During high school graduation, I won the “alumni award”, which felt like more of a burden than an honor. As the recipient of the so-called “award”, I was supposed to help coordinate alumni events, stay in touch with classmates, help with fundraising, etc.
Since graduating high school nearly a decade ago, I have not stepped foot on campus. I have not been to a single alumni event, and I haven’t stayed in touch with any of my teachers or peers. Except for two close classmates whom I’d been friends with before I could read, I’ve removed myself from all high school social circles. (They really wasted that award on me.)
Before delving any further, I think it’s necessary to clarify that, for the most part, I enjoyed high school — more so than the vast majority of queer students. I had close friends. I had girlfriends whom I loved dearly. Sure, there were rumors going around campus that I was gay, I was called a faggot a few times, and nearly all my classmates used the word “gay” instead of lame, but all things considered, my experience was fine — arguably good. This was because I had great friends.
But when I went to college and had both sexual and identity awakenings, I didn’t feel like I could turn to my old pals. While kind and always there for me in high school, they were, for lack of better words, “bros”. They played fantasy football, drank beers, objectified women, and believed that Quentin Tarantino is the best filmmaker of all time.
In college, our differences became starker. They joined fraternities, where I joined an acapella group. They played beer pong while I played “spin the bottle” with theater kids, so I had an excuse to kiss boys. They took finance courses while I studied queer theory and cultural anthropology. I didn’t feel like we could relate to each other anymore, so I shut them out completely. I stopped responding to texts, didn’t return calls, and wouldn’t even let friends know when I returned to my hometown for the holidays.
I assumed they wouldn’t be able to understand my sexuality and lifestyle. A part of me also worried that they would tease and reject me for being queer.
At a time when I was so confused with my own sexuality — consumed with self-loathing and doubt — I couldn’t handle that form of rejection from my old friends, many of whom had known me since kindergarten. I needed to talk to people who I knew would embrace me. These people, especially at the beginning of my sexual exploration, were limited to my two older brothers and sister-in-law.
This past Thanksgiving, however, I decided to reunite with my high school friends for two reasons.
One: I was home for two weeks this trip, which is longer than I’ve ever been home before. The need to escape my family before they drive me completely insane was stronger than ever.
And two: I’m very confident in who I am. No one can take that away from me. This is in large part due to my supportive family and queer friends back in Brooklyn, where I live now.
In short, I realized that I didn’t need these guys’ friendship. I didn’t need their unconditional support. If I hung out with them, and they weren’t queer-friendly, or they were engaging in too much toxic masculinity, I could leave. It really was as simple as that.
So I decided to hang out with my bro-y friends, going out for one of their birthdays and also joining them on karaoke night. (I know many queer men who would rather kill themselves than be put in a karaoke room with nearly two dozen cis/het guys, but I gave it a try!)
Surprisingly, it was one of the most fun, rewarding, and validating weekends of my life. When we did karaoke (and the way we did it is we would all sing songs together), my friend, who was picking the songs, would purposefully sprinkle in a few gay classics, like Cher’s “Believe”. I knew that was for me, and boy, when it came on, did I belt my heart out.
I also spoke openly about being a fabulous bisexual, polyamorous slut who writes about identity politics for a living, and they loved it — asking thoughtful questions and making appropriate jokes. They didn’t doubt my bisexuality (maybe because they’d seen me date women in high school), and they didn’t in any way make me feel unwelcome or not “one of the guys”.
I realized two things from this whole experience.
1. We assume all bro-y cis/straight men are not going to accept us, and that isn’t the case.
I assumed a backward hat-wearing dude who likes going to strip clubs, plays fantasy football, and has never seen a drag show in his entire life is going to be an asshole to queer people. That’s not only untrue, it’s also unfair for us to assume. Just like we, queer individuals, don’t like people assuming things about us because of our interests and the way we dress, it’s not fair to preemptively judge others.
Don’t get me wrong, a number of cis/het guys are homophobic, and even when they support the LGBTI community politically — they aren’t comfortable actually being around bi, gender-bending queens. Their toxic masculinity runs too deep. But let’s not have a large blanket statement that supposedly encompasses all cis/straight guys.
2. Don’t let our fear of rejection inhibit us from making personal connections.
For nearly a decade, I assumed these guys wouldn’t like me, they’d make me feel uncomfortable, or they’d judge me. That was far from the case. Looking back on it, I realized it was all in my head, and they didn’t ever give me any indication that they wouldn’t accept the fully-realized me. Still, I was afraid of rejection, so I hid from them. Moving forward, I won’t let my fear of how others will respond to my sexual identity impede me from making new (or, in this case, old) friends.
While I’m well aware that I won’t be welcomed with open arms every time, it’s a risk I have to take because the potential reward of a meaningful connection far outweighs the con of rejection.