My grandmother referred to us as, “the boys,” but Ray and I have never encouraged such thinking by other straight people. Since coming together as a couple in 1976, we’ve always been out, no matter where we traveled, and no matter whose company we shared. We never avoided having them think of us as sexual. Further, we never assimilated for the sake of acceptance.
“The boys,” is a term of affection, but it has always struck me as one that unconsciously diminished my status as a man who was in love with, who had sex with, and whose family was with another man.
“The boys,” is a totally non-threatening term, like, “the girls.” “The boys are bringing dinner. The girls are bringing dessert.” But, being designated as, “the boys,” in my mind, played into the stereotype that gay guys aren’t “real men.” They’re the boys that we like to have around because they’re helpful, fun, interesting, and aware of women’s feelings.
I’m not a hardass about this. I would never correct you if you referred to Ray and me as, “the boys.” I wouldn’t say in response, “Hey, we’re sexual, gay ‘men,’ not, ‘boys’.” But, we never played the role of “the boys,” except perhaps with my grandmother, whose home we decorated, and whose meals we prepared for her holiday parties. For her, and her friends, we could be “The boys.”
In going through old photo albums, I’ve observed that in all of our world travel, we never attempted to “pass,” to fly under the radar, with tour guides, and other service personnel, or with other gay travelers who felt the need to be discreet. We never outed others, but we never went back into the closet. This was as true in Singapore as it was in Rome.
Heterosexuals take their lead from gay people, just as white people do from People of Color. If those who are aware of their lack of cultural awareness sense fear or embarrassment from those whose existence unsettles them, they will gladly remain in the position of dominance. It’s more comfortable to behave benevolently with “different” people than it is to share equal status. That’s why it’s so important for us to take the lead.
The other night, for instance, in the company of socially-distanced heterosexual friends, I was explaining why a particular male individual was unaware of something that needed doing. “He’s a straight man,” I said. “He doesn’t see it.” I watched the straight women in the group laugh knowingly. They know too well that their straight husbands and sons often won’t notice, for example, that the toilet paper roll needs replacing. The straight men in the group initially laughed, but quizzically. “Was this gay male friend just making fun of straight men? Do they dare? Do we care? And, why is my wife laughing in agreement?”
It’s my experience that straight men are much more comfortable with self-assured gay men than they are with self-conscious gay men. They want to relax, to be able to laugh, to not worry about making a mistake. A self-assured gay man will call them on their lack of awareness, but not with the anger that can accompany insecurity. Comfortable gay men, lesbians, bisexual, transgender, and queer people are beyond overreacting, as well as beyond acting like a person who needs constant reassurance.
Ray and I have never felt the need to shock straight people with displays of sexual intimacy, but if the situation called for it, we would hold the other, kiss, and dance slow together. That may have been shocking to those for whom it was a new sight, but that wasn’t our motivation. We were motivated by self-love, and self-actualization.
A family member recently commented that the reason people were so comfortable with Ray and me was that we “don’t act gay.” Many gay men and lesbians take that as a huge compliment, but I always feel queasy when I hear it because I don’t really know what constitutes “acting gay.”
Is it male effeminacy and female masculinity? I know lots of effeminate gay men and butch lesbians who are so comfortable with themselves that everyone else is comfortable around them too. I think that, again, we’re talking about effeminate men and masculine women who appear insecure, needy, and consumed with the hope of acceptance. Confident LGBT people don’t need acceptance and don’t tolerate tolerance.
If you’re straight and take your lead from me, you’ll relax with your past behavior toward gay people, and with your current lack of knowledge, and you’ll laugh at yourself for the crazy things you assumed to be true about gay people. If you’re interested in getting to know me, you’ll not want to start out with what you were told is said in the Bible. That can come later.
It’s OK if you’re not comfortable being with a self-loving, self-affirmed gay man. There’s plenty of room in the world for us both. I can help you avoid having your spouse, your child, or your colleague at work avoid you because of your views, if you want, but otherwise, you go be you, and I’ll go be me.
It’s also OK if you love me, and refer to me and Ray as “the boys,” but you should know that when you do it reminds me that I actually am no longer a boy. I’m a proud, happy, self-confident, gay man.
Brian McNaught has been a leading educator on LGBTQ issues globally since 1974. He has made his many books and DVDs available for free at Brian-McNaught.com. The New York Times named him “The Godfather of gay diversity training."