I’ve been thinking a lot about gay respectability lately, due to a friend posting a meme in a Facebook group, asking folks to deconstruct it. Here’s the meme:
I think there’s a few things wrong with this, but let’s first give this the most charitable reading possible: “I want to be friends with someone who is pleasant to be with and talk to. I want to know the person behind the presentation.”
I think that’s a fine thing to want. The friends I have are folks with whom I can be vulnerable and they can be vulnerable with me. One friend works out a lot but isn’t some kind of self-absorbed muscle queen. Another friend is very introverted but isn’t self-absorbed.
What is more problematic, however, is the lack of perspective the maker of this meme has on his or her own sexuality. Our sexuality may not be ultimately what defines us (and your religious/theological upbringing will no doubt inform how you interpret what I just wrote), but as human beings, we are not free to separate ourselves from our bodies and our sexualities. St. Paul says that if the dead are not bodily raised, no one lives eternally. The ultimate violence against God’s design in creation for humans is death— the cutting up of one’s embodiedness, dividing one’s body from one’s soul. Therefore, trying to separate ourselves from our sexuality, since it is part of our embodied nature, is a similar violence and should be avoided at all costs.
The creator of this meme, then, has not examined their own experience as an embodied being with a sexuality on display. There is, in fact, a display of sexuality even in the wearing of cargo shorts. Many folks of many sexualities wear them, but they are often equated most often with either straight male or lesbian cultures. The number of straight males who wear this garment can make a person blind to its presence, but the reality that it can be a marker of sexuality remains.
Other public behaviors can be scrutinized. What does being respectful in public involves? Can two men hug?
For how long?
Can two people of the same gender hold hands at a coffee shop while one is crying?
Does one have to be crying?
If they start walking down the street, do they have to let go of their hands to be respectful?
If two people of different genders walks down a street holding hands, what makes that different? If you say that holding hands possesses a sexual element to it, I have a few friends who have spent time in the Middle East dispute this claim as the men there hold hands often and many who do this are not, in fact, gay.
The very first statement—”Acts like a normal human being”—is probably the most telling part about this whole meme, at least to me. It assumes, rather than examines, cultural norms which contribute to isolation, loneliness, over-sexualization, and anxiety. Googling “lack of touch isolation” or anything along those lines will give any interested party a wealth of articles to sort through on the subject. As with all things internet, chew carefully.
Normal men in my culture struggle to make and keep friends. The friendships normal men in the United States have are notoriously shallow. Men do not cry to each other unless or until a spouse dies or they have cancer. Men do not encourage or compliment each other. They criticize or harass each other under the guise of “all in good fun.”
And I want none of any of that.