A few days ago my friend Carl posted the following as his Facebook status update: "God, gay people are the worst!" Carl, a 21-year-old transplant from Nashville, is a friend of a friend, whom I was told to keep an eye on when he moved to New York. Seeing his status, the mama bear in me came out immediately, and I asked him via direct message, "What's the problem?" He told me that he was fed up with his gay friends in New York. That evening he had gone out with four gay friends, one of whom had left him to hook up, while the other three had gossiped about people who weren't there rather than enjoy each other's company, leaving Carl fed up. I chalked it up to age and told Carl that he was probably just in a bad mood, but he insisted that he was tired of the catty remarks, the bickering between friends and the behind-the-back tittle-tattle that consumed their Friday nights out. All this had prompted his anti-gay Facebook status, even though he himself is gay.
A few days later, a piece I had written for a magazine was released. It was a very tongue-in-cheek look at how straight people view gay sex. It was never intended to hurt anyone; however the reception that it received was lukewarm at best. People were angry at me, as if I were specifically targeting them by name and calling them out, when in reality I was attempting to break down stereotypes in a humorous way. Hours later, my Facebook fan page was flooded with nasty remarks regarding my piece. However, instead of criticizing what I had written, people told me that I'm "ugly," that I "look like a monkey" and that I "need a face lift." Low blows, but fortunately for me, after 30 years of being alive, things like that roll right off my back. However, I didn't understand what any of this had to do with my piece. Upon further inspection, I found that the people who had left those nasty remarks about my looks were all gay men who, coincidentally enough, didn't show their own faces on their Facebook profiles, just pictures of landscapes or their pets. I never feel the need to defend my work, nor do I engage in any type of back-and-forth with strangers who have nothing better to do with their time than criticize others under the veil of anonymity. However, it did make me think of Carl and his anti-gay Facebook status. While I have no proof of this, I am relatively sure that if a straight man dislikes something that another straight man has written, he's not going to comment on that man's looks. Gay people are really mean to each other sometimes.
One of the wonderful things about the world we live in is that homosexuality is becoming more and more accepted every day. What's more, Dan Savage's "It Gets Better" campaign has had incredible success. Mr. Savage and his allies continue telling LGBT youth that the anti-gay bullying and mistreatment that they often experience will end once they leave high school. However, bullying within the gay community is very rarely discussed. Having lived in New York for nearly 13 years, I've found that not much has changed for me as far as bullying goes. When you walk into a gay bar on any giving weekend, there are still bullies; they're just drinking cosmopolitans instead of juice boxes. They may look like you and like the same things that you like, but they're not necessarily your friend, and if you don't look or dress a certain way, there is a good chance that they're going to say something bad about you behind your back. Sometimes going out on the weekend really makes me wonder whether gay men are a gay man's worst enemy. Being bullied because of your sexual orientation is certainly wrong, but being bullied by the people who are supposed to be accepting of you is a total mindfuck. There's so much competition between gay men that sometimes it almost seems as though we're not a community banded together at all but a group of people in constant competition with each other for no good reason whatsoever.
When I moved to New York City in 2000, the social climate was a bit warmer. Being gay wasn't nearly as socially acceptable as it is nowadays and the bar and club scene was focused more on having fun and less on being seen. In fact, many people who frequented clubs at that time didn't want to be seen at all, because they didn't want anyone to know they were gay. What was wonderful about being gay at the turn of the century in New York was that you were still surrounded by the cavaliers who had paved the way for my peers and me to be able to go to gay establishments and not be harmed. These men had survived the '70s and '80s; they had lived through real oppression and the horrifying AIDS crisis, which saw many of their friends die for no reason and with little to no help. There was always a sense of camaraderie with them. Sure, they jabbed each other and made the occasional snarky remark, but for the most part, they were a loving group that welcomed me to the city with open arms.
Nowadays, when you walk into a gay bar on a Friday night, it's less open arms and smiles and more death stares and ugly comments. This generation of gay men, who may have been bullied in high school and who may have had a hard time coming out, still did not have it nearly as bad as their elders. It's almost as if we've forgotten the struggles that the generation before us had to deal with to make it easier for us today. Granted, things still aren't perfect. Why are we so mean to each other when we are supposed to be a community of people fighting for the same goals? It's not uncommon to be out and about and hear a group of gay men, all over the age of 21, say negative things about what someone is wearing or how he looks or gossip about their friend in the bathroom. What does that tell the poor gay kids in middle school and high school who are being bullied every day? That bullying simply takes a new form after they get their diploma? Moreover, how are we honoring the legacy of the courageous men and women who literally went to battle so that it would be legal and safe for us to go to a gay bar on a Saturday night? The gaps in the generations are so clearly drawn. I can't say that I've never said anything negative about someone, but I have been making a conscious effort not to. It's so much easier to be nice than it is to be a bitch, and it sets a much better example.
As I ponder Carl's Facebook argument and the words of the disgruntled readers who decided to call me "ugly" instead of simply saying that they didn't care for what I wrote, I ask myself again: Are gay men a gay man's worst enemy? Are we so busy judging others and gossiping that we can't see the bigger picture? Or, in caring about what others say about us or how they look at us, are we our worst enemy, in a sense? We can blame others for what they say, but how we react to it is solely up to us, so why let it get to us? There may be certain standards for how we are "supposed" to look and how we are "supposed" to dress, but we are a group of people who push boundaries and change the game, so why not dare to be different? We're different, but we are all human, and that is precisely the point that the generation before us was trying to make. We can't let what others say and do, whether it be in the hallowed halls of a high school or in the shadows of a crowded gay bar, affect how we think about ourselves. I think it's time that we all start thinking a little bit more highly of ourselves and our peers and say nicer things about others, so that we might set a better example for the younger generation of gays.