Being a Feminist Gay Male in a World of Women

Look. Introverts aren’t special. Extroverts aren’t special. Unlike what Lena Dunham or Zooey Deschanel or Jennifer Lawrence are saying, not having good social skills or people skills isn’t cute or quirky. It’s sad and taxing.

One of my good friends in a French class in Jakarta confessed that she used to hate me because she thought I was distant and aloof. No. It was because I didn’t have any friends in class and I didn’t know how to strike a conversation. I was (still am, somewhat) afraid of rejection and so I never made the first move. No one befriended me, so I concentrated on learning and getting good grades. This was back in 2002. Fast forward thirteen years later and I still don’t know how to behave.

I just came home from a public discussion where only seven out of dozens of attendees were men, and I might be the only gay man there. A few weeks ago, there was a breach of trust in the Tribal belly dance community. It involved a very well-known festival in NorCal that was organized by a bellydancer (and her husband). All these times, almost everyone thought that the husband was an ally, someone who supported the belly dance community, which, let’s face it, is predominantly women (whether cis or trans). Apparently, the husband of the organizer had a secret group on Facebook. The secret group was originally made for DJs. It started with discussions about DJ stuff, then it escalated. The husband, and another man (who is apparently a photographer and a husband of another female bellydancer), had posted photographs of belly dance performers (men and women) and making not just highly inappropriate statements, but very sexist, misogynistic, humiliating comments about them. Even posting real names of the dancers.

For some, this may not be a big deal. “They’re men being men,” or, “It’s not like they’re really acting it out.”

If it’s a stranger, I’ll probably get it. I do not condone it, I will still say that the statement “men being men” is very reductive, but I’ll probably get it.

But those remarks came from men these dancers had trusted. Those remarks came from men these dancers had hugged and kissed and confided in and had heart-to-heart conversations with.

The dance festival that was supposed to be a safe space, a haven (not just for women, although mostly for women, because again, bellydancers are predominantly women), no longer became a safe space.

And there I was, in the back of a room somewhere in Los Angeles, in a discussion about the dance festival. I listened to women share their very private experiences and fears and triggers. I witnessed these women cry openly as they confronted their fears and let everyone in the room know the hurt and anguish they felt as old wounds were reopened by the recent dance festival debacle. They held each other. The comforted each other.

Some men talked too. Straight men who have bellydancer wife/girlfriend. Straight men who made sure that they would never behave like those two sexist husbands. Some men said that they would kick the asses of those nasty, sexist men, and other men yelled yeah they would too.

But where does that leave me?

I’m a gay male. I consider myself androgynous, but by all accounts, I’m still a cisgender male. I don’t want to cut off my penis or grow breasts. I don’t want to not have sexual organs because I love sex and I love having an orgasm.

I feel weird calling myself a man because I don’t identify with that word, because there’s a sense of masculinity that’s attached to it, and I’m neither masculine nor do I want to be.

But still.

I used to feel comfortable hugging females and women, including bellydancers, but now, with this breach of trust, I feel like I need to take a step back. I always try not to wander into a female changing room. I always prefer to change in the bathroom. Some welcomed me inside their changing room and they freely changed in front of me, but it still felt weird. Part of it was probably because I was raised with different values concerning nudity.

I never feel comfortable hugging males, or even striking a conversation with men, especially straight men, because I don’t want to give the impression that I want to have sex with them. I don’t have a lot of straight male friends because of that very reason. And the reason is because I grew up learning that many straight males are afraid of gay males because they think gay males are predators and will turn them gay. It is my own personal crusade to make sure that I don’t have sex with straight males.

One of the husbands of the bellydancer who were present in the community meeting (not the sexist husbands), did say that as men, we have a lot to learn.

I know I do.

I have never experienced true grief. Both my parents are still alive. Both my siblings are still alive. I’ve experienced grief when I lost my cats, and they meant a lot to me, but without being reductive to my own experience, I’m not an empath. I can never feel what other people feel. Everything that I’ve experienced, my sex, my gender, my race, my sexuality, my upbringing, my socioeconomic background, my genes, all of these contribute to my identity and how I process thoughts and emotions and memories.

I can never know what females feel. Even if I were raped, I would never know how female rape survivors feel, because I’m not a female. I can never know what straight males feel, because although I have a penis, I’m not attracted to females.

I am unique and so is everyone around me.

I have different threshold of tolerance, to pain, to suffering, to humiliation, to heartbreaks. I deal with my own traumas differently. I deal with my life differently. And so do other people.

What is okay to you may not be okay to another person. A female dancer may welcome me to change in her dressing room while she’s there, because she doesn’t see me as a threat, but another female dancer may object to that because she considers me a man, and I’ll be happy to leave.

I am not inconvenienced by whatever happened to the dance festival. I never felt attached to it. I don’t personally know the organizer or her husband, but I’ve read some of the vile remarks from the DJ group and they angered me. But again, I’m not one of the performers who were personally attacked in said DJ group.

But I’ve made a decision. This decision is good for now. I may change it next month or next year, since I’m constantly growing and learning and educating myself. I will make mistakes. I’m not being pessimistic. It’s just the reality.

My decision is: my being gay has nothing to do with this. I’m still a male (notice that I don’t use the gender-term “man”), but there’s a bigger, more pressing issue here. I know that I can be an ally to women, but I’d also like to acknowledge that everyone is unique. Which is why, from this day on, I will try not to generalize. I will try to remember what everyone’s preference is when it comes to fundamental things like boundaries. I’ll keep a rolodex in my brain to keep track of what you allow me to do or to say and to be respectful.

But my brain is small, and my memory can sometimes be wonky, so please bear with me if I keep making mistakes and repeating them (hopefully not too many times). And always, always, always, remind me when I’ve crossed the line. Do it gently, do it harshly, do it however you like, but remember that like you, I also have feelings.

Know that I will avoid you if I think you feel uncomfortable to be around me, or if I think you can never forgive me for what I’ve done. I will wait until you can forgive me, until we can have an awkward but warm talk, until you’re sure that you can trust me again. That’s how I salvage a relationship, by giving time and space.

But I’m not selfless.

Know also that you and I have the right to shut each other out, if it needs to come to that, and it’s fine, because we both can survive without each other.

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