Gay Is Not a Way of Life
We think — and live — outside the box the world constructed for us.
Gay men don’t get much credit for all the unpredictability and diversity within our ranks, but the “G” in LGBTQ is a lot more than one letter. In fact, the entire alphabet wouldn’t do us justice. There are so many different ways to be a gay man — ways in which “top,” “bottom,” “versatile,” “twink,” “otter,” “bear,” “masc,” femme,” and all the various gay-identity designations don’t even begin to cover — that just creating a Grindr profile can be as tedious as checking all those self-identification boxes on a job application.
Somehow, though, straight people — not all of them, but way too many — have often narrowed “gay” down to something even more basic than one letter: sex. In the process, they’ve created this monolithic all-encompassing entity called the “gay lifestyle.” It’s their creation, not ours, and it underscores the common assumption that how we have sex and with whom we have sex informs and determines everything else about the lives we lead.
To People Who ‘Disagree’ with the Gay ‘Lifestyle’
It doesn’t matter if you claim to love us anyway. We know you don’t.
The one and only thing all gay men have in common is our sexual orientation. We’re physically attracted to and fall in love with people of the same gender. Even if many of us face similar challenges throughout our lives — shame, bullies, homophobia, discrimination, hostile family members, and well, the list goes on and on — the way we experience them and react to them varies from gay man to gay man.
I’ve never met two who had the same coming-out story, love the same movies, or have identical political ideologies. The ones you know may appear to be predisposed to certain candidates or to female singers and actors, but that doesn’t mean gay people can’t love testosterone rock, action movies, and sports or be Team Trump.
Contrary to popular belief, there’s even diversity in how we have sex. Yet, many straight people, especially homophobes who still think gay can/should be cured or prayed away, are always talking about our “lifestyle,” as if we all lead matching lives.
Ugh, lifestyle — the word alone makes me shudder. They’re these microcosmic creations that, even when applied to straight people, reek of superficiality. Entire publishing divisions are devoted to it. In the ’80s and ’90s, Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous, basked in it. Today, people are still cultivating lifestyles in order to appear more civilized. Once life becomes a “lifestyle,” it ceases, on some level, to be the natural order of things. For me, the word evokes an aura of artificiality over everyday reality.
My existence as a gay man is so much more than that. I’ve been married for one year, a year I’ve spent mostly in isolation with my husband, doing, I assume, many of the things other couples have been doing, regardless of whether they are gay or straight. If I were to describe our days and nights, leaving gender and sex out of it, many straight couples might think I’m talking about them.
My husband and I have had to make the same adjustments as countless other gay and straight newlyweds to survive in a pandemic world. Even before COVID-19 killed the nightlife that always has been synonymous with “gay,” we didn’t lead lives that were specific to our sexual orientation. We were just as gay surrounded by straight people at a house party in Woodstock, N.Y., as we were going to happy hour at Nowhere, a gay bar near our East Village apartment, or staying in and watching a gay love story on Netflix.
My married life might seem like the epitome of the heteronormative standard that some gay men dismiss, but I feel no less gay now than I did when I was single. My sexual identity isn’t determined by what I do or how I live and vice versa. Whether I was going through an extended period of celibacy, hooking up with guys on Grindr, or dancing shirtless on the stage at DJ Station in Bangkok, my sexual orientation felt pretty set in stone.
The Grindr addict and dancing queen are stereotypical staples of the so-called “gay lifestyle,” but I have a lot of gay friends who never use gay hook-up apps and wouldn’t be caught dead dancing shirtless in public. Homophobic straight people (and the occasional angry, deluded celebrity) deem that behavior typically gay for the same reason racist White people get off on dismissing all Black people as dumb, lazy criminals. We exist mostly in their imaginations and don’t get to live outside the narrow boundaries the majority have set for us.
You don’t even have to be homophobic, angry or deluded to do it. In a 2017 interview, the actor Andrew Garfield said he was a “gay man right now just without the physical act” because he was obsessed with RuPaul’s Drag Race at the time. So is that all there is to being gay? At least he acknowledged that it isn’t all about sex. Still, while my devotion to divas and actresses has never wavered, I never watched an episode of RuPaul’s Drag Race until earlier this year.
I say this not because it makes me better or worse than gays who set their schedule by it. I’m just as gay whether I’m watching Drag Race or Monday Night Football (which I don’t do, by the way). Gay men are no more predictable in their taste or behavior than straight men, no matter what Queer Eye might suggest.
For all the advancements gays have made in recent years, we will never approach a place of true equality until straight and gay people stop defining us and everything we are and do as “gay.” That will mean losing it as a qualifier to distinguish what we do from hetero and “normal”: gay wedding, gay sex, and yes, gay lifestyle.
My husband and I had to cancel our belated wedding ceremony early in the pandemic and we were crushed. But to be honest, I was never completely comfortable with it anyway. I suspected people would have treated it as a more important milestone if they hadn’t consciously or subconsciously attached “gay” to it, if we had been marrying the women of our dreams instead of each other.
I don’t know what they were actually thinking, but I’ve become accustomed to straight people talking about “gay” weddings as if they’re more fabulous parties than momentous occasions with emotional gravitas. When two men get married, I rarely get the sense that it carries as much weight with straight people as when a man and a woman do it.
In a week, my husband and I will be celebrating our one-year anniversary, and it will be a party for two. We’ll probably have a nice dinner and end the evening bingeing on our latest Netflix obsession, like so many other gay and straight couples, whether they’re celebrating anniversaries or not.
It’s not exactly the stuff lifestyles are made of, and we wouldn’t love it any other way.