I’m a bad gay. At least that’s what one of my oldest friends told me, mere days after my coming out to her. Of course I was a “bad gay”! I’d only started coming out to my friends and family two days prior. Heck, I’d only come out to myself a week or two before, in which time I confessed my at once confused and passionate feelings to a boy who had come out years before, learned that the feelings were mutual, and endured a slew of his cautionary tales before being allowed to accept him as my first boyfriend. The barren wasteland of my sexuality had experienced its first drop of water; its first ray of sunlight; its first jolt of life. I had accepted my homosexuality or, more appropriately, my romantic feelings toward a person of the same sex. This was all so new. I was gay, yet it was so fresh a thing that I could not possibly be good at it. Bad was the only option for my twenty-two year old self.
While my dear friend intended the accusation as a joke, more or less (She followed up her statement by expressing her desire for the one gay friend that she finally had to be a “Jack,” not the “Will” that she associated me with), my insecurity around the “badness” of my own homosexuality vexed me deeply.
While I was (and am) no great playwright, essayist, actor, or illustrator, I had established the written, theatric, and graphic foundations for these skills years before. They were all a part of me that had been well-documented, well-explored; integral to my current self. I was intimate with them and them me. I understood them. In making my gayness public I was admitting a part of me rooted even deeper than the arts, biologically speaking, but one that I knew so little about…and it scared the shit out of me.
My boyfriend, this proto-partner of mine, had been in numerous romantic relationships before me. He’d kissed multiple men. He’d had sex multiple times. Had his heart broken. I was a gay virgin in a most whole and profound way. Educated in the Catholic manner, homosexuality was not a possible path for me. The only run-in I’d had with an openly gay person before college was a neighbor who died of AIDS when I was in grade school. Accepting myself was wrought with early onset fear and insecurity.
And then there’s The Struggle. You know about The Struggle, right? How many coming out stories involve such intense emotional, physical, and spiritual strain? Fathers beating sons whom they catch groping another male. Friends and family rejecting completely their offspring. My own boyfriend at the time was kicked out of his house and forced to sleep on a bench at the local train station for a couple days. Aside from my mother and I not speaking for four and a half months, I came out rather painlessly, every single friend and family intact. Sure there were dozens of awkward conversations (My grandfather blamed my “condition” on my male high school teachers who he’d convinced himself I’d been molested by). The boyfriend once told me, “You don’t truly know what it means to be gay because you haven’t really felt the hurt of it.” Those words haunt me to this day. I was doing it all wrong.
Thanks to him I lost my virginity, achieved my fair share of kisses, and experienced my very first heartbreak. All of these were great forward strides in my mucky march toward true successful gayhood. Though in the years that followed, two or three that included my transition from college to the so-called real world, I took a number of steps embarrassingly backwards. The pain from the heartache caused me to shy away from my romantic desires which is fine enough were they not so completely attached to my concept of my own homosexuality up into that point, that I buried much of that, too. I surrounded myself with friends that were exclusively straight. I even called myself bisexual which manifested itself in the physical world as a single awkward date with a single girl that ended the only way it could have…terribly. Whereas my original idea of myself as a “bad gay” was based mostly on ignorance, this latest definition was reactionary; a decided rejection of self. Twenty-five years old, living in New York, and utterly clueless.
The gays of New York City succeeded in making me feel even more behind the times; at least the ones that I focused on. I’d watch them walking speedily down the streets of Chelsea and Hell’s Kitchen, sculpted bodies, fitted clothing, hair styled to perfection, exuding a confidence that radiated off of them like a forcefield. I studied them intently, a creeper on a bench or standing at a corner. I was at once in admiration and awe at the amount of work they had to put into themselves to look the way they did. At the gym. At the store. In front of the mirror every morning. I would picture them at the club, glistening with sweat, grinding, pulsating with one another. They were made for it. Gods of the dancefloor. I even imagined their Struggle to trump my own by a thousand. Then my eye would inevitably turn inward. I’d see the loose fitting clothes, the little tummy, the gradually receding hairline, the hairiness, awkwardness, and at the time, loneliness. How could I ever dream to be this highest caliber of gay (honestly, that’s how I saw them)? It wasn’t so much that I didn’t love who I was. It was more that I despised who I wasn’t. I’m not used to envisioning anything as unachievable, but I felt like I could never be a part of the gay community having never once even given it a chance.
Today I’m not the idiot I had been. My OKCupid account lists me firmly as “Gay.” I came to the obvious conclusion that gay people came in all forms and flavors and currently make up much of my close group of friends. I’ve had a couple more boyfriends, a few more flings. I’ve marched in some pride parades. Volunteered with gay youth and hope to do a lot more. Granted, old concepts of being that “bad gay” persist: I’m weird about public signs of affection. I still hold those Chelsea boys up as a standard. I loathe myself for these things and still feel a twinge of not belonging, though not nearly to the degree that I had. I’ll often announce that I’ve never been bought a drink at a gay bar, packaging the statement as a joke but myself and all those around me would have to be deaf and blind to not see my unrest that fueled those words and others like it. This is my Struggle. Like so many other things in this tale, mine just came a little later.
Do I consider myself a bad gay these days? Honestly, there’s nothing to gain from negative thoughts such as those, the thoughts that crippled the development of my sexuality for years. I have grown and continue to grow. Thirty now, I think only of meeting the man of my dreams, getting married, and adopting children who will benefit from my Struggle as I struggle to ensure they are raised on the conclusions of self-acceptance I learned much later. I will hold my husband’s hand as we stroll down the streets, confident and content. I will continue to use my art to further assist the fight for equality through truth and understanding. I will embrace my all as I welcome others to embrace their own. Am I a bad gay? No, but I will spend the rest of my life becoming a better one.