Friday, September 21, 2007

Gay lifestyle confidence (1st installment)

Back in May, I wrote a post titled the gay lifestyle black belt. The idea that a person goes through various stages when they come out as gay is certainly not new, but perhaps no one had suggested before that parallels can be drawn with martial arts grading hierarchies. I didn't intend to take the idea any further, but since then several guys have asked what the grading criteria are, most recently close encounters in a comment to my original post.

This is a serious subject, because most people find the coming out process quite hard. There's also a lot of academic work on the subject, for example the Cass Identity Model which defines six stages in coming out. If I have any academic point to make, I reckon it's that these models don't go far enough.

The final stage in the Cass Identity Model is Identity Synthesis, which I reckon corresponds to what I was calling the gay lifestyle black belt. At that stage, the person is 100% comfortable being gay, although the gay label is usually an important part of their identity. I reckon that one can go further than that. In the words of my previous posting, I reckon that "At the highest gay lifestyle competence level one has forgotten that one is gay because it's identical to being alive!"

Like most of what I write here, the comparison to martial arts grading was meant to be a light-hearted idea, and given that this is a serious subject it might not be appropriate to think about grading criteria. Having said that, as long as no one takes it too seriously, it reckon it might be fun to think about this topic :-). But I don't have a monopoly on wisdom so rather than asserting the grades and grading criteria, for now I'm only going to make a few suggestions and pose a few questions. If people can leave comments and suggest answers to some of the questions, I'll do a follow up post in a second installment next month when it should be possible to be a bit more definitive.

First, what should the grades be? Close Encounters made a suggestion in his second comment to my original posting, which was as follows:
  • White Belt
  • Yellow Belt
  • Orange Belt
  • Green Belt
  • Brown Belt
  • Black Belt
  • Blue Eagle
  • Silver Tiger
  • Golden Dragon
  • Grand Master
but I don't think we need to be bound by existing convention here. In particular, should there be a Pink belt somewhere along the path? Although it was me who suggested that to Close Encounters, I'm not sure about the idea now, because I think Pink is often associated with the more effeminate type of gay guy so maybe it's not appropriate for everyone. Or perhaps there should be a rainbow coloured belt somewhere?

In terms of establishing the grading criteria, I reckon that it's just a matter of identifying all the important milestones in the coming out process, ordering them in terms of difficulty, and then grouping them to form the criteria for each belt. In a martial arts context, I believe that the 'white belt' does have to be earned, so as I said in the original posting I reckon the 'white belt' corresponds to 'Coming out to oneself'. In between 'white belt' and 'black belt', I can think of the following milestones, but can anyone think of any others? Or perhaps some of my suggestions below aren't important enough to be on the list? I've listed these milestones in the approximate order that they happened to me, but everyone is different so maybe this isn't the best order?
  • Tolerance of being gay. Initially one may well hate oneself, so I think this does comes after white belt
  • First attempt to meet other gay people (non-sexual)
  • First gay sexual contact
  • Comfortable in a gay social environment
  • Acceptance of being gay
  • Coming out to old friends who don't know you're gay
  • Coming out to family
  • Large circle of gay friends
  • Coming out at work
  • Comfortable in a gay sexual environment (e.g. Gay sauna, gay orgy)
  • Looking for long-term gay relationships
  • Proud to be gay
Beyond these suggestions, perhaps the following are sensible candidates for milestones in the Dan ranks:
  • Maintained a long term gay relationship for 5 years
  • Maintained a long term gay relationship for 10 years
  • Immune to homophobic insults, whereas a guy at the black belt level might be eager to trade insults
  • Maintained a long term gay relationship for 20+ years
  • So comfortable with being gay that one actually forgets that it was ever an issue
Anyway, as I said above, I don't think I can work all this out on my own. So I'm looking for help here, does anyone have any good ideas on this subject?


Sir Wobin said...

I really enjoyed the first post GB. I didn't comment because I thought it great just as it was. Since this is becoming a series, is this a good time to label them all "Black Belt" or "Gay Judo"?

The one change I would make tot he grading is to rephrase the last level description. In your original post you mentioned that in martial arts, one starts at white belt, progresses to black and then aspires to return to a white, ie. knowing when not to fight or something like that. I suggest that the last level be "gay/straight is irrelevant".

Masturbedroom said...

I think the Cass Model is indeed dated. A case in point is its encouragement of gay people to be angry at heterosexism and to minimise contact with heterosexuals. Sounds to me like blind retaliation against the homophobia of the 1970s.

Regarding being immune to homophobic insults, I wonder how one can come across as being mature and non-confrontational yet still being able to stand up for oneself and not be a wuss? I agree that there's no need to trade insults, but I think keeping mum isn't ideal either. Any ideas there anyone?

So GB, I reckon that when you attain Grand Master level this blog will be called "banker" not "gaybanker". (Un)fortunately banker.blogspot has been taken ;)

And are you going to go the way of many gay blogs and write about the story of the development of your sexuality and coming out process? Or do you think it's not within the scope of this blog?

GB said...

Good idea to create a new label Sir Wobin so I've chosen Gay lifestyle black belt for maximum clarity. Thanks for the other suggestion too :-).

And I totally agree with you Masturbedroom. Whatever definition we end up choosing for the ultimate level of gay lifestyle confidence, as long as I'm the author of a blog which focusses on gay issues I haven't reached that level. Although perhaps exploring all the issues through this blog is part of my journey which will eventually help me to reach that point?

In light of your comment about homophobic comments, I'm wondering whether the level at which one trades insults is one level below the black belt? Perhaps at the black belt level one feels like you do, that one has to stand up for oneself but in a mature way.

In terms of my coming out story, it's scatted throughout this blog. But in particular, I was asked exactly that question when PJ interviewed me last year :-). At present, PJ is a bit of a lapsed blogger, but then I know what's been going on in his life so it's quite understandable.

GB xxx

close encounters said...

i think it's important to have a matrix structure for this - so you have a range of criteria, and then different levels for each ... so you might be:

Level 4 on Criteria #1
Level 3 on Criteria #2
Level 2 on Criteria #3 and
Level 3 on Criteria #4
so on average, you would be Level 3 [Orange Belt] !

as for what criteria to use ... here are a few suggestions:
(i) who are you open about your sexuality with - some friend / most friends / some family / most family / some work colleagues / all work colleagues ?
(ii) what level of gay experience have you had [maybe just for the first few levels] - kissing / further sexual / relationship ?
(iii) what gay venues have you visited [again just for the first few levels] - bars / clubs / weddings / marches ?
(iv) how confident are you in standing up for other gay people when pejorative comments are made by friends / work colleagues - say nothing / sometimes object / always disagree ?
(v) how confident are you in displaying your sexuality in public - hold hands in soho / kiss in soho / hold hands in london suburbs / public sex at a Glasgow Celtic match ?

i'm sure that there are lots of other categories that readers will suggest ... these are what spring to mind initially ...

close encounters said...

i also wanted to disagree with some of your suggestions [thought it would be better to do it in a separate post] ...

"Large circle of gay friends" - i used to assume that this was a relevant criteria ... but cuteCTguy [access to whose blog is now by request only] made it clear that he doesn't have a wide range of friends, and if somebody as gay as he seems to be, doesn't have many gay friends, then i don't think it is valid !

"Comfortable in a gay sexual environment - sauna/orgy" - many straight people aren't comfortable in a straight orgy, so why do gay people have to like them ?

"Proud to be gay" - not sure about this ... how many straight people are proud to be straight ? and if your ultimate level is that you are so comfortable with your sexuality that you forget about it, surely this runs contrary to that ideal ?

but you have plenty of other good stuff there - well done on making a start and co-ordinating the project !

Sir Wobin said...

Close Encounters obviously works in management consulting. Matrix ranking? Next you'll propose BCG growth share matrices to report on ones improving gaiety. :-)

close encounters said...

I don't work in management consulting, honest ... just had too much to do with them in the past !

GB said...

Thanks very much for the good ideas Close Encounters :-).

Regarding your criticisms, perhaps the "large circle of gay friends" is a mistake, but don't we need something relating to gay friends? As people come out, they naturally collect more gay friends and acquaintances, and even cuteCTguy does have some gay friends.

I think you're quite right about in relation to my orgy/sauna suggestion. I think we're trying to work out a lifestyle confidence scale, not a sexual experience scale. So in that respect, first sexual contact should probably be somewhere on the list, but let's not get into the details. After first sexual contact (which might well be a fondle rather than a kiss), perhaps it's length of relationship with someone of the same gender that matters.

But in relation to "Proud to be gay", I do think that is the black-belt level, the half-way point where being gay is important. As Sir Wobin says, thereafter the journey takes one back to white again, where at the ultimate level is when gay/straight has at last become irrelevant.

GB xxx

muse-ic said...

I've never understood the whole 'proud to be gay' thing. Is it really something to be proud of?

Are people proud of being straight/bi?

Misuse of the word 'proud' perhaps? I dunno...

Anonymous said...

longterm relationship qualification? wat if ur partner abuses u? physically, financially etc.? the length of time as a signifier of success is an outmoded conventional litmus of accomplishment, whether it be a gay or str8 lifestyle...

RE said...

A most interesting topic this has become!

I agree with many comments made here, and strongly disagree with others.

Life is a journey, for each of us, and each chooses his own road. My life experience has been very different to what I imagine yours to have been GB. Some people are more sexual, others more emotional and still others more logical. A simple ladder grading just would not work. I agree with Close Encounters, a matrix ranking definitely would take more inforamtion and personal differences into account.

Some people come to terms with their own sexuality before they try to meet people of similar orientation, some come out to their immediate family before telling their friends. I had a long term realtionship way before I was comfortable coming out to my colleagues.

It will most definitely be impossible to find a scale that would satisfy everyone!

Bhaskar Gorti said...

I really enjoy reading this blog and support you and all of the posters brave enough to leave comments.

Sometimes I feel like I am leading a dual life - strong executive leadership figure, lots of responsibility etc... but every now and then I feel like a "trip to key west" is really needed to sort out my inner "thang".

Keep up the great work for all of us!

your pal,

Bhaskar Gorti

lilasiankicker said...

I would like to say both the blogs about Gay Lifestyle Black Belt were great. I never thought of martial arts having any relations to gay lifestyle until I read your blog. I took martial arts for 13 yrs. and I am a 3rd degree black belt. Even then I knew that I had so much more to learn about the actual sport. While you are a colored belts you learn technique, movements, and build your physical strength. Translation: I think to define all the steps of a color belt they should be about physical attributes. For example there are plenty of men that had sexual encounters with other men but don't consider themselves gay.

Everyone has the physical capabilities and knows the basics but its how you apply and use those movements that put you above the color belts. By the time you reach your black belt you start to learn how to apply your knowledge. You learn how to strategize and counter movements. Translation: To define the different levels of black belt they should be psychological. These are the issues that are much more difficult. I feel that the first level of black belt would be the acknowledgement of being gay.

Of course all this is just food for thought. I know this blog was posted over six months ago, so I have no idea if people are even interested in this at all.

The reasons I feel that its completely relevant is because this is what I am going through now; understanding and defining my life.

A mentor of mine said to me, "It's not about how much you know but how much you understand." Ever since then I have a different outlook on all situations.