Pride for a Straight-ish Guy

Are0h dropped this 2024 Jun Mon 17

I love basketball. Yes, I do think it is the most beautiful game in the world, but my adoration for the sport started with a meek and artsy kid in a family was an intense mix of militarism, as my mom and my stepfather were both Marines (yes, I am kind of an intense person) and conservatism that was slow-roasted and spiced by evangelistic Christianity.

There wasn't much room for an imaginative boy on the smallish side to explore interests and hobbies that were deemed not valuable in a space that prioritized structure, discipline, and adherence to religion. This is not to say it was all bad, because it wasn't. However, I was very familiar with physical conflict with people who were bigger than me when conformity didn't always happen. Balancing what I wanted for myself versus what my parents wanted was a constant process, that often had dire consequences when I could find that middle.

Despite the many differences I had with my parents, I discovered my stepfather was a pretty good player, and after learning how much I liked watching basketball on TV, he would let me tag along with him to the indoor courts on the military base we lived on at the time. I've always been undersized in the context of sports, so it wasn't the most comfortable activity for me, but I was already used to physical punishment due to the abuse my parents subjected me to, calling it discipline and I was surprisingly athletic for my size, so once I got the basics down, it became a fun past time a short amount of time.

My stepfather and I have always had a challenging relationship as he struggled with the tribulations passed on to him by his father. I learned it was better to just stay out of the way as much as I could. We didn't connect on much, but basketball was one of the handful of interests we did share. We still didn't talk much, but the game was one of the places I learned I could relax a bit and not have to worry about the seemingly random irritations of my stepfather escalating to something else.

The more I played the better I got and the more people I would meet, which was spectacular for an awkward kid who grew up in the church. I learned the more mimicked the masculinity my stepfather performed, the more I was accepted not only by him but the people around me. Basketball became not only one of my favorite pastimes but also a temporary haven from the expectations constantly being pressed upon me in a household where conformity was expected. And for a time, it was glorious.

A couple of years ago, I wrote a piece called Pride for Straight Guy that was well-received and instigated many compelling conversations. While most people who read the piece thought that is a nice sentiment from someone that doesn't identify with the queer community, people who know me expressed surprise that I identified as straight in that piece.

My response when writing that piece, I landed on being straight because I don't have inherent sexual attraction for men, which I felt disqualified me from straying from the rubric of heteronormativity. But a passage from bell hooks reminded me how limited that thought construct is.

"queer not as being about who you are having sex with, that can be a dimension of it, but queer as being about the self that is at odds with everything around it and has to invent and create and find a place to speak and to thrive and to live.”

The conversations I had with my peers echoed the sentiments of hooks, that while my sexual preferences are a part of it, there is a context to how I live that speaks to a larger narrative about how I move in the world.

When I started to study history and gender theory in college, I began to realize a lot of the awkwardness of my youth was due to not fully subscribing at all to the Western ideals of masculinity, which often frustrated my stepfather, as he felt his lessons of 'how to be a man' were not being adopted as they should, not realizing his example was the reason I did not want to commit to this idea of what being a man was. The way he treated me versus my siblings, his physical and mental abuse of my mother, and his acquiescence to being tokenized to advance his career were behaviors I did not want to emulate.

The rejection of this ideal he represented was the foundation of my discovery of what kind of person I wanted to be. I do not believe in the alleged superiority of men over women. I do not believe the most significant expression of womanhood is in service to men. I think the idea that homosexualism is unnatural is laughable at best and responsible for so much unnecessary death at worst. I am deeply disturbed by transphobia because it illustrates a detachment from humanity so profound its only recourse is to spread that misery and hate to others in the most violent and inhumane ways possible.

The wholesale rejection of Western masculinity as a barometer for how I should treat not only myself but the people I am around frees up so much space for me to engage with people as they are instead a construct of falsehoods and concoctions that don't exist. I'm not perfect at it because everyone is different, so sometimes, you get it wrong while learning. Still, one thing I can say about myself with certainty is that I don't have biases against identities but rather behaviors and actions. Of course, we all have biases, but as long as that identity doesn't involve causing people harm, I'm cool with how anyone identifies.

If I had to guess, it was experiencing the effects of this posture regularly that led my friend to exclaim, 'bitch, you're probably not gay, but you for damn sure aren't straight,' after having an extended conversation of the original piece. At the time, I just laughed it off because it was hilarious. Still, later, I couldn't help but notice how remarkably well it aligns with hooks' quote about the nature of queerness being grounded in the creation and invention of identity in adverse conditions.

My journey with queerness started early in my life and has continuously evolved as I have sought better ways to connect with people not through the limited prism of a gender construct, but rather learning how to authentically connect with another human being based on shared experiences and not expectations based on a reductive belief system.

What I am realizing now is that I didn't have the words for it until later in life.

As we enjoy the space that people before us fought and bled for as we enjoy this latest month of Pride, I find myself reflecting on the piece I wrote a couple of years ago and if it is still an accurate representation of how I identify.

To be honest, I still have no idea where I fall on that spectrum, but I am realizing that I should probably give myself more space to figure that out instead of landing on one definitive point.

And one thing I have learned is that giving myself that space to explore change and grow is queer as hell.

Happy Pride, y'all.