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Josh Hersh Headshot

This Community Is Ours -- Let's Own It!

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At what moment did gay men throw up their hands and say, "This isn't my community anymore! I'm stepping away. Moving away. I don't belong here anymore"? I ask because I hear that often. For one reason or another, many gay men feel like they've been pushed out of their own community. But by whom? Who has all of this power to decide who's in and who's out? Or a better question might be: Whom did we give this power to?

How strongly you feel connected to and identify with a specific community is totally up to you and no one else. There's no one holding a gun to your head, saying you are no longer welcome. That's a story we build in our minds based on the experiences we've had. Maybe you were at a gay bar and someone hurled ignorant comments toward you. Perhaps a group of gay men looked at you in a way that made you feel "less than." Maybe someone even said to you, "You are not welcome." Or maybe it was a disgusting remark about your ethnicity, weight, or faith. But regardless of what form the negative experience came in, each of us gets to decide what we do with those moments. Each of us gets to decide how much power we give other gay men, and other people in general, for that matter.

Take those experiences and really home in on what happened: An unenlightened, clearly hurt person sent their pain in your direction. I was a recipient of their pain. You were a recipient of their pain. If we're honest, others have been the recipient of our own pain. However -- and this is a big "however" -- today, choose to let that experience go. Let that moment go. Stop carrying around this feeling or feeding a story that you don't belong in this community. There are no gatekeepers or boards of advisors in the gay community, deciding who's fit to be here and who isn't. Much of it is in our heads. We give our power away and choose isolation and distance instead of love and connection. We wait for the day when things are just right. But honestly, how long will you wait before you'll step into love, community, and connection?

I'm not saying our experiences of getting hurt aren't valid. They are. I know friends who have personally been on the receiving end of some nasty words from other gay men. Many of us have been there at one point or another. But decide, today, what kind of victim you'll be: a victim in that moment, or a victim for your lifetime? The former you can't choose, but the latter you can. What I'm encouraging and hoping for is that gay men everywhere will take back their own power.

Carve out your own place in the gay community and invite others in. Do it joyfully, with gusto! Define who you are, what you stand for, and how you'll treat other people, regardless of how they treat you. Stop saying, "I'll join when...," or, "I'll be a part of the community when...," because your own loving presence will help make the "when" come about! Draw a line in the stand. When you are a beacon and advocate for love, others will notice. I'm not saying you won't get hurt in the process. When we open ourselves up, we open ourselves up to pain, as well as to insanely rich love. But it's worth it. This is the human experience: to be known fully for who we are and loved in the midst of people seeing the real us.

I know you have the courage to carve out, shape, and create the kind of community you desire with other gay men. Guys are doing it every day. It takes risk. It takes hope. It takes letting go of the past experiences that are often holding us back. Don't wait for the stars to align, for the media to change, or for laws to be enacted. It is up to each of us, as individual gay men, to write a new story, a story where you are included, a story where I'm included, a story where the community keeps growing, learning, and including every soul who hears the call of love.

From Stonewall to today, there's so much history to recognize and be part of. You may not respect or even like the community you see today, but the longer you stand by or turn your back, the further it will move from what you desire it to be.

This community is yours. It's ours. Let's own it in all its imperfections.