We need to be kinder to ourselves and each other. We need to embrace and not be ashamed of who we are. We don’t need to ask permission to be who we are. We need to OWN IT.
Owning our sexuality
Many of us still need to learn to own our sexuality; we are still plagued with a sense of internalised homophobia. Now, I am a proud gay man. I stand on a stage with my LGMC brothers and openly parade my sexuality. However, from time to time there’s an internal shame that rears its ugly head that shakes my pride. I blame being the product of the section 28 society.
It happened recently - when I was told I had been successful in my application to be Mr Gay Scotland. I was over the moon, but for some reason I felt like I had to ask permission from my employer – why? Was I worried that I would be an embarrassment? Why should I feel embarrassed? I should feel proud. When I told my boss, he was thrilled and he was surprised that I was in any way asking permission. And of course, he was right. At that moment, I was ashamed that I had been ashamed. I needed to OWN IT.
Prejudice and pressures to be someone we are not
As a gay man, I’ve felt also pressure from gay media and social media to look, be and act a certain way along with prejudice from within the gay community which has made me question who I am and my own value and worth.
Am I too old?
Am I too fat?
Am I too thin?
Am I the wrong shape?
Am I too short?
Am I too hairy?
Am I good looking enough?
Am I ugly?
Am I wearing the right clothes?
Am I too camp?
Am I the wrong type of gay?
Am I good enough?
Am I worthy?
The list goes on, and I know as I CIS white gay man, I won’t have faced and don’t face anywhere near as much pressure or prejudice as people who don’t look like me. I do know however that when I was 20 stone, I felt judged, invisible, and like I didn’t belong.
I still struggle with my body image and although people may think I’m in quite good shape, I feel a weird pressure to look a certain way (especially having been “ripped” at one stage), and if I put on weight (as I have from time to time), it can be debilitating, so much so, that I have found myself making excuses, staying in and not going out the house as I’m ashamed and embarrassed.
On the converse, when I lost weight and decided to live a fitter and more balanced lifestyle I was labelled a Muscle Mary, or a people treated me like a gym-obsessed meat head. I realised that I couldn’t win. I just had to be proud to be me – I needed to OWN IT.
I’ve also been subjected to ageism within the community. For example, I was out in Newcastle recently with Mr Gay Wales and Mr Gay England and we were all wearing our Mr Gay t-shirts. A young guy of around 20 came up to me and said in a mocking tone “You’re Mr Gay Scotland? What year was that?” implying that I was too old to use the title.
Who is anyone to tell someone they are too old to do anything? I know that there are historic associations of the Mr Gay competition with youth and beauty, but he didn’t care how his words would impact on me. I’m proud of my age, and the experience it gives me. I chose to OWN IT.
It feels like the gay media often portrays a certain type of man as the ideal, someone who is handsome, white, youthful, slim and of course masc. I’m not blaming gay media for this – we are equally to blame as we are the ones who buy the magazine when there’s a hot, fit, naked man on the cover. We are the ones who follow the hot, young, gym guys on Instagram.
If that perfect type is in the middle of a spectrum, the further you get away from that ideal, the more pressure we feel and the harder we are on ourselves for not corresponding with that ideal. We need to stop beating ourselves up for not matching that unrealistic ideal.
But it seems as a community we can be just as hard on each other for not corresponding to that type, or the type of people we end up hanging out with – we often become clones of each other.
“No femmes, No fats, No Asians” or “Masc4Masc” “under 30s only” are just some of the unbearably prejudiced comments frequently made on hook up apps which have a cruel and detrimental impact on those who are rejected and cast out by these toxic statements.
Of course, it’s human nature to be friends with people who share similar values and people argue that we can’t help that we are just attracted to the people we are attracted to. I get that. But we should think and use our words carefully before we speak or type. We don’t know the level of hurt we can cause.
We should all be allowed to be whoever we are and, more importantly, we should allow and encourage everyone else to be who they are. We should all be the best people we can be.
We need to say NO to body shaming, NO to bottom shaming, NO to racism, NO to ageism and just NO to prejudice within the gay community.
We still face so much prejudice from outside the gay community, that we really should be standing up for each other within.
We need to be kinder to ourselves, own our differences, embrace them, celebrate them and not let other people’s opinions dictate how we feel or make us question our worth.
That’s why as part of OWN IT, I want to speak to people, companies, students and young people about prejudice, body confidence and internalised homophobia all of which can stop us from achieving who we can be.
I want to hear from people who have been body shamed, femme shamed, victims of racism, ageism and other prejudices from within the community and talk about the impact so that we can have a discussion and learn how we can OWN who we are and ultimately be truly proud to be our authentic LGBTQI+ selves.
We should not be limited by what other people think of us and we certainly don’t need to ask anyone’s permission to be who we are.
We need to OWN IT.