The other day, I came across a link to an essay on the website Thought Catalog, written by Luis Pabon, entitled “Why I No Longer Want to Be Gay.” I read the essay, paused, and decided it struck enough chords in me to warrant a reaction. At first, I was just going to add my thoughts to the string of comments under the essay and be done with it. I held back, though, and mulled it over again. I re-read the essay again this morning, and decided to respond in a different way, and in a different format. Reading his essay like a personal letter directly to me, I have written a personal response to the narrator in reaction to the emotions that the essay elicited in me.
Thank you for sharing these sentiments with me. I wanted to take the actual time to write a solid response. You deserve this. The art of letter-writing has also gone the way of the dodo bird, and I remain a staunch champion in its revival.
I want to start by saying that I agree with most of what you’ve said. Throughout your letter, though, all I could feel was anger, resentment, confusion, and a deep sense of loss. It saddened me to read, but you hit many salient points. There is something missing, something perhaps broken, in our community at large. I suppose the reason for my reply is to find a way to bridge my self to where your mental state is resident at this moment and to speak to this missing piece.
Though I am not single now, and haven’t been in nearly a year, it was not long ago when I stood squarely in your shoes. I found myself addicted to the online dating apps placed prominently on the home page of my phone. I found myself responding, without thought, to the buzz of a notification, a message, someone noticing me. It sent a warm, pleasant feeling through my body, and for an instant, it made me feel wanted, desired, or even that there might be hope that I could finally interact with someone of value, who would enhance my experience of life here in Portland. Every time my phone went off, I involuntarily smiled. It was the drip of some biological chemical inside me that would send me into a warmer, kinder mental space, where I saw myself as someone who belonged, someone who was not being shunned or shut out. Being wanted, and belonging to a community larger than the self is truly a basic human need. We are not built to be solo operators. We require social interaction on a very basic, biological level.
Like you, though, I found that the more I used those apps, the more vapid and shallow the experience became. For every positive interaction I had, there were five, ten, maybe more, who simply wanted a quick sexual encounter, or who’s own sense of depression and isolation only increased their desperation for validation, and thus put me on the defensive. I’ve had enough emotional vampires in my life, and I certainly didn’t have any room for any more. I, like you, had discovered the wide swath of men who are also feeling lost and shut out of a world in which they didn’t feel they’d belonged. The longer I remained attached to those apps, sadly, the more callous I found myself becoming towards the act of dating. Instead of being able to have an immersive communication experience, the tone and quality of actually chatting was gone. In person, when I was able to actually land a coffee date, even that experience was typically stilted and awkward. That magical leap from the virtual to reality was at the crux of the problems I had with the men who were interested in me, and with the men I was interested in. Somehow, possibly, I’d mis-stepped, or possibly mis-sold myself to this other guy, holding back details from my visible profile that may have been influential in his decision to meet me. I was never sure. More often than not, those dates turned into “I’ll call you” never, or just a hook up that was never followed up by anything more than a possible next booty call.
Somewhere along the way, though, I had a true moment of revelation. Though I still remained on those apps until shortly after meeting my current partner, about six months prior to meeting him, it all changed. Instead of just sharing photos of my body parts blindly, I started saying the word ‘no’ more often. Instead of hiding myself behind my profile, or holding back what I’d say in our quick text interactions, I started standing my ground, and being a bit more assertive. In my actual life, I found myself focusing on my issues, my sense of detachment and disempowerment. I actively worked on toning down my desperation to belong, and rather, I shifted some of that energy into improving the person that I was. Exercise, writing, finding a path forward in my life that was productive and positive and personally gratifying (and that didn’t require the mass approval of any gay clique or group) all gave me a sense of self-esteem and confidence that slowly and over time replaced the instant gratification that the sly nod at the bars, or the buzz in my pocket, gave me.
There have been some influential men in my life who I have met on those apps, it must be said. In fact, my current partner and I met on one of the apps, and our first meet-up was only to be a quick hook-up on a lazy Saturday afternoon before he went to work. It wasn’t fretted over. It wasn’t difficult. The difference, as far as I can tell, between that quick and lovely experience with him, and the others that I’d had in the past, was that by the time I’d interacted with him on the app, I’d stopped lying about who I actually was and what I actually wanted. The man who was to become my adventure buddy, love interest, and partner-in-crime had a better idea of who I was than any other man whom I’d attempted to connect with before. This was an active, engaged choice on my part because I had done the work to improve and define for myself who I am, and who I want to be.
This leads me back to your letter, back to your feeling of rejection and loneliness within the current gay community. I can very much appreciate your lamentation about how gay men interact, and how we treat each other in our circles. We can be as catty, nasty, arrogant, and judgmental as you can imagine. We gave the world the term “shade” and have mastered the art of deprecation of self for any number of reasons. We are collective experts of hatred, which stems from years and years and years of being told how less-than we are as compared to “normal” heterosexual cis-gendered people. What we are never taught, however, is how to stop feeding into this monster, this darkness, that you very eloquently illustrate in your letter. We aren’t taught as men, gay or straight, to ask for guidance, to be vulnerable, and to be an active learner.
This activity – development of self – is precisely what I feel you are missing. You have been seeking validation from a community that is already constantly seeking validation from the larger society around them. Instead, I challenge you to turn that energy inwardly, if only slightly. If you are seeking love, love yourself in a way that brings you satisfaction. It’s not going to be easy, and it’s never going to end. I still struggle with my own identity, my total self, and this, as I’ve learned, is the actual act of living. Instead of seeking to be part of a community you feel you don’t fit into, be the change you’d like to see in those who’ve hurt you. I promise, you’ll attract like-minded individuals, and before you know it, you’ll find you’ve got a healthy, supportive, loving community that you can rely on for years to come – even if that community is a group of one, of yourself.
Yours Among The Herd,