At this point in life, it almost sounds funny -- assuming that creativity, sharp dressing, or a love for the arts somehow meant that I was attracted to other men. These days it's pretty normal for a dude to be like this, right? Guys can be emotional. They can cry about things, they don't need to fix cars or watch football to be a man. Right? Talking with some of my peers has made me realize that some people have lived in a world like this their whole lives, a world that told them that their interests were a separate area from their sexuality. This is not the world I came from.
I grew up pretty blue collar. My parents owned a masonry company near Indianapolis in the predominantly white, business-minded, practical town of Noblesville, Indiana. Not exactly a place where artists thrived. The people I saw on a regular basis were generally part of the construction field- brick suppliers, concrete truck drivers, roofers, plumbers, landscapers, etc. It was a world where your ability to fix up your house, predict sports games, and strike a good business deal was how you measured your manhood. Then there was me, with my primary interests being photography, drawing, writing, gymnastics, handbells, literature, and drama. I didn't swear, I didn't drink, I barely ever dated, and that scared me. I felt a lot of pressure to conform to this image of manliness, but I never could. It threatened to destroy my self confidence and made me resent the skills I actually had. The worst part of this whole dilemma was that no single person was responsible. It was like an unspoken force that hung over everything, a pressure to avoid talking about certain things, a pressure to compete and prove myself.
Sometime around eighth grade, people started talking. I was an awkward adolescent (but weren't we all?) with zero confidence and absolutely no game with the ladies. Somebody somewhere asked somebody else if I was gay, and those people asked other people until finally they started confronting me. I was shocked. Since kindergarten I had been chasing after the attention of my female classmates, and not once had ever felt that way about any of the guys. I could have dismissed this rumor if it were an isolated incident, but it wasn't. I was asked by several more people over the next couple of years, and it really made me question myself. I started to wonder if I could somehow secretly be gay. Wouldn't I know if I was? I think what was confusing me was this stereotype I'd been raised with -- that to be homosexual was to hit on every member of my sex, to dress well and go to fashion shows, to cry easily and detest practical life. I saw way too much of myself represented in this stereotype, and it terrified me. I saw how gay people were gossiped about, insulted, and rejected in my world, and I felt that I would lose everything. Even worse, I didn't feel safe talking about it with anyone around me. I had some very close male friends that I used to do everything with. We always had sleepovers and were pretty affectionate guys. I feared losing their friendship or making them question me.
Now I realize just how unnecessary this whole thing was. It's taken actually getting close with some gay people in my own life to understand that they are just that: gay people. And, being people, they are a widely diverse group like any other. Their uniting factors are greatly overshadowed by their variety -- gay people can love or hate sports, fix cars or organize ballet, believe in God or dharma, or have any countless combination of attributes like anyone else. No matter your opinion on their sexuality, they will still be people with aspirations, needs, and quirks. Just like you.