In October, I wrote a Huffington Post article called The Brain on 23 that went viral. The piece discussed the fear that comes with graduating college and figuring out life as a miniature grown-up, and apparently many twentysomethings felt the same post-graduate anxieties that I did. Most of the readers did not know, however, that The Brain on 23 was largely inspired by my first major heartbreak, caused by another girl.
When the piece became popular I began to wonder if it would have found the same success had I chosen to include gendered pronouns. If people knew that my words were inspired by a homosexual relationship, would they have found the piece as universally relatable? I am almost certain the answer is no. I am almost certain the piece would have found a pleasant readership under the HuffPost Gay Voices tab and that would have been that.
I published the piece within only a month or so of my coming out, and its success helped me understand very quickly that being gay does not mean I am in any way an other. I was so pleased to see how many hundreds of thousands of people related to a piece written by a gay person. I wished there was a way for everyone to have a chance to appreciate that fact.
I wrote a follow-up piece called The Heart on 23, which dealt more specifically with what happened when that girl broke my heart, but I couldn’t bring myself to submit it. Part of my reluctance was due to the fact that it is deeply personal. I’m still not sure I am ready to reveal it, but another part was my fear that people knowing I was gay could shatter the universality of The Brain on 23. Would so many people still see themselves in my words if they knew?
I honestly don’t think so, but I understand now why that makes it all the more important that I make my sexuality known. People need to see that they can relate to my stories no matter who it is I love. People should realize that equality and acceptance means more than peaceful coexistence; it means integrating gay stories and experiences into our universal consciousness because they matter on a human scale, not only on a homosexual one.
There are some things that I have gone through with being gay and coming out that I’m not sure a straight person could ever fully understand: the confusion, the repression, the denial, the seemingly inexplicable emotions that burst from a closeted mind at inopportune moments, the added alertness when I am out with a significant other in fear that the wrong person might see and want to teach me a lesson.
When it comes to all that, I find it extremely beneficial to speak with other LGBT people who have experienced some of those same feelings, but when it comes to the other stuff, like dating and heartbreak and overanalyzing text messages, I don’t think it is advantageous to alienate myself and specifically seek out other members of the LGBT community. I would much prefer to get relationship advice from a straight friend who knows me well than from a gay person who doesn’t.
I think a lot of people, of all sexualities, don’t believe they can relate to relationships that do not involve people who are the same sexuality as they are. There are gay people who come to me for relationship advice and tell me that their straight friends just wouldn’t understand, and I urge them to give those friends the benefit of the doubt, to tell them their stories so they can all start to see that love is love and pain is pain. The more we tell our friends they just wouldn’t understand, the less they’ll be able to.
Aside from the obvious homophobia and legal inequalities, there are, of course, certain things that gay people have to deal with that straight people don’t—and vice versa. I don’t think, however, that the differences make it impossible for people to connect across sexualities. I, for example, do not have to worry about an accidental pregnancy, but I can still hold a friend’s hand during a scare. I may not understand what it is like to feel something for a guy, but I do understand what it is like to feel something for a human being. In my opinion, that makes me qualified to help my friend figure out what to do about a guy she likes.
Straight people do not often have to worry about people experimenting on them. I have heard far too many stories, including my own, of a lesbian falling in love with someone who realizes she is straight after all and goes running back into the arms of a boy. That specific occurrence may not happen to a straight couple, but straight people still get left for others all the time, and I believe they can relate to what I went through.
Straight people don’t have to deal with being in love with someone who loves them back but is too afraid of her own sexuality to let the relationship happen. Nevertheless, I am quite certain that many straight people have loved someone who loved them back but was afraid to let a relationship happen for other reasons.
The more we reach across the lines we’ve drawn and talk to one another, the more we can help each other understand the parts where there are differences and disconnects, or at least where we believe there are. I want to talk about dating with my friends regardless of their sexualities because they are my friends, but sometimes I think it is even more important to talk about it with straight people so that I can answer their questions and feed their curiosity and help them see that I can understand them and they can understand me.
I started thinking about all this when I turned to a friend once and said, “God, Pretty Little Liars gives such unrealistic expectations about being a lesbian. I mean every time Emily breaks up with someone another super hot girl just falls into her lap. Other gay people are much harder to find than that.”
My friend responded, “I mean it’s not like there are just tons of hot eligible straight men falling into my lap like all the straight girls on the show.” That’s when I realized that that friend of mine, that any friend of mine, could empathize with me. We are all young and single and scared and have no idea how to find the right person. Not knowing what the hell I am doing is not in any way specific to me being gay.
Sure, there are some things about which I’ve needed to specifically seek out other gay people since coming out, like where to meet girls and how to come out to certain people and mainly, what on earth do I do now? There is of course so much to gain from being an active member of the gay community. I love being around people who know the depths of what I’ve been through. I like being in bars where I don’t have to assume every girl I see is straight, and I love spending time in places where I know not one person will judge me. But doing all that doesn’t mean I have to distance myself from the straight people I love, and it doesn’t mean we can’t give one another useful advice.
In her book, Tiny Beautiful Things: Advice on Love and Life from Dear Sugar, Cheryl Strayed says that stories about homosexual romance are still considered topical rather than universal, and I hope someday that can change. I hope someday a straight person can read a story about two gay people and still feel like it could apply to his life. I hope a movie like the Notebook can be made with two girls or two guys and reach the same level of success. I hope someday I can write an article in which I hold absolutely nothing back and it can still go viral.
One of my favorite messages I have received about this blog was from a straight person telling me how amazed she was that she, too, can relate to my stories. Messages like hers give me hope that someday, not too far in the future, a gay love story will just be called a love story.