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OPINION: Andrew Perez - I'm Not A

Photo courtesy of Andrew Perez

OPINION: I’m Not A “Mainstream Gay

“I came out in June 2016. Now at the age of 37, I’m finally coming to grips with the complex realities of the gay experience…”

By Andrew Perez

I’ve recently come to a realization that is both painful and liberating: I’m not a “mainstream gay.”

This revelation will likely come as a surprise to many who know me casually. After all, I’m out and proud, attend many of Toronto’s coolest gay parties, have perfected the art of the shirtless selfie with just the right angle and lighting, and am devoted to several 2SLGBTQ+ causes in my community.

But my admission won’t surprise those who know me best. This month will mark my eight-year anniversary since coming out in June 2016, I’m just now coming to grips with the complex realities of the gay experience in Canada’s largest city. I consider myself somewhat of a misfit within my community – and I’m finally at peace with this.

Coming out at 30 already made me an outlier in the gay community: most of my peers born in the mid to late 1980s came out in their late teens or early 20s.

As a kid, it never crossed my mind that I could be gay – a remarkable admission given how my sexual orientation has come to shape my life (overwhelmingly for the better).

To this day, when I share my story, jaws drop: “How could you have been in the closet all those years?” people ask without hesitation. “Did you not know you were gay all those years?”

The reality is, I didn’t.

Coming to terms with my sexual orientation was a deeply personal and gradual experience that spanned well into my 20s. While most gay men my age were forging queer friendships, partying and exploring their sexuality, I was still trying to figure out who I truly was.

When I reflect on my childhood and young adult years, many aspects that are often features of the gay man’s experience – like perpetual bullying and strained father relationships – are notably absent.

While occasionally teased as a kid, I wasn’t bullied for being effeminate or possibly gay. I wasn’t naturally athletic or into sports, nor was I into theatre or ballet. In my youth, I enjoyed a strong relationship with my dad, which continues today. I never recall my dad, or any family member, uttering a homophobic slur at a time when these slurs were all too common.

I recognize I’m fortunate to have had this experience, but am increasingly aware that these weren’t the experiences of many of my gay friends and peers.

What I didn’t appreciate when I came out in 2016 was just how much the modern gay identity and experience is wrapped up in the early life traumas encountered by most gay men of my generation who came of age in the 1990s and early 2000s – an era that predated social media and equal marriage. Those traumatic experiences shape virtually every aspect of the gay experience today, including socialization, romance, sex, body image challenges, partying, and our community’s complex relationship with recreational drugs.

As I’ve integrated into the gay community over the past eight years, I’ve become more informed and understanding of the challenges many gay men face. I’ve learned to reject deeply entrenched views I once clung to relating to sex, drug use and other taboo subjects. As a result, I’ve become a more empathetic person and less prone to judgment.

I’ve also come to recognize the unfortunate social hierarchies that persist in our community: subtle or explicit hierarchies that far too often rank gay men by body type, perceived masculinity, economic status and race.

It’s sad that social structures like these endure in a historically disenfranchised community like ours. Until recently, I was oblivious to these structures, even though I often benefit from them.

I still feel like an outsider in my own community, even as a white, cisgender, educated professional. When I came out, I reasoned that I would quickly forge a close group of gay friends and begin dating almost immediately. That didn’t materialize.

I still struggle to form genuine gay friendships, to date and to find a niche within my community. Many would describe me as “too intense” or too career-oriented to be considered a “mainstream gay.” To top things off, I can’t flirt for the life of me and disdain small talk – staples of gay socialization.

Being told that I’m not a “mainstream gay” used to bother me a lot. But it no longer does – in some ways, I take it as a compliment.

I’m learning to embrace the fact that I’m somewhat of a misfit within my own community while bringing acceptance and empathy to all my interactions.

Being a gay man is one of my life’s greatest blessings. Making the extremely difficult decision to come out and live authentically eight years ago was the best decision I’ve made in my 37 years.

Navigating the twists and turns of the gay experience hasn’t always been fun or easy. In spite of it all, I feel enriched, humbled and grateful for what my community has taught me as I continue down my journey towards self-acceptance.

ANDREW PEREZ is a Toronto-based freelance writer, media commentator and public affairs strategist. He’s involved in several 2SLGBTQ+ causes within his community.

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