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Applied Worldwide contributor Eric VanDenHeuvel writes about being gay in a heteronormative society.

Being Gay in a Heteronormative Culture

Being gay, there are many questions regarding my sexual orientation that differs from my heterosexual counterparts. When an individual declares they are straight, the listener doesn’t bat an eye. However, when I’ve come out to friends and family as being gay, it’s as if it were a chosen lifestyle. When someone goes from eating McDonald’s daily to a strict Keto diet, it makes sense to ask about their lifestyle change. But as if being gay was a sudden change in diet, queries into the magnitude of my gayness comes into question on a regular basis.

“I’m gay.”

“Just how gay are you?”

It’s no surprise that my sexual orientation comes into question since I’ve had a past life identifying as straight and dating females. To someone who had a mental construct of me dating a female, then learning I’m actually attracted to men, it makes sense why my sudden shift in sexuality causes cognitive dissonance in their category creating mind.

But there is an unfair level of skepticism between men and women regarding same sex activities. There is a cliché that one is able to experiment with the same sex in college and it is chalked up to be an experiment. As if they’re an official scientist with a Ph.D., a straight female can conduct a sexuality experiment with another straight female, and there isn’t any further inquisition of her sexuality if she continues to declare she is straight. Her methods, procedures, and literary review on her experiment is never subject to criticism. However, for men, if a straight male sexually experiments with another straight male, there is a lingering question of possible homosexuality. This double standard for men’s sexuality created by our heteronormative culture doesn’t just apply to straight men, but to gay men as well.

I’d like to think that being gay, I’ve done my research and am aware that there is a continuum of “gayness” where one can fall anywhere on a gay scale between chugging a can of Budweiser and screaming “Yas Queen.” And the many years of introspection (i.e., having sex with both men and women) that my sexual orientation as “gay” is truly perceived by others as being valid and truthful. When I come out as gay—a continuous lifelong process that straight individuals will never understand—trust that I’ve done the introspection, self-work, and countless therapy sessions to know the difference in labeling myself as gay vs. bisexual. Oh, and just because I’ve kissed a girl, doesn’t mean I liked it.

“I’m gay.”

“Are you the boy or the girl?”

In a heteronormative society where there is a traditional man-and-woman relationship dynamic, the preference of my sexual position is questioned. Conventionally, in a heterosexual relationship, there is a man (the one who penetrates with a penis) and a woman (the one who has a vagina and is penetrated) for sexual intercourse. Through the lens of a heteronormative culture, the question of who gives and who receives (the penis) when a relationship involves two men is valid, yet extremely ignorant. I speak of my experience being a gay male where one male is usually referred as the “top” and the other male is referred to as the “bottom.” Tops are those who penetrate, and bottoms are those who receive. It’s extremely misogynistic to associate a top as the “man” and the bottom as the “woman.” Though the question is asking sexual preference of top vs bottom, “Are you the boy or the girl?” subliminally implies a broader implication of gender identity rather than sexual position. Once this daring question is asked, the answer is usually never uttered from my mouth as I’m too exhausted educating their unenlightened minds on proper word usage. Plus, I’ve never daringly asked a straight man-and-woman couple if the female has ever topped the man. Just because I am “out” doesn’t mean all of my personal sex life information is out for display.

“I’m gay.”

“Oh, I know someone who is gay.”

Of all the questions regarding my gayness, there is a special scenario solely pronounced to the gays. Once one has heard and registered the words, “I’m gay,” there is a common—and almost compulsive—response to announce that the listener knows of someone else who is gay. Whether it’s a friend, cousin, or an ex-spouse, the listener immediately “outs” the third person of subject in—what I believe—hope of creating “common ground.” Once I came out of the closet, I didn’t find any sort of newly found magical skills where I intrinsically knew when someone else identified as gay, nor do I find it to be a foundation builder hearing they know of another gay. If anything, I find the conversation to be uncomfortable as I can’t help but sympathize for the third party. Maybe their cousin, sibling, ex-spouse wouldn’t want their sexual orientation to be the first thing introduced about them. Plus, I never heard of another straight person announcing they knew of someone else that was straight.

“You’re straight? My third cousin is also straight! You’d love them.”

Ideally, I’d like to see our heteronormative society transition into a more open understanding of sexuality, gender, and relationships. Preferably, when daring to ask such a personal question, all sexual orientations would understand the correct terms of “top” vs. “bottom” of sexual position preferences, rather than incorporating sexual orientation and gender identity. Ideally, it would be a nice shift in changing society’s “holy grail” of masculinity to idealizing more femineity traits where men can sexually experiment with males like their straight female counterparts. If I had to be outted on someone else’s terms, it would be a pleasant surprise to be introduced as, “This is my friend, Eric” vs. “This is my gay friend, Eric.” And lastly, it would be fulfilling knowing that the courage and bravery I’ve built up to utter the words, “I’m gay,” is distinctly registered and lucidly comprehended.

Eric VanDenHeuvel

Eric received his Bachelor’s from Colorado Mesa University where he studied Psychology and Biology. While obtaining his undergraduate degree, he conducted social psychological research correlating mental wellness and perceived rejection, was a Teacher’s Assistant in Statistics, and was a Peer Tutor. Currently, he is working on publishing a memoir manuscript on his experiences and struggles identifying with the LGBT+ community. Eric is interested in writing about LGBT+ issues and misconceptions in a heteronormative society. He is passionate about providing spaces for queer voices, and recently founded Can't Write Straight, an online forum for fellow LGBT+ folx to share their stories. You can connect with Eric on Instagram.