Advice about gay culture?
August 28, 2016 8:18 PM   Subscribe

I now identify as gay, and want to learn more about what it means to be gay in a broader, cultural sense.

My partner is transitioning and I've decided to identify as gay. I've come out to most my friends and family. Things are good between us, and my thoughts have been expanding beyond my immediate family to the broader culture and society.

I'm curious about other gay men, and gay culture. Where do I fit? How do I navigate life as a gay man? What should I watch out for, and what should I hope for? Is there coded language I should use or avoid? And, what can I do to be helpful?

My questions are all over the place, and I feel a little like an idiot for even asking because I assume the answers are mostly "people are people". Also I'm sure there are questions I don't even know to ask yet. But I figured I'd ask anyway because I'm kind of excited, and also afraid.
posted by rebent to Human Relations (15 answers total) 13 users marked this as a favorite
Where do you live? I feel like the best advice I can give is to seek out gay spaces. Find interest groups (running, sports, language, culture) and meet and interact with gay people.

Particularly, seek out older gay people. I've been fortunate to have a lot of older gay men (in my case, though I'm bisexual) spend a lot of time with me easing me into gay culture, explaining the tropes, etc.

But yeah for me it was all about gay spaces. I especially appreciated gay beach places (like rohobeth) because it's so nice to be somewhere where the whole sort of social substrate is not heterosexual.
posted by wooh at 8:47 PM on August 28, 2016 [2 favorites]

I suspect you'll run into quite a few people who will challenge your self-identification, particularly since many/most gay men don't elect to identify as gay; they know from a very early age that they simply are. [And of course I don't know you and your backstory, so perhaps this does describe your experience.]

That said, it's important for you to know a bit about what you're saying when you identify as gay, and I'd recommend Isay's book as a good place to start.
posted by yellowcandy at 9:11 PM on August 28, 2016 [7 favorites]

I recommend Eric Marcus' Is It a Choice?
posted by brujita at 9:43 PM on August 28, 2016

J Bryan Lowder from Slate writes about gay male culture a good deal. The "Ask a Homo" video feature from Slate has some amusing and 101-level educational stuff too.
posted by matildaben at 10:03 PM on August 28, 2016

When young gays ask me how to navigate being gay, I always say three things: be yourself, wrap in up (be SAFE!) and don't get involved in the (gay) bar culture.
posted by james33 at 4:20 AM on August 29, 2016 [2 favorites]

Best answer: I want to serve as a slight counterpoint to yellowcandy above. I think that they are of course correct that a lot of people in the community have an unambiguous definition of their sexuality, but underestimate the shades of grey. A LOT of people round to gay -- or round to straight. It's much easier to have an unambiguous definition -- "I'm gay!" -- than to admit that much of romance is contextual etc. I think a lot of people struggle with their sexuality, or admit more exceptions, than they generally admit publically because there is a bit of a stigma with it. I know personally this caused me no end of grief as a bisexual, and I spent a lot of time wishing I was one of their "ALWAYS knew what I liked!!" kind of people until I dig in a bit and realized that they're fewer than you'd think...

Also I'd be pretty shocked if anyone challenged your identity. You're not dating which is the only area I've seen that happen... I'm sure it DOES happen but I mean, your sexual identity is your sexual identity. I guess I just want you to feel a welcome member of the community!
posted by wooh at 4:47 AM on August 29, 2016 [8 favorites]

I've had Halperin's book How To Be Gay sitting on my nightstand for two years, unread. So I can't quite endorse it but from the reviews I read it should be a helpful, recent, academic exploration of American gay identity.

I second yellowcandy's caution about how your path may seem foreign to some gay men you meet. There's a lot of anti-trans prejudice in parts of the gay community. You might want to try on the word "queer", too. I like that term since it leaves a lot more room for individual gender / sexual expression.
posted by Nelson at 7:30 AM on August 29, 2016 [2 favorites]

Erika Moen talks about this and adjacent topics quite a bit in her various comics, such as this one. She's a lesbian who fell in love with and married a man, and uses (or used) "queer."
posted by spelunkingplato at 7:58 AM on August 29, 2016

Best answer: Have you read the blog Accidentally Gay? From the About page:
The short of this is I am a middle aged white male. I am married to a wonderful spouse. He was my wife for the first 22 years of our marriage and then he came out and is transitioning to male.

I am writing this blog to explore the my journey in a same-sex marriage and my own gender identity challenges. I would love any feedback, since I have found absolutely NO sources of men staying with their transmen partners when the transmen comes out.
His spouse also posts to the blog occasionally. posted by Lexica at 8:03 AM on August 29, 2016 [11 favorites]

I don't have any sort of answer for you, but I do have a clarifying question. Are you part of a broader queer community where you live? Are you trying to move from that into a specifically gay community, or are you starting from zero? Where I am, I have a ton of queer friends, and very few of them specifically ID as gay or lesbian: even those who only date members of their own gender generally ID as queer, which makes rounding easier.

I personally* have found the gay male community around me to be pretty insular and unwelcoming to people who don't share their history (cis, always gay-identified), but these things vary from place to place. I don't know if anyone will be able to give you an answer beyond wooh's recommendation to seek out gay spaces and talk to the people you meet there. That being said, at least where I am, talking to an older gay male crowd as the recently-gay husband of a trans guy would not necessarily end with warm welcoming embraces all around. I wish you the best of luck!

*by personally I mean secondhand via my husband and other bi/pan/whatever guys in my social circle.
posted by libraritarian at 8:59 AM on August 29, 2016

Best answer: First of all, I think everyone is entitled to define their own sexual orientation as they wish, and I support that 100%. But when you talk about joining the gay community (as opposed to a wider LGBTQ community, however that's defined), I can understand previous comments implying that things might get more complicated.

When I think of the gay community, part of what brings us together is the shared experience of growing up different from other boys because of our primary attraction to members of the same sex, in a wider society where we were a minority and where heterosexuality was the default.

Another thing that members of the gay community have in common, besides an inexplicable interest in musical theater and opera, is an ongoing sexual attraction to men. So, even gay men who are in monogamous relationships can talk freely with other gay men about how attractive they might find Anderson Cooper or Matthew Bomer, more comfortably than they would with heterosexual friends. Sexual attraction to men is pretty central to gay male identity.

So basically, the gay community is based on shared experience, interests and identity, like many (most?) other communities. In that sense it's different from a club that you can just decide to join.

As for your question about navigating life as a gay man, I've found that most American men I've run across, when they meet new people, declare their own sexuality subtly but quickly, and seem to expect people they meet to follow suit. It's something you don't really notice until you start noticing it, how quickly in a conversation a straight man will casually mention a girlfriend or wife. And I've noticed my gay American friends casually dropping mention of a boyfriend or husband pretty quickly too. Europeans I meet don't seem to have this particular habit. (But maybe this is just my experience.)

So I guess that's an experience you will come to share with the gay community, having strangers and colleagues think of you as a gay man once they learn that you have a male partner.

Anyway, good luck!
posted by Umami Dearest at 9:43 AM on August 29, 2016

Oh, and I'll just add that I agree with the advice to look for gay-friendly spaces, and disagree with the advice to "not get involved in gay bar culture." While there have always been gay bars that cater exclusively to gay men, there are other spaces that welcome a much wider LGBTQ community.
posted by Umami Dearest at 9:51 AM on August 29, 2016

The advice above about joining gay-friendly or gay-focused interest groups is right on. Not everything will fit (I'm gay and I like running, but I didn't really find myself drawn to my local gay running group), and sometimes you can build your own. I recently started a book club with a bunch of guys who are all gay and partnered - it's chatty, not cruisy, and that's more my speed than the bar scene. (However, as stated above, the bar scene contains multitudes. Sometimes.)

I assume the answers are mostly "people are people".

This is a fair assumption (and one I held for some time too, having had mostly straight friends), but the enduring reality of homophobia and the existence of gay culture/space as a separate-from-the-mainstream culture argue otherwise. I had a weird reverse-epiphany moment recently when Reply All did that episode about the gay/drag origins of some newly-mainstream slang; a bunch of straight people I know said "That's amazing and eye-opening!" whereas I had thought it was sort of common knowledge. You pick it up from talking to people and enjoying queer cinema and reading the books everyone will (and has) recommend(ed) to you.

Is there coded language I should use or avoid?

I would say it's mostly the same as in mainstream culture; there's still racism and sexism, but you'll possibly also encounter some people who should know better who think being effeminate (male) or butch (female) or trans (at all) is a punchline in itself; you're in a position where you're unlikely to fall into that trap. (Oh! And the suffix "-curious" is pretty widely reviled. Bi is a thing. Questioning is a thing. "Bi-curious" is cutesy and distancing and fetishistic and NO.)
posted by psoas at 10:55 AM on August 29, 2016

Best answer: I've struggled with this a lot since I am a gay trans man, and I was married to a man before I transitioned (that ended for completely unrelated reasons). The vast majority of gay men do not accept me as a "real man." I don't know any trans men (in person) that are romantically partnered to a cis man, and I only know a few of them online.

(These are rhetorical.) Were you always attracted to men? Are you attracted to men in general now, or are you attracted to your partner and ID'ing as gay because you are both men? (Your answer is legit whatever it is.)

As far as navigating life as a gay man - physical safety depends a lot on where you live. I'm much more aware of my surroundings when I'm with people who are or are perceived as gay. You never had to worry about that as a straight cis dude. Eventually you'll get yelled at and called f*gg*ts while walking with your partner. Avoid groups of straight men.

Do you want to be involved in the gay community? Is your partner involved in the trans community? The two rarely overlap, in my experience, especially outside of political activism. So, like me, you may not really fit in anywhere. But I'd start with running clubs or bowling leagues or whatever you're already interested in.

You can expect to be propositioned whether or not they know you are partnered, often very, very bluntly. If you have a monogamous relationship, just say so and I think almost all guys will leave you alone. They may ask blunt questions about sex whether or not they want to have sex with you, especially if they know your partner is trans. Your partner probably has already had to field obnoxious questions if they've been in gay circles. There is a lot of misogyny and disgust about vaginas/vulvas in the gay community.

NEVER EVER out your partner without their consent, and DO NOT assume gay men will be any more tolerant than a random straight person. There is no correlation between being LGB and being trans-friendly, in my experience. I guess LGB people seem less likely to be physically violent. I wish I could be more optimistic, but because you have a trans partner, it's not at all like the typical gay coming out process.
posted by AFABulous at 4:48 PM on August 29, 2016 [8 favorites]

Response by poster: libraritarian, I'm not part of the queer culture here, or any culture. I have a few friends at work, and a few friends from school who are still around town, but that's about it. I guess I'm not really interested in joining a scene or social group so much as just understanding the culture in general.

Umami Dearest's comments about the similar experiences for gay men as a fundamental aspect of the culture seem like a wise observation.

Thanks everyone for the links, books, and advice.
posted by rebent at 12:50 PM on August 30, 2016

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