I discuss sexuality and gender expression pretty frequently here, Gentle Reader, because they’re subjects close to my heart. When I came out at 16, I became absurdly feminine – I was campy, I was funny: I made myself into a caricature, a clown, because that’s what the gay role models at the time were. I thought that’s who I had to be, as an out gay man.
I’ve written, as well, about how Ms. Capere’s high school boyfriend, J., became for a time my best friend. In those days, he was decently accepting, open-minded. J. was supremely butch, a wannabe biker/cowboy who loved all things redneck. Under his influence, I learned to fish and shoot; I learned the rudiments of taxidermy; I learned to work on cars. My other friends thought I was faking an entire personality because I was trying as desperately to be manly as I’d tried to be a T. V. Stereotype before. At this point, the truth was more that I was searching for my own identity; I didn’t yet know that I lived somewhere between the two extremes.
I didn’t learn this for a few years. After high school, I continued palling around with J. He got me a job, working with him in construction – concrete, to be specific. In the rural world I was living in, I developed a protective hypermasculine shell; a construction site is no place for sensitivity. In this environment, under J.’s further tutelage, I learned more. Homophobia, sexism, even racism – these became inextricably tied to my ideas of manliness. I deeply regret the person I was at this point in time, and I have no excuse for it.
Eventually I realized how terrible this way of thinking is – and that not only did I not believe the things I’d been saying, those ideas actively disgusted me. As I started taking pride in being gay once more, and started calling J. on his bullshit, for some reason he stopped being so friendly, stopped calling. Once in a while, one of us would call the other – we were still on good terms, decent, but distant.
In the meantime, I continued exploring my identity. I came to stop defining myself by perceived “shoulds”. I didn’t really have anything to replace them with; my thoughts and feelings at the spur of the moment defined me instead. I became my whims, judiciously seasoned with my now passionate notions of right and wrong.
In the meantime, J. had become more insular, more conservative, and I’m sorry to say, more prejudiced. Honestly, I hardly knew the man anymore. The boy who would once don a feather boa in fun with his friends was now actively disgusted at the thought of a man wearing a pink shirt. The concepts of nonstandard gender expression, or alternate sexualities, or equality, threatened the straight white cis man’s dominance, and by extension, him personally.
I know this, because a year ago yesterday he told me so. It was election day; Washington State, where I live, had Marriage Equality on its ballot. He was against it, of course; I asked him how, after knowing and being very close friends with a gay man for many years, he could defend that position. He proceeded in no uncertain terms to tell me that my very existence threatened his children. If gay people could marry, the danger would explode exponentially. It was one of the hardest things I’ve ever had to do, standing up to a man whose notions had so much sway over me – a man I once called brother – a man whose opinions I could no longer tolerate. We no longer speak.