I will tell you what it is like to be gay. You have had an unending curiosity about it, and an obliviousness to the struggle of people like me which you yourself have tried to overcome. And so I’ll tell you what it is like to be gay.
It is, first and foremost, to be romantic. To believe in a loving relationship that not only matches the longing all humans feel at one time or another, but which also frees you. It is the assurance, the surety, that once you touch that hand, feel that embrace, once you kiss, once you smile and are smiled back at, something about you is unshakeable. It is the longing for that, and it is the act of keeping that longing a secret. The thing you want the most is the thing you cannot speak of. It is the thing your family will not support you in. It is the thing that people will vote against you ever having. People who don’t know you. People who see you as already having privilege so why would you want anything more?
I will tell you what it is like to be gay. It is like living in a house you despise. It is speaking with a voice that isn’t yours. It is watching other couples live out a fantasy of marriage and happiness which is not granted to you, which you do not see represented, which people who are your friends don’t know you want and cannot have. Being able to “pass”, to seem heterosexual, is not a gift, not an advantage, it is an invitation into conversations about weekends and dating and relationships and love which you can (and must) listen to, but which you cannot participate in.
Being gay is not the movie moment. It is not the “you’re still my son” after you come out. It is not the “I’m not surprised and I love you anyway.” It is the stunned silence. It is the denial from your own parents about what you hold most closely to your heart. It is the heartbreak others tell you they feel because of who you are. It is putting on clothes and feeling shame for both looking too straight and not looking straight enough.
Being gay is never knowing if you’ll say “I’m gay” the right way, or to the wrong people. It is being the “gay friend”, the token, the one with good fashion sense and the funny one. It is being welcomed to the neighborhood because “we need more people like you here.”
I will tell you what it is like to be gay. It is going to a movie about a gay romance—the one that has come out during this decade and is actually showing in a mainstream theatre—and being surrounded by middle-aged women and teenage girls and one old man in the corner who is almost only a wisp of regret and longing. That same longing that you have always felt and that is why you are gay.
Being gay is being invisible. Because even the most well-meaning people tell you “I still think of you as the same, as my same friend, my same brother, my same son” when you do not think of yourself as the same at all. Because being gay is not being the same. Being gay is being the biggest secret a person can keep about themselves. And it is to be among the oldest of the reviled peoples on this planet. It is to be thought ugly, sinful, an aberration. It is to be a statistic (1 in 10), and to be someone who can never quite be sure if the other person in front of you is also 1 in 10.
To be gay is to have your identity walled off. Unless you proclaim it everywhere you go, wearing a stereotype upon your sleeve to declare your gay citizenship to everyone. And to do that is to incite polite smiles, pointed whispers, blank or horrified looks, anger, violence, a beating and bloodshed.
I am a white gay man. I wear my whiteness to protect my gayness. I wear my maleness to protect my gayness. I have those affordances, and I am lucky. But do not dismiss me as privileged. Do not mistake me for someone who can be seen. Do not mistake me for someone who is safe. Or for whom justice has completed its arc.