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What does "gay" mean?
Tolerance vs. Acceptance

What does “gay” mean?

Growing up, I only knew the word "gay" as a derogatory remark. I thought it referred to how someone acted, how they spoke, and had a "stereotype" in my mind that was my understanding of the word. Even today I sometimes fall back on that stereotype and find myself labeling people based on their voice character, mannerisms, etc. However, in my own experience with "discovering" that I was gay, and what that meant to me, I know that this is a misperception on my part.

In 1994, when I was going through the process of exploring my sexuality, I was in conflict. I had come to the realization that I was attracted to, or "turned on," by men's bodies. Yet for me this was a secret I was barely able to admit to myself. I had issues with homosexuality that I believe stemmed from growing up Catholic. My mantra at the time was, "People are people... they like what they like." Yet I also believed that I did not exhibit the "characteristic" behaviors of a gay man, so of course, I wasn't gay.

Then one day, and I know when it was down to about the week, I developed a crush on the drummer in my band. I would tell myself that it was about friendship, but really I was infatuated. I was head over heels in puppy dog love. I wanted to be close to him, and to be around him. I didn't know how to express what I was feeling, and so I was constantly trying to hide my feelings while covertly maneuvering to be in the same places he was. Looking back, I can see how it was very sweet and innocent in many ways. I didn't understand what I was feeling, but I knew for the first time in my life that I was truly alive. I considered many times quitting the band and staying away because I didn't want to deal with what I was now going through, and yet I would tell myself that having this feeling of aliveness was worth it.

After about six months of pursuing my friend without him "catching on," I finally embarked on a new chapter in the pages of my life. We had gone to a "kill the keg" party with the rest of the band. I offered to give my friend a ride home, and then maneuvered to spend the night. As he was sobering up, I started drinking. (I hadn't been drinking at the party so that I could drive him home... yes... it was all planned out...) In the wee hours of the morning, I was drunk, he was asleep, and I groped him. He woke up and hasn't really spoken to me since. He called the bass player in the band to take me home. I tried to hang out with the band and old friends, but it didn't quite work out after that.

At the time I was devastated. I cried myself to sleep at night. I started seeing a counselor at the school's counseling center. I had a terrific counselor, and I started to work through some of my issues. It took only about two months before I could admit to myself that I was gay. Then I had to work through all the judgements that I was now placing on myself that came with the label.

But I digress. The story is for you to understand where I was in my life at that time, and so you may be able to understand how I came to my views on what it means to be gay. For me, it means that I am attracted to men sexually. In short, I like penises, pectorals, rugged jaw lines, etc. In the abstract, it means I prefer inverted triangles to hourglasses (think torso shape). Although I used to associate "gay" with behaviors and mannerisms, I now see it as something much more internal. It's what I'm attracted to.

I've known a number of people who have told me they were confused about their sexuality. A common theme was that "something" had happened in their childhood, or perhaps more recently, that caused them to question their sexual orientation. Either they had had a homosexual experience, or someone of the same sex had made advances or found them attractive. They took it on that if someone of the same sex found them attractive, then they could be gay. I'd like to state for the record that NOTHING that has ever happened to you can make you gay. If someone is attracted to YOU that says NOTHING about YOU. It says everything about them. They are expressing what they are attracted to. If they are attracted to members of the same sex, then they are gay or bisexual. Your sexual orientation is determined by what YOU are attracted to. It's an internal perception and experience.

I often like to talk about what I call "tracking." I see it all the time when I'm out socially, or in movies, etc. It seems to be a behavior common to human beings, both men and women. When someone I'm attracted to passes by, I almost involuntarily "track" them with my eyes, and my consciousness. My head turns. My attention turns. When I paid attention to this reaction, I realized that this was only for men. When I was pretending to be "straight," I would consciously look around the room at social gatherings for stereotypically "attractive" women and point them out to my male friends. It just seemed to be what guys do, and I used to think it was important to play by the rules. But in truth, my "radar" was set up for men. It was the men that I noticed. Now when I'm walking down the street, and someone goes, "Did you see her?" I just say, "Nope... didn't even notice. I was looking at him!"

Now comes the controversial part. I believe that sexual attraction is "built-in." It's genetic. In a species that reproduces sexually, if you don't have a sex drive... well... more than likely you don't reproduce. Having a sex drive is selected for, if you believe in that kind of evolution. My personal theory is that there is no such thing as "homosexuality" or "heterosexuality." There is "attraction to maleness" and "attraction to femaleness." You can have one or both. The way I figure it, about half the population on the planet is attracted to men, and the other half is attracted to women, with a goodly percentage in both camps. My parents had four children. Two got the "attraction to maleness" genes, two got the "attraction to femaleness" genes. They just happened to have one girl and three boys. I'm the boy with the "attraction to maleness" genes. That's how it feels inside of me, anyway. I'm attracted to men, like lots of men and women around me. It's a pretty big crowd.

From observing people, it seems that sexual attraction is inherent. The "tracking" behavior is a common thing. Mother nature seems to allow for such combinations as a part of the natural order of things. Why do men have breasts? I have actual working mammary glands that never got activated because I don't have the necessary hormone balance for that. Yet I have mammary glands and teats. It seems to be far easier, DNA-wise, to have breasts coded for in both sexes. My guess is that sexual attraction is similar. It exists in both sexes. What you are attracted to can vary.

Now, at this point, I started wondering why my society and religion has such taboos against "homosexuality." Consider this. Suppose it was just as likely to have such a taboo as not. Now turn the clock back about 4000 or 5000 years, before modern medicine. Put two societies in the same region, one with a taboo, one without. The one with the taboo encourages marriage of some sort. The one without allows for free sexual expression. What happens to the birth rates? Those people attracted only to their own sex are most likely not reproducing. In a competitive environment, which society survives? In something of a "social evolution," the taboos are actually selected for. The society that has more offspring prospers and grows. In today's world, when overpopulation in a world with limited natural resources is a concern, the taboos are no longer selected for. Modern medicine also balances the scale. I suspect that over time, the taboos of today may fade. In the meantime, I am content to understand "that's just the way it is" simply means that this is the culture I inherited. For myself, I don't need to perpetuate the taboos. I choose loving acceptance for myself and others.

In summary, being gay means being attracted to members of your own sex. But it's an artificial label in my understanding. I look at people as sexual beings attracted to maleness or femaleness. (I'm ignoring small farm animals for this essay!) I am a man attracted to maleness. I was born a male attracted to maleness, and I celebrate my sexuality!

--Essay by Mike Polek

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