens anymore, but the messages we grow up with, hear, are socialized with, linger stubbornly in our psyches like little barnacles. I’m sure Harvey Milk got pissed off sometimes.
I have also witnessed other gay men in their anger. And how their anger can transform them (I hope I don’t sound too much like Yoda). How sane, rational, loving individuals can say things more harsh than the most vicious homophobe. I’m certainly not above it. I have at times been temporarily possessed by Anita Bryant. Though I vanquish her eventually, she is a powerful one. And before I can get the garlic and holy water out, she has possessed me again.
I’ve seen it happen to others too. They start out with the best of intentions. They mean well. They want to liberate all gay men. Carefully and inspired they seek to build their armies to overthrow our homo-hating culture. But something happens. Maybe a series of things, one more scarring than the one before. The cross they bear becomes a weapon they wield. Passion becomes self-righteousness. Their causes become their cages. Other gay men, and not heterosexism, becomes the enemy.
Thoughts creep into our minds, subtly at first, but later more pronounced, and subsequently invade our conversations. “Gay men are just apolitical,” we say. “Gay men only care about sex,” we think. Perhaps, some of us activists develop this bizarre relationship to other gay men. We don’t say it, at least not openly, but feel that we are somehow more enlightened. We are special. So we will talk about how superficial other gay men are. How frivolous, narcissistic, hedonistic they are. As gay activists, we are of some higher order.
I am convinced, that ridding oneself of internalized homophobia is so much more, far more than coming out of the closet. In some ways that’s the easiest part, or at least the first step. But once you start interacting with other gay men, and once the honeymoon/romance is over, that’s when the real work begins.
It’s when your heart is shattered into a million pieces by a man that you loved. It’s when your co-worker, colleague, another gay man, attacks you in that meeting, questions your competence, makes you feel lesser than. When your integrity is challenged. It’s when another gay man insults you, picks a part that one insecurity you try to conceal, in front of a live audience. It’s when you are rejected by someone you are interested in. It’s when the pedestal you built selflessly, meticulously, proudly, for someone you admire, collapses around you because they let you down, when you realize they were not who you imagined. When you pick yourself up, put the pieces back together, in the face of despair, that’s when the real work begins. When you really do the work around eradicating internalized homophobia from your psyche.
Part of it is remembering. Remembering why you got involved with activism in the first place. Remembering all of the powerful, transformative, beautiful experiences you’ve had with other gay men. And also remembering, that we are all complicated, and that we are not each others enemies.
Charles Stephens is an Atlanta-based writer and organizer. Check out his blog.
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