On Pete Buttigieg, my Independent column, and whether I hate myself for being gay (spoiler: I do not)

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The author, centre, participating in a gay rights march in Lakeview, Chicago, in 2013. Photo: Brittany Sowacke/Redeye

On Friday, the Independent published an think piece I wrote entitled “If one more polyamorous coastal ‘queer’ tells me Pete Buttigieg isn’t gay enough, I’ll scream. He is – and so am I.” This article was in response to a few different “Pete’s the wrong kind of gay” articles I’ve seen over the past year, but the one that I used as my news hook was the most recent, by Buzzfeed’s Shannon Keating. I took issue with her views on Mayor Pete being an insufficient representation of the “queer” community, implying that “orgy attending, polyamorous Brooklyn bottom queens” (her words) are somehow more radical or more appropriate representations of the LGBT people than a boring old cis gay man like Mayor Pete.

The response has been largely positive. There are a lot of people out there who were clearly hungry for someone to state the obvious—that there is no right or wrong way to be gay, that being a “queer” doesn’t make you better than someone who just identifies as “gay,” and that Mayor Pete is and always has been gay enough.

Others disagreed. Some did so in good faith, and I had some respectful debates and constructive conversations both publicly on social media and in DMs. Others were cruel, telling me to throw myself off a freeway overpass or hoping I choke to death. Somewhere in between there lies the people I’m going to address in this blog—the people who decided that because I’m sick and tired of a certain subset of the LGBT community deciding who is and isn’t sufficiently “queer” I must be a self-loathing gay man with oodles of internalised homophobia.

Before we get to that, though, I want to make explicit what this blog isn’t going to address. I am not going to discuss Pete Buttigieg’s politics or policies. They are worth debating, but another day. I am not going to offer a treatise on the word “queer” and my thoughts on it. Again, that’s worth discussing, but this is not the time. And I am not going to call anyone out by name, as that would serve no real purpose.

I do want to briefly discuss a few points—and when I say briefly, I do mean briefly, because it is Sunday and I have zero desire to litigate these ad nauseum again—which have been brought up over the past 48 hours.

  • Am I a self-hating queer with internalised homophobia? To begin with, I don’t identify as queer, I identify as gay. That is important to me, because I have spent most of my life fighting to live openly and proudly and without fear as a gay man. I came out at 15, in 2001, which means I have spent more of my life out of the closet than in the closet. I experienced a crucible of homophobia every single day of high school, being called “faggot,” “fudgepacker,” “homo,” and, yes, “queer.” Far from internalising that homophobia, I rejected it and toxic masculinity to became even more unabashedly myself.
  • You criticised people for being too gay. No one can be “too gay,” because the only requirement for being gay is same-sex attraction. But if we’re talking about being camp, well, I have long worn makeup, had long hair—I went through an unfortunate phase where I thought teasing it was a good idea (“higher the hair, the closer to God”)—and have even been known to squeeze my ass into some women’s capris or baby tees because why the fuck not, they’re cute. I will rock out to some Cheryl or Kelly Clarkson or Steps. I have no problem living my authentic self and camping it up.
  • You hate queer culture. Do I enjoy all aspects of “queer culture?” No. I’m not a big fan of nightclubs in general, and no, I have never been in an orgy (though I’m not sure that is really a unique part of queer culture as straights can do this too). I don’t watch RuPaul’s Drag Race (though I have, and I enjoyed it) and I’ve not seen the reboot of Queer Eye. I prefer country to techno. I am at best a casual fan of Carly Rae Jepsen. These are all superficial markers of what it means to be gay, though, and if this is what the people who have said I hate “queer culture” means, well, I don’t hate it, but it’s not my cup of tea. I’m still hella gay, because I sleep with men. That’s it. That’s the only reason.
  • You used homophobic language. I didn’t. I was riffing off Shannon Keating’s own language, specifically the part where she refers to “typical orgy-attending, polyamorous Brooklyn bottom queens.” It is interesting that no one took exception to a woman (I assume a “queer” woman, but I don’t know that) using this language, but when a gay man snarkily uses nearly similar language to counter the notion that these people are somehow the moral or political arbiters of gayness—no one is, not them, not me, not even Sir Ian McKellan—I am pilloried. I find many (not all, and maybe not even most) people who made this comment read my article in bad faith and used it to make a political point or discredit me without engaging in my broader point, which is that no one gets to decide who is and isn’t doing homosexuality right.
  • You are insulting anyone who isn’t gay like you. That was not my intention, and I’m sorry if it came across that way. I could have made clearer I was sarcastically using Keating’s own language in my article. I accept that point. But let me make it clear that no one should judge anyone for their lifestyle, presuming they’re not hurting anyone else. Identify how you want, live how you want, sleep with who you want, and snort what you want. I don’t care. Just don’t think any of those things make you a better gay, lesbian, bisexual, or transgender person who doesn’t.
  • You don’t represent queer politics. This is true. I do not represent queer politics. I do not wish to represent queer politics. I think if you asked 30 different people what queer politics are, you’d get at least 15 different answers. I represent me, and my body of work speaks for itself. You are more than welcome to read it here at this website or at Muckrack, where my portfolio goes back several years.
  • You’re not radical enough. I’m a socialist. I want nationalised healthcare free at the point of access (not just “Medicare for All”). I want open borders. I want to nationalise utilities and end the fossil fuel industry. I want every American woman to be able to get an abortion if they want. I want to completely restructure the racist institution of policing if not abolish it and start from scratch. I have been championing these issues for years now. I also want to get married, maybe have kids, and live a quiet life with my family and my writing. I don’t think these things are mutually exclusive. If you do, that’s your problem, not mine.

This is by no means an exhaustive or all-encapsulating list, nor is it everything I want to say on the subject or think about certain issues. But it’s enough for now. I will start referring anyone who calls me self-loathing, or accuses me of having internalized homophobia, to this blog. Because here’s the thing, folks—by assuming that I’m self-hating because I wrote one piece in which I told you to stop telling people they’re not gay enough, you’re proving my point. Not every gay man likes the same things you do. That doesn’t mean they’re not properly gay.

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