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The deeper I get into my journey as an openly gay man, the more I want to exist primarily in queer spaces, surrounded by queer people. I’ve spent what I consider to be far too much time around straight people, and though this is not inherently a bad thing, I recognize how much this has hindered my ability to express myself. It’s not that I have any inherent problems with straight people, it’s just that they feel like blockades. They feel like a barrier against queer culture that projects itself out to the queer people they know.

It’s gotten to a point where I feel like I can’t talk about how I feel around straight people without sounding like I dislike straight people. As many times as I’ve talked about feeling like straight people exhaust me, I’ve had an equal amount of them desperately try to show that “not all straight people” are like that. “Not all straight people” think we shouldn’t be loud and proud about who we are. We understand that, and are well aware of it. The problem is that there are enough straight people who want us to conform to their ideals and expressions in order to rightfully take up space. The problem is that it’s straight people who tell us to tone it down, who tell us not to tell other family members because it might offend them, who tell us that they’re uncomfortable with how we act because their straightness can’t possibly grasp that being queer (or LGBTQ+, if you don’t identify with queer) is just different from being straight. Though our fundamental wants and desires may be the same, queerness is not the same, and its expression doesn’t have room to breathe under straight ideals.

I guess what I dislike is straightness; it just feels dangerous, to me.

Now, straight people everywhere will read that and think “hold up, how come we can’t hate gayness but you can dislike straightness?” If that’s your response, I’m going to kindly ask you to sit all the way down. I say “kindly” because straight people think we’re not allowed to be mad about how we’ve been marginalized.

Straightness is so pervasive in our culture. From the characters we see in movies, books, and TV, to advertising, to even something as simple as looking for greeting cards, our society is doused in hetero-normative attitudes. We, as queer people, were raised to be straight. We were raised to find a member of the other sex, to impregnate or be impregnated at whatever age it makes sense to have kids, and start back at the beginning of the cycle of heterosexuality. From the moment we realized we were drifting away from that cycle, we were already feeling like our expressions were abnormal. My first introduction to the word “gay” was that it was synonymous with “stupid,” or distasteful to any given straight person; what kind of impact do you think that leaves on a 12-year old who thinks that this may be his identity? How do you think that continues to develop when the world around him is filled with the overwhelming attitude that the way he was born is wrong?

We then “come out of the closet” (which straightness shoved us into, in the first place), expected to be just like everyone else. We may be recognized as “gay” or “bi” or “trans” or whatever we may come out as, but we then have to dilute our expressions, and paint over our queerness to fit in with straightness. Our identities can only fit in amongst mainstream society if we exist in a way that doesn’t seem queer. Any time I acted in a way that straight men wouldn’t, I was laughed at. Any time I wanted to be a girl character in a video game, I was questioned. Any time I was more expressive of my emotions, whether happy or sad, I was judged. Because straight men don’t typically act in the emotionally free way that gay men often get stereotyped to be, anything that I did that was slightly non-masculine was immediately ridiculed for gayness. Ridiculed, never accepted. I still worry about what expressions of mine will be ridiculed. With my sense of belongingness as a gay man in a straight society being a constant work in progress, I’m always hyper-aware of the moments when it could all get derailed. Don’t get me wrong, though. I’m beyond confident in my gayness, but the trauma of struggling to find my place always makes me feel lost, even when I’m found.

I remember the first time I noticed that my queerness didn’t belong; I’m sure we all have a story like this.

When I came out to my family, the first thing I remember is being told not to tell my younger siblings, the only reason being that they wouldn’t understand. I didn’t think about it then, but I didn’t realize how toxic straightness was in this moment; how hard could it be to tell two developing minds that part of the world they lived in included possibly being attracted to the same sex? I didn’t know it at the time, but this meant that my coming out narrative was immediately hijacked. Suddenly, they got to choose what to do with it, and I immediately felt like my power over it wasn’t my own. How was I supposed to develop a way to express it with power if I wasn’t even allowed to say it? It got worse when I tried to wear a rainbow bracelet to an art show at my little brother’s private school, in which I was promptly told to leave it at home. Maybe it was an attempt to protect me, but without a proper explanation, it felt like I was just being told to not to wear an extension of my expression. Finding strength in my difference didn’t have a place, where we were going. No one would advocate for its freedom.

While I realize that others in the community had it far worse than I did, the sensitivity of being newly out and trying to find confidence in that identity was so high, every bit of negative feedback felt like being shoved onto the pavement. Having no one to look to on how to be openly gay, I constantly felt like I was doing it wrong, constantly spiraling into loneliness. That was the stage of my life when I needed a queer space the most. I needed to feel like my gayness could stretch in all different directions without feeling trapped by steel bars.

This is why being around other members of the queer community is so invigorating; they open you to a world that feels like the bars were never there. It’s unlike any other experience I’ve ever had, and it continues to feel that way every time we’re sharing a space. I don’t have to defend my expressions, or feel like I’m getting buried under a pile of blatant hetero-normativity. I feel at ease. I feel accepted. I feel intoxicated by the joy of being around so many people who inherently accept me, who don’t require any emotional effort when it comes to talking about my queerness. We all have some idea of the trauma that the straight world has put us through, and that connects us without even having to say anything. We have an unspoken connection reminding us that not all of our families liked that we came out of the closet, and not all of them kept us in their homes afterward. Not all of our friends stayed friends. We burned bridges just by wanting to be who we are. We get harassed, beat up, and sometimes even killed just because we exist in our identities. We know the cost of being who we are, and we do our best to not make each other feel the way straight people have made us feel.

Our queerness enriches lives, while straightness has ended too many.

It may seem like I dislike straight people, but that’s not the case. What I dislike is that, in order to share my authentic experiences of how I have seen the world though a gay lens, I feel like I have to make sure it doesn’t offend heterosexuals. If you’re a straight person who was offended by any of my words, I urge you to read this again, and this time, put yourself in the shoes of someone who was born into a world where being born as anything other than straight could get them fired from a job, kicked out of their home, or killed. Think about how they feel lost when they learn this about themselves, and to struggle to come to terms with it while the people around them condemn it. Think about how some people get killed, or even kill themselves, because the overpowering nature of straightness won’t allow for its free expression.

Think about how giving queerness the space to breathe would stop us from suffocating.