One day we may move beyond labels, but right now we still need “out” role models who demonstrate that it is OK to be your true self.Nancy Callan; seen at Transparency: An LGBTQ+ Glass Art Exhibition at the Museum of Glass
What think you I have taken my pen to record?
Not the battle-ship, perfect-model’d, majestic, that I saw to day arrive in the offing, under full sail,
Nor the splendors of the past day–nor the splendors of the night that envelopes me–Nor the glory and growth of the great city spread around me,
But the two men I saw to-day on the pier, parting the parting of dear friends.
The one to remain hung on the other’s neck and passionately kissed him–white the one to depart tightly prest the one to remain in his arms.Live Oak, with Moss; VI. by Walt Whitman
On Tuesday night we saw Steve Grand perform at ACT II down here in Puerto Vallarta. And I can’t tell you how moving it was to hear a man sing about love for another man on stage.
Steve Grand is probably best known for his 2013 breakout country music video All-American Boy about one guy’s unrequited love for another man. As someone who grew up listening to country music, I remember being in awe that we finally, finally, had a country love song by a gay man. Then, admittedly, I lost track of Steve and what he was up to until this week.
On Saturday evening we bought tickets for his Tuesday show, where he performs covers as well as his own work, almost on a lark. Of the four of us going to the show, two of us remembered his music video and the other two were game to be dragged along. It’s very common in PV for performers to walk around the beaches handing out cards marketing their shows, and Steve was no exception. Except Steve one-upped all the rest of them by walking around in a bright blue speedo and a blockbuster smile. And to say that he is incredibly handsome would be like saying that the ocean is merely damp. We were all excited to see him perform after that!
The show was good — really good. He’s an excellent performer and has a great stage presence. What surprised me the most was that, oddly, I knew several of his own songs without knowing they were his! It didn’t take me long to figure out that his song Stay was on Sean’s 2013 mix CD and his song Walking was on Sean’s 2017 mix CD (and somehow I knew his song We Are The Night too, although I haven’t figured out how). These CDs live in my ancient car that only has a CD player and the CDs get a lot of air time so I’ve listened to them, and these two songs, many many times. Enough that I could have sung along.
I never knew they were about another guy and knowing that changed everything about them.
I’ve been raised in such a heteronormative culture that when I hear a guy singing about someone else I assume it’s about a girl. Because it’s almost always true. And to have that preconception totally dismantled about songs that I love by this handsome guy on stage who wrote them was mind-blowing.
Stay with me, we don’t never have to leave
You my southern king, we live it for the daydreams
So don’t get mad—what’s past is in the past
And we can make this last
if you just give me that chance
So when my old man’s out of town but a couple days
I think that you should…
Stay with me
Stay with me
under the covers
Stay with me
Be my lover
He’s singing about another guy, folks!
We talk about the importance of representation all the time, and I guess I never thought about how that might apply to me in music. I’m ecstatic to have relearned the lesson in such a fantastic way.
I’m certain that my newly-purchased Steve Grand albums will get a lot of air time when I get back from vacation next week. If you identify as a gay man and have the opportunity to hear him in person, I highly recommend it!
Earlier this month I saw the coming-of-age and coming-out movie Love, Simon. It was touching, heart-warming, and made me wonder when we stopped sharing our own coming out stories.
I came out 18 years ago in Austin at the age of 21. It seemed that whenever I met another gay guy, we’d inevitably share when and how we came out. I think the last time I shared the story was when I met Daniel 5.5 years ago, and before that I don’t even remember. Nor have I heard coming out stories from others in recent history either.
When did we stop sharing our stories? Why don’t we tell them anymore? Was it just too long ago? Is it because I live in a very accepting part of the country now so the stories have less impact? Are they just too painful and we’d prefer not to remember?
Should we dust off our stories and retell them? Much like the heartbreaking stories of the AIDS crisis that so heavily influenced what it meant to be gay in America in the 80s — stories that we’ve stopped telling and are slowly disappearing — are we losing part of gay culture by not telling our coming out stories?
I think we are. I think we’re doing a disservice thinking that people coming out today, young and old, don’t struggle and don’t need to hear that they are not alone in that struggle.
To quote the King of Pop, let’s start with the man in the mirror…
I finally admitted I was gay in 2000 right after college while living in Austin. I’d known it for years but “praying away the gay” had been a miserable failure and I was desperate to stop living a lie.
The very first person I came out to, tearfully, was my good friend Megan who accepted me with open, loving arms. I remember her telling me that me being gay didn’t change anything about our relationship, and it hasn’t. I can’t tell you how relieving it was to finally tell someone and to be loved regardless. I can say without exaggeration that her response to me coming out saved my life.
One of the first people at work I came out to was my friend Jonobie — a woman who has since become my very best friend. Only minutes after coming out to her, she almost punched a guy making homophobic comments. A few months later I came out to my teammate Jenny and she went from utter disbelief to trying to set me up within seconds.
But other interactions weren’t so rosy.
Like Simon in the movie, I came out to my parents at Christmas. Unlike Simon, my parents are conservative evangelicals. There were tears, words of “why are you making this choice?”, “you just haven’t found the right girl yet”, “but you’ll never have kids”, “what did I do wrong?”, “you should see a counselor”, etc. Lets just say that it didn’t go well and has been a very rocky path since. I envy loving, accepting, affirming parents like Simon’s.
I came out to another close college friend sometime in 2001. We use to attend church together in college. I honestly don’t remember the details of coming out to him, but he didn’t accept me with open arms. We remained friends, albeit of the “don’t ask, don’t tell” variety. When I got engaged to Benjamin he wasn’t able to tell me he was happy for me because he believed being gay was a sin. But the story takes a turn for the better when in 2009 he messaged me and said that his sister, whom he is very close to, came out to him and he was able to lovingly accept her. In his letter he apologized for hurting me when I came out to him and thanked me for giving him a chance to wrestle with some of the issues before his sister came out to him. Helping this man be able to accept his sister may be the thing I am proudest of in my life, because I know how much I wanted that for myself.
And it doesn’t end there. Society assumes that everyone is straight unless proven otherwise, so every interaction with a new person may turn into a coming out story. At some point it almost becomes second nature for those of us living in liberal, accepting areas of the country. (I’m sure I came out to some random clerk at the grocery store just last week trying to find something for Daniel.) For others in more rural or conservative areas, life exists in the closet because coming out is a risky ordeal, only undergone for specific people.
Stories help reveal our humanity, our realness to others. Within our stories we find common ground and commonalities. Coming out stories are no different.
If you’re LGBTQ+, what’s your coming out story?
If you’re not LGBTQ+, what’s a story of when someone came out to you?
Earlier today while Daniel was mowing the lawn and I was washing dishes I recalled a close friend’s parent asking them “who was the girl” in my relationship. The question surfaces up one of the things I think is most awesome about same-sex relationships: there are no “expected” gender roles so we get to do whatever works for us expectation-free.
Daniel and I split up some of the classic gender roles in a variety of ways, usually playing to our strengths (he loves the outdoors and nature) and personalities (I’m an OCD clean-freak).
- He usually cooks and I do the dishes. When I bake he does dishes.
- We both wash and fold laundry.
- He mows the lawn. He gardens.
- He deals with the compost. I take the trash and recycling out.
- I vacuum the house. He cleans the toilets.
- We both do the grocery shopping.
- He takes care of the pets (and by pets I mean house plants).
- I wash the car. He takes pictures of me washing the car.
- He handles the house plumbing. I take care of the electrical work.
- We both work; I make more than he does (tech vs government sectors).
- Daniel does more of the emotional labor in the relationship (this is something I acknowledge and am working on).
- I pester him about calling his mother and reminding him of friends’ birthdays.
- I throw pottery. He blows glass. We both sew.
- He does woodworking. I write code.
- I lift weights and run. He rides a bike and played rugby.
- I’m vain about my hair (and never notice when he gets his cut).
- We both have some body-image issues.
Of course, most of the time when someone asks that question they’re really talking about sex. And to that I just have to laugh because it does nothing but highlight just how limited some people’s ideas of sex actually are. If you have to ask the question, you’re probably doing sex wrong.1
Last week Daniel and I attended Critical Northwest, the annual Seattle-region Burning Man. This was our second time to go, the first was in 2015, and one of the things that we felt was lacking in 2015 was a sense of gay community.
This year we put a concerted effort into building and fostering queer community before the event. In the spirit of radical inclusion we decided to focus on a larger queer1 community rather than just a gay community. We created a Facebook sub-group for Critical Northwest Queers to create ideas, we contacted theme camps and encouraged them to host queer-centric events, and we collated and displayed all queer events as part of the Queer Agenda with Camp Waystation during the week.
And overall I think our efforts were successful! I heard from numerous people how they felt that the event this year was explicitly, not just implicitly, queer-friendly and welcoming. The spirit of queer-inclusion seemed to bleed over into other camps flying various Pride flags which was fantastic.
But a queer community does not necessarily imply a gay community. Over the course of the week out of ~1200 participants Daniel and I only found 10 other male-identified people that seemed a part of the gay community — that seemed like our people — and very few of those attended the queer events. So while it felt really great knowing that others were finding their community this year, it was frustrating to feel that we still weren’t finding ours after putting a concerted effort into it.
There are a plethora of possibilities as to why so few gay men went to Critical. Perhaps there were well more than 10 other gay men out there that we never met. Perhaps gay men who were there didn’t identify as queer or weren’t looking for a community. Perhaps gay men are less likely to attend a regional burn (I don’t know what percentage of Burning Man participants are gay men). Perhaps this was an off year. Perhaps my expectations and hopes were just too high.
Regardless of the reason we don’t feel like we found our community at Critical.
1 Yes, I used the word queer although I still cringe internally every time. LGBTQ+ is utterly unpronounceable.
Fruit of the Loom has a new, and rather clever, marketing campaign for their t-shirts: PutAShirtOn.org. Their tongue-in-cheek video1 explains that the real reason for all the shirtless selfies on social media is because the guy’s shirts are poor quality and are getting “ripped” and “shredded”. Their social media campaign suggests that people comment on these photos with a #putashirton hashtag, which ties into Fruit of the Loom’s marketing campaign, and promote their EverSoft shirts.
It’s also body shaming men.
I spent all of my childhood and most of my adult life hating how I looked and feeling ashamed of my body. I remember in middle school my dad took my brother and I to an after-school basketball program. I had so much shame taking my shirt off for the “skins” team that I refused to go back after the first night.
In college I remember riding my bike one day without a shirt on. Some assholes in a truck pulled up besides me at a stop sign and mocked me to “put a shirt on that ugly body”, laughed, and drove off.
It wasn’t until two years ago that I did enough mental and physical work to like how I looked. After feeling more confident I started posting some pictures to Instagram (warning: I’m often shirtless). Positive reinforcement of those pics by friends and strangers helped reinforce that I’m not ugly. I can easily imagine how shamed I would have felt at the beginning of that journey if someone had posted this marketing hashtag to my shirtless posts. (Today I would just consider them trolls and delete them.)
Feel free to roll your eyes at we narcissists (or want-to-be narcissists) posting shirtless selfies, but please don’t use this marketing hashtag to shame us.
1 A video which includes generally slim guys, most of them white, and all but one of them smooth, thus further perpetuating this as the “right” way that men should look. To their credit, it isn’t all really buff guys, so there’s at least that.