Racism, and drag queens, and experts, oh my!
This is our final article in the Queer Pride interview series with Max and Sean. But before they're gone, they're leaving us some pretty revealing details on the LGBTQIA community and sweet sentiments on what home feels like.
OCN: Did you have a gay community you were a part of while growing up?
Max: I didn't have any gay community when I was young, even in high school ... and the Gay-Straight Alliance was made up of straight people, so there was no community for me in Lakewood to really turn to. And the one gay person I was in school with ended beating me up.
Sean: I found community where I could get it, and for me that was online chat rooms, AOL Instant Messenger, creating an anonymous screen name so I could go into gay chat rooms and meet people. I think that was kind of a safe anonymous way to test the waters.
... I think I realized at a fairly early age that I struggled first and foremost with belonging to myself—kind of who am I in my own body? Struggling with self-loathing related to that. But it was so hard for me with no stories, books, movies—there were no gay relationships for me to live into or imagine myself in.
How has being gay shaped your idea of community?
Sean: There's something to the notion of the experience of what it means to "not belong," and the way that lends a kind of different perspective on the world—and maybe you take a little less for granted.
Coming to terms with belonging to myself and in my community with a window into thinking critically about issues of diversity, inclusion, and equity in society at large. I'd like to think that I would still get to that point but I think of it as a gift—it's a unique insight, a lens of seeing the world and being in the world that comes from my sexual identity. One of the exciting things is that if we get to continue to be curious about who we are and how we are in the world, then we've always got more to learn about ourselves and more to learn about others, especially in relationships.
What prejudices does the gay community struggle with?
Sean: Some of the most overt examples of racism that I've seen in my life have been in gay bars and spaces. You'll see this on dating apps, and I'm quoting here: "no Blacks, no femmes, no Asians, masc for masc—meaning masculine for masculine only," so a kind of an internalized homophobia, racism, transphobia that exist internally.
This really shattered my understanding because I felt "I'm gay, I'm marginalized, I face oppression, we have common cause" but unable to see what those other norms and assumptions were at play in my own community and realizing "we have a lot of work to do to engage in this." I strongly believe in ideas about solidarity and common cause. I think that's how we strive together for changing and accomplishing some of the big dreams we have around liberation and anti-aggression. But it always requires internal work, accountability with others, and for me has meant a lot of unpacking my own issues related to gender and trans identity, as well as race.
What do you believe is the dividing issue within the LGBTQ+ community?
Max: Toxic masculinity.
Sean: Toxic masculinity is a construction of masculinity that forces people into a box.
Max: Only wearing pants and T-shirts, not showing any kind of emotion.
Sean: What are the stereotypes of a stereotypical male that we hear growing up in society: we're not supposed to cry, we're not supposed to show emotion, aggression is the only acceptable emotion we are allowed to show.
Is there anything over the top about the gay community that is just too much for you?
Sean: When we get to a point where we are so concerned about being experts in "the right thing to say" or "the right term to use" that we start correcting other folks around their own terminology or their own language that they claim for themselves: you're not a disabled person, you're a person with a disability. I'm using "people first" language. It has never been about mastery of particular kinds of language. If we get that extra kind of mentality, then we just made this about always being right, never about being wrong, never welcoming fallibility or the fact that we make mistakes.
It is impossible to be an expert on any of this because this is always changing—you will always mess up, you will always make mistakes. It's more about inviting vulnerability and inviting scalability, but you know, whenever I roll my eyes, it's when people take that mastery as a barrier to seeing the person and interacting with the person.
Who are the person in your life and the celebrity who has made a positive impact for you and the community?
Max: Drag queens brought awareness for the queer community, cross-dressing, saying that it's okay. RuPaul is a part of that as well—bringing drag onto mainstream TV and letting the rest of the world see a little part of queer culture, even if it's not the most healthy and productive way.
Personally, my grandma. She told me it was okay to be queer, it was okay to be a hairdresser, and okay to love whoever I wanted to love. Any partner I have brought around, she loves unconditionally and has always raised me up for whoever or whatever I am.
Sean: When I came out, I had what I called a gay mentor, Daniel Ramos. He was just a year older than me in college and we went to bars and clubs together. There's something about that notion of "chosen family" and we talk about belonging—the type of things family does for you: they take care of you, they teach you lessons, they're forgiving, you're able to learn and make mistakes around them.
Professionally, I hold a special place in my heart for Audrey Lorde, activist and poet, a woman of color. Someone I return to for inspiration again and again.
How long did it take for you to find "a home" within a community?
Sean: "Home" has been in relationships with a handful of friends and I will continue to search for that. I think finding community and belonging is really important to me.
However, I will say when I did find "queer" community that did feel like "my own." The best way I can describe it is just like a kind of exhalation, a sigh of relief that I think makes you realize how much you're holding in your everyday life, but you don't realize because it's a habit at this point. But when you're finally among people where you feel like you can release that, there's both a release in the moment and in the realization of how much you're caring around every day.
Max: It's like your clothes fit again.
**This concludes our interview series, Queer Pride: An Interview, but really, the conversation carries on from here. Check out the rest of the article series here: Coming Out and What to Say and Thoughts on Nature vs. Nurture, Pronouns, AIDS, and Marriage.
Where do you feel most at home? Share about your community in the comments.