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One misconception about being a young gay person is that you have to "come out" all at once, and then after that you're just openly gay to the world. But it's not like that -- you have to come out, again and again, to every person you meet. And there is nowhere you can go to be completely safe from an ugly reaction.
Since straight is the default, people will never stop assuming the wrong thing about my sex life, so I'm constantly faced with two options: Ignore it and pretend to be something I'm not, or politely correct them and risk completely derailing the conversation (or, in extreme cases, getting assaulted). And I make this choice all the time. Every new class. Every new job. When I meet friends of co-workers. Or people at church. People I used to know at another school. Siblings' friends and their (heterosexual) boyfriends and girlfriends. Cousins' friends. People at weddings, who inevitably want to know when I'll be getting married and who this nice lady I'm with is. In any given mixed social situation, I'm constantly double-checking the gender of my pronouns and then scanning listeners for accepting faces or sudden disgust.
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"Nice to meet you, Mywifejen, that's an interesting name. So are you guys roommates?"
And then comes the judgment. You'd be amazed at how often I've answered questions like, "How did you know you were gay?" and "Have you ever, y'know ... done it?" (with finger quotes). Then there are the constant offers of potential heterosexual "test" partners -- because nothing says acceptance like invasive personal questions and the uncomfortable "date" setups by the well-meaning listener. And if you think the gay community is a nice respite from this, well, here's the thing ...
Coming out publicly is a great way to break free from a box that has dictated what behavior is "acceptable" since birth. But as soon as you join the gay community, they're immediately like, "Here's your new box!" It might be a snappy shade of purple and have sharp sequins, but it's still a goddamn box. Let me out.
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"Look, my brain needs to focus on important stuff like memorizing Arrested Development quotes, so just pick a pigeonhole, would you?"
For example, my local lesbian community seems to have its own set of demands: that you be mildly androgynous, socially progressive, politically liberal, etc. A scientifically minded Zionist with a nasty sarcastic streak and a gaming habit wasn't exactly welcome. Plus, I'm expected to keep up with the changing terminology: In college, I belonged to something called the LGBTA. Now it's called the Queer Alliance, and that pisses me off, because when I grew up "queer" was a nasty slur.
Even worse, if you're happy to be bisexual, you can plan on being rejected by just about everyone. In a community where the "gold star lesbian" (a woman who has never so much as awkwardly kissed a guy) is seen as ideal, someone who finds penis and vagina equally appealing might as well give up on getting either (except from men who consider you the Fountain of Threesomes). The fact that bisexuals can "pass" for straight by dating the opposite sex creates resentment, and even the allegedly progressive show Glee dismissed bisexuality as not really being a thing.
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Which is so out of step with their forward-thinking views on other issues, like copyright law.
Just to be clear, if you happen to be a stereotypical gay person, the community can be fantastic. But if you're not, the lack of acceptance hurts even more. The point here isn't that gay people are a bunch of judgmental assholes; the point is that a lot of the stress and anxiety from the oppression we all suffer gets directed inward in the form of bullying our most vulnerable community members. But again, I feel weird -- almost like a traitor -- just for pointing this out, because ...
Given all the discrimination against homosexuals, it makes sense for the community to assemble like a Roman Legion and lock together their rainbow-forged shields against the attacking bigots. Which is good, because like a Roman Legion, we're up against people who actually literally want us dead. But on the other hand, all of this focus on unification has forced us to ignore some major problems in our community for fear of exposing a weak spot to the other side.
The thermal exhaust port of our Gay Death Star, if you will.
For example, while straight culture has been pushing to adopt a more flexible definition of beauty that extends beyond the "clinically dead" section of the BMI, gay male culture has not: The public image of the gay man is still a perfectly sculpted slab of muscle-cake, which of course leads to an overabundance of eating disorders, drug addiction, and steroid abuse. But we're terrified to bring those things up because they point to mental unwellness -- and anti-gay-rights activists will shit themselves with excitement at the chance to use this as evidence that we're all messed up in the head.
Then there's sexual assault. A lot of people still have trouble believing that it's even possible for a woman to rape someone. Clarifying the reality invites comparisons to an evil, predatory lesbian, but ignoring it is doing nothing to battle the epidemic of gay people being assaulted. I have personal experience with woman-on-woman rape, and I can say flat-out that lesbians have no clue what to do with the concept. After all, it's a massive mental shift to go from "women's-only spaces as a lesbian utopia" to "women's-only spaces as potential hunting grounds for rapists." So victims like me are invisible to professionals used to handling male-on-female rape, and shunned by a community that will accuse us of destroying their glorious vision with our inconvenient victimhood.
"Look, it would require a new box on the form, and we just got these printed."
And then there's the continuing nightmare of AIDS. Opponents of homosexuality characterize gay men as fabulous plague rats, which is a stereotype the gay community has had to battle tirelessly since AIDS hit the scene, forcing the community to all but ignore the batshit epidemic of STDs among young gay men for fear of agreeing with the bigots. Many newly minted gay boys believe treatments for HIV make the disease something akin to chronic jock itch instead of a virus that can kill everyone it infects. This leads to an at best lackadaisical use of protection, and since the gay community itself stigmatizes HIV/AIDS, things are even harder for HIV positive young men: They're being shunned from every direction.
Again, things are much, much better than they used to be. But the worst thing we can do is assume the fight is over. If it looks like that from the outside, well, that's the problem.
We'd like to thank Patrick Hopkins for contributing to this article. Lily Marx has a terrible twitter account and can be reached at email@example.com. JF Sargent is a columnist and dick-joke journalist for Cracked, and you can contact him if you wanna punch the world with knowledge.
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