Updated: Jun 5, 2021
My sexuality has always been a complex thing.
Growing up, words like "fag" and "gay" were commonly used by me and my preteen friends as generic insults, like "idiot" or "lame". I had no reason to consider where the terms came from or the implications of using them. I certainly didn’t know any gay people! You could say it was just kids being kids at a time long before the social awareness and more mainstream acceptance of LGBTQ+ that is much more common these days.
Making fun of homosexuals was so culturally accepted in the ‘80s that the first track on Eddie Murphy’s 1982 self-titled comedy gold record, nominated for a Grammy, was called "Faggots". It was him doing off-color impressions of famous TV characters, if they had been gay. Of course, Eddie’s comedy could veer into tasteless at times, but he was still a very funny man and his attitudes really just openly reflected what many people at the time probably thought but could never have said in such a palatably amusing way. After all, countless '80s comedies had a flamingly gay character for cheap laughs. There are so many ridiculous gay stereotypes in TV shows and movies that you could write an entire blog post about just that.
Did we think we were laughing with queer people, rather than at them, or is the real truth the same then as it is now, that we just don’t care about anything or anyone that doesn’t directly affect our own lives and goals?
If so, even that doesn’t explain the politicians and right wingers who can’t even let other people with their own preferences live in peace. The mere fact that people whose lives and experiences they cannot begin to understand dare to exist and breathe the same air they do is a bridge too far. To be honest, I haven’t really learned how not to hate these people even though I know hate isn’t the answer. I realize the problem is in how they were raised, with bigotry in their hearts and popular media reinforcing it through propaganda and shallow stereotypes. But you can’t change people who have no desire to change, no reason to want to care about people who aren’t just like them.
Little did I know, but my uncle Art was gay. We would go to his house and family events and although he always had another guy with him, I guess I just assumed it was like roommates or something. It wasn’t really anything I remember my parents ever talking about and to be honest it didn’t really matter to me enough to wonder. I liked Art, but other than a few times in life like when I visited Germany when I was 8, I didn’t spend a lot of time with him and so it wasn’t until many years later when I knew I was gay, that I really lamented the fact that I’d never had much of a relationship with him. Art was a great man and a hero to his community. I will write more about him someday. He died of cancer 19 years ago.
There was even in a time in my life when my mother was in a gay relationship, when I was in high school. The relationship was surprising for sure, but it was less of a concern to me than the fact that often my mother sometimes struggled to figure out what she wanted or who she wanted it with. Between fifth and tenth grade, I had eight different addresses in six cities and two states. It’s tough being the new kid at school every single year.
In college, there was a friend of my roommate; nice guy and very polite, but it was so incredibly obvious he wanted to get with me. Maybe because it was obvious that I was a virgin. I think I was at a point where I knew I was probably gay but still had never done anything. He wanted to hold hands, which I remember seemed so insanely intimate to me. In the end his gentle coaxing didn’t work, for really no other reason than I think I just didn’t want to have casual sex with someone I didn’t really know and regret it later.
So naturally, my first gay sexual experience was with someone I barely knew and regretted, about a year or so later. Probably should have went with the first guy, who at least was more endearing when he tried to get in my pants. Thanks for nothing, hormones.
I think my sexuality was difficult for me to figure it out because I didn’t recognize myself as the gay stereotype in my head, in terms of how I felt and what pushed my buttons. Which of course is entirely the point - gay people don’t all like the same things, they don’t all speak melodramatically, have a limp wrist and immaculate fashion sense or any of the other patently ridiculous ways that they were commonly portrayed by the media.
Being gay to me is like being white, or male. It's just one part of me. It doesn't make me inherently any better or worse than anyone else. I'm happy being gay and I'm happy not making a big deal out of it, because I don't think anyone else should make a big deal of it either. Frankly, my sexuality is no one's business by the people I choose to be involved with. People either accept me or they don't, and either way I don't really gain anything by being involved in a public spectacle. Performing in a mascot costume is one thing, but I don't know that I have the same drive to act zany and show off to promote my orientation, something that was never really a choice in the first place.
I wrote that almost 20 years ago, in the days leading up to the first Pride Parade I ever attended in San Francisco. While I understand where my head was at, and still agree in some ways, I now understand why parades exist, why they are a good thing, and that it isn’t about “showing off to promote your orientation."
It’s a defiant statement of “I was made like this. I am not a problem to solve, a mistake to correct or a threat to decency. I deserve to be happy as much as anyone else. My choices do not threaten yours, and I will never change who I am just so you can avoid ever having to learn empathy for people different from you.” It’s affirmation, it’s support in a world where you can be hurt or killed just for being born differently.
My feelings changed dramatically after the parade. The cheers and smiles of strangers are intoxicating when you’re in a suit, but they feel even more deeply fulfilling when there is no suit and the validation is for who you are, not who you want to be seen as. I have been lucky to never been attacked personally for my sexuality, but there is no denying the enormous emotional power of being in a place with so much love and respect from all directions and types of people.
If you’re like I once was, young and coming to terms with how people will treat you because of your sexuality, or especially if you have been treated poorly for it, never let the cruelty or ignorance of others dictate what makes you happy or how you live your own life. You shouldn’t accept it from strangers but you shouldn’t accept it from your own family, either. Blood does not chain you to people who refuse to understand your experience and reject you for being who you are. Just because things were different for them is not an excuse to not learn, grow and change as the times do. Stop making excuses for people to be terrible to you because you think you owe them something for creating you. Move on, build your own family of people who love you for who you are, not who they wish you’d have been or who they want you to pretend to be.
When it comes to Pride events, don’t try to define or limit the experiences of others or the way they celebrate their own pride, just to avoid possibly offending the delicate sensibilities of some judgmental hetero asshole who has no business even being at a Pride parade and decides to drag his family there to laugh at the freak show. Not when there are people just like him carrying signs of hate and mockery at an event celebrating love and acceptance.
It's important to realize that just because LGBTQ+ people don’t want to have their lives micromanaged by straights doesn’t mean that they’re any more keen on being told what is valid by other LGBTQ+ struggling with their own sexual identity who crave acceptance from a society that is only interested in exploiting them for entertainment or profit.
In fact, it’s a good idea to never tell any minority to stop being their unique, genuine selves for the comfort of a larger, more powerful majority. If people don’t understand why people are the way they are, then they can either make a good faith effort to learn, or just mind their own damn business. A quick way to tell if someone is probably a good or bad person is to see how much they need to control others whose lives have no direct impact on their own.
I’m not going to lie, it’s still not easy when I’m at work to say that I have a boyfriend, even in a place and time where most people think nothing of it. It’s just hard coded into me to be careful, and I have to push myself sometimes because the way to acceptance is for me to stop treating it like it’s something negative. If you can’t yet bring yourself to feel proud of how you are different from others, at the very least you need to be at peace with it within yourself to begin the process.
If you’ve never been loved for your differences, there are people out there who will love you, and you should never feel like you need to change if what you love, or are, doesn’t hurt anyone else. If you think you’re too fat, or too thin, or not muscular enough, by all means work toward change if that is something you can and want to do that will make you feel happier. Recognize and respect that some people will look at you and love the same things that you can’t stand about yourself. But most of all, stop using it as a reason to hate yourself and feel like you’re unlovable the way you are.
It isn’t people’s bodies or preferences or quirks that makes them unlovable, it’s their negative attitudes and selfish actions. The person you are through your words and deeds matters more than how relatable you are. The respect, compassion and love you show to others are the most beautiful traits anyone can possibly have, more sexy than any body or fursuit could ever hope to be. But also try to see yourself with the love that you usually reserve for others you respect and are attracted to.
In 2019, I returned to my first Pride parade since my first 17 years before. Older, wiser and a bit more reptilian than previously. Being furry is inextricably intertwined with my sexuality, so even though I didn't need a costume, it felt right. It was probably the closest I'll ever get to being a Disney character, waving emphatically for two hours from a float. It was exhausting and yet as validating as any public experience I've ever had, seeing so many happy faces smiling back at you. I wanted to be down in those crowds, giving joyful hugs to all of those people, but my poor body wouldn't have kept up.
By all means, if you are LGBTQ+, attend a Pride parade or even better, participate in one if you get the opportunity. You may feel like you don’t want all that attention, or that you don’t deserve it, but as long as people still discriminate against you and punish you for something that you didn’t ever choose to be, you should let yourself experience the love and support of thousands of compassionate strangers, if only to remind yourself that you ARE worthy of it, just as you are.