Tuesday, August 27, 2013

More about maintaining a gay lifestyle under the scrutiny of others

After I did the post about maintaining a gay lifestyle under the scrutiny of others, I asked the guy who sent me the original email whether he was satisfied with my advice. Yesterday I received his reply, which can be seen below. For the purposes of posting the reply, I've given the reader the name "Philip", although that's not his real name.

Dear GB,

Last week I had coffee break with a few colleagues. As I'm in pharmaceutical field and my company deals with infectious disease stuff, naturally they talked about sex diseases e.g. HIV and the transmission etc. and later on they talked about the MSM transmission rate.

Suddenly this guy paused a little, looks at me, and says "Guys like Philip must go for testing because he's a gay". He kept laughing after that, and the group all laughed together.

I was like stunned!

I quickly told him to correct his choice of term. And declared among the group that he's wrongly making fun of me.

So, what do you think my life as a gay under the scrutiny of others?

FYI - I did not react that much when he popped out the gay words.


This is a great example of how to behave when confronted with an uncomfortable situation. Unfortunately, I don't think the reader did a very good job, if the purpose was to hide his sexuality.

At the two ends of the sexuality spectrum, namely for the guys who're 100% straight and also for the gay guys who're completely comfortable with their sexuality, neither would complain about the joke. To hide the fact that the reader is gay, I think the best response would be to have made another joke, because that's what a straight guy would have done. The right joke to make depends completely on who is present, and what their personalities are. Since I don't know the guys involved, I've got no idea if any of the following would have been appropriate, but here are a few ideas:
  • " ... actually I'm OK because all I do is let guys give me blow jobs, it's Simon over there who needs to worry with all the arse licking he does!" [Simon needs to be the guy who's always trying hardest to please his bosses]
  • "… actually I don't need to go for testing because my boyfriend is a lesbian!" [ridiculous statement, i.e. just as preposterous as the idea that I'm gay]
  • "… but David needs to be tested all the time because of all those drugged up prostitutes he sleeps with!" [David needs to be the single guy who's a womanizer]
Given the fact that someone has guessed the truth, denying it is a bad mistake because one day the truth may well come out and then the reader loses face for having lied.

Another important point to understand is that everyone makes fun of everyone else all the time. When you're with friends or colleagues, when they make fun of you it's usually because they've accepted you into their group. I said last month that apparently Dutch people sometimes tell jokes about Flemish people being stupid, and in turn Flemish people sometimes tell jokes about Dutch people being arrogant. Long time readers of this blog will know that I'm a big fan of South Park, and there's the following bit of dialog between the some of the main characters that sums it up perfectly. The character called Token, who's the rich black kid, has been complaining that they're making fun of him, but then Kyle says:

Kyle: We're guys, dude. We find something about all our friends to rip on. We made fun of you for being rich for the same reason we rip on Butters for being wimpy.
Stan: And we rip on Kyle for being a Jew.
Kyle: And Stan for being in love with Wendy. And Cartman for being fat. And Cartman for being stupid. And Cartman for having a whore for a mom. And Cartman for being a sadistic asshole.
Cartman: Hey. You did me already.

So someone who may well be gay is likely to have gay jokes made about him, even if he isn't gay. That could well be a straight guy who can't get a girlfriend, but if he's sure that he's straight then he won't be too bothered because he doesn't need to prove it to anyone and he'll simply join in the joking.

Another consequence of the reader's response is the fact that, given that he is gay, he's simply proved to his colleagues that he's not comfortable with himself and his sexuality. If he had been straight, it would have proved something similar, namely that he's not comfortable with himself because he can't get a girlfriend. This will simply encourage more jokes of the same kind in the future, because the people involved have found a weak point, and unfortunately people often enjoy exploiting other people's weak points.

Finally, it's also clear from the reader's description of what happened that none of his colleagues really care whether he's gay or not. That's certainly true in the banking world with one proviso. No one really cares provided that the gay person himself has no issues with it either. But when someone isn't comfortable with themselves then other people pick up on that, and end up thinking "This person isn't comfortable with himself so there must be something wrong with him, and that makes me feel uncomfortable with them too :-(".

Does anyone else have any further thoughts on maintaining a gay lifestyle under the scrutiny of others?

16 comments:

Anonymous said...

People should just mind their own business about how someone lives his life. It's inappropriate to make fun of other people, even if it's in a benign way.

GB said...

But for guys who live in the real world, recent anonymous commenter (whoever you are), they can't solve this problem by simply telling people to mind their own business.

GB xxx

Caleb said...

That's a very true point, GB.
The hardest part isn't retorting with comebacks, it's to not feel like you're under attack and showing it in the process, which is what Philip did. - Laughing along with the others and retorting with a joke is one thing, but to actually not care inside is something entirely different. Finding and maintaining confidence is exhausting, I don't know how confident people manage do it!

GB said...

I agree with you Caleb. But the more confidence you have, the easier it is. And it sounds like you're much better equipped to deal with these situations than *Philip* is.

GB xxx

Anonymous said...

In this case I can understand that the defense mechanism of this reader put itself on automode instinctively because there were several different things that combined
- first he is not used to tell people the truth
- second he must have been shocked that in spite of what seem huge efforts to blend in ( for us gays, even straight acting like I or those I know :) it always is such an effort to pretend to be straight and share the tastes and aesthetic of this straight world ) he was still identified and apparently a consensu has been established behind his back

- third of all , and most importantly the guys talked about gay sexuality in a negative way, associating with aids. so even if there was a window of opportunity there I can see why he felt assaulted and backed off. the combination of the 3 musth have felt like a drop of lemon on a freshly opened oyster ! haha

ps : last but not least. unfortunately HIV is very high amongst the 'scene' and constantly raising, and that's why I try to avoid it..

GB said...

The problem, recent anonymous commenter (whoever you are), is that what you call the reader's automatic defence mechanism doesn't defend him, for all the reasons that I mention in these blog posts. The reader knows it too, which is why he originally asked me to try and answer this question about maintaining a gay lifestyle under the scrutiny of others. So the purpose of these posts is to suggest ways to help people like the reader blend in, but as you point out, it takes some effort.

However, I don't think any consensus that the reader is gay has been established behind his back. Much more likely, the guy who made the comment had in the back of his mind for a while that the reader might be gay, and suddenly spots an opportunity to see what the reaction is. Although he doesn't care one way or the other, people just enjoy knowing those kinds of facts about each other. Unfortunately, as I said in the post here, for anyone who understands human nature the reader's reaction basically confirmed the suspicion.

GB xxx

Kenski said...

Short history of my work coming out:

1) Didn't know I was gay - no problem :)

2) Realised I was gay but very unsure of what that meant to society so was in closet.

3) Felt like I was lying/hiding who I was from work colleagues and being disrespectful to my boyfriend at the time by effectively denying his existence. Also got a bit political and felt that by coming out I was standing up and being counted. The hardest thing for the gay rights movement is that historically we've been invisible.

4) Met and fell in love with my (American) husband. Had to move to Texas for visa issues for 18 months during which I went back into the closet as, at the time, it was legal to fire employees for being gay and if I lost my job I'd lose my right to live in the US and hence my relationship. Stopped socialising with work colleagues.

5) Moved back to the UK but started doing a lot more short term contracts. Due to the nature of my industry (not what you know but who you know) I felt it was prudent not to keep coming out over and over again. Still no work socialising to speak of.

6) The future... Who knows! I still feel like not coming out is being dishonest, but at the same time I need to make sure I'm employed. On a personal level it's not an issue and I don't care one way or another who knows, but I'd like to keep paying my mortgage... Chances are that things would be ok if I came out each time I changed contract, but I rely alot on repeat business, so...

It comes down to situation. First off, wait until you're comfortable with yourself then assess what you want to do. If you use terms like "partner" instead of "boyfriend/husband" then most people who know other gays will catch on pretty quick. In some circumstances I do think it's valid to hide your sexuality, but it's not ideal as you end up distancing yourself from coworkers.

GB said...

Interesting history, Kenski :-). I guess I've been lucky because 2.5 years after I came out to myself, I had the view that my sexuality had nothing to do with my job, and so that as far as I was concerned it didn't matter if anyone at work knew or not. Then in the early 1990's when I was being asked to work abroad for a while, I came out to my boss because I wanted him to know that I wasn't single. At that time I was with ex-boyfriend S (a.k.a. boyfriend number 1) at the time. So even though I work in what some might regard as a very conservative industry, i.e. banking, it's never been a problem for me.

GB xxx

Caleb said...

I find it interesting reading the 'gay stories' of others, in this case Kenski and you, GB!
As odd as it may sound, I find it a rather scary thought/existence to be gay, it's difficult to describe, but it's like there's a certain loneliness tinged with fear that comes with it. It's also as if being gay results with some sort of hyper-awareness of others that 'straights' just don't appear to have.
GB, it would be interesting to know the age at which you came out, and the order in which you did it in terms of: work, family, friends and yourself.

GB said...

Well Caleb, I came out just 9 months before I met ex-boyfriend S (a.k.a. boyfriend number 1). So the order was me, then some friends, got a boyfriend, then other good friends, then my family, then my boss at work, and after that I didn't care who knew! The whole process took me about 2.5 years :-).

GB xxx

Kenski said...

I think the challenge with coming out at work is that unless you fit the "gay stereotype" or work in a homocentric industry, people assume you're straight (fair enough!) so every time you change jobs you have to come out again and again and again.

When I realised I was gay I practically fell apart for a few days as my life as I knew it had changes and I felt I no longer understood how I fit into the world.

My mother, somewhat surprisingly, came up with something incredibly wise about the whole thing. When I told her I was gay she said she was a bit worried to begin with but quickly realised that I was still the same person, she just knew more about me.

Caleb said...

GB, is it safe to assume that during your 'coming out' you experienced no negativity? What about life afterwards?
The whole (gay) thing for me didn't really click until later on, I probably realised it without realising it.
(Gosh, it's like I'm conducting an interview, lol!)

GB said...

There was one very straight English friend from uni who I met up with one night and we had a Chinese meal together in Chinatown. When I told him I was gay he lost the plot a bit ("Errrr, … WHAT?? You can't be!!"). However, a few months later when we were with mutual friends he apologised for his behaviour. Everyone kind of laughed at him for being so straight and naïve, especially because it was so in-character for him and he's always trying to pretend that he's cooler than he really is! I didn't realise it at the time, but what I now call the confidence mirror was working perfectly :-). It's very hard for people to be negative about something if you're so positive, and that summarises the way I approached it.

GB xxx

Caleb said...

I'm just really intrigued, so before the 'great reveal' you never really put any effort into concealing your sexuality? - There was no urgent requirement to 'come-out'(it was purely choice) because nobody suspected anything, and you were young? - You didn't exhibit any noticeable stereotypical gay characteristics.
Personally, I had a massive 'Oh S##t' moment when the gay thing dawned on me!

Mind Of Mine said...

My solution to this problem is to just come out, I know it is easier said then done, but there must come a point where you stop pretending to be something your not. Now, I don't mean the teenager that is just trying to understand the feelings he or she is having, but when you get into your mid to late twenties, and you are no longer struggling, just hiding, there are no excuses, you cant get mad for someone who makes negative - homophobic remarks, although in this situation, I think it is just banter.

You can't have it both ways, either you are out and proud, you can't react to the negative remarks, when you yourself are to afraid to come out of the closet.

GB said...

Aren't you forgetting that it's not always possible to come out, Mind Of Mine? In my original post on this subject, I give the example where a guy is living in a country where homosexuality is illegal (e.g. Uganda or Malaysia). In Asia in particular, there's also the problem that guys can don't want to come out because it'll disappoint their families, especially if they're the only son. It's very easy to forget how much easier it is for guys like you and me who live in Europe.

GB xxx