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8 SIMPLE RULES FOR STRAIGHT YOUNG MEN
(OK, ACTUALLY 9)
You may run into them at school, at work, or in your neighborhood. Like it or not, chances are that at some point you’re going to learn that one or more of your friends, classmates, or acquaintances is gay. Being straight, you will likely have some misconceptions or misunderstandings about what it means when somebody in your social circles is gay, and that is why I am writing this essay — to help you understand what to do and what not to do, and to arm you with information that will help you see through uninformed, illogical fears.
There is one rule that I believe to be extremely important — far more important than the rest — so I’m going to lead off with it …
Rule #1. The word “gay” is NOT to be used as an adjective to describe things you dislike.
So many people violate this rule many times each day; for example, you hear people say things like, “That lame-ass party on Saturday was so gay.” The fact that you hear this use of the word “gay” all the time doesn’t mean it’s right. You don’t go around saying that things you don’t like are “Jewish” or “black” or any other class of people, so what makes you think it’s OK to denigrate gay people by making an improper use of the English language?
Many dictionaries provide three different definitions for the word “gay.” One of these is a noun, which refers directly to people who are gay; for example, the phrase “gays and lesbians” uses this meaning of the word. The other two meanings of the word are adjectives; one of these means “happy” or “fun,” as in the phrase “have a gay old time at the prom.” The other meaning is used to describe persons who are homosexual, or things that directly relate to people who are homosexual; the phrases “gay Americans,” “gay people,” “gay rights movement,” and “gay bars” contain examples of this use. Nowhere does the dictionary say that “gay” can be used pejoratively (that is, in a manner that belittles or disparages the thing to which it refers), or that it can be used as an adjective to describe anything other than persons who are homosexual.
When you use the word “gay” in that negative manner, whether you do it consciously or not, you are reinforcing the belief that there is something “wrong” with being gay — and by extension, causing people who are in fact gay to suffer even more self-hatred and social withdrawal. If a gay young man becomes so depressed from (over-)hearing your gay-negative comments that he takes his own life, his blood is on your hands — morally, you are just as responsible for his death as he is for actually having executed the plan to kill himself. You must realize that your words may have far more effect than you think, and avoid using the word “gay” to refer to things you don’t like.
A corollary to this rule applies to the word “faggot,” and its derivative form “fag.” Chances are you have heard somebody who isn’t popular called that epithet in the past, but again, just because somebody else has done it doesn’t make it right. Again, let’s go to the dictionary: the modern-day word “faggot” derives from the Middle French word fagot, which is a noun referring to a bundle of wooden sticks (particularly in an arrangement for burning, as in a bonfire). It is probably because of the fact that gay people were sometimes burned at the stake in medieval times that “faggot” came to acquire its derogatory meaning as an anti-gay slur (that is to say, fagots were what was being burned to execute gay people), but again, this is a case where the common (albeit inappropriate) usage is not a correct meaning of the word.
As I said a few paragraphs ago, what makes you think that it’s OK to call somebody you don’t like a “faggot”? You don’t go around calling people you don’t like “niggers” or “towel-heads” (unless you’re totally stupid and ignorant), because you know that it is wrong and anti-Christian to denigrate black people and people of Arabic descent — so why, then, do you do that to gay people? It is equally wrong and anti-Christian to denigrate gay people by using the word “faggot.” (In fact, it is equally wrong and anti-Christian to denigrate any minority group — racial, religious, sexual, or otherwise — by using anti-minority slurs in any demeaning, negative context, and if you’re wise, you’ll avoid doing that.)
Rule #2. Your gay acquaintances are not necessarily automatically interested in you just because they’re gay.
This should be pretty obvious. Think about the girls in your school (if you attend a co-ed school): you’re not interested in all of them, and not all of the girls are interested in you, right? Why would this be any different for gay boys? Of course, it is possible that a gay young man could be interested in you, but how is that any different from, say, a fat girl (assuming you don’t like fat girls) showing a strong interest in you? More to the point, why should you handle it any differently? This segues directly into …
Rule #3. If a gay acquaintance tells you that he thinks you are attractive/“hot”/etc., or says he’s interested in you, even sexually, there is no reason to be offended.
Think about it: your gay friend has just complimented you on being a good-looking, “sexy” young man, at least by his standards. Honestly, you really ought to be flattered by the fact that he thinks so highly of you in one way or another. Even if he admits to you that you are the object of his masturbation fantasies, there is no reason to be threatened by that — while I admit that is a bit too much information for most people, exactly how are you harmed by that? When you have sexual fantasies about some girl, she doesn’t suffer any harm from that, right? (Being male, you understand how often young men think about sex; the only difference between straight guys and gay guys is the gender of the people in their fantasies.)
At the same time, it is perfectly OK to calmly and politely say, “I appreciate that you feel that way about me, but I’m sorry, I’m straight and I’m not sexually interested in you.” It is best to be polite and friendly, yet still firm, about that fact; you never know, you just might end up with a really good platonic (non-sexual) friend who, by virtue of being gay, may very well understand women better than you do! Again, I have made a perfect segue into …
Rule #4. It is totally possible to have platonic (non-sexual) friendships with gay acquaintances.
This isn’t too hard to do. As long as you make it clear at the outset that sex is a boundary you’re not willing to cross, and he is able to accept that, nothing is different from your friendships with other straight young men, or with young women you’re not attracted to, for that matter. If you can have a friendship with a girl, particularly a straight one, in which sex is not a component of the relationship, why should it be any different in regards to befriending gay boys? There is a lot you can learn from gay guys, and that goes way beyond the stereotypical, Queer Eye for the Straight Guy type of stuff.
As an example, I have found that I, even as a very masculine-seeming gay man, have an easier time striking up “small talk” with women than several of my straight friends. I think this has to do with the fact that I don’t feel pressure to try to look good, and I’m not deathly afraid of making an ass of myself, like a straight guy probably would be. I’m better able to relax, not get nervous, and just be myself — traits that women like — because I’m not worrying about how to make her like me back. This is just one example of how befriending gay guys can have positive effects on your pursuit of the opposite sex.
You can partake in all the same activities with a gay acquaintance that you would with another straight guy. This may include, but is definitely not limited to, going to a movie with a group of friends, attending events like athletic contests at your school, or going out to dinner. You may find it a bit awkward to do some of these things if your “group” consists only of you and your gay friend — I understand that you may feel some discomfort, should other people assume that you are gay simply because you are with one other young man — so if that’s an issue, include your gay friend in a larger group of friends, and be sure to include him equally in your group’s activities. (This also holds true if he has a partner; to the same extent that you include other straight guys’ girlfriends in your plans, be sure to invite your gay friend’s partner along too.)
In fact, your inclusion of your gay friend in your plans may very well be critically important for his well-being. All too often, families of gay young men react very negatively when they learn that their son/brother is gay, and they quite possibly need your support, acceptance, and affirmation far more than you realize. Let him know that even though he may have lost his family (in terms of providing that emotional support and nurturing), he’s not about to lose you as well — you can do this by simply showing through your actions that he is just as important to you as anybody else.
Not only is it your gay friend’s well-being that could be at stake, it could easily be your own or that of your other straight friends. Homophobia and ostracism of gay youth at your school could end up being a motivating factor behind a murderous rampage — we already know that anti-gay taunting was one factor in the Columbine High School massacre in Colorado in 1999. Take whatever steps you can to combat homophobia, as well as ostracism or shunning of gay or lesbian students at your school; it could possibly save your life, or those of your friends.
Rule #5. No matter what you think about “gay” sex, your gay acquaintances are gay 24/7/365, not just when they’re messing around.
This is to say, being gay encompasses FAR more than simply having sex with another person of the same gender. Your gay acquaintances need not be talking or even thinking about sex to be gay — homosexuality is a full-time state of being, not a behavior. It is not merely an issue of what goes on in one’s bedroom; gay people have interests, hobbies, and activities all across the spectrum that may or may not be motivated by their sexual orientation, but have nothing at all to do with having sex itself. Some gay guys may be into fashion; others travel or geography; still others may be into cars; some others political activism; and yes, even sports can be a major interest of gay guys.
I will relate the story of a bisexual friend of mine, who I will call J, to illustrate that point. He had a friend in high school (who I will call M) to whom he was attracted, in addition to his primary attraction to women. When J finally worked up the courage to reveal that attraction to M (who was completely straight), M asked J a question to the effect of, “this doesn’t mean we can’t talk hockey or football anymore, right?” M’s primary concern was keeping their friendship going, not the sexual attraction J had toward him; when M got the answer back to his question, he learned that the two of them still had all the same common interests. The moral of the story is, nothing at all has to change in a friendship when one of the two comes out — unless the non-gay person wants to change or destroy the friendship for whatever reason.
Rule #6. Any “religious” objections you may have to homosexuality are not welcomed by gay people who have already heard them a million times. Keep them to yourself.
I am not trying to tell anybody that they cannot have whatever religious beliefs they desire; rather, I am reiterating the point that your beliefs are just that — your own, not anybody else’s — and are not to be applied to anybody else by force. If you are Christian, Luke 10:10-12 instructs you to leave any place where your beliefs are unwelcome, shaking its dust off your feet, and letting God handle the judgment of those who didn’t welcome you. (Besides, I have already shown the lies and inconsistencies in the “Christian” arguments about homosexuality in my essay “How to Out-Argue a Fundamentalist.”)
Furthermore, do you honestly think you’re going to be the first person to tell a gay friend the things you claim God “says” about them? Believe me, he/she has already heard it from a myriad of sources: perhaps they have parents or extended family who are less than supportive of gay people, or their minister or preacher has hammered the point ad nauseam, or they have overheard teachers and school administrators unthinkingly make cruel comments. Stop beating a dead horse, and keep your “religious” beliefs to yourself.
Rule #7. To the greatest extent you are comfortable, be courageous and take actions that show your unwavering care and concern for gay people and their full dignity and humanity.
Often times, gay teenagers feel as though they are unworthy to continue living; their parents or family may have rejected them, and they may have also been rejected by many or most of the friends they once had. Studies have shown that gay and lesbian teenagers are two times more likely than straight teenagers are to plan their own deaths, and three times more likely to actually attempt suicide. Deep inside, you know that it is wrong to condemn somebody to emotional despair or even death, but the fear of being labeled “gay” by a few ignorant peers may paralyze you from taking much-needed action.
You need to grow a set of gonads and take a courageous stand in support of your gay acquaintances, and show them that even when nobody else gives a damn about them, you still do. More accurately, your gay acquaintances may literally be dying for you to do so. As shown in Rules #2 and #3, doing this does not make you gay, nor does it mean you have to forgo friendships with other straight people. Yes, a few ignorant “friends” will probably condemn you for it, or try to label you as “gay,” but think about it: are people like that really the kind of friends you want to have?
Being supportive of your gay acquaintances also doesn’t mean you have to learn about or like certain sexual activities that you may think are “gay” in nature. (Besides, a lot of heterosexuals engage in the same activities anyway, though some won’t admit it.) At the same time, your gay acquaintance probably isn’t terribly interested in what you do in your car’s back seat with your girlfriend, so it isn’t appropriate for you to go on and on about that either. What you do with your girlfriend is no more right or wrong than what he may do with his boyfriend, as long as all other surrounding factors (such as consent, emotional intimacy, etc.) are equal. This is a topic that is best handled by discussing it with your gay acquaintance and forming a fair, mutual agreement about what sexual activities you are and aren’t willing to talk about.
Rule #8. Do not suggest in any way, even implicitly, that your gay acquaintances are choosing to be gay.
Sub-rule #8a. Even if you have difficulties associating with girls, being gay is not “an easy way out.”
The Muppets character Kermit the Frog once famously uttered, “It ain’t easy being green.” Your gay acquaintances are in much the same boat; it ain’t easy being gay. Not all people are as accepting of gay and lesbian people as I hope you are, and your gay acquaintance surely knows that. He may have parents or extended family who would disown him if they found out he was gay; he almost certainly fears one or more anti-gay bullies at your school; and he doesn’t have anywhere near the dating opportunities you have as a straight young man (simply because of the relative numbers of straight guys and gay guys). You may very well be seen as a “nerd” and have little to no luck with women, and you may very well feel that it is nearly impossible to please women despite your best efforts, but your gay friend is most certainly not taking the easier path by not courting women.
Sub-rule #8b. Nobody in their right mind would “choose” to be gay, given all of the prejudice, hatred, and even violence floating around society. Besides, when did you ever “choose” to be heterosexual?
Although this is largely a re-statement of what I have already written in another essay, “How to Out-Argue a Fundamentalist”, you know that choice is not a factor in the development of a person’s sexuality. One day, you just woke up and started to see girls in a whole different way; suddenly, you were interested in looking your best to try to catch some girl’s eye. You never chose to have that happen to you; it just happened naturally as your hormones started kicking in, and you had no control over it. (I would be willing to bet that this lack of control caused you great embarrassment on more than one occasion; for example, you may have had to speak in front of your class with a massive uncontrollable erection caused by some random thought about a girl.)
What makes you think that the process is any different for your gay acquaintances? It isn’t. The biological and bio-chemical processes that occur during puberty are the same in all males. There may be different levels of certain hormones flowing in the blood for gay teenagers — in fact, one recent long-term study suggests that gay men were exposed to very high levels of testosterone in their mother’s womb — and the reactions to certain scent hormones called “pheromones” trigger different sensory receptors in the brain in gay males, as another study has shown; but in the end, a gay teenager has as little control over what “turns him on” as you have.
(Here, people might try to fool you and say that gay men can “turn straight” by only having sex with women; however, this is a lie. A gay boy or man can get an erection, experience pleasure, and even ejaculate from fooling around with a girl or woman; however, this results from the design of the penis, not from a “change” to heterosexuality. That is to say, any source of warm, wet friction on the penis will cause a response up to and including orgasm. In the same way, you most certainly can experience great pleasure and ejaculate if you have any kind of sex with a boy, but again, this happens because that’s what your penis is supposed to do, not because you’re gay.)
Rule #9. Your gay acquaintances are just as capable of accomplishing all the things you can do, assuming similar levels of natural talent and applied effort.
In other words, a person’s natural talents for certain things — athletic pursuits, academic success, music/art/theatre, etc. — do not change because he/she is gay or lesbian. Sure, chances are you’ll find more “out” gay boys in performing arts, and fewer in athletics, but this is largely a function of how easy it is to be “out” in various contexts. (For example, a football player may fear being beaten by his teammates if he comes out to them.) However, it’s important not to lose sight of the fact that it’s entirely possible (even if you don’t know it, and/or he won’t admit it) that, say, your school’s quarterback might be gay. Assuming he possesses the proper natural talents (e.g., he is fast, he’s not just skin and bones, etc.) and he puts in the effort that is expected of him, he is just as capable as any straight young man would be.
As an example, I ran on my high school’s track and field team for four years, despite “knowing” (but not being able to admit) at the time that I was gay. The fact that I was attracted to guys had absolutely nothing to do with my performance on the track. I didn’t have much natural talent, but I worked my butt off and went above and beyond the level of effort that the coaches expected. The point is, I wouldn’t have been able to run any faster than 12.9 seconds in the 100-meter dash if I were straight. One of my teammates (who was straight) was particularly gifted; he could run the 100 in more like 11.2 seconds. Had he been gay, though, he still would have been able to run that fast. By the same token, I can name scores of straight men who are gifted with “perfect pitch” and/or an exceptional singing voice, and plenty of gay men who can’t act, can’t dance, and sound like nails on a chalkboard when they try to sing.
This list is far from exhaustive, but it should give you, as a straight young man, some understanding of the best things to do and say (or not do and not say) to/for/on behalf of young gay people you may know. While I will grant that I write from a male perspective, and therefore direct most of my advice at young men (since the male “mind-set” is what I best understand), all of these rules are equally applicable to any lesbian girls you might know (bearing in mind the obvious differences in anatomy, of course). It really ought not be too much to ask of you to treat your gay and lesbian fellow students (or neighbors, or whatever) with the same basic dignity, respect, and common decency that you would give anybody else, and to approach different types of people with an open mind free of prejudice. Finally, I highly recommend that you visit this page for more information and advice on what you should do around your gay and/or lesbian acquaintances.
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