Being Gay is the Least Interesting Thing About Me (UPDATED)

As I’ve watched online leftist spaces and parts of my local LGBTQ community, I’ve noticed a concerning trend. Many LGBTQ people (especially the younger, post-millennial generations) seem to be progressively infatuated with their identities, and centering it as the most important part of their existence. 

If I had to put this subtle shift into words, I would do so thus: While the historic LGBTQ movement was largely focused on inclusion in humanity and a need to be recognized as individuals, this new iteration seems to place LGBTQ identity above our status as first individuals and humans. This leads to a sort of vindictive tribalism, and an almost religious analyzing of all the microscopic ways we are slighted, real or imagined. This leads to a policing of language and opinions, which often veers into the unnecessarily cruel. It’s hard to give specific examples of what I’m talking about — it feels ambient and almost invisible. Perhaps it’s what ContraPoints was coming up against in her video Canceling:

Before I go on, let me make a few necessary caveats. I am frequently wrong on this blog, and this post might be no exception, which is why I see my blog and podcast as a conversation instead of a series of dictums. This is a place for me (and you) to share thoughts that might not yet be fully clear or fleshed out. It’s entirely possible that I’m settling into my queer dotage and failing to appreciate the hardships of being a young LGBTQ person. This might be my OK Boomer moment. It’s possible that my concerns are entirely misplaced, and that I am simply misunderstanding the kids these days. I might also be missing some of the differences between gay and trans experience. I trust that you will read me in good faith and with graciousness, and I will do the same for you. With that said, let me go one. 

My battle as a queer person has been to get away from a world where everything is about my orientation. My fight for justice has been one of being included in all the rights and privileges of being human, so that the most interesting things about me are my intellect, my character, my goals and dreams, and not the fact that I like dick.

In fact, the darkest time of my life was when everything — and I do mean everything — was about being gay. I was trapped in a conservative Christian setting in which every waking moment was spent obsessing over my failure to be straight, and trying to navigate the nature of my deviancy. My mind was so consumed with this obsession that it hijacked my ability to function — I failed multiple classes in college, could barely maintain a single friendship, and I would go to sleep every night fantasizing over the details of my own self-annihilation.

I think one of the greatest triumphs of my life is that I’ve built a space where being gay is incidental. I love being gay, and I love the deviancy of being queer. I love gay sex, I love my LGBTQ community, and I love gay culture. But I also love not having to think about it, and it not being the center of my existence, identity, or character. I love being able to wake up in the morning, kiss my partner, make coffee, and live my life. I’ve created a life where I can go through the day focusing on loving others, being a good human, and obsessing over my current sci-fi or fantasy novel. 

It is from this perspective of having been liberated from obsessive gay identity that the current trends of LGBTQ identity politics gives me so much concern. It’s like a mirror image of my own conservative background – an inversion of the obsession I had over my homosexuality. 

It’s rosier and kinder, certainly, but I don’t trust it. Obsessing over my identity was the darkest time of my life, and I cannot imagine going back to a world where my gayness is the most important or interesting thing about me. This sunnier version of gay obsession trades self loathing for vindictive self-righteousness, and a hyper vigilant eye for any arbitrary slight. This leads, ultimately, to a state of paranoia and fragility. I can’t help but feel that myopic obsessive celebration of identity is just as dehumanizing as discrimination. 

Let me reiterate, I love my gay identity. I love the camaraderie of being with other gay people who get it. If there was a pill that would “cure” me of being gay, I wouldn’t take it. To know me means knowing that I’m gay, and that I have been shaped by that experience. But that, to me, is worlds apart from the obsessive sloganeering, vicious attacking, and centering of identity above all else. 

Maybe I’m old fashioned. I want a world where people are judged by the content of their character, not the color of their skin, who they like to fuck or spend their life with, or whether they are trans. But I see parts of the left and the LGBTQ community doubling down on an obsession with their identity, and not on their inclusion in humanity. I don’t believe the promise that this leads to empowerment. I fear it leads to more dehumanization.

But that’s just me. What do you think? Please write me an email or share your comments below. If your comment is excellent, I will include it in my monthly Best Comments series.

Addendum

I have received some excellent feedback on this article which I feel would be negligent not to include. On twitter, Sadie Satanas commented:

I want a world where people aren’t concerned that I’m trans. unfortunately many lobbyists, politicians and religious zealots ARE concerned with the fact that I’m trans, and would limit my rights and deny my existence as a result. Trans people are often ‘obsessed’ with their gender because they’ve had to crawl through hell to claim it. That and the fact that so many other people are obsessed with our gender, hyper focusing on it is almost survival mechanism. I’m going through a gender transition. I have to jump through hoops to get medical help and prove I’m ‘trans enough’. I waited over 30 years to live as my true self. So it is very central to my identity. And if Im not vocal about it, people condemn me to non existence.

What I take from this is that the current system requires trans people to “obsess” over their identity just to survive and gain recognition in a way that cis gay people like myself might not relate to. Gay people have to come out, and often struggle against fundamentalist homes, and while that is no small feat we (especially white middle class gays like myself) have more margin to let our gay identities settle into the background. This might lead many cis gay people to dismiss some trans people as overly obsessive over their identity, but that would be a grave misstep.

Another excellent comment came from Greg Stevens below, in which he states,

I’ve spoken to young queers who fled their conservative home towns to live in the Castro in San Francisco, who tell me they have a bodily, visceral feeling of finally FINALLY feeling safe when they walk down the street in their own neighborhoods. This then often can amplify the discomfort or terror they feel when they are forced to inhabit non-queer spaces. Is it even possible to tell them they have a “choice” about how much attention they should be paying to the lens of their sexual identity in their lives? What exactly does it mean, for them, to say that other things are more important about their personalities and lived experiences? Their queerness literally touches every moment of their waking experience.

I suggest you read his comment in full.

This feedback has led me to believe that my post is far too broad to be useful, while also neglecting important details, and that I need to take my thoughts back to the drawing board to think more deeply about these issues.

Finally, a Word on Being Publically Wrong

This article had been brewing in me for several weeks, and I couldn’t shake its underlying thesis. I decided (with some trepidation) to go ahead and write it up and publish it. I didn’t know how I was misstepping, but I had a vague sense that I was. I’m grateful for the comments, and for the opportunity for further reflection.

My personal goal is to model such self-reflection, openness to criticism, and honesty about my thought processes. Thinking out loud in public means being frequently wrong, and that’s how we learn. I hope readers who share my original concerns learn from the nuances Greg and Sadie brought to the discussion.


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12 thoughts on “Being Gay is the Least Interesting Thing About Me (UPDATED)

  1. Yes, just yes. I relate to this on multiple levels both as a member of the LGBT community and as a disabled person. My whole life I’ve always been “the girl in the wheelchair” and this has colored nearly every interaction I’ve had with strangers or acquaintances. Not that I blame them, the wheelchair is a hard thing to miss, but I have found myself wishing that people would pick any other characteristic to identify me with. Growing up, the desire to overcome my disability, whether by physical or spiritual means, was all-consuming. But like queerness disability can’t be prayed away. Now firmly into adulthood I understand that differences are not flaws, and like you discussed, are not the whole of a person. People are complex, multifaceted, messy and imperfect as well they should be.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I think it’s really important to distinguish between a few types of context in issues like this. You mix together your concerns about focusing on LGBTQ identity with these reassurances that there’s nothing wrong with focusing on LGBTQ identity, so I’m left with a feeling of, “So… uh…. what IS Stephen really trying to say here, anyway?”

    I think part of the reason for this muddle may be because the framing is so broad. The centrality with which you view your LGBTQ identity may be very different, depending on whether you’re talking about your home life, your job, the lens through which you see politics, or your personal and emotional life. Your LGBTQ identity may not matter at all when you are thinking about foreign policy, or it may matter a lot; but the answer to that question may be different from the centrality of your LGBTQ identity when you’re thinking about local politics, or what clothing to buy, or what books to read, or how safe you feel when you’re walking down the street.

    I’ve spoken to young queers who fled their conservative home towns to live in the Castro in San Francisco, who tell me they have a bodily, visceral feeling of finally FINALLY feeling safe when they walk down the street in their own neighborhoods. This then often can amplify the discomfort or terror they feel when they are forced to inhabit non-queer spaces. Is it even possible to tell them they have a “choice” about how much attention they should be paying to the lens of their sexual identity in their lives? What exactly does it mean, for them, to say that other things are more important about their personalities and lived experiences? Their queerness literally touches every moment of their waking experience.

    The trope “I’m a person first, and a gay person second” (phrased in various forms) is common among politically conservative, and provides for them an excuse for the fact that they vote for politicians who support anti-gay policies. “Oh, I’m more complex than just being gay! I’m supporting these politicians for reasons other than their positions on gay rights!”

    This mindset is almost exclusively a product privilege: the well-off white gay men who can “afford” to decenter their gay identities in order to focus instead on being libertarian or capitalist or whatever else. And the political right in the US loooooves them for it. Anti-gay politicians absolutely love it when wealthy white gay men are able to “set aside” their gayness and vote for the homophobic politician because “hey, I’m more complicated than that! I’m not just gay!!”

    As a matter of self-reflection and self-improvement, I think it’s just lovely when people like to create their own identities in a way that embraces their multifaceted nature!

    As a matter of public rhetoric, I know damn well that one of the most insidious forms of oppression is exclusion by invisibility. The statement “Why focus on being gay or straight or bi or nonbinary, when we are all just people!?” is the language of the oppressor, because in a culture permeated with structural prejudice, when sexuality and gender identity are not talked about, LGBTQ identities become invisible.

    So, is being gay the least interesting thing about ME? There’s no answer to that question. It depends on who is asking, and why, and what I’m doing in that particular moment. To answer otherwise ignores the complicated web that surrounds the history and politics of queer identities.

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  3. I understand the conservative reflex. I similarly have an inner female chauvinist pig with a distaste for feminists. Thank you for dealing with this in the way you do, not by deleting your post and pretending you immediately “got it” when some critical comments appeared, but by turning it into a dialogue. I think this is really valuable for anyone who might have similar reflexes, to see these different views juxtaposed. And hail people like Greg and Sadie who take the time to formulate such detailed responses.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. This is all so true. Equating yourself with your orientation also makes it even more difficult to question your orientation and gender. When I came out as queer last year, friends told me they didn’t know me anymore–they had been identifying me in large part by orientation (which I hadn’t ever specified). I find myself stressing over what “label” to use for myself because I’ve internalized this idea that if I don’t have a specific orientation to name myself with, I don’t know myself. Being queer is a huge part of my life, but when I see myself as queer *first*, I wind up pushing other parts of myself into the closet.

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  5. Thank you for your writing and your vulnerability. Conversations should help us erase the lines we too quickly draw in the sand. Your thoughts and those who wrote replies reminds me of an essential human need: validation. Is this not the endless struggle? We long for a day when there is no need to carry a defense for our presence in the world on the tip of our tongues. We long for a day when it simply won’t matter. Sadly, that day has not arrived. May this be part of the reason why some LGBTQs feel the need to lead with their LGBTQ-ness?

    The human cry is “see me,” “value me,” “respect me,” “honor me,” “love me.” Oh, for a world where we can drop the need to defend ourselves for being alive.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. I’ve had similar fears lately. While I don’t think there is anything wrong with a strong focus on queer identity, the intense and increasingly violent tribalism that is in nearly every facet of society right now is terrifying.

    As a trans person (before I had the ability or resources to transition) I HAD to focus on it a lot. Navigating conversations with strangers, using public restrooms, all of it brought my full attention to my dysphoria, my queer identity, and at times my safety. There are times it’s not possible to broaden our horizons and think of ourselves as part of everyday society when we don’t fit there to begin with.

    However, once I gained a level of self confidence I’ve been able to grow into a very well rounded person. I don’t know if that is dependent on “passing” privilege and my ability to move back into society fully. If it is dependent… then that opens up a whole other can of worms for people who never get that or simply don’t want to. I don’t have any answers there.

    I think it’s inherently human to sway towards tribalism. That’s what we’re made for, where we feel like we matter, where we feel safe. But keeping ourselves in check and having a more holistic understanding of humanity is imperative if we are to make any actual progress towards a better future. I’m generally an optimist, but I think things are going to get much worse in this regard before they get better. More and more lines will continue to get drawn in the sand. It seems like we are well on our way to Orwell’s “Thought Police” and our own version of a Black Mirror episode. I just hope we can course correct before things get too far.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Caden, thanks so much for this comment. While I don’t think my article was clear enough to be useful, I do appreciate that you seem to be identifying some of the same trend that are worrying me. I’m committing myself to thinking more deeply about this issue before I write about it again. I would love to hear more of your perspective – please feel free to reach out to me via email on my contact page, or on social media. I would love to hear more of your experiences.

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