October 14, 2010

To Be Or Not To Be...

Active. That is the question.

When I first came out, I had no clue what to do. Where should I go? Who should I talk to? What am I supposed to do now? So, looking towards other out people on campus, I followed their lead and became very active in the gay community. I began attending meetings, helping out with different activities, and generally hanging around the Center.

I did that for about a year or so and everything was great. I made new friends. For once, I was able to be as vocal as I wanted to about my sexuality and it was the best feeling in the world.

But then, something happened. Around the end of last semester, I started to feel different. I began to feel as though something wasn't right, as though I was changing. I didn't know what it was. But something just felt different. I began feeling out of place at certain events. My enthusiasm had died down. I didn't feel as "out and proud" as I once did. I began to go to the Center less and less. For the life of me, I just couldn't figure out what in the world was going on.

So, I decided to just pull myself out of the scene for a little while until I figured out what was up. I spent the rest of last semester, this summer, and the beginning of this semester trying to figure it out. I'm gay, so I kinda belong in the Center by default right? I'm supposed to be at every rally, every meeting, every event aren't I? I'm supposed to spend all of my free time in the Center. But I just couldn't pull myself to do that and I felt awful. I felt absolutely terrible. I was being a "bad gay" as I so often referred to myself. Seeing others be so happily active in the gay community made me feel horrible. But even this guilty feeling wasn't enough to cause me to become active again.

I pondered this for so long. Eventually, I was talking to some very close friends of mine that made me realize something: I don't have to be active if I really don't want to and I shouldn't feel bad about it. Now, I know this should have been common sense to me, but as my dearest mother said to me when I was younger, "Boy, you're all book sense and no common sense." A light bulb went off in my head. I got involved in the community because that's what I thought I had to do, not what I wanted to do, and eventually, my mind got the message my heart was trying to tell me all along: This amount of activism isn't for you.

Now, this still caused me a ton of stress. I still felt like a bad gay. But I had to realize that everyone isn't meant to be the great activists that others are and it doesn't make me a bad gay for not being such an activist. I have to find the level of activism that fits for me and it's not being in the forefront of the movement. And that's okay. I appreciate everyone that continues to push forward but that's not my place. And I'm fine with that. I've found a level of activism that isn't in the forefront but I'm still happy with it.

So, to those out there that don't want to be as active as some others, know that it's perfectly fine. Just don't begin to hate yourself like I started doing. We all have to find that balance that works for us and everyone's balance is different. Don't force yourself to be something that you aren't and everything will be okay. Take it from me, I've tried that and it made me miserable. The Center is a great place to meet people and hang out, but if you don't want to participate in the activist side of things, then don't. And don't let anyone make you feel guilty for not doing it. While many people would love for everyone to be active, they understand that everyone isn't comfortable or doesn't want to be in a high-profile level of activism. And isn't that what the gay rights movement is all about at its core? Allowing people to do what makes them happy in life?

I'm still active within the gay community but I no longer feel the pressure to be active in every single thing. I think that I might have found my "happy medium" now. We all have our place in this world. Find your own. Don't try to share a space with someone else.


  1. Thanks for writing this AJ! I think this is a really important issue; people should feel comfortable and secure with whatever level of involvement they seek and not listen to anyone who tells them they should be doing more or less. I'm really glad you've found your happy medium :)

  2. I'm really glad that you aren't pressuring yourself to fit in. I enjoy activism but I resent when being an advocate is equated to being a "good gay".

  3. I agree with the above anonymous poster, and with you AJ. I think activism as a correlation for being a "good gay" (that phrase doesn't sit well with me), is definitely misguided. I think activism is great, but I also think individual passion and choice to follow that passion (of non-gay activities) is by far the best thing you could do to be a role model.

    For me, I personally chose to get involved with the Center because I needed an affirmative enviornment that I couldn't find outside of the Center, especially in terms of openly LGBTQ female role models. As I've been going to the Center more and more, I actually have become more aware of the LGBTQ role models outside of the Center, but I think I initially needed the concentrated amount of resources that the LGBT Center provides as my first steps. I'm pretty much eternally grateful to the support, role models and information that the LGBT Center provided me from the beginning.

    Good post AJ-so much truth.

  4. I have mixed reactions to this post. On the one hand, I definitely feel like everyone should be entitled to do exactly what makes them happy, and if activism isn't what makes you happy then you shouldn't have to do it, but at the same time, there is a part of me that sees activism as a moral imperative. Although that's not quite right either. I guess what I mean to say is that LGBT activism is not a moral imperative, but I believe that significant community involvement in some way is.

    I guess I'd just like to add an addendum to what you've said here AJ, and please don't think that I'm accusing you specifically of anything, but I think that letting oneself off of the hook too much can be dangerous. Not in so much as LGBT activism is critical, but in so much as LGBT activism for a gay man represents a sort of communal reciprocity, because if you want to enjoy the rights of straight people, someone has to work for them, and deferring that responsibility to someone else can be a moral cop-out.

    What I'm saying is this: If you identify as a gay man and are not an LGBT activist because you're volunteering at a homeless shelter on the weekends and choose to spend your time that way, that's fine, but if you're not an LGBT activist because you just can't be bothered, that can be borderline selfish. If you're letting yourself off the hook for LGBT activism in favor of some other sort of community engagement, more power to you, but if you're letting yourself off the hook just because LGBT activism is a struggle and requires something out of you, I'm not as sure if I condone that.

  5. 9:38,

    I completely agree with you. It would be great if everyone LGBT were active in the community and helped in reaching our goal of equality. And, no, it isn't fair for some people to have to do all of the heavy lifting in attaining that goal. I mean, no one likes being that one member of the group project that does all the work while everyone benefits from the finished product. But I do think that you are missing out on a third option as far as why someone may not be as much of an LGBT activist. There are definitely people that fall into the categories of either not being active because they are involved in other volunteer efforts or because they just don't feel like being bothered with it. I, also, do not really approve of this last category BUT, that's the point of my post.

    What I was trying to say is that no one should ever feel pressured into being active if they don't want to. When people begin to feel forced into something, then their attitudes towards it can create a negative effect for that subject. I agree that letting others do all the work is just a cop-out but you can't force someone to become active if it's not something they have the desire to do.

    Everyone should work together for the advancement of the cause, but let's be real here, everyone is not going to. And I think what we have to remember is that those who may not be as helpful as others will have their reasons and we have to accept that. I don't see myself as letting myself off the hook. I just know now that my place is not to be in the forefront leading the charge but somewhere in the middle of the pack, running but not as fast. And I don't say that because I don't want to be bothered with LGBT activism but because that's where I'm most comfortable being. The difference here is between what makes me comfortable and works for me and just not being active because there are already enough people charging forward.

  6. just to play devil's advocate, some would argue 1.) that much conventional, highly-visible LGBT activism alienates potential allies and 2.) that significant progress in improving public perception of the LGBT community can be made by living a traditional lifestyle (moving to the suburbs, having kids, not being radical activists or having dyed hair and exotic piercings, etc.) while being openly LGBT. Personally, I don't have a strong opinion on the topic, nor do I mean to offend anybody who stands out in their appearance or their activism -- most of my friends fit that category :) It just seems to me that the public focus of today's nationwide LGBT rights movement is to achieve a certain "right to fit in" -- to be able to get married or to have kids or to join the military like any other American and so on. As such, if these are our goals, aren't they best realized by displaying to our fellow citizens that LGBT-identifying individuals aren't aliens from the Planet Castro/West Hollywood/Chelsea, but rather ordinary people next door (or down the hall) who live normal lives? To put it another way, might being at the cutting edge of advancing the gay rights agenda on campus today involve anything from participating in panhel rush to joining ROTC while being openly gay, rather than marching in a pride parade or protesting some new anti-lgbt law?

    Again, don’t mean to belittle anybody – if you’re the type of person I may have inadvertently dissed above, please know that I only mean to put a different perspective out there – I tots respect your decisions and applaud your courage and devotion to the cause!

  7. My 2 AM immediate reaction to a topic that deserves a lot more thought than a 2 AM immediate reaction is that I think the Purpose is to recognize (and even celebrate, daresay!) differences while maintaining that nobody should be treated differently because of them.

    And I don't think it would be fair to have to stifle certain parts of our demographic/Community just to be taken seriously. Pride parades can be, uh, pretty explicit and risque and nonconforming (which is sort of why pride parades are thebomb.com), the footage from which we would not want to be the only piece of evidence before the Supreme Court. But I wouldn't disown this part of the LGBT Community. Instead, I'd point out that just like straight people there is just as much of a diversity within our minority. Just as there is greater diversity within gender, I wouldn't be surprised if similar bell curves didn't result from comparing LGBT and "straight" people (for the purposes of this I'm overdichotomizing, which is a word now).

    It's 2:42 now so this point is going to be especially ill-formed, but I just don't like the double standard where gays constantly have to be paranoid about their behavior in public because of how it may ruin the fight for civil rights for everyone that identifies as LGBT. Like, anything that a gay person does is a reflection upon the community. (Hence the phrase "let's keep this in the family.") But it's just not fair, because straight people act like this doesn't happen among them as well. Meanwhile, the truth is that straight sex (and pretty explicit shit!) is so fucking pervasive that it's just normative to the privileged at this point. Like Girls Gone Wild does not only exist but has commercials on cable television. Mardi Gras just openly celebrates nudity and complete debauchery and is still considered, like, this national pastime.

    Which is fine! Which is fine. I'm just saying that it's completely hypocritical to criticize the gay pride parades that happen once a year. Because yes, shit gets pretty inappropriate in public, but it's not like there are not parallells to this in heteroculture that we see every day (see: every commercial [for beer] ever).

    And we just don't have the luxury of falling in. Because we'd still be oppressed, and neither de facto nor de jure equality would be achieved #jingoistic cliches.

    2:02, you put this really well and I appreciate the point. In fact it was pretty much the theme of our first LGBT discussion group meeting (the second of which is this Monday... just saying). I've thought a lot about this, because like I said, you're right - it doesn't seem immediately progressive (of the Cause) to have naked people running around. But meh, I say let people do it. It's their thing, you know? And who are we to rain on their parade? (It's 3, now, so forgive that one.)

    The bottom line, I think, is that this isn't something that We should even have to think about. Like the fact that we're even having this conversation is indicative of something being pretty wrong. Because straight people don't have to, or constantly keep track of all the naughty shit they're doing lest they lose/continue to be without certain civil rights.