by DAVID YEATS
*“Homophobic Dalliance” in Men’s Council Journal. No. 13, May 1992.
"Whew!" I sighed as the hotel elevator door closed. I had begun to feel more and more conspicuous among the crowd of men at the conference. Since I am a therapist who works with men, I had come to this five-day men's conference seeking both stimulation and renewal. Because I'd been told the conference offered day care, my family and I had decided to combine the conference with a family tour of the Southwest. Sheri had also hoped to relax and perhaps go to some of the conference offerings. When we arrived, we soon learned that we were the only participants of 500-plus who had requested day care. Many participants had come alone or with other men, hoping to commune with each other; a number of the participants were gay. Although Sheri would get to go to less of the conference, playing with the kids poolside much of the time, I remained excited. But, over the next few days, I began to feel a bit uncomfortable. Conspicuous and uncomfortable. Although we ate and drank and socialized with the other conference goers and went to a Saturday dance, I felt somehow isolated.
...I pushed the button for my floor. My momentary sigh of relief quickly became renewed vigilance as the elevator slowed for the next floor. In walked two men I had seen at the conference, who smiled in a very open and friendly way. Again, the door closed and the elevator engaged.
As we ascended the hotel interior, slow motion in our hi-tech box, I suddenly realized, in this silent little drama of the breathing of the three male human beings, and the low, whirring hum of the Otis motor, I was experiencing a full blown case of my own homophobia. So much for my righteous enlightenment! Flashing back to a gathering the day before, I recalled my discomfort when an unknown man from the conference had asked me if I wanted to go for coffee. Was he curious to get to know me, or was this a pass? I found myself caught up in a swirling cloud of confusion, fear, denial. I had started to wonder, as I began to sense that the rules were different and unknown to me, if I was being targeted in some way, as though I were the object of some sexual fantasy.. I had begun to feel observed, but I didn't know for sure. Maybe being aware that the domi¬nant sexual orientation of those I was with was gay made me feel isolated and insecure. Yet, for whatever distortion, disorientation, and confusion I was living here, I started to feel like sexual prey, eroticized and objectified. And glances I wasn't even sure I was getting started to feel a bit aggressive. I became aware of what it would be like to live in a world where my sexual orientation was not dominant. This is the kind of world gays, lesbians, and bisexuals necessarily must deal with daily. I began to know in a new way what it would be like to not be seen--or, if seen, not validated or acknowledged--or, if acknowledged, then judged and intimidated. I felt myself to be a minority amidst a lively and dynamic gay culture. At the same time, I sensed what it must be like for women in our sexually obsessive and dangerously violent culture to be "observed" by men, to be targeted as prey, to be reduced to an object, a sexual receptacle... I'm sure I was overreacting. I was among gentle brothers of like-minded thoughts and values. But how would I know, how could I be sure? Was I safe? My fears were at once based in utterly fanciful absurdities and brutally ominous truths. I was not going to be raped by same deranged gay man; my homophobic fright was not based in reality. Still, it is far too true that any of us men might be perceived by any woman in this culture as a predator.
* * *
I am walking on a sunny day in the bustle of this beautiful city of Portland, Oregon, at lunch hour with my family and my sister and her family. Ahead is a group of gay and lesbian protesters, gathered to invite passersby to join in celebrating each of us humans, regardless of our sexual orientation. They ask, "Will you wear this sign while you walk?" "Certainly!" I confidently answer. I can proudly stand in solidarity with my mistreated brothers and sisters as they confront homophobic prejudice. I wear the pink cardboard sign as I walk: "I am gay." It is, of course, pretty easy to do that. I am with a group of ten people, near a large, unified crowd. I am with my wife and family: clearly, I am a heterosexual; nobody really thinks I'm gay! But, as we walk farther, the noise and enthusiasm of the crowd are fading. The streets are quieter too, and not as upscale. In fact, some buildings are looking a bit rundown. I am in an unknown city. Our small group walks on. It seems to me that we literally shrink in size as we walk. I look down at the pink placard I am wearing. I take it off. Who of us is safe here? Is it safe to be a white male? Is it safe to be a woman, a lesbian, a gay? Is it safe to be Native American Indian or Black or Hispanic? I am not even safe in my own thoughts sometimes. Who of us is safe here, in this culture of predator domination, of hierarchy, of violence, of sexualized aggression? How do we, as men, respond to the truth that we are both privileged and wounded? The Men's Movement is an honorable voice, a force that breaks denial, wakes us, helps us to grieve and to heal. The Men's Movement also MUST be a voice that calls each of us men to challenge domination, hierarchy, violence, and discrimination against any of our brothers and sisters. The Men's Movement, in addition to inviting men to look inward in order to heal our wounds, must look outward, seeking justice, equality, and partnership with others. The Men's Movement must be a voice that says: "We will act as victims no more, neither as men nor as individuals. We will take personal responsibility instead, to heal our wounds and to nurture ourselves, each other, and the world. And we will be consciously committed to the empowerment of all brothers and sisters, since our personal healing and growth depends on the integrity and nurture of our partnership with others.
David Yeats is a founding therapist of the Boulder Men's Center.