When I came out to friends and family just weeks before moving to Montreal, most people were shocked. Despite their surprise, everyone was supportive, and I’m extremely fortunate for that. When first coming out, I felt that my gayness was just one part of me, but as I have developed and gained a greater understanding of myself as a gay man, I can’t help but feel that in many ways my sexuality does define me.
I’m sure not everyone feels the same way. Although there’s a strong part of me that wants people to know I’m gay – in large part because of my experiences with people not assuming my sexuality – at the same time I know that my sexuality isn’t relevant to every conversation I have, and shouldn’t be. Sexuality is obviously a personal issue for everyone, and what people project and feel like projecting will vary widely.
As someone who’s struggled with the never-ending process of coming out, and as someone who often defies gay stereotypes, there are still situations where people don’t, and aren’t, going to know that I’m gay. It seems most people have internalized common stereotypes of who is, seems, or should be queer; and who isn’t. This can make life difficult as a queer person, as it can be uncomfortable to figure out when, and how, to come out to people, or if you even should.
I’m constantly thinking about whether or not I seem gay – whether or not people I meet ‘pick up’ on my gayness.
“Because assumed straightness is such a thing, I feel like eventually it will come out that I am some sort of ‘other,’” said Concordia student Amy Collier, who identifies as queer. “I’m kind of forced to expose my sexuality in a way that straight people aren’t really forced to do and that makes me feel kind of vulnerable.”
I’m constantly thinking about whether or not I seem gay – whether or not people I meet ‘pick up’ on my gayness. What kind of vibes am I giving off? I make a conscious effort to cross my legs. Sometimes, I find ankle over knee more comfortable, but I know for the vibes I’m trying to give off, that just won’t cut it. I try to let my wrists hang, limp as can be. I try to dress well, never leave the house without applying copious amounts of hair gel, and exclusively have some sort of longer-on-the-top-shaved-sides haircut since most people I see with those cuts are queer as fuck.
Nevertheless, I know plenty of people, especially when we first meet, are going to assume I’m straight. I get nervous that a nice, (seemingly) straight girl in class might mistake my kindness for something more, and it’s happened before.
It’s good to know that I’m not the only one that feels anxious in these situations. “There’s this panic or worry I have when I meet guys that I’ll say or do something that will be seen as flirting or taken as an advance,” said Collier. “I’ll go along with it but it can be kind of uncomfortable and lead to some awkward situations.”
There are other situations where I know people are going to assume I’m straight too. When I go to play soccer – in the park when Montreal isn’t a frozen wasteland, or indoors in the winter – conceptions of who plays sports will mean that no one thinks I’m gay.
I’ve felt for a long time that my sexuality has a tough time coexisting with my interest in playing and watching sports. Despite the homophobic tendencies of sports culture, I enjoy soccer as an activity and as a form of exercise. Despite internal dilemmas, I continue to love the sport, yet I can’t help but remember one of my gay friend’s remarks upon moving into my apartment this summer; before we really knew each other, he saw the posters of soccer players hanging in my bedroom and assumed I was some kind of bro.
I’m still figuring out how badly I want people to know I’m gay, and how I’ll act and present myself in order to relate that.
For the most part, people won’t think I’m gay because I don’t possess certain traits people believe gays to possess. While many gay men I know have elements of a feminine twang to their voices, that’s something I don’t really have. Is it something I should work on? “My voice has definitely gotten gayer over the past few years,” said Angel, a McGill student and self-identified queer man. “And my vernacular has changed too.”
Come to think of it, my own vocabulary has definitely changed. I may not perpetuate the stereotype of the ‘gay lisp,’ but did I used to call things “cute” or “adorable” as much as I do now? Definitely not.
I realize that if I wanted to, it wouldn’t be that hard to make my sexuality more obvious, leaving less room for interpretation. Angel reminded me that gender is a process and performance. “When I first started painting my nails it was definitely a signal of my queerness,” she said. I myself have been tempted to paint my nails, but have only really considered it since quitting my job, where most people didn’t know I was gay. I could wear makeup, too; having dressed in drag a few times, I know that eyeliner makes me look damn hot.
For the most part, and especially among friends, I find that my sexuality is already understood. There are also situations where I know my gayness is much more likely to be assumed, especially when I’m with gay friends, at a gay bar, or in my History of Sexuality class, where for once straight boys are a minority.
I know sexuality isn’t relevant to all social interactions, but I can’t help but hate the common situation of crushing on some boy, only to find out he’s straight. Whether they’re a bit effeminate, dress really well, or give off ambiguous vibes, I’m often blinded by these adolescent-type crushes. Occupying a world in which sexuality and gender are increasingly fluid, I find no discernable difference between these hopeful crushes of mine, and seemingly-straight gay boys. So how am I supposed to identify those gay boys? Maybe I’m not. Maybe they love living in anonymity, not being identifiable or picked up on anyone’s ‘gaydar.’ And that’s totally fine. I’m still figuring out how badly I want people to know I’m gay, and how I’ll act and present myself in order to relate that. But given my statistical disadvantages in terms of the number of gay people out there, I can’t help but wish that there was just some way to know who’s gay and who’s not. I realize that’s far too much to ask, and a ridiculous request.
I’m not going to pretend my ‘gaydar’ can be sharpened, since there will always be plenty of gay boys who ‘seem straight’ and vice versa. I wish I could ask for gay vs. straight stereotypes to be thrown out the window, but that’s just not going to happen either. All I can do is own it, regardless of stereotypes, expectations, and people’s concepts of who seems or doesn’t seem queer.
White Noise is a column exploring what it means to identify as gay or queer in McGill and Montreal communities. Eric can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.