Unrequited Love: Gay Crushes on Straight Male Friends

men friendsToday, Gentle Reader, I am asking you to travel back in time with me. I would like to discuss elementary school, specifically my year in fourth grade. So long ago, but so influential in who I was to become…

In fourth grade, when I was only 9 and 10 years old, my best friend’s name was Bruno. Bruno was Italian, handsome, confident and popular. For that entire year, I walked home from school with him every day. We spent a lot of time together, and in the social structure of 9-year olds, this meant that we became best friends.

Bruno was not just a guy I played tag with after school. Bruno was the person who introduced me to comic books, one of my passions to this day. He was obsessed with Superman. He had an entire closet stacked full of comics. He introduced me to the R.L. Stine children’s book series Goosebumps (which to this day were some of my most exciting reads ever). In many ways, he was responsible for my falling in love with story telling and character development. But more than that, Bruno was as fascinated with magical possibilities and dreams coming true as I was. We were young, innocent and full of hope.

Up until that point in my life, Bruno was the coolest kid I had ever known. He was my first real best friend. And at the time, I didn’t understand it, but he was my first major crush.

All these years later, I still remember how he stood. I remember his posture. I remember how his shirts hung off his body. I remember the gold Italian horn he always wore so proudly around his neck. I remember the part in his hair and the small scar on his forehead from an out of control chickenpox when he was a toddler. I can still see his smile. I can still remember how he made me feel.

italian hornBruno moved away shortly after fourth grade ended, and I was sad. But he left an impression on my life so impactful, that I’m writing about him today on this blog.

In my friendship with Bruno, without my even realizing it, I had begun a pattern very common among gay men growing up in a straight world. A straight world where we are literally not taught that gay crushes exist. The only crushes that exist are between little boys and little girls. So, since we are literally developing our social skills and learning about peer interaction at these young ages, we may misinterpret a crush for a same sex friend to be what strong, heterosexual friendship feels like.

At 9 years old I personally didn’t understand what sexuality was, let alone that I had developed a crush on my friend. In my world at the age of 9, growing up in western Pennsylvania in the 1990’s, gay people did not exist in my scope of view. I had no idea that men even loved other men sometimes. So, I interpreted my feelings towards Bruno as society told me to. He was my buddy. He was someone I played video games with, wrestled around with and who slept over my house on weekends.

At that young age I was taught that these crush feelings, butterflies in your stomach and all, were how all guys feel towards their guy friends. I came to think that the urges, longings and feelings, which I barely understood, were common in platonic male/male friendships. Of course this was false, and Bruno, being straight, did not place the same emphasis on his friendship with me that I did on my crush towards him. He had as little an idea as I did about what was going on between us. He thought I was just his friend. The same as all the other guy friends he ran around with.

dougBruno was the first time I felt that torturous feeling in my gut. That feeling which comes from caring more about hanging out with someone and spending time with them, than they do about spending time with you. It confused me as to why Bruno didn’t feel compelled to spend every waking moment with me. Why did he not feel this internal urge pulling him towards me like I felt it pulling me towards him? And since I began thinking this was how friendship always felt, I blindly fell into this tortuous, confusing and frustrating pattern with every straight, guy friend who I eventually developed an unknown crush on. I continued this awful habit the entire way through college until I finally figured out that I was gay.

I am not lying to you when I say that I did not consciously realize until my sophomore year of college that the huge crush I had developed on my then best friend and roommate was contributing to us fighting all the time. Call me naïve or just delusional, but it wasn’t until I started to observe how he acted towards girls, how he became obsessed with them and always wanted to spend time with them, that a huge rainbow colored light bulb went off over my head. Suddenly it occurred to me why everything always felt so tortured and wrong. I realized why I always felt like I was banging my head against the wall while feeling so unloved and unappreciated. I was in the self-defeating pattern of loving men who could not love me back in the same way.

I now know that I am not the only person who has ever suffered from unrequited love with unavailable, heterosexual male friends. In fact, it is very common, in the predominately straight society in which we are all raised, for gay men and women to not even realize this is happening to them. Especially when we are children and teenagers.

ernie-bert-tomtomIf I had understood what I was feeling at a much younger age, do I think I would have come out of the closet earlier? Absolutely. If I had understood why Bruno was so important to me as I was developing, I could have dealt with all of this sooner and realized that there was nothing wrong with me so much earlier.

You hear opponents of LGBT rights saying they feel it is detrimental and abusive to speak with children about the existence of gay people. They feel that this knowledge will confuse their young minds. I ask you, after reading my story, would realizing that gay people existed have helped make me less confused? I think so. Another ridiculous argument is that making children aware that gay people exist, will make them gay. Completely Absurd. I didn’t know that gay people existed and I still turned out gay. Knowing that straight people exist certainly didn’t make me straight.

Knowledge can only help children to be more informed about the world they live in. So if one day they look around and realize that they do not fit into the small, cookie cutter, societal norms that surround them, they are not filled with fear but with a feeling of possibility and liberation. Romantic crushes happen to us all. It is a part of growing up. I’m just glad I finally realize that my forth grade crush on Bruno was just as meaningful and important as the crushes that every straight, little boy in my elementary school was feeling. I hope one day all LGBTQ children feel just as validated immediately, right from the start, from the first moment they notice the way that handsome boy stands, with his gold Italian horn, and his amazing smile…

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The Heterosexual Assumption

cartoon-donkey-04The brilliant writer and poet Oscar Wilde has been quoted saying the following about making assumptions.

“When you assume, you make an ass out of u and me.”

A few days ago, as I sat writing in my living room, my TV, which was playing in the background while I worked, caught my attention. A local news station was on and a male newscaster was interviewing a young boy who looked to be about 10 years old. The boy was being questioned about a large, local party he had recently attended. Most of the male newscaster’s questions were typical, boring fluff.

Yet, one particular question caught my ear. Referencing the large party, the newscaster asked the boy, “Did you meet any cute girls at the party?” I became immediately annoyed. Let me rephrase that, I was instantly offended and infuriated. To most heterosexual, Western Pennsylvanian viewers of this program I’m sure this question appeared to be a completely harmless and simple inquiry. But in rebuttal I wanted to scream, “Why don’t you ask him if he met any cute boys at the party?”

Simply put, society needs to stop assuming that everyone is straight.

Is it any wonder that LGBT individuals feel that they are different and that their feelings are abnormal from a very young age? Our society pushes an unrealistic, heterosexual ideal as the norm in almost every sentence out of its mouth.

Normal is for that little boy to be lusting after little girls. Normal is for little girls to make him blush. Normal is for little girls to make his stomach flip and his heart to beat faster. If he is not experiencing exactly these things, then guess what, he is different and strange and abnormal. Something is wrong with him.

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There must be something wrong with him. With causal questions and assumptions, that lump him into this heterosexual bubble, being thrown around by everyone in his life from his teachers to his family members to the god damned newscasters on TV, there must be something atypical about him if his feelings don’t coincide with this accepted norm which seems to come so naturally to everyone else.

We cannot presume to know someone’s sexuality simply by looking at him or her. I look forward to the day where people who make such assumptions, who box us all into tight, little, unfair expectations, are the ones who are outside of the norm. I am not being overly dramatic in my opinion that the newscaster I mentioned was being rude and ignorant.

On the flip side of this issue, I have witnessed people who are doing their best to redefine what is normal in our society. A close, straight, female friend of mine, who has recently gotten married, has a one-year-old little boy named Henry. I always hear her affectionately gushing over him. She believes in never assuming who Henry will become. She constantly says to him,

“Mommy loves you, Henry. Mommy loves you so much. And Mommy doesn’t care who you love when you grow up. You can love a man, a woman or whomever and I will be very proud of you and love you just the same. And Mommy doesn’t care if you decide later that you should have been born a girl instead of a boy. I love you unconditionally no matter who life calls you to be.”

This is not an exaggeration. She literally says these things to him all the time. I listen to this friend’s utter lack of assumption and realize that the world is changing. I know that if Henry ever grows up to become a newscaster he would ask a little boy, “Did you meet anyone cute at the party?” A simple altering of a few words in a sentence and suddenly all of us are included in what is normal. And suddenly no one is making an ass out of you, me or themselves.

After You Say, “I’m Gay”: Dealing with Others’ Reactions

????????????????????????????????????????For gay men and women, coming out can be a liberating and validating experience. One that can cause much welcomed relief after years of hiding their true self behind a heterosexual façade. Of course the actual act of telling someone you are gay, even if that someone is very open-minded, progressive and supportive, can be riddled with stress and apprehension. Saying the words, “I am gay” can be the frightening first hurdle in a race that we all eventually hope to win.

While we all come from different backgrounds and living situations, thus making each individual’s coming out uniquely hard or easy in its own ways, the general hope is that ultimately coming out offers increased happiness in our lives. In a recent interview with BuzzFeed Brews openly gay actor Ian McKellen spoke of coming out as saying, “…I’ve never met a gay person who came out and who regretted it.” Coming out is about self-acceptance. And self-love can be a beautiful thing.

But in our coming out process, we can only be responsible for the things that we say and the things that we do. After we are out to someone, in a sense, we place the ball in his or her court. At this point, we have no control over how they will react to the personal truth we just shared. For me, learning how to react to what others chose to do with “the ball” I had handed them became the next hurdle in my coming out process.

Let’s explore reactions and resulting quotes that stand out the most for me on my coming out journey. These were what people said and did after I said, “I am gay.”

One of my straight female friends:

“Well Duh. Okay. So are we gonna watch the movie now?”

A straight male friend of mine from the gym:

“Ummm…congratulations? I’m not sure what to say. I don’t care. Just don’t touch my dick when we are doing pull-ups” (and he smiled)

One of my childhood male straight friends:

“Wait… so all those times we talked about hot girls… did you not think they were hot? You sure you aren’t bi?”

My best male friend from college:

I was very nervous to finally admit it to him and I guess I looked very serious beforehand. I told him that I had something to tell him and it took me over a minute to just say it.

He looked relieved. He took a deep breath and exclaimed,

“I thought something was really wrong. Like you were gonna tell me your cancer was back or something. Dude, who cares if you’re gay.”

My Mother:

Her face became cautious and guarded instantly. The news turned out to be hard for her. After I told her, every word out of her mouth was serious. She looked like I had just punched her in her gut. She voiced,

“Adam, I don’t even know any gay people. I know nothing about this. I’m not sure what to say exactly, and when I’m not sure what to say about something then I usually say nothing.”

She went to bed that night without giving me a hug and while avoiding me with her eyes. She barely spoke to me for the next 7 days. If we rode in a car together she stared straight ahead and hardly spoke. I kept thinking that she was mad at me, because that was how she was coming across. Today, she respectfully talks about me being gay and frequently asks me questions. While she is still learning, she constantly expresses that she wants me to be happy.

My Father:

I told my parents separately. With my dad, right after I said the words, “I’m gay.” I started to cry. (It was an emotional day for me.)

His immediate response was to stand up and hug me. After that he said,

“You’re my son and I love you. None of this other stuff matters. We will figure this out. Now…can I ask you a few questions?”

After this first conversation, my father has collectively asked far less questions about me being gay than my mother has. His reaction was love first, silence later. Nowadays he seems to avoid talking about me being gay. I think it makes him uncomfortable, but he is as loving and caring towards me as he always was.

One additional question he asked me on that day does stand out though. He asked,

“As your father, did I do something, or not do something, that caused you to be gay? Do you think I did something wrong?”

Since we are discussing other people’s quotes related to my being gay, I wanted to also share two quotes my parents reiterate to me every so often. I want to preface these by saying how much I truly love my parents. They are wonderful, loving people. While they are getting better at learning about me being gay, they will still say things they do not realize are hurtful. I share these two quotes merely to highlight that sometimes even the people who love us, say things that hurt us due to their ignorance and lack of knowledge about what is appropriate and what is inappropriate. Proof that this is all a journey, until it is a destination.

One of my mother’s favorite things to say to me is,

“I just keep hoping that one day you will walk through the front door and say, ‘Mom, I’ve met the perfect woman. I’m so happy and we are going to get married.’ I just think you haven’t met the right girl yet.”

The topic comes up every so often about how my dad will handle conversations with our conservative extended family members who still do not know that I am gay. He likes to explain,

“It’s no one’s business. I don’t feel the need to just go around and tell people. If they find out and say anything to me I will just tell them, ‘Look, yes Adam is gay. It’s not something that I’m proud of or that I would chose for him, but what are you gonna do? It’s his life and I love him.’”

Bottom line, Gentle Reader: take everyone else’s words with a grain of salt. After all, people’s comments say more about themselves than they do about you being gay. Focus on the words coming out of your own mouth. Since, in the end, those are the only ones you have any control over.

Your Coming Out & Other People’s Feelings

closet_rainbow

Photo from lifehacker.com via Adam Dachis

When you really think about it, coming out to someone should be painless and stress free. All you are doing is sitting in front of someone and saying, “This is who I am. This is part of my truth. Here is something important about me.” Why is that so monumental? Why is that such a big deal? Why should we be rejected and persecuted for telling someone who we are?

People respond negatively to our news for a wide spectrum of reasons including, but not limited to, religious beliefs, learned hate, bigotry, lack of knowledge on the subject, fear and just plain confusion. The terror of these negative responses is one of the reasons closeted individuals are so filled with anxiety and trepidation about coming out. The possibility of these negative responses keeps many of us in the closet for years upon years. Fear of rejection is a very real and tangible thing.

I would argue that one of the main reasons coming out is so difficult, has to do with our forced focus on the person we are coming out to. The focus becomes, ‘how is he/she going to react? How does this make them feel?’ The person receiving the news becomes the vulnerable one. I ask you, are they the vulnerable one? Are they the one who is scared to death?

Call me crazy, but it seems like the focus should be on the terrified LGBT individual experiencing all of this internal fear and turmoil. But the world can be an irrational place. On top of their own feelings, a person who is coming out, is forced to consider the feelings of the other person who they are coming out to.

I remember reading articles that reminded me to be patient with the person I was telling. Consider how this news is making them feel. One article said that the gay person has been sitting with and dealing with the news that they are gay for some time now, but it will be a sudden shock to the person they are telling, so remember to be sympathetic towards them and prepare to comfort them if needed. Comfort them?!?!

comfort

Photo from elephantjournal.com via Wendy Strgar

Please do not misinterpret me as heartless. I agree that when it comes to telling our loved ones we are gay, we should be kind and loving towards them as we share this news. But when did it become all about the other person? Who is considering the feelings of the person sharing their gigantic news? Who is going to comfort them? Well, hopefully the person who they are telling will comfort them.

The whole situation is set up to feel like the teller is in the wrong and is hoping for forgiveness from the person being told. This current reality is flawed and unfair.

Perhaps, the stress of coming out is magnified by the fact that it is still viewed as such an oddity and a huge ordeal by many sections of society. Is being gay really that big of a deal? Does who I sleep with really affect the lives of the straight couple living next door to me? Does who they sleep with affect my life? No, it doesn’t!

Still, I argue that some of the added stress with coming out is putting so much emphasis on the other person. Perhaps we need a societal shift for the focus to be on the sharer and not the shareé. It is entirely possible that as our society becomes more educated, and being gay becomes less taboo and alien, coming out will become more focused on and supportive of the gay person.

I am very curious as to other people’s thoughts about this. Am I being too one sided? Do I sound too harsh?

No More Playing Games

game_nightIn my coming out process I have been very lucky. I’ve been met with mostly acceptance, love and support. We all deserve these reactions when we tell the truth about our sexuality. But I’m here to tell you first hand, Gentle Reader, that sometimes the world is less fuzzy.

One of my best friends is a girl I went to my high school senior prom with. To describe her a little, Crystal is a loving mother, a devoted wife and a god fearing Christian. She’s been my friend for 16 years. When I told her I was gay she told me that she loved me and that was that. She’s always been a great friend and I am thankful for her. Yet, she was one of the last people who I told I was gay. Why?

One of the reasons my friendship with Crystal has always been so rewarding is because there are several other friends I have made through her. Over the years I have become friends with almost her entire family. Her parents, her siblings and her husband have always treated me as an honorary member of their family. And this inclusion always felt wonderful. Myself, Crystal, the siblings and some extended friends developed a fun tradition years ago. We call them game nights. Nights of friends playing board games, eating food, drinking beer, listening to music, joking around and just simply having fun.

This sense of inclusion in this extended family filled me with a lot of joy. But as the years passed and I became more comfortable in my reality as a gay man, this sense of inclusion was masked by a sense of worry. Worry about telling them that I was gay. Crystal’s reaction to my news was not the only hurdle to overcome here. Telling her meant telling her 3 siblings, each of their spouses, her parents, extended friends and more.

It is one thing to worry about a single person’s reaction to you being gay. It is a very different thing to worry about a large group’s reaction. That is a lot of individual reactions to worry about. To make matters a bit trickier, this family is mostly conservative Christians. I was literally going to be the only gay friend that any of them have had, so I was extra worried about rejection from at least one of them, and possibly from several of them.

Sure enough, when it was all said and done, one of Crystal’s brother-in-laws deemed me a sinner and has not spoken to me or acknowledged my existence since he found out I was gay. We will call this man Richard. (It should be noted here that every single other member of this group accepted me and expressed love towards me when they found out I was gay.) I’ve been in a room with Richard once since he found out and several times that night he literally ignored me and walked around me to get to other people. He believes that I am going straight to hell and has even asked his wife to not associate with me until I seek help. He collected bible verses to support why God is against homosexuality. He went as far as to say that he does not care if I am gay, but I must repent, pray for God’s forgiveness and never engage in any homosexual activity ever, for it is the acting upon these hellish urges that is the sin.

At our game nights, whenever a game is played that requires groups, we would always split up into teams of boys vs. girls. With Richard now refusing to speak to me or acknowledge my presence, these teams suddenly threatened to be very awkward. So, Crystal and I came up with a plan to alternate game nights. Richard could have one, then I would have the next, and so on. This negotiation was to take place at the first of these game nights where Richard would attend and I would be absent. A discussion was to be had that would include all regular game night attendees. I spoke with another of the involved peoples beforehand and anxiously awaited the verdict of what was sure to be an interesting conversation that night.

sorryBut no conversation or compromise was ever made. In fact a second game night came and went with Richard in attendance and still no me. I guess life got in the way, which is understandable. But what seemed important to me, a conversation about my sexuality not being a valid reason to exclude me from game nights with my friends, didn’t seem as important a conversation to have for the others.

Dealing with the reality that sometimes people we love turn out to be homosexual, would result in an uncomfortable conversation amongst these individuals. Difference of opinions among them on this issue would inevitably lead to arguments and some drama. I don’t think anyone really wanted to create that awkwardness in the family unit for someone who is not really a family member. After all, they must all co-exist at holidays and birthday parties, so it would be easier to just avoid any ugliness. Especially when there is only one gay person in this social circle to need to deal with. (God forbid any of their children turn out to be gay)

I know that Crystal truly wants me at game nights and at other events like her children’s birthday parties (which I will also not attend since Richard is always there). And I understand her predicament; she is close to her sister and doesn’t want to exclude her from events due to her brother-in-law’s beliefs. And Crystal has since apologized to me for this situation and the results. Still, it has suddenly become blazingly clear that, although I have always been included as such in the past, I am not actually a genuine part of this family.

Ultimately, no awkward conversation was necessary because I decided that I would no longer take part in the game nights. I felt that any further negotiations would have created resentment in me towards these people who have all meant a lot to me throughout my life. So instead, I walked away.

walk awayNow I don’t want to sound too overly dramatic. Crystal and I are still fantastic friends and I still plan on being involved in her life, her husband’s and especially her two children’s. Their kids call me Uncle Adam and I love them both very much. I see many wonderful years ahead of me being a positive adult influence in their lives. Though I can’t help but to wonder about what will be said to them once they are old enough to understand that I am gay. I worry that it may be handled in a way, though unintentionally, which may teach them that being gay is different and not a good thing.

One of the lessons here, Gentle Reader, is to not allow such situations to cause us to become bitter. Also we must be careful to not villainize my friends too easily. Sometimes people have a hard time getting used to things that are outside of their comfort zone. And sometimes people do not stand up and fight battles if the battles do not directly affect their own personal well-being. All we can do is be there to offer them information and love should they seek it.  It is all of our jobs to work together to invoke positive change in this world which we call home.

But just because love and understanding are main lessons here does not mean that our comfort levels and our right to feel respected are any less important or less deserved. We do not need to put ourselves in any situation where we end up feeling like a second-class citizen. Those who exclude us would stand for no such thing in their own lives. Strength and determination on our part is also vital for positive change.

Friends are allowed to disappoint us some times, and that disappointment does not necessarily negate all of the good they have done. But for those who outwardly reject us simply for being who we truly are, well concerning them, my suggestion to you is to make your stance known, and then simply walk away. After all, negotiating with our happiness and our feeling accepted is not a game that any of us should be playing anyway.