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I used to envy gay men who could pass for straight – now I realise it might be a curs
Because my gayness is obvious, I faced savage homophobic bullying growing up and I’ve therefore always found it hard to empathise with men who are able to hide their sexuality. Perhaps I was wrong.

[Image: Matt%20Cain%20%28c%29%20Pan%20Macmillan....quality=75]
Author Matt Cain: ‘I’ve spoken to many gay men who came out later in life who’ve told me about the lies they’d spun for decades’

“You’re so gay!” Over the years I’ve heard comments like this countless times. Because my gayness is obvious; it’s there in my humour, my taste in music, the way I walk and, in particular, the way I talk. I’ve never had what’s known as “passing privilege” – the ability to pass for straight.

When I was growing up, this prompted savage and relentless homophobic bullying, which shaped who I am and determined my life choices well into adulthood. It also politicised me. Having experienced prejudice first hand, I could hardly deny it existed. I didn’t have the choice of burying my head in the sand.

On the positive side, over the past 20 years my obvious gayness has tended to endear me to people. Often within minutes of meeting me, straight women will tell me they love gays, or all their best friends are gay, or they feel like a “gay man trapped in a woman’s body”. Usually what this means is they’re loud, have a bawdy sense of humour, like drinking or enjoy casual sex and then regaling everyone with stories about it.

Although I’ve always been happy to accept any positive response to my sexuality – sometimes even revelling in it – I’m also very aware that ideas like these can reinforce reductive and often damaging stereotypes. Stereotypes that often don’t apply to gay men with passing privilege.

For a long time, I envied these men. I used to think they had it easy. They could cruise through their school years, maybe snogging the occasional girl to obliterate any traces of suspicion, then come out of the closet when it suited them, usually once they’d bagged themselves a gorgeous boyfriend. (Because they always seemed to bag themselves a gorgeous boyfriend. Amongst gay men, their masculinity was highly prized. As “real men”, we considered them wildly attractive.)

Later in life, however, I’d hear many men with passing privilege complain about female acquaintances inviting them out for dancing or cocktails, or on a shopping or spa day – only to be disappointed by their lack of interest. “You’re not a proper gay,” the girls would tell them. “You might as well be straight.” I’d sometimes hear these men complain about not feeling represented by the gay men most visible in the mainstream media, such as Graham Norton and Alan Carr. If I ever heard them saying we no longer needed Pride or – heaven forbid – confess to voting Tory, I’d resent their lack of political awareness.

Then, when I was editor-in-chief of Attitude magazine, we ran a series of interviews in which gay celebrities with passing privilege discussed the challenges they’d faced. They discussed their struggle to understand who they were, their fear of coming out of the closet, and their battles with self-loathing, alcoholism and sex addiction. I found it difficult to empathise.

It was only when I started writing my new novel, The Secret Life of Albert Entwistle, that my empathy stirred. The novel’s lead character is a gay man in his sixties who’s shy, socially awkward and quite firmly in the closet. After a series of crises, he realises that he wants to be happy – and the only way to do this is to search for his lost love, a man he hasn’t seen for nearly 50 years. I won’t give away whether or not he finds him – or how the men were originally forced apart – but I will say that Albert’s journey encourages him to accept his true self and to be more open and honest with others.

While writing the book, it struck me that it was only because Albert could pass for straight that he had the option of taking refuge from a hostile world in the closet. And who can blame him for taking it? But the longer he sheltered in there, the more daunting the idea of stepping out of it became.

I’ve spoken to many gay men who came out later in life who’ve told me about the lies they’d spun for decades, or the sham marriages they entered into, or the families they started in order to put people off the scent, or to try and “straighten themselves out”, to try and make themselves “normal”. But sexuality is like one of those inflatable unicorns you see on Instagram in the swimming pools of Palm Springs – yes, you can push it underwater but sooner or later it will come bursting to the surface, often causing a huge splash in the process. This can leave men with so-called passing privilege suffering from terrible guilt – guilt about being dishonest or exploiting other people in their desperation to protect themselves.

I started to wonder if the ability to pass for straight might not be a privilege after all. I started to wonder if it might even be a curse.

This doesn’t in any way invalidate my own feelings. It doesn’t invalidate the fear and self-loathing I suffered after years of being told I was dirty and disgusting. It doesn’t invalidate the terror I experienced when I came out – to friends at the age of 18 and then my parents at the age of 20. But, as any gay man will tell you, life can only get better once you have come out. No matter how difficult this may seem, you’ve just got to push through it. I’m now glad my lack of passing privilege hurried along the process.

Thankfully, British society has changed immeasurably since I was growing up. I never imagined that one day I’d live in a society in which gay men enjoy equal rights – and aren’t just accepted but often celebrated (even if this celebration can sometimes be clumsy). I could never have imagined a society in which, yes, certain stereotypes might persist, but there’s a much greater understanding that gay men come in all different shapes, sizes and colours of the rainbow – as do people from across the entire LGBT+ spectrum.

This undoubtedly makes coming out a far less daunting prospect for the majority of people considering it today. And, if the same progress continues, it will hopefully mean that in the future, I won’t be able to write another character like Albert Entwistle. He couldn’t plausibly exist.

The Secret Life of Albert Entwistle is available at Amazon...
Note: No trees were destroyed in the sending of this contaminant free message. However, I do concede, a significant number of electrons may have been inconvenienced.
[-] The following 1 member Likes andy's post:
  • Camfer
I’ve known a number straight men who’ve been taken as gay because of either ‘effeminate’ speech &/or behaviour. I’ve encountered a vast number of very butch males who bit the pillow with glee. This idea that a particular kind of male appearance/behaviour is a guaranteed sign of any person’s sexual preferences is one of the silliest myths our species ever invented. I suspect one reason is, since we came down out of the trees, males going into battle needed to feel their comrades were as tough as they were. I put that myth to bed too along time ago when I encountering drag queens who could fight as effectively as any so called butch male.
On the other hand lets face the fact a significant percent of military generals have been gay.
Myself, I’ve been able since late childhood to switch at will from screaming queen to butch in a second. As I see it both are a part of me and neither a pretense.
Of late though I’m finding too many young gay males have absolutely no gay sense of homour wanting to settle into suburban bliss with a white picket fence, a mortgage and two brats.
[-] The following 1 member Likes Karl Rand's post:
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