I‘m gay, or so they say. Others call me a faggot, a queer, a homosexual. Sometimes, I use these words to describe myself, too. I’m really fond of using faggot. I like the way it sounds. I like being a muscular, hairy, deep-voiced punk guy who doesn’t fit other people’s expectations of what a gay man’s supposed to be, and when a woman flirts with me or a guy tries to engage me in a conversation about ‘chicks,’ I growl a bit and say,
“Oh. sorry. I’m a faggot.”
Occasionally they’ll argue with me.
“No, you’re not!”
“That’s not funny, bro.”
Or whatever. This is often funny, sometimes not, especially when they try to convince me otherwise. It happened a lot more when I was younger, women grabbing my crotch or rubbing their breasts in my face, men assuring me that I just hadn’t met the right sort of woman. As I’ve gotten older and more aware of my power, I tolerate these reactions much less, but they still irritate me.
I enjoy messing with people’s perceptions of what a ‘gay’ person is supposed to be. We’re supposed to be flamboyant, or enjoy shopping, supposed to have fashion sense and like certain kinds of music. We’re supposed to shave certain places, live for the gym and spend lots of money on our homes. Or, alternatively, to be a complete failure at life, shoot meth into our anuses, have long strings of abusive relationships and die an early death from AIDS.
I fit none of those, of course. And certain aspects of my personality and presentation fit more the expectations of what a ‘straight’ man is. Because of this, I’ve been been accused of ‘internalised homophobia,’ failing to liberate myself from societal expectations of “heteronormative masculinity.” I don’t ‘fag out’ enough, my refusal to buy expensive clothes is a sign of self-hatred, or my utter cluelessness about pop-culture shows my disdain for other gays and thus myself.
Gay, you see, is an ‘identity,’ one I often fail to perform to the collective groupthink of the gay or straight ‘community.’
Queer is another identity which I adopt but don’t perform very well. I am too male-presenting, not non-binary enough, and too ‘exclusive’ in my choice of sexual partners to qualify for my queer card for some people. Yet at the same time, I don’t fit into what most consider middle-class white gay man behavior, so that’s another category where I’m often seen as an imposter.
Why call myself gay, then? Or queer? Or adopt the derogatory ‘faggot’ when describing myself?
Sometimes it’s to make up for my lack of conformity to social expectation. Not ‘coming across as gay’ gets me in awkward positions with both men and women. Because I don’t correctly ‘signal,’ it’s easier to get that out in the open before I have to explain it to a woman who’s propositioned me or a man who attempts to include me in discussions about his sexual activities:
Oh, Sorry…I’m a faggot.
Identifying as ‘gay’ gave me something else, though. It gave me a feeling of community. Because I have sex with men and not with women–and because men in America mostly have sex with women instead of men–being ‘gay’ made me feel like I was somehow in solidarity with all the other gays in the world. I liked to imagine I shared similar traits, feelings, experiences, emotions, sufferings, and joys with all these other people I’d never met.
Some gay men do share similar experiences that straight men and women don’t. Most straight men and women don’t have to scan their general vicinity before kissing someone they love in public. Most heterosexual couples don’t fear getting attacked or spat on while holding hands in the streets. That fear and alienation is definitely shared amongst many gay men, and also lesbians, and bisexual folks, and trans people. And because it’s common to all those groups, you imagine a sense of community, forged by pain and trauma and the need to feel not alone in the world.
This sense of community certainly helps you get through much of the alienation of society. Imagining that there are thousands and thousands of others who know what it’s like to fear and love as you do? That gives you the sense that there’s nothing actually wrong with what you’re doing. And in gay bars or queer spaces, as well as in cities and especially during Pride parades, that imagined community manifests for a few hours. Thousands of people ‘just like you’ celebrate how they’re not like like others, and you feel safe, full of hope, and most of all, not different from everyone else.
Such moments become a break from the relentless trauma of being not-like-the-others. They can be so welcoming, so comforting, and so relieving that you forget that the whole thing is imaginary. You also forget it’s a really tragic thing to have a ‘community’ founded on pain, suffering, and the sorts of people you prefer to have sex with.
As I mentioned, I actually have little in common with most gays, and the differences between us are sharpest when it comes to politics and economics (and music, but that’s another matter entirely). I don’t think anyone should register their sexual partnerships with the government (marriage), I don’t want to own a home on stolen indigenous land, I don’t want a government to protect me or punish people who hurt me.
Actually, I don’t want to identify by who I have sex with, either. My lovers are amazing and wonderful people, but what we do together doesn’t actually make me part of a community of people doing the same thing.
This hit me particularly last month. I had a first date with a really amazing guy (who’s now a lover who I like lots). We went for pho and then coffee and while he waited for his ride we made out on the sidewalk of a Florida strip mall. We both looked around us to make sure it was safe, but he had another reason to worry. He is Black, I am white. I was just a faggot; he’s a Black faggot, doubly fucked when it comes to both straights and gays.
In fact, there are many, many white gays who don’t have sex with Black men. Or if they do, they heavily racialize their sexual relationships (I recently learned “BBC” doesn’t just stand for the UK propaganda engine). Scroll through any dating app and you’ll see “I only like white guys. Sorry, just a preference.”
I have nothing in common with those men. Also, I refuse to be part of an imaginary community where their racism and exclusion is still included and something I’m supposed to be okay with because they’re gays like me.
Being ‘gay’ doesn’t accurately define me–it only describes something I do. It’s not something actually inherent to me, regardless of how much scientists and gay activists try to prove I have some gay gene that forces me to love men instead of women. Also, gay is an identity only useful in describing how I am different from others. Those others are the ‘majority,’ and I’m a minority. And gay is supposed to explain why I suffer more than others.
Worse, that sense of community? The idea I’ve got some kinship to others who love people of the same gender? It isn’t just imaginary. It’s an illusion that’s easily manipulated by the powerful. According to politicians, ideologues, advertisers, and the media, being gay is supposed to make me do stuff.
I’m supposed to furiously vote against one particular candidate in the American election and vote excitedly for another. It’s supposed to make me support foreign wars against Arabs and Muslims, elicit my support against both immigrants and conservatives, celebrate that the military will now accept me, and desire to buy certain things and hate certain others.
This pressure to conform to gayness, to an illusory community, doesn’t just come from the outside, but it gets repeated by other gays. Gays tell me I’m betraying gays by not voting, taking the side of people who want to kill me by not supporting the military, spitting in the face of all the gays who came before by not supporting marriage.
That identity built on shared suffering, one I once thought was liberating and included me in a vast community? It becomes a bludgeon that others use against me, to limit me, define me, and most of all control me.
Do I need to identify as gay? Not really. It does little for me at all, and it certainly doesn’t describe much else about me except who I have sex with. As an adjective, it gives me hints at what sort of bars I’m likely to be safe kissing another man in while drunk. And it’s useful to signal to others that I’m potentially sexually available. But all that can just as easily be accomplished without the shorthand of sexual identity and without the false myth of community.
There are other false myths of community that likewise do me no good, both those that have been used as protest and those created by the powerful. For instance, I’ve never identified as ‘polyamorous,’ even though all my relations would fit into that category. Why accept the idea that my way of loving needs a label? “American” also comes to mind pretty quickly. Nothing good has ever come of that one.
Even the stuff I believe doesn’t really describe me. I’m a Pagan, but not like lots of other Pagans. I’m a polytheist, but definitely nothing like some of them. And I’m a Marxist and an anarchist, but I’m not like lots of either of those categories either.
But where should I get my identity from, then?
I’m human–I possess the same skills of creation as everyone else on this planet. I can name myself, and change that name at will. I can decide who I am, and change my mind the next day or even the next minute. The need of other people to pin me down, label, box, and shelve me shouldn’t be my concern. And I don’t think I’ll let it be.
If I’m not part of an imagined community based on shared suffering though, where do I belong?
The earth cannot be owned, no gates can last forever. Nations and races are human illusions just like gender and sexuality, just names we came up with to exclude some and preference others. I can and do choose who I fight alongside, who I support and who I reject, who I hold close and who I push away.
But if you’re a boorish lout or a handsy drunk woman, I’m definitely gonna growl at you and say,
“Oh, sorry…I’m a faggot.”
Because the look of shock on your face will be pretty funny.
Rhyd’s the co-founder and managing editor of Gods&Radicals. He has sex with men, drinks lots of tea, and misses Europe a lot.
Also, he writes here and elsewhere.
Pagan Anarchism, as well as our other great publications, can be ordered here.