Friday, May 04, 2007

The gay lifestyle black belt

This posting is aimed at my gay readers, of either gender, although in fact the subject matter applies to anyone who's different in any respect from what's regarded as standard.

Try to be honest and ask yourself: "How comfortable am I being gay?"

Many readers who identify as gay will probably answer without thinking, "I'm 100% comfortable", and in principle that's my answer too. But when I've been thinking about this in detail recently, I do wonder whether I could handle absolutely any situation where my sexuality is an issue.

Over the last week, I've realised that there's an analogy with the way people achieve higher and higher martial arts gradings. Starting from "white belt", one gradually progress through various levels of competence until one earns a "black belt" which is a major milestone. In terms of coming out as gay, the equivalent to starting to wear a white belt is admitting to yourself that you're gay. As one comes out to friends, family and colleagues, one's confidence grows, and eventually one feels that one is fully out and the gay lifestyle black belt has been earned.

But the way the martial arts gradings were explained to me, a black belt is actually only half way up the hierarchy, because beyond that level are all the Dan ranks. Each time a new competence level is achieved on the way to earning a black belt, the original idea was that you were able to dye your belt a darker colour, which obviously comes to an end with black which is the darkest colour of all. Progressing through the gradings beyond black belt, one then works back to white as repeated washing gradually drains all the dye out of the belt, corresponding to achieving a competence level where innocence has been restored and everything has become so completely natural that it's effectively part of one's soul!

In the context of the gay lifestyle black belt, I reckon competence at black belt level means that someone has learned how to live a gay lifestyle, learned all the etiquette and feels very comfortable being gay. When one first achieves this level of gay lifestyle competence, a person may feel for a while that the gay attribute is their most important characteristic. This is a very important milestone, but as with martial arts, I reckon there are competence levels way in excess of this. And as with martial arts, as one progress to higher and higher competence levels, everything gradually becomes more and more natural. At the highest gay lifestyle competence level one has forgotten that one is gay because it's identical to being alive!

What type of characteristics does a person have at the highest levels of gay lifestyle competence? It's certainly impossible to offend them with any type of homophobic language, in any situation, because they just don’t relate to that mindset. By contrast, at the initial gay lifestyle black belt level, the reaction to a homophobic remark may be to trade insult for insult, or perhaps in an office environment to complain about the homophobic remarks to the management. But having successfully negotiated the emotional turmoil of the lower gay lifestyle competence levels, people at the highest competence levels somehow manage to display a confidence which naturally prevents homophobic behaviour in their presence most of the time, because it's clear to any homophobes that such a person is immune.

The people at the highest gay lifestyle competence levels may even use homophobic language themselves as a means of communication. For example, however much one might wish that the weak effeminate gay man was not a well known stereotype in society today, it is, so in some circumstances invoking that image may be the easiest way of communicating with an unreconstructed straight guy. Gay activists may regard it as appalling to reinforce that negative image, but at the highest level of gay lifestyle competence one is strong and not weak and in a particular situation the mindset could simply be communication in the most effective way.

As a general rule, I reckon the more Achilles' heels one has in one's personality, the less successful one will be in life. Indeed, it can often be the case that people's own anxieties and hang-ups hold them back. If a person is not fully comfortable with themselves, other people can somehow tell and in some situations use their weaknesses against them. This particularly applies in my world of work because investment banking is a cut-throat business. It it's much easier to achieve success at senior levels if one has reached the higher levels of gay lifestyle competence so that the gay attribute is no longer an issue.

In this martial art terminology, I probably reached the initial gay lifestyle black belt level around fifteen years ago. But looking back, I can see that I have progressed a lot since then. Even so, I still think I've further to go. So try and be honest with yourself. What level of gay lifestyle confidence have you reached?


Monty said...

Trust me, I'm still way down in the rankings...achieved my "white belt" last year by admitting my gayness to myself and coming out to my family and friends and since then, it's been a steady progression. But I still think I've got a long way to go...after all, one does not attain to "black beltedness" in a matter of months. But thanks for the insightful post GB!

Superchilled said...

Just stumbled across your blog and love your writing style. This Black Belt article is great, and I see a lot of truth in it. I'll be back for more!

close encounters said...

i missed this post when you originally wrote it, and have only just got around to reading it ...

can't believe that you only got 2 comments on such a provocative post !

for a start, a gay person using homophobic language - i expected a lot of indignant replies to that ...

maybe i'm exposing my naievety, but what confused me was your reference to "learned all the etiquette" ... i've never been a fan of doing what you're supposed to ... so are you now telling me i have to learn a whole new set of rules to break ?

btw, in order for us to measure ourselves, maybe you could come up with a set of grading criteria ?? then you might get a decent response !

GB said...

Well spotted close encounters, I was quite pleased with this post, but disappointed with the response!

Whether one follows it or not, don't you think there's a lot of etiquette though? For example, what language to use in private with gay friends or in public, choosing between saying "partner" or "boyfriend" depending on how you judge the audience, how do you greet gay and straight friends, should one kiss, shake hands, ... there's a lot of issues to consider!

Working out how the gradings would work is hard though. But happy to collaborate on this if you want to have a crack at it with me? First, how do we decide what the colours are, and (more etiquette) where do we put pink LOL!

GB xxx

close encounters said...

not sure about the volume of etiquette - maybe i'm just blissfully ignorant !!

i think we [you, with a little help] should try to come up with a grading system ... and for starters i've found a list of belts/Dan grades ... afraid there doesn't seem to be a pink belt - sorry !

White Belt
Yellow Belt
Orange Belt
Green Belt
Brown Belt
Black Belt

Blue Eagle
Silver Tiger
Golden Dragon
Grand Master