Be kind. Stop the oppressive cycle of gay shame.

gay men masking shame with contempt
Reading time: 6 minutes

My lack of body coordination has always been a painful fact, evoking a gay shame that stems from my school years. 

Raised in the stoic, sports-oriented culture of Australia, I often felt that my value as a male – at least in the eyes of my peers – was ultimately tied to my athletic prowess and sexuality.

It was not until my diagnosis with Asperger syndrome at age 26 that I found myself able to shrug off the feelings of masculine “inferiority” that had dogged me for so long.

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Where previously I’d treated sports as a high-risk arena for failure, I now decided to turn this arena into a sandpit of experimentation.

After dabbling in cycling ended with me lodged in a stranger’s windshield, I turned to kickboxing instead.

While waiting for classes to begin, I’d watch the invite-only advanced members amble out of the ring, self-assured in a way I could never hope to be. 

Coveting the brass ring corroded my enthusiasm. All it took was one badly aimed kick landing in a stranger’s family jewels for me to decide to pack it in.

Judgment and toxic masculinity

My next stop was a queer recreational dodgeball league. Despite being a lousy aim and an easy mark, I was determined to commit to at least one season of play.

My team members proved for the most part friendly. Longtime players seemed unsparing in their support of newcomers, doling out praise and tips. 

But what had begun as something casual very quickly into an exercise in extreme competitiveness, as gay judgmentalism – normally grounded in the assessment of other’s physicality – now found focus in player’s on-court capabilities.

It was present in how some league members ignored friendly overtures, in the way cliques closed ranks upon approach.

I witnessed team captains actively scouting games and handpicking members, choosing some while excluding others. Nevermind that this was a recreational league.

Worse still, players would yell at one another for failing to catch balls. While dodging one ball, I found myself on the receiving end of a rude shove from another team member.

Then there were the players who strutted about with an air of superiority, engaging in dizzying displays of skill and berating first-time players for not knowing the rules. 

The behavior grew more ugly from there. Some players flagrantly defied the rules while the coaches weren’t watching, refusing to take their “outs” as if it were a matter of survival.

This inevitably led to verbal clashes, taunting, and the exchange of obscenities. Par for the course with any competitive sport – and yet an LGBTQ+ league was the last place I’d ever hoped to endure toxic masculinity.

Some people, it seemed, were replaying far older battles, where the stakes weren’t so much team ranking, as they were self-worth

gay shame self compassion thoughtful gay

A secret legacy of gay shame

In any LGBTQ+ sports league, there’s always as an argument to be made for the commonality of our struggles.

As many of us have endured exclusion and bullying over our sexuality in the past, this is probably the last thing any of us would want to inflict it upon others. So why does it continue to happen?

Society historically has regarded gay men with contempt, constructing our sexuality as either a despicable choice, a weakness of character, or a moral flaw.

Our way of coping with this atmosphere of psychological, social, and even physical danger according to The Velvet Rage author Alan Downs is by adapting, chameleon-like, to our surroundings.

We conceal visible expressions of our gay identity, such as our interest in members of the same sex. And we suppress expressions of traditionally “feminine” traits, such as emotional vulnerability, while muting our authentic selves.

In short, we make ourselves more acceptable to others, at the expense of our own wholeness. And in so doing, we internalize others’ judgment.

Being told our “perversity” is a choice, and believing this not to be the case, we are faced with an internal dispute. We find ourselves harboring what feels like a terrible secret. Other’s contempt thus becomes our shame.

As young adults emerging from the repressive social environments of our childhood, we may leap headlong into expressions and declarations of self-acceptance; “wrapping ourselves in the gay flag”, as it were.

Such expressions and declarations however represent a destination that can only be reached after a certain internal journey requiring some degree of excavation, examination, and healing.

As Brené Brown explains in The Gifts of Imperfection, “Shame needs three things to grow out of control in our lives: secrecy, silence, and judgment. When something shaming happens and we keep it locked up, it festers and grows. It consumes us”.

Gay shame, when left unaddressed, may even find expression, contrarily, in the form of more contempt.

gay shame self compassion thoughtful gay

Calling out shame

The behavior I witnessed – the exclusion, the general disrespect towards others, and the desire to win at all costs – meant that old traumas were being exhumed.

It also meant that players who had once themselves been oppressed were now unwittingly assuming the role of the oppressor, perpetuating a cycle of gay shame.

It’s possible in saying this, I may be projecting my own internalized gay shame. As someone who was usually the last to be picked for any school team, I’ve grown especially sensitive to situations that drive home old beliefs in my being deficient in “masculinity”.

But even if I wasn’t merely indulging my insecurities, I was certainly within my rights to be hurt by how I was treated, and how I saw others being treated.

This left me with two choices: either remain in the league and try to ignore the toxicity or quit a potentially shame-triggering situation. 

Then again, quitting hardly guaranteed complete freedom from the contempt of other gay men.

Self-compassion heals gay shame

When faced with feelings of shame, inadequacy, and inferiority, we adopt one of three tactics: we don the armor of grandiosity as compensation, we crumple, or we employ self-compassion.

To quote eighth century Indian Buddhist monk Shantideva:

Where would there be leather enough to cover the entire world? With just the leather of my sandals, it is as if the whole world were covered. Likewise, I am unable to restrain external phenomena, but I shall restrain my own mind. What need is there to restrain anything else?

Thus, rather than attempting to soften all the world’s painful surfaces, we would be better served by accepting the sensitivity of our figurative feet and finding more practical ways of protecting them.

We do this firstly through self-compassionate inquiry. In the words of Buddhist Pema Chödrön, if we are to attain a new, more empowering view of our suffering, we must embark upon “a process of acknowledging our aversions and our cravings”,

(becoming) familiar with the strategies and beliefs we use to build the walls: What are the stories I tell myself? What repels me and what attracts me? … We can observe ourselves with humor, not getting overly serious, moralistic, or uptight about this investigation.

Having put a name to what I was feeling in the dodgeball league, I was now able to pay attention to the script it was activating and to query its accuracy. 

Hardening into anger, or adopting rigid convictions about other people would not serve me. What then was the alternative?

By abandoning my fixed conception of reality, of right and wrong, by leaning into the discomfort, I could learn to be truly present with my own feelings about the situation.

Being present enabled me in turn to self-soothe, an action Self-Compassion author Kristin Neff says is crucial to the process of healing.

The peace of mind ultimately arrived at was a natural outgrowth of such self-compassion. In my case, that transition was facilitated with the guidance and insights of a therapist.

gay shame contempt self compassion

Using kindness and humor to defeat shame

Pema Chödrön’s suggestion of employing humor when investigating your own patterns of thinking can be particularly helpful, at least where shame is concerned. 

Humor can help dissolve armor and deflate puffed-up defenses. But humor is only possible once we learn to recognize our cognitive and behavioral scripts as they are being activated.

Confronted by subtle and oftentimes not-so-subtle expressions of contempt from other dodgeball players, my instinct was either flee or fight.

On one hand, they could be viewed as reasonable coping strategies. But on the other, they offered no true grounding against these perceived threats. What was required here was the development of resiliency: the ability to tolerate, rather than avoid, adversity.

So I began to actively laugh off my own mistakes, gently poking fun at other’s egotism or aggression, while striving to show others the generosity of spirit I’d witnessed in the more seasoned players.

In cultivating inward and outward kindness, I found myself forging friendships with other players that served as a bulwark against the toxicity surrounding us.

When I eventually decided to quit the league six months later, it was motivated not by anger or hurt over the conduct of others, but by an on-court injury.

This accident aside, looking back, I realized my decision to remain in the league was a kind of victory. No – I hadn’t mastered the game. And no – the demons of childhood past remained.

Rather, what I had achieved was the greatest freedom that a person can desire. Namely, the freedom of learning to let go.

Takeaways

  • Identify “shame scripts”.
  • Practice self-compassion.
  • Use kindness and humor.

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.

How judgmentalism is ruining gay dating

Reading time: 6 minutes

Gay dating is riddled with pitfalls, but perhaps the most significant is the rampant judgmentalism we face – and inflict – upon one another.

The irony is that we approach dating expecting chemistry while treating each other in ways that make it almost impossible.

The catch-22 is that unless we feel safe, unless we can let our guards down, we’re going to resist being vulnerable. And without vulnerability, there is no chemistry.

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Judgment and gay dating

I met Bryce* one evening over boba tea. Bryce was a guitarist from the UK who had come to Los Angeles with big hopes of breaking into the music industry.

As we exchanged details about our lives, Bryce made a number of flattering remarks about my appearance, flashing flirtatious grins, while indicating he genuinely wanted to get to know me.

As our conversation rolled on, Bryce asked me about my family and we somehow got onto the subject of trust.

“I like to give everyone the benefit of the doubt,” Bryce said.

“That’s great,” I replied. “I used to be the same.”

Bryce looked at me, expectant. I smiled, explaining I had firsthand experience dealing with a relative who was a pathological liar and that this had left me somewhat wary.

Almost immediately the warmth left Bryce’s expression. I excused myself to use the restroom, and when I returned he asked to call it a night. 

Out in the car park, I offered Bryce a polite farewell hug.

“Oh, we’re going to hug, are we?” he sneered, then walked away.

I got into my car, confused. Had my comment had been mistimed? Had I overshared?

Even so, I couldn’t shake the feeling that no time would ever have been appropriate for such an admission.

For in opening up to Bryce, I had breached an unspoken code by which many gay men live: never expose your vulnerabilities.

Gay dating and expecting perfection

Being born gay almost always guarantees an inheritance of trauma or invalidation. Having been bullied and marginalized for our differences, in particular our emotional expressivity, we learn early on to hide these, lest others brand us “feminine”.

Some of us do this by constructing a perfect exterior, or by hiding behind keen wit, brand name wardrobes, gym-fit physiques, or career success. In many cases, this is the mark of insecurity, born of an unrelenting inner critic.

Deprived of self-compassion, we, in turn, become incapable of mustering empathy for others. When a romantic interest tries to be vulnerable with us, to let their imperfections hang out, there is a strong possibility we will treat this as an infraction.

Uncomfortable with the demands this vulnerability makes of our own, we – like Bryce – reach not for understanding, but dismissal. 

Thus, having ourselves been rejected for being our authentic selves, we come to reject others for what we perceive as their weaknesses or flaws.

I believe it’s for this reason that many of us choose hookups over dating. We’re even more likely to avoid connections if we have in the past put ourselves out there, only to be shut down.

Hookups furthermore validate. They offer us instant gratification while sparing us the emotional risks typically associated with relationships.

In her book Daring Greatly, Brené Brown notes that we commonly associate vulnerability with “dark emotions”. But so long as we remain terrified of recognizing, acknowledging, and discussing such emotions, they continue to exert significant control over all aspects of our lives.

Imperfection is a given

Most gay men will suffer some form of trauma and a degree of neuroticism by virtue of what we have lived through. Psychology Today defines neuroticism as “a tendency toward anxiety, depression, self-doubt, and other negative feelings”. 

Unfortunately, the popular doctrine of masculinity asks that we hide our anguish and struggles. Those who fail to do so are mocked and rejected. Social conditioning has more or less made emotional concealment a condition for acceptance as males.

But our wounds and imperfections are a fact of human existence, ones that will sooner or later be revealed in the course of dating.

While I believe this act of revealing should be treated as a generous gift and met with compassion and understanding, many of us resort instead to the scorn and rejection we ourselves have suffered.

When we do this, we don’t just perpetuate a cycle of harm – we render gay dating an exercise in futility,

Until we have learned to be comfortable with our wounds and to reintegrate that emotional part of our identity we have split off as a matter of acceptance and survival, we will not treat vulnerability with the honor it deserves.

And so the meaningful relationships we all ultimately desire will continue to elude us.

Use discernment, not judgment

When dating, judgment may serve as a valuable defense mechanism, allowing us to screen out people who may pose a threat to our interests.

The gay dating world is, after all, rife with people who are irresponsible in their actions, inconsistent in motive, and generally lacking self-awareness. 

This is especially true on gay dating apps, which cannot enforce personal accountability. People we’ve been engaging in a heartfelt chat with can, for example, decide to reject, ghost, or block us, often without an apparent cause or explanation.

It’s no wonder then our reaction is to always be protecting ourselves, yet there is a difference between preemptively attaching negative labels to someone and genuinely trying to understand and relate to them

To this end, first dates should be treated as much as an exercise in rapport-building as one in information gathering. We should work to learn about our date’s habits and character; to build a holistic assessment in the place of making a snap judgment.

Chemistry is important, certainly, but true chemistry is a slow-burn phenomenon that can only flourish under conditions of emotional safety. So we must first create a gay dating environment in which it can flourish.

We do this by choosing discernment over judgment.

gay dating judgmentalism

Discernment in practice

Judgment is a process of assigning values and drawing conclusions, while discernment is a process of perceiving facts and making informed inferences

As a discerning dater, your job is to be on the lookout for discrepancies, causes for concern, differences and dealbreakers.

Your date for example may tell you they find you very attractive. They may insist they are looking to date. But they may also label themselves a workaholic.

You will notice here a disparity between a stated desire and practiced action, one that seems to suggest this person may not really want to date. Dating, after all, would require that they be willing to shift gears; to consider putting people before things

Workaholics by definition neglect their own needs. They are therefore unlikely to have the mental bandwidth to accommodate another person’s needs. 

When a date defines themselves as a workaholic, they may be intentionally or unintentionally “Mirandizing” you. That is, they are reading you your rights as a romantic candidate, telling you what to expect. Namely, that their job will always come first. 

This kind of distancing behavior is often indicative of an avoidant attachment style, which does not bode well for most people seeking romantic fulfillment. 

If we probe a little deeper, workaholicism for many gay men is an expression of covert depression, masquerading as grandiosity. There is a possibility this person may have some challenges they need to work through.

Unless your date is taking proactive steps to help themselves, to be in a relationship with them may require that you be willing to accept – if not enable – their avoidance. 

By making observations about the facts presented here, I have practiced discernment.

But discernment also tells me that while my date has admitted to being a workaholic, this is a clue, not a conclusion. 

Keep on gathering intel

Red flag may leave you with reservations, but it is imperative to keep an open mind, while also looking for data that may contradict or confirm the evidence at hand.

In the situation above, you may subsequently learn your date was joking about being a workaholic, or that they are in fact willing, ready, and able to break the habit.

With positive discoveries like this, we may feel tempted to abandon our assessment. Still, information gathering is a process that cannot – and should not – be rushed when gay dating, lest we miss evidence of future problems.

After all, when meeting other gay men we tend to put our best foot forward – at least initially. Over time, our true nature seeps out through the chinks in our armor. Such glimpses of our true selves are often the most telling.

One of the perils of expediting assessment while dating is that we may overlook this true self. Or we may never even get the chance because we’ve already ruled that person out, thus missing out on the opportunity to connect with a possible kindred spirit.

For this reason, we must strive to recognize the commonality in our stories and to offer one another the compassion we are all seeking – and rightfully deserve.

Takeaways

  • Dysfunction and imperfection are universal.
  • By dismissing a date, we may be perpetuating harm we ourselves have suffered.
  • True chemistry only happens when we feel safe.
  • When we judge, we create a hostile environment that undermines vulnerability.
  • The alternative is to practice discernment, compassion, and empathy.

* Names and identifying details have been changed to protect the privacy of all individuals discussed in this article.

© 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.

Five alternatives to gay dating apps

gay dating apps
Reading time: 8 minutes

During my time using gay dating apps, I’ve had several experiences that left me questioning my continued use.

Rarely do they involve something as dramatic as a blow-up or a betrayal. Rather, they usually are the culmination of a thousand cuts.

Many of the people I have interacted with seem paralyzed by choice, requests for emotional availability, and the possibility of commitment. Those lacking in self-awareness will often resort to sabotaging a possible relationship, if only to avoid decision or perceived danger.

The most common form of sabotage is the mixed message: a man claiming to want one thing while indulging in behaviors that ran counter to it. “Looking for dates”, the dating app bio will read, “but open to everything else”.

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Should someone make an earnest attempt at courtship, that same man would sooner skirt complications altogether by embracing the easy and “safer” alternative of casual sex.

I first met Rayan* online during college. Years after our first date, he reemerged on Tinder, enthusiastically requesting we meet again.

While I had enjoyed Rayan’s company the first time, I’d felt that our lifestyles and interests were somewhat out of sync. Still, I figured there was no harm in giving it another shot.

We spent the first few minutes of our second date bringing each other up to speed on how our lives had changed in the intervening years, talking broadly about our dating experiences. Rayan expressed frustration about the difficulty of finding someone willing to take the time to get to know him.

About an hour into our conversation, he invited me back to his place for tea. But when we got there, Rayan’s initially chivalrous interest faltered. “Tea”, as it turned out, was a euphemism.

Feeling uncomfortable, I reiterated my intention to date, then noted it was getting late and that I really needed to get home. A conciliatory Rayan offered to walk me to my bus stop and I agreed.

While stopped at a pedestrian crossing, he raised the subject of arranged marriages. In what I can only guess was an appeal to our shared Middle Eastern heritage, Rayan spoke of relatives who would serve as matchmakers to heterosexual bachelors, and lamented the absence of equivalent services for gay men.

“Sometimes I wish I had an auntie who would find me a man to marry,” Rayan told me.

“I wouldn’t have any say in it. She’d choose and that would be it. We’d just have to make it work.”

Rayan laughed at the wistful impracticality of such an arrangement. Yet it seemed to me that for all his facetiousness, part of him meant what he had said.

Rayan’s desire for the implied simplicity of an arranged marriage was understandable, and yet both of us knew this was not something most gay men would ever realistically settle for. Accustomed to the sea of options offered by gay dating apps, to sacrifice those options for many would represent a considerable loss.

The fact Rayan had floated such an alternative to modern dating while on a date struck me as evidence enough of this. What on the surface it was a throwaway joke, it also felt like an offhanded dismissal of my attempts to get to know him.

Rayan over the span of our encounter had gone from stressing he wanted to date, to propositioning me for sex, to lamenting the difficulties of dating – a series of contradictory actions I suspect most people would struggle to decipher.

Like many men I have dated, Rayan either did not know what he truly really wanted, or feared admitting it and sticking to his guns.

When confronted with the emotional danger of being authentic, Rayan had resorted to humor as a defense mechanism, trying to create distance from that perceived danger.

The problem of gay dating apps

Those of us regularly exposed to the toxic environment of gay dating apps are intimately acquainted with the push-pull of wanting more, but fearing what that might entail.

We know it not only just by our own internal experience, but by the inconsistency of our dates who are hampered by the same contrary desires.

It is true that where it comes to building relationships, gay dating apps pose a number of fundamental challenges.

Previously I’ve noted how these apps can create an unhealthy dependence, asking us to engage in inauthentic behavior, while keeping us locked in a perpetual search and encouraging us to trivialize both ourselves and others.

At the heart of the current gay dating app crisis is a fundamental shift in our orientation from seeking connection and being focused and purpose-driven, to seeking entertainment, distraction and being opportunistic.

The gamified reward system used by these apps tempts many of us into adopting such a stance, thus undermining our search for wholesome, meaningful relationships.

The promise that gay dating apps will economize our time and effort may lead us down a downwards spiral of risk aversion, leaving us less willing to take a chance on others, even if all that involves is the price of a coffee and an hour of our time. 

The illusion of always being connected offered by text-based communication may also allow us to temporarily stave off loneliness while creating conditions that ironically feed that same isolation.

Text-based communication is also designed with personal convenience in mind, enabling us to effortlessly retouch our self-presentation, while avoiding situations that necessitate vulnerability, which is crucial to forming connections. 

gay dating apps

The antidote

Not that long ago, dating apps were seen as a somewhat unsavory fringe alternative to traditional dating. 

Now, in an uncanny inversion of roles, they have become the new norm, with real-life for many gay men assuming the title of “alternative” – for which we can find any number of excuses.

The bar and club scene? Not quite your jam. A matchmaking service? An unnecessary expense. Gay hobby groups? Too much of a commitment.

But to end our seemingly interminable search for an ideal partner, we must be willing to abandon the ease and comfort of text-based communication and truly invest in others.

In order to forge authentic relationships, we must give up the immediate gratification of texting and allow ourselves to risk vulnerability,

What I am advocating here is not a complete flight from text-based communication. Nor am I suggesting seeking out matchmakers or arranged relationships. Neither promise a true end to the crisis of choice that is modern dating.

What this crisis calls for, rather, is a return to basics. Namely, the crucial art of making and building friendships.

Don’t date. ‘Friend’

Friendship is the foundation of any sound romantic relationship. It does not carry the same emotional risks as gay dating, nor the ambiguity of app-based interactions. It facilitates not a dropping of boundaries and headlong plunge into sexual relations, but the slow and steady building of rapport and trust.

It stands to reason, therefore, that those of us seeking to date should make it our number one priority. We must be willing to shift our outlook from the limited confines of seeking a sex partner or significant other that ticks all the boxes, to the endless horizon of friendships.

How do we form friendships? Former FBI agent Jack Schafer offers the following formula in his book The Like Switch: Friendship = proximity x frequency x duration x intensity (PFDI)

Schafer defines proximity as being close to the subject in question. Frequency is relational to the number of times you’ve been in contact. Duration is the amount of time you spend together. Intensity measures how much you are able to satisfy others’ needs through your actions.

So, what are some settings that are conducive to PFDI?

1. Hobby groups

A hobby group or sporting group is the perfect PFDI nexus. They connect you to a community of like-minded people (proximity), and they give you an excuse to regularly gather with others (frequency, duration) to participate in a shared interest (intensity). 

You can find an array of options on Google, Meetup.com, or social media. If you’re feeling particularly intrepid, you could try establishing your own community. Setting up a group on Meetup.com, for example, is easy enough, although it does involve recurring fees.

2. Online communities

Online communities organized around a common interest can also provide regular relationship-building opportunities. This is presuming they are, again, gay-oriented and regularly organize in-person meetups in your town or city. 

One possible place to look for these is on Reddit.

3. Meditation or spiritual groups

Shared values are a great basis for connecting with other people. 

Whether you are dabbling in mindfulness, practicing yoga, or were raised with a religion that remains near and dear to your heart, chances are you’ll find there is already a gay community that shares your practices and is waiting to embrace you with open arms.

4. Talks, presentations or conferences

Find a talk or attend a conference that aligns with your interests. If it is gay-themed, all the better. 

You will stand a better chance of making friends if you attend after-event drinks, networking mixers and bar crawls.

5. Volunteering

If you’re not comfortable putting yourself out there, volunteering – particularly for an LGBT-related cause – is a great way to meet other mindful individuals just like yourself.

Not only will you be doing a valuable service for your local community, but you’ll also be putting your values into practice. This is an incredibly effective way to reinforce your sense of self-worth. 

People who are confident in this sense tend to be more attractive to others, thus further improving your chances of meeting someone.

Watch out for the toxic trio

Whatever you choose to do, remember to avoid gatherings that replicate the dynamic of gay dating apps.

Be on the lookout for what I call the toxic trio: objectification, judgmentalism, and competition.

These three things are to friendship what concrete is to grass, suffocating any possibility of growth.

Some sports leagues, for example, can produce an unhealthy atmosphere of competitiveness, in which you may feel compelled to constantly prove your athletic ability and in turn your personal worth. Should you fail to measure up, you may face subtle and even overt forms of exclusion and judgment. Hardly the kind of environment that is conducive to friendship.

Depending on the kind of social gathering, you may get the vibe that other attendees are less focused on connection than they are cruising. A common telltale of this is what I call the “wandering gayze”, in which the person you’re talking to looks over your shoulder, constantly scanning the room for better-looking prospects. 

The wandering gayze is the scourge of many an interaction between gay men. It sends a very clear message to one’s conversation partner that their value as a person is pending review.

Besides being a covert form of judgmentalism, the wandering gayze indicates that this person has an agenda, even if that agenda is simply to keep “trading up”. No one should ever feel forced to fight for another person’s attention or respect.

gay dating apps alternatives

Keep an open mind

Always being on the lookout for the next best thing is counterintuitive to the dating process. Should you find yourself falling prey to the wandering gayze, you should remember that your goal here is to build connections based on mutual interests and camaraderie.

For these to be possible, you should approach these groups and events with an open mind, rather than a specific motive. Of course, your end goal may be a romantic relationship, but being too fixated on the goal closes you off to possibilities.

Strict adherence to a nonnegotiable shopping list is one reason gay dating apps feel so sterile. By remaining open-minded, you will be avoiding squeezing every interaction into a predefined box.

Instead, you are granting yourself permission to freely engage in a sharing of self through conversation, laughter, and flirtation; to let down your guard and be vulnerable. And vulnerability is where the magic ultimately happens

In joining one of these groups, you may not find a life partner. But you will likely build rich, rewarding friendships that increase the possibility of further introductions. 

Remember that you are playing the long game. You are investing in other people in the hopes they will in turn invest in you.

This may feel like a somewhat inefficient, if not risky process. In abandoning the pretense we employ while texting, we may say or do the wrong thing. We will likely face pressures and discomforts we might have otherwise avoided, had we remained behind our phone screen.

What we won’t do, however, is leave these encounters empty-handed. Given the right company, we’ll instead walk away with the warm glow of a fun conversation, a shared joke, or an exchanged smile.

And after so much time spent in the gay dating apps wasteland, in the company of men apt to send conflicting messages, is that so bad?

Takeaways

  • Swap gay dating apps for in-person interactions.
  • Aim to find friends – not dates.
  • Consider attending events or groups that offer proximity, frequency, duration and intensity.
  • Embrace vulnerability by remaining open.

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

* Names and identifying details have been changed to protect the privacy of all individuals discussed in this article.

© 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.