In The Carpenters 1971 classic, they sing all about these self destructive relationships. Karen and Richard tell us about how no one can be closer than us – “closer than the letters A and B are.” Our community is the same way. It seems like we should all recognize that we are brothers and sisters in the same fight, and yet we don’t always view it like that. Our community is symbolically displayed as a rainbow – a celebration of the many facets that make up our community. In actuality, though it seems like a much more fractured picture.
Visit any gay bar or event and you will hear the judgements start to fly almost immediately. Why is he here? He’s too twink! He’s too bear! He’s too much of a queen! He’s too butch! We hear men berated for being bottoms and tops – like your preference for sexual position was any more of a choice than your sexual identity. Men are criticized for being too old to be “in the scene” – as if gay had an expiration date. We’re criticized for waist sizes that are both too small and too large. We’re not hairy enough for one man’s preference, and we’re too hirsute for another. We are segregated by our HIV statuses and every other credential that people can think to use as a weapon. One need only look at any personals ad to see the mindset of our community – NO FATS! NO FEMS! No fair!
The Carpenters sang about “hurting each other without ever knowing why”. We, however, know why. We hurt each other to make ourselves feel better. Our denial of other men’s sexuality and desirability is meant to affirm ourselves. By telling other men in our community that they are not butch enough or thin enough, we momentarily seek to convince ourselves that we have risen above the homophobia that’s been fed to us all of our lives. We are not the sissy that our Dad said we are. We are not the kid who was bullied in PE. We are not the guy who insecurely waits at the bar hoping to be noticed.
No, we are not those men. Instead, we are the men who perpetuate those stereotypes. We will never be accepted by “mainstream” culture (whatever that may be) until we can accept and love ourselves. We will never find unity until we can realize that an attack on any of us is an attack on all of us. We will never find love, until we stop “hurting each other.” Just like Karen and Richard Carpenter sang, we “gotta stop hurting each other, making each other cry, breaking each other’s hearts, tearing each apart.”
Is it too optimistic to think that we as a society can move past our own insecurities to form a more “beloved” community? I think that we make that shift with small steps. We encourage each other and support each other in our efforts to build the community we’d like to see. Why not try to see past our own boundaries? Visit a gay bar you don’t typically frequent, or one that you think isn’t really “your scene.” Challenge yourself to stop seeing people as classifications (bears, twinks, tops, bottoms, poz, neg, etc.) and force yourself to view them for what they really are – PEOPLE. Lastly, I encourage you to get more involved in our community. Attend events like AID Atlanta’s monthly outreaches at bars and clubs, or our discussion groups. In doing so, I guarantee that you will see those walls you’ve built begin to fall. Your involvement will allow you to see the similarities we all share, and maybe expand your heart and mind to include a larger and broader definition of what it is to be gay in Atlanta. Maybe then we can finally stop hurting each other.
Steven Igarashi is the Gay Men’s Outreach Program Coordinator for AID Atlanta. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.