Op-Ed: Why I don’t feel comfortable around straight men
I am a 25-year-old man who is uncomfortable around heterosexual men. I think my discomfort started around the age of eleven, around the time that I entered middle school. Before middle school, I had several guy friends. We would play video games together, watch TV and movies, play sports, wrestle, and have sleepovers. But around the age of eleven is when I noticed I started having more female friends than guy friends.
I remember befriending a classmate of mine quite quickly in middle school. One day, we were sitting together at the lunch table. According to some kids, we were sitting “too close” to each other. From that day on, I was often targeted as being the “gay kid.” I was also physically assaulted several times in school. I was so afraid that I stopped using the public bathrooms in school. And although both boys and girls bullied and assaulted me, most of my friends tended to be girls. I think the reason for that was that I felt safer among girls than the hypermasculine boys.
Masculinity has always been an issue for me. Today, I consider myself both masculine and feminine. I would say everyone is, but due to society, certain people hide (usually their femininity) due to gender and societal roles and expectations. Since a young age, I’ve had a feminine energy about myself.
I loved to “uh oh” or twerk to music videos. The first time I really started to do it was when the Beyonce Crazy in Love music video released in 2003. I was age 7. I loved the “uh oh” scene in the video where Beyonce starts to twerk. I started doing the dance and showing people what I thought was cool. I remember showing my mom my dances and she laughed and enjoyed it. I even remember her telling me to dance and show off my moves to my aunt. My father, on the other hand, was enraged when I tried showing him. He told me to never dance like a “faggot” ever again. I didn’t understand at the time why he would react so negatively, but my mother and aunt were supportive.
Women have always inspired me, especially black women. I love the mannerisms, jokes, and energy of black women, something that I embody today. Many of my favorite musical artists (as well as actors) are women – and mostly black women.
I love Beyonce, Rihanna, Meagan Thee Stallion, Taraji P Henson, KeKe Palmer, and so many more. When I was young, I loved That’s So Raven and Hannah Montana. When I used to watch wrestling, I enjoyed the divas more than the men. I loved watching romcoms, chick flicks, and Lifetime with my mother. I enjoyed playing with Barbies and playing house as a kid. I have always enjoyed what many would say is “girl stuff.” I think that has distanced me greatly from boys and men. Even today, some of my more “feminine” interests separate me from men, specifically heterosexual men.
Homophobia is another big reason why I feel uncomfortable around straight men. Although I haven’t heard it in a while, I remember when guys would say “I’m okay with you being gay – as long as you don’t try anything with me.”
Although I understand the irrational fear, it’s still irrational. I have female friends. I would never tell them that because I know that not every woman is out to get me and touch on me.
In addition, I have felt many times (especially in the past) that I had to hide my femininity so that I could make straight guys around me comfortable. One of the main reasons why I felt like I was bullied and physically attacked was because of my femininity, which is associated with homosexuality.
One of the main reasons why I do not speak to my father today is his homophobia. He used to consistently talk to me as if I were to marry a woman one day, even after I told him I was gay. Lastly, I have received homophobic insults from my younger brothers. Whenever they would get angry at me, the first insult they would throw is “you’re gay!” Although they say they love me for me, clearly there must be some level of unconscious bias.
The mean jokes
The homophobic jokes are the last reason why I feel uncomfortable around heterosexual men. The “that’s gay” jokes have existed for years now. Although it’s not super offensive to me, it makes me uncomfortable enough to prefer not to be around those people. Lastly, the sexist jokes about women make me feel a certain level of discomfort. I never know whether I should be the silent person to not break the unsaid code of male solidarity or whether I should say something.
Comfortable in my own skin
Today, I am quite comfortable with my sexual orientation and have even reached comfort with my femininity. However, I still feel a level of discomfort or hesitation among straight men. The bullying, masculinity complex, homophobia, and jokes lead to me being hesitant and uncomfortable around straight men.
I realize that I have many things in common with them as we share the same gender, but my sexuality also makes me different from them. I also recognize that women can be just as homophobic as men. However, in my personal experience, they are usually more accepting and welcoming to gay men.
There is a level of safety I feel with women, both psychologically and physically. I do however have a couple of heterosexual male friends that I feel comfortable enough to myself. Although I shouldn’t have to thank them for allowing me to be myself, I still do.