A gay actor writes:
This is totally true. My friends in high school would always ask me to mimic other people because I was so freakishly observant. But as I’ve gotten older I’ve found it’s become a problem. Always watching everything from the outside and picking it apart results in me being very self conscious in social situations, like I’m always assuming everyone is doing that to me. At a recent wedding, for example, I was deeply terrified to give a best man speech even though I’m an actor and have performed on stage countless times. It’s not just shyness; it’s more a hyper-awareness of how each person in a room is gonna perceive me. I wish I could just turn that off. One could argue this is the reason I drink as much as I do, which is slightly troubling.
Straight guy here, been teaching fiction writing for about 20 years now. One of the things that I’ve noticed over the years is that gay and lesbian students seem to mature earlier as writers than straight students do.
I teach both undergraduates and graduate students, and it’s not so much that the gay students mature more quickly as people – they can be as silly and adolescent as any other 19-year-old – but they seem to me more aware of the social codes, the underlying power plays that fiction tends to be about. I think it’s a fish/water issue: the straight students float through life and never really have to interrogate the culture around them. They just kind of belong. While outsiders – sexual, racial – have to know the codes to survive. It’s no secret that black America knows white America a hell of a lot better than the other way around – or that Canada knows us pretty well, and we know fuck-all about Canada.
Your comments really resonated with me, not just as a queer person and a musician, but also as a person of color and a first generation immigrant. It’s a multi-dimensional tight rope that changes constantly based on where I am and who I am with. For me, being an immigrant and a person of color were the most challenging things because I could not rely on my parents for the mold I desperately needed to fit myself into in order to survive rural, white America. And while being Captain Diversity was something I really dreaded when I was in high school (“why couldn’t I just be straight and white and have my family be from America???”), I am so thankful for my identity as it played a huge role in how I ended up with the skills, passions, and amazing community I have today.
Regarding your post, here’s an essay written from the point of view of a gay teenager learning to pass as straight. It was recently featured on Longreads.