Let’s bring to the fore the somewhat peculiar idea of speaking in terms of “I’m Gay” or “I’m Not Gay.”
I sat in a gathering of men a few weeks ago. Everything that hung in the atmosphere told me the space which held us was the kind I could ask one of the men a question I would have had no business asking in any other setting. I presented my question: Are you gay? He looked at me, stunned. Then he regained his composure. He said no, and walked away. I knew I had struck a wound. My good intentions with being free, open and direct did little good in showing the man that I meant well.
A friend who sat close by when I asked the question quickly cleared my confusion as it brewed within my mind: It is not nice to present “are you gay?” as a direct question. I understood this at once. Some time ago, I was standing in Silverbird Hall in wait to see Avengers. A girl, lively and smiling, walked up to me and said, “Oh My Gad! Are you gay?” We were both fortunate. I was in a happy state of mind. So I replied with a smile, “Oh My Gad! Are you allowed to ask that question?” But I can’t deny that underneath the intended humour was a kind of apprehension, a discomfort that someone hostile in the people-packed hall could pick up on our conversation and indicate interest in unraveling the status of my sexuality.
In the space where I had presented the question to the man, I felt it was clear that everyone in the room had to be gay. But being one to seldom operate based on assumptions I sought to turn the footings of uncertainty into confirmations. I felt that, given the space we were in, I could verify my assumptions, that I was allowed ask the are-you-gay question.
I am happily gay but I am beginning to find that “gay” isn’t a useful word in forging communication between people – straight and gay. The image that might slide into the mind of a straight person is one of two men fucking. The feeling that might be aroused in the mind of a gay person is one of apprehension about being found an abomination. So do we do away with the word gay?
I do know I like “homosexual” more. But my homosexual friends, those in my innermost circle, can’t bring themselves to even think about pronouncing this word. One of them said the word that follows whenever he thinks about that word – homosexual – is hell-fire. Another said, “I’d rather accept that I am an abomination than say that word.” Then he went on to make a case about how “gay” has served the community of homosexuals in the fight for equality. It is an important tool from an historical point of view.
At this point, dispute arises about why “western” history has to be the history of the rest of us. But this debate is unappealing to me.
A more interesting problem is the idea of getting people from the point where they are uncomfortable discussing their sexuality to the point where the task of talking about their sexuality is met with a kind of indifference.
And the place to start is not-so-much to use or lose the words we know – gay, homosexual – but to get more specific when we talk about what we are talking about. For example, say my question to the man in the gathering was, “What was it like to fall in love with [insert male name]?” This question may have served better because it requests for experiences. It is open-ended and it does away with the requirement of having those who we present with questions fit themselves to words with multiplicities of meaning. It does suffer the limitation of begging an assumption but so does any other question.
I’m still musing about this: whether speaking in terms of “I’m gay” or “I’m not gay” is a useful lingua. Let is suffice to say that I am leaning into the importance of specifics: as it fosters communication with people, straight and gay alike.
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You are Awesome.