Most people think that the closet mentality is something that’s reserved for gay and bisexual men, a culturally-borne and self-imposed cell of torture that myself and so many others like me have, and still do, endure on a daily basis because we have been taught that to tell the truth of our sexuality, to live openly and freely, is sinful…an abomination…a shameful marking of disrespect to our manhood, our religions and our families.
For so long, things have seemed so black and white. Either you’re gay/bi and out or you’re gay/bi and closeted. But the older I get the more I’ve realized that the world isn’t so black and white. All of us are really living life in the grey, trying to make sense of a world that cannot be so easily defined and navigated by strict social constructs, schemas and laws regarding our identities.
To make my point very clear, what I mean to say is that we gay and bisexual men are not the only ones who suffer from the detrimental effects of homophobia, femiphobia, patriarchy and misogyny. If we gay and bisexual men are, at least at one point in our lives, trapped in the closet, then many straight men who are questioning their sexuality are also trapped in the armoire or locker right beside us.
In our society, most of us believe in the one drop rule of sexuality when it comes to men; if you ever kiss or sleep with another man, hell, if you even admit to thinking that another man is attractive, then you are automatically and permanently gay. Period. Point. Blank.
But what about those men who are genuinely attracted to women, but who are unable to find a safe space in this world to explore even the question of whether they may like men as well.
Yes, yes I know many would say that those men are just closeted gays or men on the down low or just bisexual. But…what if we’re wrong about the one drop rule of sexuality…and there really are straight men who, yes, have questioned their sexuality or even experimented with men, but still feel in their hearts that they are straight?
In my 27 years of life, I’ve come across a number of men who are like this. The world of sexuality broke down to the fact that I was a weird, peculiar, flamingly fabulous queen with a vicious walk that could bring even Tyra to her knees. And I wasn’t even at a quarter power in high school. But because of that sliver of gender individuality, most closeted gay men avoided me like the plague because being my friend would raise questions about their hazy sexuality.
But when I entered college and grew comfortable in my skin, at full power, what used to repel men who were either ashamed of their sexuality or questioning it seemed to become the thing that made them gravitate to me.
The first time I had an inkling of awareness that sexuality went beyond the strict rules of gay, straight, bi was in my early years of college. I came across a straight black guy who I didn’t expect at all to befriend, because he was straight, but we seemed to gravitate to each other like the push and pull of the moon to the waves.
We became fast friends and we begin investing pieces of ourselves between each other. Similar stories of loneliness, self-doubt, heartbreak and worthlessness were shared. And yet many laughs were also shared as we fostered a friendship built around a level of intimacy that I had never had with a straight man before. Playful sexual jokes were okay. Warm touches were okay. Warm smiles were okay. Warm words were okay. Many of the things that I believed were out of bounds when it came to having a friendship with a man were now all within my grasp.
We shared our philosophies on love and I opened up to him about my love life, my crushes, my boyfriend, my culture as a gay man. And he opened up to me about his love life and his never-ending crushes on the women he came across in class.
We truly were friends…with what I believe was a bit of a sexual attraction to each other.
Within that intimacy that we shared was also a question, a warm question that we both felt. What if this goes beyond plutonic intimacy and friendship? What if his sexuality stretched beyond the women he would tell me about? What if his sexuality included men as well. I already knew I was an anomaly and I knew our friendship was odd, but what if he was an anomaly too? What if he was gay just like me? What if he wanted me the way I eventually wanted him?
In my mind, I felt certain about the answer to some of those questions, but…*insert long pregnant pause*…those questions were never answered by him, and like most friendships in college, our changed with the passing of the semesters. What was once a constant in my day to day life for that brief moment in time eventually became a once in a blue moon kind of thing. I ended up with other men and he ended up with other women.
But I soon discovered that he was just the prototype and for the next several years, I would come across a few other straight men who gave me that same energy, that same feeling of an anomaly.
Eventually, I came across someone else who understood the ways in which society kept him from having intimate friendships with men. Someone who understood that gender policing from the outside world boxed them into a role that required them to avoid full on hugs with men, muzzle them from complimenting a man on his looks, silence themselves whenever they felt the urge to tell another man that they genuinely loved them and say things like “no homo” whenever such rules were broken.
And yet there we were breaking the rules. Except this time there was no mutual sexual attraction, there were no romantic feelings, we were just bonded in an intimate way. And although with most men I could say that breaking the rules meant they were secretly gay or bisexual, with him I just could not do that. I truly felt like I came across a man who had explored his boundaries, pushed the limits and, yes, experimented with men, but really came to the conclusion that he was still straight.
For the first time, I was forced to really think about what it is to define someone versus what it is to allow someone to discover and define their self. And I just could not bring myself to, once again, push my own beliefs on his identity and tell him that he was gay or bi just because that one drop rule seemed to fit so easily in society’s eyes. All I could see was a man who came to an unpopular conclusion about himself and I felt compelled to accept it as is.
Most recently, I found myself in a, ahem, sexual situation with a man and after our encounter, he asked me, “Do I seem gay?” And I responded bluntly with, “Yeah, you do. I mean, no you’re not flaming, but considering what we just did, I’d say that’s pretty gay.” Of course, those weren’t the words he was expecting, nor did they sit well with him and his feelings were obviously hurt.
He explained to me that he wasn’t sure what he was, but that he didn’t want to be gay because he did not want to disappoint his family. I tried desperately to backpedal and explain to him that he shouldn’t sacrifice his own happiness just to please others and that he should do whatever he likes and define himself how he sees fit, not how I or anyone else wants to define him.
However, he thanked me for being cool, told me he was depressed by the conversation and promptly ended our encounter. And I felt like a complete failure for not knowing the right words and not being able to help him to see that he has the freedom to define himself however he wants.
But fate has a way of making things come full circle and not long after, a friend of mine came to me and explained that he was questioning his sexuality. I listened to him as he explained that he wanted to change his life and view his world through open eyes and open arms that were willing to embrace life full on. I listened as he bravely explained that he’d never been with and honestly loved women, but wondered what it would be like to be physically intimate with a man or if he could even fall in love with one.
Honestly, after getting over my initial shock, I simply did what I thought was best and told him what I wish I could tell so many other straight men in his shoes.
I explained that if he has questions about his sexuality, then he has every right and every bit of freedom to go out and find his own answer. I told him that there really aren’t any rules to sexuality. There’s no law that says a straight man can never find another man attractive, just like there’s no law that says that I, a gay man, can never find a woman attractive.
And then I told him to go fuck a man.
The truth is that I can think whatever I want about him, but neither I nor anyone else in this world can define him. We are whatever we allow ourselves to be. We are who we believe ourselves to be. And only he can define that for himself….and I want to be open to whatever definition of himself that he discovers.
I wish the rest of the world was open to greater ideas of sexuality and identity, but until then, the message I shared with my friend is the same message that I want to share with all straight men who are questioning their sexuality.
Do whatever the fuck you want to do and define yourself. And if you’re a friend of mine, you have my undying support and I’ll do whatever I can to be a safe space for you to express those thoughts and feelings.
*And yes I did protect the identities of the people whose stories I told. Duh!
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