Originally published by The Advocate on March 29, 2017
Gay people aren’t bad at dating, but maybe they are out of practice.
I was in the fifth grade the first time two people I knew started “dating.” I put dating in quotation marks because I’m not sure how seriously you can date someone at the age of 10, but nevertheless they held hands in the hallway, told each other they liked one another, and referred to the other person as their boyfriend or girlfriend. Obviously Tommy and Brooke weren’t destined for the kind of epic romance we’d all observed in a decade’s worth of Disney Channel Original Movies, but still, it was a start. I, on the other hand, was 20 years old before I ever even held hands with another boy in public, or at least held hands with a boy I was attracted to. You see, that’s the thing about being gay — there are a few additional steps you have to take before you can jump into a relationship or even feel comfortable admitting you’re attracted to someone.
For starters, you’ve got to admit to yourself how you feel. I was certainly not about to tell Brooke I also thought Tommy was cute. For one, even as a 10-year-old boy I understood Girl Code and knew that it was absolutely not OK to make eyes at your friend’s man. Also, I knew somewhere deep inside of myself that telling another boy I thought he was cute wouldn’t serve me well on the playground. So I didn’t. I didn’t tell anyone, and certainly not another boy, that I thought they were cute for nine years. In that time, my straight peers were afforded the opportunity to openly experience lust, and love, attraction, heartbreak, jealousy, and a full range of physical affection that I was closed off from. When, looking back on your life, you feel cheated by the lack of heartache you’ve experienced, you know there’s a problem.
Perhaps it is not so much that I am upset that I didn’t experience heartache at an earlier age, but rather that because I didn’t begin to experience it until much later in my life, I am less fluent in how to cope with it. When you restrict yourself from anything, you’re bound to be bowled over by it when you introduce it into your life. The first time I drank a doppio espresso I couldn’t sleep. Now, I need a redeye just to make it to 3 o’clock on a work day. You see what I’m saying? Aside from building up stamina, you also learn how to differentiate feelings. Is it a crush, genuine attraction, do you just want to make out for a little while, or would you actually consider bringing this person home for the holidays?
At 26, I’m painfully aware of my tendency to fall for people the way I drink my iced coffee — quickly and on pretty much every street corner of the city. I’m a person who develops feelings for people pretty instantaneously — the mushroom vendor with laugh lines and dirt under his nails at the farmers’ market, pretty much any guy walking a dog downtown in the fall, I’m hooked. Sure, the feelings typically pass through me as quickly as they arrive, but what can I say? I think I just love the possibility of people. Having said that, it would have been wonderful to have that level of self-awareness at 21 and saved myself from the embarrassment of telling my best friends I was falling for every boy I made eye contact with. Sure, I still fall for them, but now I keep that to myself until the rare occasion that feelings stick.
This is, perchance, why so many members of our community feel such intense affinity for powerful, emotional, broken, strong women in music, movies, and on TV. When I was 17, I wanted so badly to experience a love that I couldn’t, so I felt it vicariously through Julia and Bette and Judy and Angela and Meryl. Maybe, just maybe, this is also a contributing factor as to why gay people often project on one another a bad reputation when it comes to relationships. Tired old stereotypes, like lesbians move too quickly, or gay men never want to settle down, or bisexual people can’t make up their minds. What if it has nothing to do with identifying a specific way and rather, some queer folks are just out of practice? I didn’t even know what it felt like to be truly, romantically in love until I was in my 20s. I owe it to myself and to my future love the time to get it right. One day, fingers crossed, queer kids the world over will have the opportunity to safely and openly experience the myriad emotions of the human condition just as early as their other friends on the playground. But until then, here’s to being patient with each other as we figure it out along the way.