Why ‘eulogy values’ are crucial to our happiness as gay men

gay men
Reading time: 6 minutes

For most gay men, the journey from chronic insecurity to enduring wellbeing is fraught. It can be likened to fording a swift river under the cover of darkness, without the benefit of a boat or boatman.

Not only must we fight the currents of the past, but we must also somehow manage to keep our heads above the water in the present. Without light to guide us, we risk losing sight of the far shore. Without a strong inner resolve, we may surrender and be swept downstream. 

Our suffering is often like mud on the river’s banks, so deep and compounded that we risk becoming mired in it before we’ve even reached the water.

In such times, we may be overwhelmed by the temptation to give in to our sense of powerlessness. Accepting that we may have no agency, that change is impossible, leads us to abandon our goals. 

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We as gay men often settle for a life of contrary desires and actions, pursuing cheap thrill encounters in favor of purposeful deeds and meaningful connections. But such internal contradictions promise no peace. 

Rather, they are likely to only deepen our suffering.

Gay men and impulsive living

When I was in my early 20s and making my first forays into the gay “scene”, I met a man called Jeran.

Jeran was a gentle soul torn by insecurity. Having been abandoned by his father at an early age and bullied at school, he’d moved from the suburbs, seeking shelter in an inner-city gay village.

Despite always being surrounded by other gay men and having a mother who overcompensated to the point of celebrating her son’s birthday with him at a gay club of his choice, Jeran continued to suffer from self-loathing and impulsivity.

I knew Jeran desperately wanted a partner. But rather than attending venues and events geared towards dating, he spent his evenings compulsively cruising hookup sites and nightclubs.

Jeran was more of an acquaintance than a friend, so I was surprised when I received a call from him early one morning some months after our initial meeting.

Thinking it must be an emergency, I answered. Jeran apologized for waking me up then breathlessly launched into an account of his latest hookup. 

It quickly became clear to me that Jeran had confused a sexual encounter for a romantic one. When he explained the man he had met had recently split with his wife of some years, leaving his two children in her care, I hesitated. But for Jeran, the fact the man had admitted this much could only ever be proof of his sincere intentions.

The following day, Jeran called again, seeking my enthusiastic endorsement, while disclosing intimate details that I had no interest in hearing.

By the third call, I finally told him that I needed him to reign it in. To my astonishment, Jeran replied by suggesting I might be jealous and dangled the consolation prize of a threeway

Given I had never expressed sexual interest in Jeran, this left me feeling deeply uncomfortable. I made an excuse and got off the call. 

About a week later, my phone buzzed. When I picked up, it was not Jeran this time, but his mother, pleading with me to go and check on him.

Jeran’s suitor, she explained, had stopped returning his calls, and her son was now in hysterics and threatening suicide. Concerned, I went over to Jeran’s studio to talk him through the situation. 

A stolid, red-eyed Jeran greeted me at the door. I tried to broach the subject of the breakup, but he deflected. After a friend arrived to offer support, Jeran – without so much as a word of explanation – opened his laptop and proceeded to watch hardcore porn.

It was as if someone had set the faucet to full blast then switched it off just as suddenly. Jeran’s denial of the relationship trauma he had just experienced was so complete he refused to take the necessary downtime to process his painful loss and, within a day or so, was back to cruising sex sites.

Over the next few years, I continued to see Jeran online, promoting drug use and branding himself as “semi-masc” – an apparent disavowal of his proud identification as camp.

Part of me wanted to reach out to him. Yet I knew that his entrenched sense of shame would prevent us from ever having the kind of authentic, nurturing conversation I knew he longed for.

Finding your anchor

Jeran’s suffering epitomizes that of many gay men who spend their lives yoyoing between highs and lows, refusing to acknowledge emotions and forever scrambling to find the next fix.

But in becoming preoccupied with the pursuit, we grow ever detached from our core values – values that should serve as a comforting source of stability, whatever the circumstance. 

Journalist David Brooks laments this universal challenge in his book The Road to Character:

Years pass and the deepest parts of yourself go unexplored and unstructured. You are busy, but you have a vague anxiety that your life has not achieved its ultimate meaning and significance. You live with an unconscious boredom, not really loving, not really attached to the moral purposes that give life its worth. You lack the internal criteria to make unshakable commitments. You never develop inner constancy, the integrity that can withstand popular disapproval or a serious blow. 

Without the grounding influence of a firm value system, those of us suffering the anguish of unsuccessful relationships or the pain of alienation from our authentic identity as gay men may turn to the validation promised by grandiosity, or the quick-fix relief of addictive substances or behaviors.

The problems we face in such circumstances are undoubtedly profound. There are no easy solutions, but if we are to ever find them, we must first be willing to put a moratorium on external distraction.

Only then can we achieve a much-needed internal reckoning.

gay men eulogy values

1. Write a mission statement

In The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, author Stephen R. Covey proposes that instead of trying to find solace in our ever-changing physical reality, we can turn to the inner world of principles.

By actively engaging with our value system, we generate positive change. To quote Covey: “Sow a thought, reap an action; sow an action, reap a habit; sow a habit, reap a character; sow a character, reap a destiny”.

How do we identify our principles? We can start by asking questions like:

  • What’s most important to me? 
  • What values do I believe in practicing daily? 
  • What am I most willing to fight for? 
  • What is my definition of a healthy, happy life? 
  • What nourishes my body, mind, and spirit?

Look at your answers, making sure to distinguish between what Brooks calls “resumé values” and “eulogy values”.

Resumé values are values concerned exclusively with material success, the kind that sounds great on your resumé. Eulogy values, on the other hand, are tied to your character. These are the traits loved ones might celebrate at your funeral.

Once you have identified your eulogy values, frame them as statements about how you intend to live your life, and why. List these principles on a one-page document. Close your statement with a pledge of commitment and sign the bottom.

Congratulations! You now have a mission statement. 

Now print out copies of this statement and tape them in places where you’ll be reminded on a daily basis of the code by which you have chosen to live your new life.

2. Set some S.M.A.R.T. goals

S.M.A.R.T. stands for five categories: specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and time-bound.  This goal tracking system helps break objectives into easily understood and trackable metrics.

Begin by brainstorming some goals in service of your newly articulated principles. Then download a S.M.A.R.T. goal planning spreadsheet and organize them into the five categories listed above.

For example, if healthy eating is a value you’ve identified, you can consider meal planning each week and preparing some home-cooked meals.

If you’ve listed community service as a goal, you can set aside time to volunteer for some nonprofits in your local community whose services you feel are valuable.

If you’ve decided you want to live a more mindful existence, consider implementing a 15-minute daily meditation practice.

In order to help you stick with your new resolutions, you may want to set reminders on your phone or program a habit-tracking app. Make sure to regularly check back on your progress at the times you’ve designated under the “T” section of your goal planner. 

The act of setting these goals alone will affirm your self-worth. And when you follow through with them, you are taking intentional steps towards creating a lifestyle defined not by the desire to escape but to embrace.

3. Be kind to yourself

Our society is addicted to the notion of instant “Cinderella-style” transformations. Transformation, however, runs on its own clock.

For this reason, you must be both patient and kind to yourself. Many gay men have a tendency towards achievement and perfectionism. If this sounds like you, ensure your goal-setting and fulfillment does not become yet another behavior characterized by compulsivity.

Instead, practice listening to your feelings and needs. Cut yourself slack when needed. Treat this an opportunity as much for growth as for self-compassion. 

Remember that you are tending a garden that will, in time, bear fruit. Conscientiousness and persistence are key.

The alternative is neglect, and we know very well the costs of this: the overgrown patches where snakes lurk, the flowers choked by weeds, the gnarled trees with their spoiled fruit. 

Craft a bold vision – one guaranteed to bring wellbeing and security, then carefully cultivate it.

“He who has a why to live,” says German philosopher Nietzsche, “can bear almost any how”.

Takeaways

  • Write a mission statement identifying the values that are most important to you.
  • Set goals in service of these values.
  • Break your new goals down into action steps using the S.M.A.R.T. system.
  • Pace yourself, and remember to practice self-compassion.

Have self-care tips of your own you’d like to share? Comment below, or send me a message.

© Ehsan Knopf. Any views or opinions represented in this blog are personal and belong solely to the blog owner and do not represent those of people, institutions or organizations that the owner may or may not be associated with in professional or personal capacity, unless explicitly stated. All content found on the TheThoughtfulGay.com website and affiliated social media accounts were created for informational purposes only and should not be treated as a substitute for the advice of qualified medical or mental health professionals. Always follow the advice of your designated provider.

Why gay men suffer from internalized homophobia

gay internalized homophobia
Reading time: 7 minutes

Even today, gay boys and men grow up facing the dual challenge of cultural homophobia and its byproduct: internalized homophobia. The chance they will suffer from the latter is magnified when that homophobia plays out in the family home.

When I was 14, I remember a relative telling me that HIV/AIDS was the result of “gay men having sex with monkeys”. Say what?

“Oh, but it’s true,” the relative insisted. “Scientists have proven it.”

Today, such a claim could be easily disproved with a quick Google search. And while confusing homosexuality with bestiality might have been laughable, the statement had carried a hateful subtext. 

For what this relative was really saying was that gay men were despicable sexual deviants.

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That same message was conveyed in countless other situations. Once while visiting a friend of my father’s, I was forced to listen to him rant about a male flight attendant he’d noticed wearing makeup.

“He’s just a faggot,” the friend said, as if this explained everything. “I found it nauseating”.

These comments left me burning with anger. Any passionate defense I mustered would, of course, have outed me, and meant enduring the disdain not only of this homophobe but my father as well.

In high school, a girl I had considered a friend complained to the entire class about seeing a news segment about the annual Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras parade.

“Why do gay people have to shove it in our faces?” she said. “It’s disgusting.” Never mind the fact she herself had chosen to watch the segment.

Our teacher had simpered in agreement. Then – in a tone that was meant to convey tolerance – he stated that while he personally had no problem with gay people, he believed they should “keep their sexuality to themselves”.

Which is precisely what I did. With these kinds of comments being thrown about, there was zero chance I would be telling anyone about my sexuality any time soon.

It is no surprise then, that in this kind of hostile climate that we as gay men feel compelled to live lives of subterfuge.

The source of internalized homophobia

The same year I was told gay people should “keep their sexuality to themselves”, I undertook a job bagging groceries at a local chain store.

The store was occasionally visited by a rail-thin man wearing a goatee and garish gold jewelry, who had a tendency to mix and match his clothes: a tie-dyed shirt with cow-print pajama pants, a bucket cap with mandals.

I guessed by his mincing movements that he must be gay, a fact that left me puzzled. Every gay boy and man knew that flamboyant behavior invariably drew negative attention. Was this fellow trying to paint a target on his own back?

It is only with hindsight now that I realize this stranger’s campness was not necessarily an act of showy defiance but self-acceptance. The problem wasn’t his embrace of femininity, but the fact that I was uncomfortable with it.

Femininity, after all, was a quality I had long learned to disguise as a matter of survival. Yet in accepting that my safety depended upon my ability to conform and “pass” as someone straight, I had unwittingly internalized homophobia.

The low down on gay men and femininity

Gay men face marginalization and persecution often because we tend to behave in non-heteronormative ways, which in turn enable others to identify our sexuality and use it as a basis for exclusion.

Gay men are typically portrayed in the media as being more feminine and are commonly labeled “sissies” and “pansies”. But is there any truth to the claim that men are more feminine than their heterosexual counterparts? 

In Gay, Straight and the Reason Why, author Simon LeVay reveals that gay people do indeed tend to be “gender-atypical” where it comes to certain “gendered” traits. 

What traits exactly are gendered? According to LeVay:

In the area of personality, men rank higher than women on measures of assertiveness, competitiveness, aggressiveness, and independence… Women rank higher than men on measures of expressiveness, sociability, empathy, openness to feelings, altruism, and neuroticism… Men prefer thing-oriented activities and occupations (e.g. carpenter), whereas women prefer people-oriented activities and occupations (e.g. social worker). Women have better-developed aesthetic interests and less-developed technological interests than men.

As a group, gay men tend for example to score higher than straight men on tests measuring empathy, aesthetic interests, and verbal fluency.

Studies have revealed gay men are less physically aggressive. They are also gender-shifted towards instrumentality, expressiveness and people-oriented occupations. (Note here the use of “shift”, as opposed to “inverted”; that is, gay men as a group do not completely adopt typically feminine traits.)

According to an analysis of a survey conducted by the BBC in 2005, gay UK-based respondents on average perceived themselves to be more feminine. This finding is backed by a number of other studies.

The pressure to be masculine

In my earlier article on embracing our authentic gay identities, I shared author Terrence Real‘s claim that from boyhood males are expected to reach for the brass ring of masculinity. This masculinity involves a form of self-reliance that asks us to cut ourselves off from our emotional selves, our mothers* and the support of our communities. 

Socialization teaches us to view emotional expressivity and vulnerability as feminine traits that must be avoided at all costs. The prevailing definition of masculinity, of what it means to be a “successful man”, is one of self-reliance.  

This self-reliance and independence are further promoted by widely adopted social beliefs such as rugged individualism: i.e. “I don’t need anyone’s help, I can do this all on my own”, or the practice of stoicism, which advocates keeping a “stiff upper lip” in the face of hardship. 

Self-reliant masculinity is promoted by the archetypal male hero in movies and television, be it the hardboiled detective of crime fiction, the tough-as-nails gunslinger of Westerns, or the ironclad action hero. These characters typically prove their merit through unflinching courage and physical prowess.

According to this definition, the opposite of self-reliance is weakness. When we exhibit “feminine” – that is, the gender-atypical – traits, we inadvertently signal to others that our masculinity is “defective”, thus inviting homophobic scorn and condemnation.

gay internalized homophobia

Double-barrelled shame

Gay men historically have received a double dose of hostility, on account not only of gender-atypical traits but of being seen as inherently flawed.

Being gay was once viewed as an act of rebellion against the laws of God, as per the Bible’s accounts of Sodom and Gomorrah. Homosexuals were viewed as “perversions”, on par with the likes of pedophiles.

The advent of modern science saw homosexuality reclassified as a mental disorder, a label that would remain until 1973 under the order of the American Psychiatric Association.

The perception that we were untrustworthy and possibly dangerous, however, persisted.

Consider for example the “Lavender scare”, in which thousands of gay people were purged from US military services and intelligence agencies from the late 40s and into the 60s. In 1953, President Eisenhower even signed an executive order banning gay men from employment by the US government and its private contractors.

Suspicion towards gay men endured even from 1981 onwards, with the advent of what was initially called the “gay disease”, “gay cancer”, “gay plague” or “gay-related immune deficiency”.

Later retitled HIV/AIDS, the resulting epidemic triggered a moral panic that fueled further discrimination towards and ostracism of gay people. 

The impact on gay men

The negative light in which we as a group have been regarded, together with the emotional repression demanded of us, puts great strain on the mental health of gay boys and men.

Given we naturally tend towards empathy and expressiveness, I would argue this strain is greater than that faced by heterosexual men.

In the face of social pressure to emulate ideals of “manliness”, and the dismissal, ridicule and physical harm we may face when we defy them, many of us find ourselves falling in line. We do this by assimilating the loathing others harbor for our authentic selves, altering our self-presentation along the lines of the masculine ideal.

That is, we learn to conceal our more evident “feminine” traits, including our interest in other men. Some of us may even avoid all possibility of judgment by eschewing the company of heterosexuals, moving to live in a gay village.

But the inauthentic shell which we don as a matter of necessity may become a new comfortable norm. Self-loathing will likely leave us crippled by ongoing covert depression.

Unable to tolerate our vulnerability, we find ourselves in turn unable to tolerate it in others. We adopt judgmentalism, rejecting other gay men as we ourselves were once rejected.

Gay bars, clubs, and dating apps are rife with this kind of behavior, which in many cases is an expression of internalized homophobia. Consider, for example, those people who write “no femmes” on their dating profiles, or demand a highly specific “masc” type or muscular physique in their partners.

While not as dramatic as a closeted man cruising a gay night club and attacking someone for making a pass at him, this latent form of internalized homophobia is characterized by emotional repression so painful that many sufferers are forced to seek refuge in grandiosity or addictive behaviors.

The irony of this repression and its byproducts is that they only further our existing sense of isolation, creating conditions ripe for more depression.

In order to free ourselves from the tyranny of homophobia, we must learn to accept and embrace all facets of our identity – without fear of reprisal. Source: Elise Gravel

The cure to internalized homophobia

In order to overcome self-loathing, we must first acknowledge how we have suffered by turning away from our authentic selves. To break the hold internalized homophobia has on our lives, we must learn to accept and embrace all facets of our identity – without fear of reprisal.

For some of us, this may involve an outward exhibition of our more feminine traits. We may choose, like the goateed stranger of my teenagehood, to wear whatever we want and to act in the way that feels most natural to us.

Or we may simply seek to reconnect with and express our emotions; to let down our guards and create conditions in which others can do the same.

It is through such shared vulnerability that I believe we can ultimately achieve true healing, not just as individuals, but also as a community.

Takeaways

  • Homosexuals as a group show some “gender-atypical” personality traits.
  • One is the typically feminine trait of emotional expressiveness.
  • Homosexuality historically was seen to be a perversion or illness.
  • Expressive gay boys and men thus face double the stigma.
  • Survival requires hiding our authentic emotional selves.
  • The result is depression and judgmentalism.
  • If we are to heal, we must restore emotional authenticity.

Have insights of your own you’d like to share? Comment below, or send me a message.

* I acknowledge that disconnection from one’s mother may not apply to all men, for example in the case of being raised by a male caregiver, or homosexual parents.

© Ehsan Knopf. Any views or opinions represented in this blog are personal and belong solely to the blog owner and do not represent those of people, institutions or organizations that the owner may or may not be associated with in professional or personal capacity, unless explicitly stated. All content found on the TheThoughtfulGay.com website and affiliated social media accounts were created for informational purposes only and should not be treated as a substitute for the advice of qualified medical or mental health professionals. Always follow the advice of your designated provider.