The following article relates specifically to gay men in modern gay communities and may not accurately portray issues pertaining to lesbians or transgendered individuals.
Up until now I have not gone into great detail about how identifying as a gay man has affected my mental health. This is mainly due to the fact that it is only one factor among many which has affected me, but has in itself been an ongoing struggle. Don’t get me wrong, I am definitely very proud of who I am and wouldn’t change my sexuality, but it would be unrealistic to say that being homosexual in a hetero-normative society has not played some role in my stress and anxiety.
It’s important to start off by mentioning that a person’s struggle with their sexuality does not simply end once they come out of the closet. It’s an ongoing process and involves constantly re-evaluating relationships and understanding ones identity. After telling my parents I was gay at 17, I thought that after years of repression I could finally express myself as I wanted and the gay community would be an accepting place full of sunshine, lollipops, and rainbows. It did not take long before these ideas were quickly replaced by a strong sense of superficiality and segregation.
Upon entering any urban centers gay community it is no longer enough to simply be a man who is attracted to other men. At this point, adopting a more specific label is necessary. Common ones include: Twink, bear, top, bottom, poz and neg. These terms might sound unfamiliar to the general population but they are often how many gay men relate to each other. Pigeon-holing oneself into a category becomes important in finding a partner and is often based on body type, HIV status, and a person’s preference for being submissive or dominant in a sexual relationship. Many men deny mutual attraction with another person simply because their chosen ‘identity’ creates conflict. For instance two men who consider themselves ‘bottoms,’ or the receptive partner, may fail to see any possibility of intimacy between them despite having many other things in common. This is partly due to the modern gay movement’s heavy emphasis on anal intercourse as the primary source of sexual gratification. I myself have become victim to these labels and have continued to search for partners who fit certain sex roles and display characteristics which I have preset in my mind. This has often put me at a disadvantage in being able to form meaningful interpersonal relationships. Being a minority based purely on sexual attraction means that sex will play a significant role in the lives of gay men, and with the continued growth of online dating and instant messaging, there is ample opportunity for hook ups
Why would anyone settle down when there is so much opportunity for random sex?
This idea has been imprinted in the minds of many men, including my own, and has caused many of us to feel pressured and inadequate in our sexual relationships. Having so much opportunity for easy sex means we have to be that much more attractive and work even harder to satisfy our partners to keep them interested. Often the fear of appearing inadequate can result in risky behaviors, especially for the insertive partner or ‘top’ who may feel condoms hinder their ability to be sexually competent. For these and other reasons, including heightened senses of pleasure and apathy about personal safety, safer sex is largely being ignored and HIV continues to be a problem. Statistics do vary but it has been estimated that homosexual men account for between 2-5% of the general population but account for almost half of all new HIV rates in Canada. It is unfortunate that there has become a strong disassociation between gay men who are positive and negative. Many gay men live in constant fear of contracting HIV and it causes many HIV positive men to fear disclosing their status for fear of rejection. Even with the availability of condoms and medications making transmission between people much less likely, gay men will often ‘sero-sort’ or seek out partners who, to their knowledge, share their same status, despite the fact that many men think they are negative when they actually aren’t. My own experience with HIV is conflicted because I know several people who have become infected but I am still incredibility paranoid about it, and the thought of getting tested is nerve racking.
Could I have contracted it from that one encounter when I didn’t protect myself?
I ask myself this question every time I enter that tiny room and have that small drop of blood taken from my finger. Being told I am negative is always a relief but I know there is always the chance of infection, even when I try to convince myself it could never happen to me.
I know I have generalized a lot but it remains quite evident that divisions within the gay community are prevalent. Older gay men who could not live openly in previous generations cannot always relate to younger men who are coming out sooner, and gay men who are masculine do not always relate well to gay men who are feminine. Many of these problems are the result of internalized homophobia which is a result of continued discrimination and intolerance from the outside, which also results in high rates of drug dependence and suicide among many gay men. The community itself can’t change the minds of everyone else overnight but we can at least try a bit harder to stop putting each other in boxes. When we put a label on someone that says ‘positive’ or ‘negative’ we don’t get a complete picture of who the person really is and come to view them only in a way that benefits our own sexual needs. We need to break free of these constraints and, pardon my cliché, understand that labels are for clothes. By failing to do so we are just a broken community full of tops and bottoms.
Estimates of HIV Prevalence and Incidence in Canada, 2011. Public Health Canada. Retrieved April 7, 2014.
About Mark Rob
Mark Fraser is a 30 year old man who has lived with depression, anxiety and obsessive thought for much of his adult life. Since coming out as gay in high school he's had difficulty relating to others in his community and has experienced self-doubt and a pensive outlook for his future. Mark moved to Toronto in 2012 and has become involved in Second City Improvisation classes as well as personal training in order to maintain his physical and mental health. He has expressed interest in blogging with Healthy Minds as a means of reaching out to others who feel isolated and as a way to express himself in a positive space. You can connect with Mark on Twitter or Facebook.