I attend a monthly peer discussion group for gay, bisexual and questioning men who are currently or have been married or involved with women. This month we discussed gay stereotypes and how they affect us. Gay stereotypes, particularly for those of us in our 40s,’s, 50s and 60s, can be quite powerful. When we think about telling our spouses, family, co-workers and friends about our same-sex attraction, fear sets in and our thoughts can mirror the worst gay stereotypes.
A year and a half ago, the week before I had planned to come out at work for the first time, I started to have thoughts that went something like this: “Why am I telling people about an illness, a sickness. They will think less of me if they know I am gay.” I had to stop myself and keep reminding myself that these were old tapes playing in my head going back to my teenage years when being gay was thought to be a sickness or illness by the medical community. I knew I needed to fight through these thoughts and my fears to get to the other side of coming out. The thoughts in my head did not stop until I came out to the first few people. The conversations with my boss, staff and co-workers went great and the thoughts not only disappeared but I discovered a whole new sense of self. It was empowering.
There are also everyday ways gay stereotypes impact us. I have a tie that I love, but it has a lot of pink and other vibrant colors in it. Every time I think about wearing this tie to work I get uncomfortable. The tie feels “too gay” to me and I fear that I will be seen as “flamboyant”. I don’t think anyone would see me as flamboyant, but that is what goes through my head. Mostly this tie sits in my closet unworn.
How gay stereotypes affect our lives and the choices we make, in big and small ways, is important to understand and see clearly if we are to have the lives we want to have. Exploring these topics with six other men was a powerful experience. I learned from the other men how their were impacted by gay stereotypes and how it affected them to this day.