The Importance of Variety in LGBT Media

I sit watching the movie “Akron” again for the second time in the last 24 hours. Last night was the first time I watched it and it felt right to put it back on. It wasn’t a fantastic movie, I’ll admit, but I appreciated it for its deviance from traditional LGBT media.

The main characters, Benny and Christopher, are both openly gay. The story spends no time explaining questions about their sexuality and no conflict arises due to their sexualities. They don’t experience discrimination or difficulties while they kiss in public or hold hands.

Often times, LGBT movies focus solely on the character sexuality and only depict the difficulties they experience due to their sexuality. While looking for background information on “Akron”, I found a post by Tumblr user “navigaero”, who classified three kinds of LGBT movies:

“Tier 1 – the conflict comes directly from the fact that the protagonist is gay and is struggling with coming out to their friends and family (example: Love, Simon)

Tier 2 – while some conflict arises due to the fact that the protagonist is gay, most of it comes from some other problem in the story; usually, the protagonist has already come out before the story starts (example: The Song of Achilles)

Tier 3 – absolutely none of the conflict comes from the fact that the protagonist is gay; while the protagonist’s sexual orientation isn’t ignored, none of it contributes to any of the conflict in the story (example: Akron)”

These classifications, while simplistic, can help us evaluate queer media.

A review I read on “Akron” condemned the movie for oversimplifying the day-to-day life of queer people. By avoiding conflicts due to character sexuality, it avoided confronting many of the very real issues that queer people face today.

But I don’t think all LGBT movies need to tackle social rights issues or conflicts due to identity. While many of us are still exploring our identity and experience difficulties in our daily lives, it’s okay for media to focus on other topics. In “Akron”, honesty and family support were more relevant topics. And that’s okay.

We need a variety of LGBT media and “Akron” is part of that.

Another review I read, classified the movie as fluff – being light and pleasant, but of no deeper value. While the first half of the movie was very “happy-go-lucky”, the movie explored questions about forgiveness and honesty. In focusing on these, it neglected other topics like hispanic representation.

I don’t want to come across as ignoring deeper society issues – we have a lot of media on social problems – but sometimes I just want to watch a “happy-go-lucky” queer movie. When I’m feeling blue, I flip on movies like “Jongens (Boys)” or “Shelter” because I don’t always want to confront big social issues. I want to watch two dudes being romantic and not have to worry about their sexuality.

There’ll probably be a post to follow. Hope y’all had a great weekend!

 

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August 1./ What’s been on my mind lately

My nightstand is 11 books deep and over half of it is about Zen. Paper enlightenment isn’t always good for the soul. Too much reading and you’ll get stuck with ideas and no practice. That’s where I am at the moment. I’ve just finished a book on Zen Master Hakuin, and now I’m reading translations of Dōgen’s Shōbōgenzō and Mumon Ekai’s Mumonkan.

It’s wonderful to encounter different perspectives and to take time to understand them. Although I cannot claim to fully comprehend their complexity (or perhaps simplicity), it’s nice to sit with them.

In fact, it’s been nice to sit with myself too. Lately, there have been a lot of passing thoughts that I didn’t notice I have. Many of them are ideas about the world and some of them are about me. For example, one of the ideas that’s been on my mind lately is about masculinity.

It sounds unusual to talk about this because I didn’t know that I held this idea until recently. Or well, I didn’t have a solid understanding of it. Being out of the closet (as gay) at age 11, I spent a lot of my younger years introspecting about who I am. Much of that time was spent with women, exploring topics that society deems as more feminine (i.e. emotions, empathy). I did this instead of developing traditionally masculine parts of myself.

Most of these traditionally masculine parts are heavily tactile. I never learned sports, fishing, or how to fix cars*. Instead I adopted the idea that these areas were mysterious or innate in some way (i.e. some guys are just naturally athletic or mechanically minded). And I was sure that I was not one of them.

I completely abandoned these topics and paid no mind to them for a very long time… well, until I joined the military and was suddenly surrounded by guys. Areas that were once mysterious started fading. Last year I started to spend a lot of time outdoors hiking**. This was a random growth. I started exploring tactile activities that I hadn’t enjoyed or thought about when I was younger.

As I’ve spent more time sitting in meditation recently***, I’ve noticed this subtle change. Lately I’ve been craving a long list of traditionally masculine activities. I know that’s a strange way to put it but I’ve been wanting to go rock climbing. Last week I worked on my car without feeling terrified I was going to break it. And I want to know more and do more. I don’t feel exhausted of it.

To someone who doesn’t feel this divide, what I’m writing about may not make any sense. Masculinity isn’t inherently about turning wrenches and femininity isn’t about emotions and social skills. Society places these generalizations on the genders and everybody feels it in some form. If you’re a dude and you don’t know how to work on your car, maybe you feel ashamed or embarrassed. Even if only a little bit. Or if you’re a chick and you’re one of those gals who scales those crazy upsidedown rock climbing walls, maybe you feel rebellious****.

I know this is basic Gender in Society 101 but I feel that sometimes I forget it. And often it feels like an invisible wall that confines me unknowingly. My car is mysterious and I avoid the thought of maintenance. I don’t think about why I’m avoiding it or why it feels so mysterious to me but I just push it out of my head.

Maybe that’s what I’ve been getting from my stack of paper enlightenment; these mysterious invisible walls are just mental constructs. Whether about gender or about my own limitations, I build my own confines. I think that everybody knows this but we’re not always conscious of it. We run into these invisible walls accidently and turn back around automatically without examining why we’ve put the walls there in the first place.

The cliché ending to this would be: “go off, do whatever you love, #noconfines #teardowntheinvisiblewalls” but I don’t think that’s quite the right answer either. Instead, I think it’s important to remain conscious. When you want to explore a new interest, whether it be in woodworking, kayaking, or maybe even the introspective stuff too, pay attention. Notice if you encounter a roadblock. Feel your way around it.

Get excited about new interests*****. Car maintenance isn’t that mysterious – well, actually it is but that’s okay too. The mystery isn’t bad. It’s all about exploring and learning.

Anyways, it’s getting pretty late here. Please forgive my generalizations about the genders. I know dudes that are very emotional and chicks that could beat me up. The masculinity/femininity was just to illustrate the most apparent invisible walls we build. These walls can be incredibly complex and difficult to deconstruct. I guess the first thing is to notice them. Anyways… I should get going. These are just the things that have been on my mind lately. Have a wonderful day/night wherever you are!


* This is to grossly undercut both femininity and masculinity
**Seriously, if I wasn’t out in the woods physically, I was there mentally
*** This sounds much more mysterious and exotic than it really is, promise
****Why would you feel rebellious? What status quo are you breaking? Oh, and P.S. I’m jealous that you can climb those funky walls. I want to be like spiderman too!
*****WOOT! YEAH! ROCKCLIMBING! EMOTIONS! WOO! FOOTNOTES! YAY!

Part of Who I Am

Last Sunday was National Coming Out Day (NCOD) and I chose not to blog about it. After a week of thinking about it, I’ve decided I want to talk about my frustrations about sharing the gay part of myself online. My experiences are incredibly different from people in my age group. It makes it hard to identify with others, especially in the broad LGBTQIA+ community. Most of all, being gay is only a small part of who I am. Sharing that part of myself feels like I’m inflaming it as more than it is.

Every year I see NCOD come and go but I don’t think I’ve ever shared my full coming out story. It seems incredibly different from my friends and others in my age group. In short, I came out when I was 11. I struggled finding friends who I could relate to at such a young age. My family accepted me and I was fortunate to not have to deal with bullying at school. It feels like I’m bragging when I write and I feel guilty for not having the tribulation that many other gay people have to climb through.

When I started going to the GSA (Gay-Straight Alliance) in my high school, the acronym I remember learning about was LGBT. It stood for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Trans. As time has gone on, that acronym has grown to include Questioning, Intersexed, and Aesexuals (or Allies – or Aromantics). Plus other non-heterosexual sexualities. In total, it is LGBTQIA+.

While it’s great to be inclusive, it feels difficult to write about my experiences when I’m lumped in a large group. My experiences as a gay man feel different than, for example, someone who is intersexed or asexual. When I write, I don’t want my experiences to be relayed as speaking for the entire group. I have experienced the Gay and Asexual part but that’s it. When I write about coming out, I write from the perspective of those groups.

Maybe that’s silly but I feel like I can’t talk about being gay without bringing the whole non-hetero community with me. Even talking with my lesbian friends, we have incredibly different experiences. I can write about love and acceptance, because those are major points in coming out for all sexualities, but I cannot speak on behalf of the entire group. We all share that we’re not part of the hetero-normative society but what else do we share? We all want love and acceptance, just like straight people want.

Finally, being gay is only a small part of who I am. While it is important, sometimes writing about it feels like I’m magnifying my experiences as incredibly different. I don’t want to be that character on the TV show whose 3 personality traits are funny, sarcastic, and gay. It’s only a small fraction of who I am. To make it a big deal seems to get away from the point.

That being said, I do understand the importance of NCOD. Having discussions about sexuality are important for equality across the entire group. I want to write more about this in the future but I have to think about how I want to do it. I’m not trying to exclude certain categories, I just want to be taken for me. Not for my sexuality. I’m just a dude who likes dudes. If I want to write about a man crush, I don’t want it to be a big deal. Anyways, this is a work in progress I guess. One step at a time.

BLOGtober day eighteen!

 

My three “deviations” from Society: On being Vegetarian, Gay, and having Big Ears

Growing up, my parents never forced me to eat foods that I didn’t like. Their philosophy was “if you don’t like it, make yourself something in the kitchen”. One of the foods I never grew fond of was meat products. I didn’t like beef, chicken, lamb, fish or any other meat product. So early in my life, I learned that I was a “vegetarian”.

This sparked a lot of controversy because people normally associate vegetarianism with the activist against animal cruelty. When I would go to a friend’s house for dinner, often their parents would berate me with questions about my “beliefs”. They thought that it was either bad parenting or that I had difficulty eating animals. It was hard for them to understand that I just didn’t like the taste of meat.

Through high school these questions continued, usually with negative undertones. People believed I was an animal activist and that it was a bad thing. In their head animal activists were extremists, bombarding TV with commercials of abused puppies and sad music. These people advocated against the cruel conditions of slaughterhouses. As a result, everyone thought that activists were going to take away meat.

This misconception about “vegetarians” being “animal activists” lead me to be treated as if I were a “sissy”. After all, “animal protein is necessary to survive and to be strong”, right?

Eventually, as I was shoved into the vegetarian/activist group, I came to realize that animal cruelty actually is a horrible thing. The amount of animals we kill and the way we slaughter them is cruel. However, even though I began to believe this, I didn’t push my ideas onto other people.

The reason I was vegetarian didn’t come from any ideology, it was simply because I didn’t like the taste of meat. This is what I told people for many years, and it was true. It reassured others that I wasn’t an activist and that I wasn’t going to try and change their views. Yet they still treated me as an outsider, like I wasn’t normal.

I consider vegetarianism, one of my “deviations”. It set me apart from others and made me reevaluate my actions. Over time I became a strong believer in cruelty-free products and helped fight animal testing. By being labeled as an activist, I began to understand their perspective and gained new friends who held the same beliefs. I became interested in why everyone despised these people and what they believed in.

My original deviation, and I think many people can relate to this, was cosmetic. I was born with exceptionally large ears that point out from my head. Most people have ears that run nearly parallel with their nose, while mine run perpendicular. At a young age, everyone told me that I would grow into them when I was older. Well, it’s been at least 10 years and my ears are still large as ever.

I said that many people can relate to this, not because large ears are common, but because everyone has a cosmetic flaw. Some people have crooked teeth or sharp noses, others are losing their hair at a young age. You know your own insecurities and you see them when you look in the mirror.

When I was in grade school, kids were cruel and made fun of my ears. They made jokes and excluded me because I was different. It was hard until my mother taught me something: if you’re one step ahead of them, they can’t hurt you. Now, instead of accepting my large ears, I was making jokes about them. Other kids couldn’t make fun of me if I was already doing it myself. So I’d say that I could hear radio transmissions or watch satellite TV with my ears.

This helped tremendously for many years because it taught me to accept my differences. The reason kids made fun of me was to force me to acknowledge how large my ears were. If I made a joke, I showed them that I already knew and that I wasn’t ashamed of them. I could laugh about it and it’s a tremendous skill to be able to laugh at your insecurities.

As I said before, I never grew into my ears. To this day they stick out loud and proud. When I moved to Charleston, after a few weeks, a guy at work admitted that he called me “Ears”. It wasn’t until I met him that it stopped.

However, at this point in my life, I had accepted my ears. In grade school I made jokes because I was insecure. Now I was confident about them because I understood that everyone has a cosmetic flaw. We each have something we try to cover up in the mirror but fail miserably at. It’s difficult to cover ears in the mirror, so I spent many years growing my hair to cover them.

I consider this my original deviation because I struggled with it through most of my childhood and into my early adulthood. It separated me from others because, again, I was alienated for my differences. I couldn’t hang out with the “cool” kids because I was too weird with my ears and vegetarianism. This forced me to deviate and learn humility about myself and others.

My third and final major deviation came out when I was in seventh grade. It wasn’t a particularly rough time in my life, but middle school wasn’t easy, either. I hung out with a couple semi-popular guys who were effeminate. I told one person that I liked guys, and my semi-popular friends spread rumors throughout the school that I was gay. You know how middle school works.

Starting at the young age of 11, I became my school’s first openly gay guy. Immediately I was alienated again by many people at my school. Friends that I thought were close suddenly disappeared and I found myself alone. The flaw with having semi-popular friends is that when you’re the subject of controversy, they’re the first ones to run away.

Being gay held many stigmas, especially in the religious community, which I was part of. I started going to church because people were friendly and it was a good place to meet new people. When I came out as gay, there was a lot tension. I think they had difficulty telling a child that he was going to Hell. He was, after all, just a child.

I consider this my third major deviation for obvious reasons. Ten years later, controversy still surrounds gay marriage, adoption, and equal rights. One of my cousins has been part of Boy Scouts for a decade. He can’t continue as a leader because he is gay. Even gay pride is still met with protests and there is a lot of unease about the subject. Being part of that group, I inherited that controversy.

When I was a freshman in high school I immediately joined the gay-straight alliance. There was an incredible amount of acceptance and I learned that there are always people who will love you for who you are. My family never batted an eyelash, and I soon understood that there were people around me who would also love me unconditionally.

These “deviations” from society have built me into who I am today. We can always learn and even through suffering there is life. Some of our greatest struggles have the strongest impact on our lives.

Through losing friends and meeting new ones, I learned that there are always people who will like you and there will always be people who will dislike you. You choose who you hang out with. By struggling with my looks, I’ve learned to embrace my imperfections. Instead of paying attention to other people’s flaws, I’ve learned to accept others how they are. We all suffer and know our own faults, there’s no need to point and make jokes.

Being gay is remarkably the least significant of these societal “deviations”. The previous generation has done wonders to aid in the acceptance of gay youth. Nonetheless, we all still struggle with accepting others and, most importantly, ourselves.

Vegetarianism seems like such a little aspect of who a person is but you would be surprised at how badly we’re treated. If it says anything about the world, I get more derogatory remarks about being vegetarian than about being gay. This has taught me not to judge others because I know that I don’t want to be misjudged. Many people ignore vegetarianism because they have so many predisposed beliefs about it. I don’t want to be one of those people. What if I misjudge someone and miss what they’re trying to say?

All in all, life is a process. There will be times that you suffer and times where you are alienated. However, there will be moments when you feel like you could fly. You will always meet people who will make fun of your ears and others who call you a “fag”. Don’t discredit the moments that you suffer, they are part of your life too. You will learn from them and you will grow. When others don’t accept you, you will learn to accept others. Life is a continuous process of this learning and growing. Be who you are and make the most out of life.

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P.S. This post was partly inspired by Joel’s 30th birthday blog post. His writing is inspiring and I hope to be like him when I’m older:

“I lived my life in fear for a long time, I was fearful of other people, I was afraid of myself and being by myself, and I was scared that I didn’t know how to be alive. Living in that darkness and that fear was tough, it was like a fog that got heavier and heavier the more I tried to find my way out of it. After I eventually found my internal light and was able to live without fear, I tried as hard as I could to live life with an open heart and mind. There’s no need to be afraid of a number, an age, or the idea of getting older. It’s nothing to fear, it’s an opportunity to own your life!”

Check out his work on his website at JoelRobison.com

Gays Hating on Gays

Last month Jake Bley wrote about an unusual topic that he said “REALLY needs discussion”. It’s something that I’ve shrugged off for a long time but I want to bring it to the forefront of your mind. Gay discrimination by other gay men is a huge problem in our society. We look at minorities and say it’s incorrect to discriminate based on race, gender, sexual orientation (et cetera) but disregard when the minority attacks itself.

If you look at the African-American community, we know what words aren’t acceptable to use. So why does the community itself use them? Why is it that men can’t mock a woman’s body, but other women can? The same double standards holds true in the gay community: it’s seen as politically incorrect to call a feminine gay a “fag”… unless it’s by another gay. Then it’s seen as acceptable because that person is part of the same group.

Jake wrote in his article that he “was accused of being one of those homosexuals that ‘are the reason all the other homosexuals get a bad reputation’.”

As a member of the gay community it’s frustrating to me that we choose to discriminate against each other even though we don’t want to be discriminated against. How can we expect to be treated fairly if we go around calling others “fags” or “fems”? The gays who are effeminate or who don’t fit the masculine stereotype do not give you a bad name: other people give you a bad name.

The effeminate guy has nothing to do with it. If you’re gay and have a quarrel with the discrimination you’re receiving, it’s not those gays you’re worried about discriminating against you, it’s the other people. Basically you’re misplacing your frustration because it’s not overtly feminine guy who’s discriminating against you, it’s somebody else. Since we cannot stop the discrimination ourselves, it’s easier to blame the minority. Basically we stoop to our discriminator’s levels when we blame others in our group. Nobody deserves to be discriminated against.

This whole discussion begs the question: why do we have this gay-on-gay hatred in our community?

While there is no idea that is all-encompassing on this subject, I personally believe that it stems from the gay community’s struggle to accept itself.

I think a lot of the gay community struggles with accepting itself because we still hold onto the belief that being gay and living the “American Dream” aren’t compatible. In my opinion, this struggle leads people to blame and hatred. We think that it’s the gays fault for acting feminine and their fault for getting made fun of. We struggle with losing the white picket fence and blame it on something we think someone can control. The truth in the matter is that nobody else causes your discrimination.

Deep down we don’t care if somebody else is feminine or masculine. It has nothing to do with us anyways. Being gay has nothing to do with masculinity or femininity. If we don’t like guys who play video games, we just don’t hang around them. We don’t blame them for liking video games, it’s out of their control. If you don’t like feminine guys, that’s fine. Just don’t blame them for being feminine or causing discrimination, it’s out of their control.

I hope that you’ve taken a minute to think about this subject. It doesn’t make sense for a minority to discriminate against itself and it’s not cool. It doesn’t matter if you’re part of the group or not, discrimination is discrimination regardless of who’s doing it. Don’t be hatin’ on each other! The world is a wonderful place and we need to end this gay-on-gay discrimination.

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Someone lost

There are people who will enter into your life without warning and change you. Sometimes you’re the person who appears and makes the life-altering change. Almost one year ago I met a guy who changed my life. He didn’t exactly initiate it but our conversations changed the way I looked at myself as an openly gay man. Things that I still find to be true about myself.

We met at my original school back in May last year. Most of our interactions were brief and lacked a lot of words. Somehow though, we conveyed a lot between us. The group I was in was extremely tight knit but we were all very different people. Out of my entire class of 50 people, I was the only openly gay man – something I wouldn’t think twice about. I’m gay, and I’m open about my life.

This guy started talking to me one day and asked how I could be so open to everyone about it. How could I let everyone know? We talked for hours about the subject and it really showed me how open I was. Some people find it difficult to be open but I’ve never had any problem with it.

His amazement on the subject let to my own amazement with myself. It’s odd to see yourself from a different light or from someone else’s perspective. I’m not going to go into depth about this guy because obviously there was more interaction, but still, I look back and I miss him.

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Closets are for clothes…

Do any of you all know? What keeps you in the closet? Let’s have a genuine conversation about it! We’re all looking for the same thing – happiness. So as Russ says “let’s get together to solve problems”.

Getting out and being yourself is the only way to actualization. How can you possibly be the best version of you if you are ingenuine? If you always have to put on a mask just to go out in public, are you really living life?

In the comments below, tell me why you’re in the closet or why you think people stay in the closet!

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