Last friday, while scrolling through some articles on Gawker.com, my eyes fell on the following attention-grabbing headline: "The Secrets Gay Men Don't Want Straight People to Know."
I immediately felt a knot in my stomach. Not only did I, as a young gay man, not have any secrets I didn't want straight people to know, but I couldn't imagine a single way the article following the headline could benefit gay men. Unsurprisingly, as I read the article, I was proven right. The knot in my stomach quickly turned to anger. In the piece, Brian Moylan presents a list of supposed secrets straight people don't know about gay men. Among them: "Not all gay couples are monogamous," "Poppers are awesome," and my personal favorite, "We can have sex anywhere at anytime." While obviously meant as a comical piece, it felt more like a sad reconfirmation of how the media sees gay people relative to straight people, and how gay people are perceived in general.
Although the visibility of gay people in society has increased in the last few years, the way we are treated hasn't improved that much. Being gay is still perceived as being different. Whether this difference is seen as as good or bad depends on the person who's making the judgement, but the main consensus seems to be that there is a difference -- one that reaches beyond a same-sex attraction. This perception is reflected in the relationship gay people have with straight people in the media. I'll admit, it's thrilling to see that every other TV show these days has a gay character at one point or another in its run, but wouldn't it be nicer if these characters weren't just there to make a statement about gay people being different?
Take Glee's Kurt, for instance. He flamboyantly flaunts his uniqueness as he makes his way through high school, fending off bullies left and right, even snatching up a boyfriend in the process. Everybody loves him because he's not afraid to be himself or be different. But when he displays despicable behavior totally unrelated to his sexuality, he's given a green pass because, you know, he's gay. For example, when, in an invasive, stalker-like, predatory style, he throws himself at Finn, a straight jock, he gets rejected, for obvious reasons. In an instant Finn is made out to be a homophobe, which he's not, and we are supposed to hate him and feel sympathetic for poor little Kurt, who's heartbroken. In this moment Kurt and Finn are put up against each other. The gay-straight opposition is brought to life on our TV screens.
On the other end of the spectrum, there's Max, the filthy, lazy "bro" whom you'd probably find at Rosalita's, the bar and main hang-out spot of the gang in Happy Endings. Stripping him of any gay identity aside from the fact that he has a soft spot for firemen, the writers deem it necessary to remind the viewers every two minutes that, oh, yeah, he may "act" like a typical straight dude, but he's gay, y'all. Get it?!
Although these characters seem to have nothing in common with each other, they're both statements. Statements about gay people. They don't reach beyond that. They're just gay to make a point -- a point that's not always clear, I might add. I long to see the day when TV shows have gay characters who are leading regular lives that don't center around their sexuality, the word gay isn't muttered every two minutes, and the sexuality of said gay characters is not a crutch for the writers to lean on but just a simple fact.
Maybe I feel this way because I'm in my early 20s, being a child of the late '80s, bordering on the '90s. I grew up in a society where people weren't afraid to use the word "gay" anymore, a society that was far from fully accepting of homosexuality but where people were at least accepting of the fact that there existed something like homosexuality. Every kid in school had an openly gay uncle or lesbian aunt somewhere, or at least they knew someone who had one. By the time we were born, being gay had already been taken out of the dark, seedy corners of the gay bar and thrust into mainstream society. The fight for basic openness had already been won.
This probably explains why, after coming out in my late teens, I didn't feel the need to hide away in my own community, far away from the heteronormative world that, a few decades prior, would have rejected me. The friends I collected understood me and realised that I wasn't me because I was gay, that being gay was just a small part of me that influenced my behavior and interests sometimes (let's just say that if Brokeback Mountain had been about two straight cowboys, I wouldn't have been so eager to see it) but didn't and doesn't define me, as cheesy as that may sound.
That doesn't mean I don't believe in the power of the gay community. In fact, a world without gay bars is a world I wouldn't want to live in. I just think we need to start breaking down the imaginary walls we've put up around ourselves. It's time to move on and stop seeing ourselves as miles different from others, from straight people. It's time to realise that we're all people, not just gays and straights. We're all humans with different interests and likes, and it's time we celebrated that instead of immediately turning it into an opposition between gay and straight people. Just like there are gay people who are not into monogamy, there are straight people who are not into monogamy. Just like there are gay people who are into anonymous sex (or not), there are straight people who are into anonymous sex (or not). And so on and so forth.
If we're really going to stand up and fight for equality, isn't it time we started viewing ourselves as equal instead of separate? Instead of different? If we're going to tell kids it gets better, isn't it our duty to constantly put our efforts toward making it better? I hope that next time, Mr. Moylan will consider all of this before he decides to write another generalising article like "The Secrets Gay Men Don't Want Straight People to Know." I, for one, am already looking forward to "The Secrets Some People Don't Want Other People to Know."