The more comfortable I got with verbalizing my sexuality as a young teenager, first identifying as bisexual and later as gay, I would always hear the phrase "being gay doesn't define who you are!" I loved that phrase and I tried to let it empower me. Yet, when I finally did realize I was gay while living in Rio de Janeiro a year and a half ago, I slowly began to realize that I was no longer comfortable with that phrase. While it's certainly accurate to say that being gay doesn't necessarily need to define who I am, it does.
If my sexuality doesn't define the very essence of who I am, then why am I made to feel that I need to hide that very aspect of my identity? What's most interesting is that the people who often utter that phrase are straight people. It's pretty easy for straight people to have this point of view because they live in a world that is centered around all things heterosexual. With the Supreme Court ruling in favor of marriage equality, many people think our fight is over but it's only just begun. The startling fact that I can be fired in over 30 states on a legal basis simply due to my sexuality shows how much my sexuality truly defines who I am.
Feminist author and activist Jessica Valenti once said that women live on a rape schedule. In short she described this as being a way women live in order to avoid being raped, i.e. going home in groups, dressing a certain way so not to attract attention, carrying mace in their purses, etc. This struck me as being so profound, because as a gender non conforming, gay, person I have found myself living in a similar way for years.
While I don’t fear being raped, I do often fear being the victim of a gay bashing, both physical and verbal. When I am walking in certain cities and I pass a group of men, I find myself crossing the street to avoid making eye contact with them. When I travel I find myself searching the web to make sure the cities I am going to are gay friendly, something a straight guy would never have to worry about. For years, I have both consciously and unconsciously policed myself out of a necessary desire to keep myself safe.
On a social level I implore you to look at straight men versus gay men - when a straight man goes to a club he can actively choose to either go to a straight or gay club without putting much thought into it. Sure he may worry that a guy is going to hit on him at a gay club, but that simply comes with the territory. I never feel comfortable being in an entirely straight space, but straight people have the privilege of not having to question their safety when they enter our safe spaces. And what's even worse is that often our safe spaces are turned into spectacles by hetero-society. When a gay man goes to a straight club, most of us that is, have to worry about how we will be perceived and received within said club. When straight men come into gay clubs I immediately fear for my safety within my own safe space. This is something that straight men could never fully understand.
Traveling to Rio the first time around, I was beyond freaked out expressing my sexuality - again, something a straight person never thinks of when going abroad. Identifying as bisexual at the time, my mom had told me to just not bring it up - she was afraid someone would react violently and she wanted to avoid that very possible outcome. What happened instead was that I was accepted with open arms. Latin America is often viewed as an archaic and machismo place, but it was the warmth, acceptance, and huge LGBTQ community in Rio that allowed me to find the space in my mind and heart to fully realize my sexuality as a gay person.
Most parents don't feel they have to tell their straight sons to "tone it down" when they are abroad but for my parents, the fear that someone will hurt and harass me because of my sexuality, is a very real fear they live with every day. Sexuality is complex, beautiful, and it's something I love exploring the older I get. I choose to flaunt my sexuality as a gay man through my mannerisms and the way I dress, simply as a political statement. It's my way of saying that you will not scare me into being invisible. Be an ally and help us smash the closet doors and radically change the conversation. Yes my sexuality does define me, and I want to celebrate it. I am gay, I am proud, and I am not going away.
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<div>I'm a student at the new school university in New York City currently studying Creative Writing and Global Studies. <span style="font-size: 13.0080003738403px; line-height: 1.538em;">I'm an avid traveler, an aspiring writer, an activist, and a performer. I'm currently chasing my dream of one day </span><span style="font-size: 13.0080003738403px; line-height: 1.538em;">permanently living in Rio de Janeiro by going back a second time, this time to study abroad. I'm on my way to </span><span style="font-size: 13.0080003738403px; line-height: 1.538em;">becoming the next David Sedaris with a touch of Elizabeth Gilbert (Eat, Pray, Love anyone?).</span></div>