Homophobia Deprives Young Gay Men of Society’s Standard Rites of Passage
The following is adapted from A Gay Man’s Guide to Life, by Britt East.
When my straight peers were having their first crushes or tender romances with girls, I felt surrounded by boys, quaking with lust in a special hell. In another life, I might have had happy rites of passage, but instead, I experienced isolation and anger because I grew up gay in a hostile home.
Homophobia hurts gay men in immeasurable ways, including by denying us the experience of milestones and standard rites of passage taken for granted by young straight people.
As young gay men, the denial of these rites in some cases stunted our emotional growth and maturity, and the results were often disastrous. This theft prevented the creation of those memories that would have formed our sense of self. It denied us the opportunity for the regular, low-stakes practice of relationship-building.
As a result, we never got the chance to invest in a love separate from our families, as we prepared to jump into the adult world. Instead, we were left with a void: missing pieces where our individuality would have gone. And many of those missing pieces were sexual in nature.
To not acknowledge the lifelong impact homophobia has on gay men is to diminish the harm, so I’d like to examine the milestones that so many young Americans have tragically missed. Here are a few of those important life moments.
Milestones Denied to Young Gay Adults
When many straight boys were first dipping their toes into the pond of life, most gay boys were too busy hiding their true selves, trying not to get killed.
Here are a few contrasting milestones in the lives of some straight and gay boys.
First Crush: some straight boys relish their first crushes on girls, while some gay boys hide in shame, having no clue or context for their new and frightening attraction to other boys.
Sexual Sharing: some straight boys start to share their sexual urges about girls with their friends, while some gay boys are too afraid to share their homosexual urges.
First Dates: some straight boys start dating girls in the real world, while some gay boys immerse themselves in homosexual fantasy since it is unsafe for them to date boys in public.
First Kiss: some straight boys share their first kiss with a girl and feel excited about it, while some gay boys share their first kiss with a girl and feel afraid or ashamed about it, or with a boy and risk rejection or violence.
Social Functions: some straight boys take girls to various social functions (homecoming dances, the prom, etc.), while some gay boys panic and take girls to these events, or stay at home alone, missing out on all these experiences.
Sexual Exploration: some straight boys have their first sexual experience with a girl and fall in love, while some gay boys have their first sexual experience with a girl and feel lonely or afraid, or with a boy and risk rejection or violence.
Each of these is an important milestone, each easily missed by gay youth growing up in hostile, homophobic environments.
The Consequences of Missed Milestones
It is easy to see the consequences of bias, bigotry, and negative messages towards gay youth, as reflected in the sexual development milestones of many Western cultures.
Over the years, the accumulation of these experiences can be both debilitating and disempowering. Some of us don’t even reclaim these rites until our mid-twenties or thirties, or much later still. By this time, much of the harm has already taken its toll. The physical, mental, and emotional consequences of our behavior can be drastic and dire.
As children, we were steeped in negative messages about our love’s lack of worth; this prevents us from sharing physical affection as adults. We might fear holding hands in public, even when it is ostensibly safe and legal. We might refrain from kissing other men, even in the privacy of our own homes. There are numerous ways in which we might express our fears of intimacy; many of them go unchecked for years, becoming patterns of negative love or cycles of isolation.
Changing Our Culture to Support Gay Youth
This deprivation of rites of passage won’t end until we change the culture of homophobia that keeps young gay men backed into the corner, too afraid or threatened to just be children. It will take all of our best efforts and require all our participation to encourage acceptance and unconditional love, so all children can positively experience the milestones that define us.
For more advice on self-improvement for gay men, you can find A Gay Man’s Guide to Life on Amazon.
Britt East is an author and speaker who uses his experience, strength, and hope to challenge and inspire change-oriented gay men to get down to the business of improving their lives. With over two decades of personal growth and development experience in a variety of modalities, such as the 12 Steps, Nonviolent Communication, yoga, meditation, talk therapy, and the Hoffman Process, Britt is committed to building a personal practice of self-discovery that he can then share with gay men everywhere. He lives in Seattle with his husband and their crazy dog. Learn more about him at britteast.com.