We Must Stop Eating Our Own

Jul 29 / Michael Federic Donatich
In 2017, RuPaul commenced the Los Angeles Pride Parade with a heartfelt speech about the uphill battles the LGBT community still faced. He ended it with a word of advice, and warning: “We must stop eating our own.
RuPaul's words include a sentiment that I’ve come back to again and again; especially as “purity culture” discussion has grown. Gay culture is on the savage, cutting edge of these discussions. After all, before progressive and well-meaning people were ‘canceling’ one another, we gay men were already holding ourselves and everyone around us to even higher impossible standards. We truly are always ahead of the curve!

Look at the following statistics:

What is the common thread among these findings? That queer men can be really hard on one another. In our search for belonging, we judge and reject one another, and when you look at our shared histories, it’s not hard to see why. 
One of the very first hurdles most queer men have to overcome is the enduring trauma of being made to feel as though there is something fundamentally wrong with you. Just as this issue can take many different forms in our past, its effects on our present are even more varied. A sudden shift in how those you love treated you after coming out can lead to difficulties trusting others, resulting in a reflex to stick to your own letter of the LGBT alphabet.

The internalized homophobia that comes from years of messages that heterosexuality is easier/more natural/better, causes far too many gay men to see masculinity and “straight passing” qualities as more attractive/valuable. Feeling that your authentic self is flawed can cause an uncontrollable need to over-perform in all areas, driving us to not only obsess over our own appearances and status, but collectively make our communities places of anxiety over being ‘enough’, rather than being welcoming by default. The ugly truth is, the issues placed on gay men by society are not in turn taken out on society. Rather, far too much of the hurt queer people experience is taken out on one another within the LGBT community.

'If I can only find a flaw. If I can find a flaw in someone, then it’s not so bad, you know? But that boy seems to be perfect! Oh, god, it’s terrible!' -
Dancer From The Dance, Andrew Holleran, 1978
Now of course these are only examples, and do not apply to everyone. In fact, the need to make that crystal clear is a big part of why this discussion can be so difficult to have. The biggest problem queer people may face within the LGBT community is the impulse to very loudly shoot down a conversation about gay culture, if what is being discussed does not specifically resonate.This can be contributed to yet another old wound, the desire to be clearly understood, and heard. Feeling misrepresented can be a mighty trigger, the fear of one version of queer life reaching the mainstream and being seen as a representative for all queer people.  

These problems do not belong to a single individual, but our community. For that reason, it is not one that can be solved by doing, but rather by listening - to others and ourselves. It’s why I believe so strongly in the potential of group workshops for gay men. Group sharing, listening, and working to understand one another can bring a much needed catharsis that can’t be found as easily in a bar or online. 

One of the most common topics discussed by gay men in therapy is an inability to connect with other gay men. Interactions happen, we talk about them to our therapist, we go out and try again. A group workshop allows us to actively work on being with one another in real time, with open ears and hearts, in the moment. We live in a world where malicious forces are actively working to erase us: we can’t afford the luxury of being idle. 

We must be working towards actively lifting one another up, at every opportunity that presents itself. Our community is an expansive rainbow of various people from various walks of life; its unity has the potential to change the world.
Reflection questions
Next time you find yourself quick to form a negative opinion of another queer person, be it in the workplace, the dance floor, or online, take a moment to ask yourself: 
  • What underlining personal issue could potentially be directing my response to this person?
    Would you feel differently if this person were heterosexual? 
  • If there is a quality or outlook you do not agree with? 
  • Could you see the potential for another queer person finding this quality or outlook comforting or useful?
  • What underlining issues could be the source of whatever element you dislike in someone?
  • Are they issues you possibly have in common, or can sympathize with?
  • What is to be gained by putting down another queer person?
  • Inversely, what is to be gained by seeing you both as comrades, even if you have nothing in common?

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