Resolutions for 2018 Gay Men Should Consider
2017 was the kind of year we dreaded at the end of 2016. For many queers, the country regressed decades. The antics of the new regime reached the camp of a John Waters movie. Our “President” made it clear he doesn’t give a flying f**k about the LGBT community. While politically and culturally we’re stronger than in our recorded history, our victories lose their luster when we watch our trans family so blatantly oppressed, while HIV is once again ignored, while our country sits idly as queer men are taken into concentration camps across the globe.
For queer men, fatigue, the absence of mentors lost to AIDS, and a lack of blueprints to measure our success can make the future seem even more hopeless. Maybe it is the end of times. Or maybe it’s the same old world, the same old hate, and it’s us getting older and weary. But one way we’ve always fought that hatred, and what we do best, is take small actions and gatherings, turn them into a protests and celebrations, becoming political and cultural juggernauts.
As a gay men living in America, we’re damaged, privileged, lucky, and full of what Harvey Milk called “Fabulous Emotions.” We need to use these emotions to fight the communal malaise and anxiety that shadowed most of our discourse in 2017, so that in 2018 we can remind these oppressors who they’re dealing with. Mary, we’ve survived jail cells, lynchings, the closet and an unstoppable virus. We’re still here. Our family is growing and we’re not going anywhere.
1. Question Who the Hell You Think You Are.
Gay men do not have many examples as to what a “successful” gay life means. Most of hetero culture promotes a white picket fence, but there’s no equivalent for us. We can feel directionless, not knowing “what we’re doing with our lives.”
The last two years I’ve written these resolutions and this year’s was the most difficult. 2017 was a rough year for me personally. My long-term relationship failed for the same reasons I’ve watched other gay couples fail. I moved to a gay mecca that is now too expensive for those who need it most. Two artist friends I admired killed themselves violently. I struggled with depression, anxiety, keeping my vices under control. I felt I’d lost my moral compass, doubting what was good about being gay anymore. Who the hell was I to give any kind of advice or resolutions?
While misogyny is a big issue, it’s usually a form of self-hatred for our own femininity and calling one another “girl” is a milestone for many gays.
I had to look deep within myself and then to our history to find the answer. What I found were many, many men just like me. I’m part of a long lineage. As a Mexican queer activist and artist, I travel the country for work, meeting all kinds of queer men, I’ve seen most of our issues are the same regardless of race, wealth or age. My forefathers gave their lives for me to live this life. You’re damn right I’m going to sit here and tell you what I know, it’s my f**king duty.
This year look within yourself and find out what kind of gay man you are and want to be, research your history to find those that lived like you, those gay teachers, leathermen, drag queens, activists, doctors, their lives can hold the answer to many of your questions.
2. Remember, Your History IS Your Resistance.
As most authoritarian regimes have shown, a way to oppress a people is to deny them their history and culture. Throughout our existence, queer people have been especially susceptible to this; our records go back only a fraction in time, stigma and the law forced us into closets, AIDS nearly wiped a generation and even our family members have been complacent in erasing us. Yet, one of our beacons against this smudging are the archives and museums that hold our histories. Support and join your local archives and institutions, like the GLBT Historical Society in SF, the Leather Archives in Chicago, The One Archives in LA, The Leslie Lohman Museum in NYC. When we diversify and increase the memberships of these institutions, we help them get grants, raise money, acquire priceless artifacts for future generations to learn from.
3. Roll Up Those Sleeves Mary, We Got Work to Do (and It’s Not Gonna Be Glamorous).
It’s going to take sweat, humility and persistence to fight for the rights those before us earned with their lives. History, the press, even corporations are on our side, but elbow grease and gatherings will change the next elections. We have always represented the vanguard and being queer now also means supporting immigration rights, women’s rights, gun control. It’s not a thrill to phone bank, knocking on doors during elections, asking people for donations can take humility and mimosas, but queer people know the smallest actions can turn into the most powerful movements. Remember a dance party in a firehouse eventually became the Gay Activists Alliance. A queer Mardi Gras Krewe became the first political organization in the South. A zine became the first lesbian publication. A brick through a bar window set millions of gay people free. You don’t need to throw bricks, but maybe throw a dinner party with friends to strategize on what you can do to get out the vote, change the minds of your bio-family members. If thousands of us do that this year, 2018 elections won’t know what hit ‘em.
4. Expand Your LGBT Family.
Gay men tend to self-segregate for pleasure and survival, but now’s the time to expand and include our entire LGBT community, outside of the comforts of our social bubbles. We need to take the privileges that we earned and make sure that they extend to all queers. We need to seek and create spaces that include all of us and not hide behind online activism. We can take all the feminist theory classes and get into heated arguments online, donate to the HRC and ACLU, but if we remain separated by race, gender, and class, if we don’t have trans and lesbian friends, we miss the opportunities to truly understand and strengthen our larger community.
Yes, there are mistakes to be made, wrong pronouns and antiquated words that will be used. There will be arguments and uncomfortable discussions, but they are dialogues we need to have. Doing it face to face will be more fruitful than doing it online and a friendship can always overcome a wrong word or pronoun. You can learn a lot from a misunderstanding.
5. Girl, Speak for Yourself and Don’t Let Others Do It For You.
Our oppressors don’t differentiate between gay or trans or queer, yet word policing among us has reached a fever pitch. A straight woman told me that referring to another gay man as “girl” was misogynistic. A trans woman told me that I wasn’t allowed to use “queer” if I only had sex with men. What bothered me most about was they were speaking for me as a gay man. Gay men have our own language other folks may not understand. While misogyny is a big issue, it’s usually a form of self-hatred for our own femininity and calling one another “girl” is a milestone for many gays. I’ve had sex with trans-men but it’s not something that defines me. Having to calmly explain this was a challenge.
Many arguments within the LGBT community are folks speaking for other folks. Writing this piece I was confronted by my own doubts. Was it ok to use “gay”? Who would be offended or left out? While I can stand for trans rights, or black lives, I can only speak from my own experience as a gay man. We need to demand that folks in our community have the same respect for our own traditions and languages. As our chosen family grows and as inclusion becomes crucial to battle the political forces that threaten us, there are many nuanced conversations we need to have with the rest of our LGBT family (why male-only spaces are still important, for example) and having a healthy rapport will be crucial.
6. Talk about Depression and Say “Suicide”.
Queer men have freedoms we still don’t fully comprehend. Our lives can become unstructured and directionless, sometimes leading to doubt and depression. High suicide rates haunt us from our teens to middle age and yet the stigma is still so strong we rarely say the word out loud when one of us commits it. “Sudden death” has become a sad synonym. In the last 2 years, one of my friends smoked so much meth, his lung collapsed. My gay cousin swallowed pills and died in a truck. One of my favorite people hanged himself and left no note. This is the first time I’ve typed those words.
Suicides are like shrapnel bombs in our chosen families. They affect us in ways that need to be treated head on, which can take a long time to recover from. Social media puts a pressure to present a perfect life, but we need to talk about our depression directly, to acknowledge when our brothers take their lives so that the rest of us can learn something from those tragedies, so that when can ask each other “Are you OK?” we can be ready to hear the answer, even if it’s not pretty.
7. Use the Buddy System.
Anxiety can make us self-centered and isolated, leaving us alone in a version of reality comprised of our worst thoughts and opinions of ourselves. Is there someone who you check up on daily? Someone who checks up on you? In our darkest moments, it can be hard to ask for help. Sometimes the best solution can be to check in on someone else, without expecting anything in return and create a link of friends and “buddy system.” Seeing ourselves reflected in someone else’s eyes, can show us a kinder, better version of how we see ourselves and that can literally save lives.
8. Appreciate Touch.
A straight friend was admiring the way that gay men touch each other in public spaces. “In a crowded straight bar,” he said, “it’s impossible to get from one side to another, you can’t touch other dudes, certainly not other girls, and definitely not other dude’s girls.” He said he liked the vibe of gay bars, because we navigate spaces with a gentle touch to the shoulder or waist, we hug and kiss each other hello. He called this “Gay Synergy.” We even have the luxury of spaces where “implied consent” is real (and yes it is real, so if you can’t stand the heat and a pat on your butt, get your ass out the Eagle queen). It’s a touch many of us take for granted. Sexual assault and consent are important conversations we still need to have, especially where HIV, drugs and group sex are involved, but we also need to celebrate our comfort with one another.
9. Discuss the Health of our Bears.
The flourishing of our Bear community is a grand example of how queer men can join to overcome adversity. In this case, the victory over our own rigid, self-imposed standards of male beauty. Yet, it goes more than skin deep. As a proud bear chaser, I can tell you that a real good bear gathering can be vibrant, sexual taste of gay men during early gay liberation. Every bear body is built differently though and there are health issues that face some of our bears that need to be spoken of more openly, so that the stigma we have about other diseases doesn’t cause any more harm. It’s time we talk openly about the effects of obesity and lack of exercise, about sleep apnea, heart and cholesterol issues on members of this sub-culture. This isn’t to single out a specific group (and I’ve spoken about steroid and HGH use among our muscle gays in previous resolutions.) This is a conversation happening in the bear community already and it’s time to be open about what we could be doing to keep our bears informed and healthy.
10. Check your PrEP Privilege.
For those with access, PrEP has been revolutionary, changing our sexual paradigm forever. Yet for many, especially for our brothers and sisters of color, undocumented immigrants and low-income trans family, it’s not always within reach. Find out what your community’s access is, and what you can do to increase it for other groups. This may mean donating a few bucks to health organizations, spreading information online or just taking the time to calmly educate that uninformed guy on Scruff.
11. Don’t Replace Self-Care with Sex.
As soon as we come out, we’re inundated with images and the illusion of endless sex, an abundance that’s supposed to be political and liberating, even an obligation. This can give way to gluttony, a system of excess that, left unchecked and combined with addiction, becomes a weapon for epic self-destruction. We’re left feeling empty when we’re told we should be full. Some of us deal with boredom or depression by wasting hours on sex apps, confusing self-gratification for self-care. Sometimes what you need Mary is a nap and a salad, or a good cry on a good friend’s shoulder…and not a dick in your mouth.
12. Be a Gentleman on the Apps.
Sheesh, can’t believe we still need to talk about this but some of us are so rude online. The ghosting, blatant racism, body shaming, and general lack of etiquette. Remember for some these apps are a phone game, for other’s they are the only way they can relate to the gay world. Grow up queen, talk to people online with the same respect you’d use to their face, follow through with plans and meetings the same way you would with your friends.
13. Support the Neighborhoods We Gentrify.
It is very expensive to be an out queer man in America, to live in places where holding hands still doesn’t feel like a risk. For many fleeing conservative towns, living in expensive cities is a matter of self-preservation. For low-income queers and artists, it’s a necessity to live in low-rent neighborhoods, but our presence can be part of the vast, complex issue of gentrification. We don’t always have a choice in how we change the dynamics of a neighborhood, but we have responsibility to them nonetheless. We need to get to know our neighbors, to support the small businesses, the bodegas, barbers, grocery stores, dry cleaners that were there before we arrived. These are small but important habits and especially true for white gay men who move into neighborhoods of color. If all we do is shop at that new $10 chocolate bar shop, or eat at the clichéd restaurants with Edison bulbs and Shishito pepper appetizers, we are becoming part of a very real problem.
14. Make a Reverse To-Do List.
Gay men can demand so much of ourselves, from our careers and our bodies. Our life goals and To-Do lists, especially this time of year, can be daunting. “Get A Six Pack” “Finish the Novel” “Get a Boyfriend” “Land the Promotion.” When these are not achieved to our expectations, it can leave us asking dark questions about our place in the world. Here is a good exercise for this anxiety: at the end of the day, list the things you did do. “Went to the gym” “Wrote 10 pages” “Scheduled a meeting with the boss” “Got the balls to finally text that gym crush.” This exercise can calm us feel when faced with figuring out what “winning” at gay life is meant to be. Going into 2018 we need to be kinder to one another, but even more kind to ourselves.
Leo Herrera is a Mexican artist/activist. His work focuses on queer history, sexuality and nightlife. He is working with the GLBT Historical Society on History Is Resistance, a membership campaign to bring queer history to a new generation. His latest project FATHERS: Sex & Politics if AIDS Never Happened is a Sci-Fi Doc that you can view at www.iftheylived.org You may also follow him on Instagram.
All opinions expressed are those of the author.