Coming out as gay in a straight world
After coming out as gay, junior Jeff Baker lost some friends and faced harassment. Baker writes about what it means to be gay in a world where the majority of people identify as straight.
By Jeff Baker
When asked to describe a gay male, many people will come up with many of the same characteristics. Feminine, fashionable and promiscuous are just some of the many stereotypes that I am associated with because I identify as part of the LGBT community. The issue with these stereotypes is that not only are they not true, but they hurt the acceptance of LGBT members as part of mainstream society, as well the community itself.
I grew up in a Catholic household in which my family went to church every Sunday and I would go to youth groups. One time during a youth group meeting, some of my guy friends and I were holding hands as a joke (this was before I knew I was gay.) One of the leaders told us to stop because men weren’t supposed to hold hands. So from an early age, I was already hearing that being gay was not an option. However, I also grew up in a very liberal city, so I also heard that it didn’t matter who you loved, love is love. Getting these mixed signals was very confusing for me, but I eventually realized what I needed to do to be happy with my life. I came out of the closet.
Luckily, I didn’t receive much backlash from this. I did stop being friends with a lot of people from my church, but I didn’t really care. I had always heard that if they didn’t accept me for who I was then they weren’t my real friends in the first place and I firmly believed this. After I came out, I had the regular struggles of any minority group.
People would yell things like “faggot” out car windows at me and would spread rumors about me at school. In the grand scheme of things, however, I didn’t have it that bad.
This is my story, but identifying as LGBT in a primarily heterosexual/cisgender community means something different to each individual member of the community because we all face different levels of acceptance. For instance, take two gay men. One of them breaks most of the stereotypes that exist while the other gay man fits into that archetype perfectly. Because the stereotypical gay man is more obviously recognized as gay, he will be harassed by people who don’t even know him. On the other hand, a person who breaks these stereotypes might not receive as much harassment from strangers because they won’t assume that person is gay unless he decides to disclose that fact. Despite this, these people will still face harassment during the coming out process and beyond, especially if they are growing up in a more conservative area.
There are so many factors that go into an individual’s experience as a member of the LGBT community. This makes it hard for me to state a fact and have it apply to everyone, except for the idea that the majority of us will face some amount of harassment at some point in their life. According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Resources, people who identify as part of the LGBT community are four times more likely to commit suicide than their heterosexual counterparts. Almost every member of the LGBT community that I have talked about the subject with agrees that they have contemplated suicide because of being harassed and feeling rejected by society.
This is unacceptable. No one should ever have to contemplate committing suicide because of who they love.
There are many reasons other than harassment that stereotypes are harmful besides. One issue with stereotypes is that they give people a lot of misconceptions about an individual that can often turn out to be false. For instance, one stereotype is that gay men can’t be good at sports. Because of this stereotype, I was often picked last during gym class. Also, another stereotype is that some parts of the LGBT community are more promiscuous than members of the straight community. We have Grindr, they have Tinder. It’s the same thing, but for some reason gay men are seen as more promiscuous.
This idea hurts the community because people will argue that because they are promiscuous, they cheat on their partners more and they shouldn’t be allowed to get married for this reason. This is especially true for people who identify as bisexual. For some reason, people believe that because they are attracted to both males and females, they will cheat on their partners with someone of the opposite gender because they are bored. This stereotype coincides with the idea that being part of the LGBT community is all about sex. It takes out the idea of love and commitment, which is just as important in a nontraditional relationship.
Not only are these stereotypes hurting the members of the LGBT community because of the dominant culture, but also because of how other members use these stereotypes. This is hurtful to individuals because they come out of the closet and are sometimes rejected by mainstream society. Even when they believe that they will have a community of support, they are sometimes rejected by the same community that preaches love and acceptance because they are too archetypical. This not only hurts individuals but also hurts our cause to be seen as equal to members of the larger community.
People don’t see why they should accept us if we can’t even accept each other.
Growing up as a member of the LGBT community in a mainly straight/cisgender society can very difficult. However, if society as a whole does a better job of educating people about what it means to be a member of this community and starts accepting people for who they truly are, it will become easier for people to feel happy, accepted and loved, which is what every person is searching for in the end.