A new Huffington Post article by Mark Brennan Rosenberg asks, “Are Gay Men a Gay Man’s Worst Enemy?” You can predict some of the talking points — we’re catty to each other; we’re cliquey at bars; we “bully” each other well out of high school — but let’s take a closer look at where this broad, in-itself-hurtful title statement comes from.
A few days ago my friend Carl posted the following as his Facebook status update: “God, gay people are the worst!” Carl, a 21-year-old transplant from Nashville, is a friend of a friend, whom I was told to keep an eye on when he moved to New York. Seeing his status, the mama bear in me came out immediately, and I asked him via direct message, “What’s the problem?” He told me that he was fed up with his gay friends in New York. That evening he had gone out with four gay friends, one of whom had left him to hook up, while the other three had gossiped about people who weren’t there rather than enjoy each other’s company, leaving Carl fed up. I chalked it up to age and told Carl that he was probably just in a bad mood, but he insisted that he was tired of the catty remarks, the bickering between friends and the behind-the-back tittle-tattle that consumed their Friday nights out. All this had prompted his anti-gay Facebook status, even though he himself is gay.
Speaking for myself, I might disregard a Facebook status written in such a meaningless, inflammatory way as “God, gay people are the worst!” I might think it was annoying or flat-out untrue, because I know lots of gay people and love a lot of them. They rank highly among my friends. And get this, I’m gay. To me, I am not the worst. Plus, if I’m mad at a group of friends, I try to center my anger around them as opposed to everyone who shares their sexual orientation. I can’t think of a time I went out with my three brothers, scoffed at how much they made fun of each other or cared about the Chicago Blackhawks or Kate Upton, and tweeted, “Ugh, straight people are the worst” expecting everyone to concur or agree or retweet or take me seriously.
Now, bickering among friends can be annoying, but do we really want to destroy all petty commentary among gay men? Because I like that petty commentary. I don’t think it’s terribly harmful, and better yet, it’s our petty commentary. Rosenberg goes on to add the following evidence:
“There’s so much competition between gay men that sometimes it almost seems as though we’re not a community banded together at all but a group of people in constant competition with each other for no good reason whatsoever.”
Now, is it possible that we’re in “constant competition” with each other because WE ARE A COMMUNITY? There should be gay in-fighting. It’s the natural fraternal flipside of our functional political solidarity. It’s going to get shallow sometimes, and that may be grating, but that probably doesn’t mean that every gay person hates every other gay person. In fact, that idea might be lazy, self-pitying nonsense. The issue of anonymous internet trolls is, of course, its own disease and problem, but the author goes on to assume that horrible gay internet monsters represent the bulk of us.
A few days later, a piece I had written for a magazine was released. It was a very tongue-in-cheek look at how straight people view gay sex. It was never intended to hurt anyone; however the reception that it received was lukewarm at best… Hours later, my Facebook fan page was flooded with nasty remarks regarding my piece. However, instead of criticizing what I had written, people told me that I’m “ugly,” that I “look like a monkey” and that I “need a face lift.” Upon further inspection, I found that the people who had left those nasty remarks about my looks were all gay men who, coincidentally enough, didn’t show their own faces on their Facebook profiles, just pictures of landscapes or their pets. I never feel the need to defend my work, nor do I engage in any type of back-and-forth with strangers who have nothing better to do with their time than criticize others under the veil of anonymity. However, it did make me think of Carl and his anti-gay Facebook status. While I have no proof of this, I am relatively sure that if a straight man dislikes something that another straight man has written, he’s not going to comment on that man’s looks. Gay people are really mean to each other sometimes.
That’s what it took to validate the claim of Carl’s Facebook status? Trolls? And this makes all gay men “the worst”? Is it possible that petty meanness isn’t as horrible as the kinds of attacks gay men often receive from straight men, including homophobic slurs and threats of anal rape from Alec Baldwin and non-celebrities too? I just don’t get the fatalistic shame of this. I understand wishing that many people were nicer, but I don’t understand making a blanket statement about all gay people as if we’re too self-absorbed to realize how horrible we really are.
Also, as my pal Guy Branum pointed out when I linked to this article on my Facebook, it’s strange to compare the diplomacy of homosexual male camaraderie to heterosexual male camaraderie. “There aren’t sides in gay world in the way there are in straight world,” he said. “We’re all each other’s friends, but we’re also all each other’s sexual objects, competition for sexual objects, etc. Our broeyness won’t be like heterosexual broeyness.” Why wouldn’t gay male relationships entail more bickering and boisterousness than heterosexual camaraderie? Our relationships are intrinsically more complex, and therefore, often shallower.
But my least favorite part of Rosenberg’s argument is this:
It’s not uncommon to be out and about and hear a group of gay men, all over the age of 21, say negative things about what someone is wearing or how he looks or gossip about their friend in the bathroom. What does that tell the poor gay kids in middle school and high school who are being bullied every day?
Yes, meanness is mean. People are often mean. But 1) “poor gay kids in middle school” aren’t hanging out in club bathrooms, or they shouldn’t be; 2) It may be asinine to mock someone’s attire behind their back, but I wouldn’t call that “bullying.” There is no intimidation factor to announcing in private that you think a windbreaker is stupid; 3) I hope what it actually “tells” poor gay kids is that grownups are people too, flawed and annoying sometimes — as opposed to the humorless, sad pixies this article is more comfortable with gay people being.
Everyone should be nicer. Or rather, we should be nicer if we’re going to be mean. But we should mostly be aware that nonviolent, bitchy in-fighting is a good and fraternal and unique thing. We have to handle the multiple layers of our camaraderie somehow. Hopefully the “meaner” elements of our relationships remain saucy more than seething.