Tag Archives: gay boy

Women’s boundaries and male exclusion

I was reading Glosswitch’s wonderful newsletter “OK Karen” earlier when this bit really struck a chord:

I detect in books like I Hate Men – in writers such as Laurie Penny, Andi Zeisler, Jessa Crispin – a real desire to be radical, to create discomfort – and yet an unwillingness to bear the consequences. It’s the difference between making very specific demands of men (no, you can’t have that, you can’t go there) and couching them in vague, abstract terms. So often there’s a celebration of the woman-only space, the coven, with no acknowledgement of tensions surrounding who gets in, who’s kept outside. Cackling about keeping the men out is socially acceptable; creating hard and fast rules is unkind, and unkind is taboo.

– Glosswitch

She is discussing Pauline Harmange’s new book I Hate Men, which Glosswitch has read but I have not. Still (and without weighing in on any of the individual writers mentioned, only one of whom I am familiar with) I think this is a good observation, though my thoughts don’t amount to a hill of beans considering I’m a man. I stopped thinking men’s opinions of feminism matter a long time ago. Women decide what is and isn’t feminism. I’m just along for the ride, hoping to be supportive in any way I can.

Yet the passage I quoted above cast my mind back to when I did think my opinion mattered, or at least, that being gay was a get-out-of-patriarchy-free card. High school was a challenging time for me, as I have discussed before. Most of my friends—all my close friends—were girls. That wasn’t the hard part (the crucible of homophobia was), but it did make for some lonely times.

You see, something I struggled with understanding at the time was that despite being gay, I was still male, and that the girls I was friends with understood this to be true. As such, they frequently set boundaries which excluded me. At the time I could not fathom why I should be excluded from their “coven.” After all, I was gay, and being a gay boy was as good as being a girl, right?

This was the early 2000s, and certainly that was the message I was receiving from, well, nearly everyone. I liked bright colours and frilly things. I longed to colour my hair and wear makeup—nothing too brash, just some foundation to even out my blotchy skin and liner to make my brown eyes pop—and to be desirable to men, the vast majority of the ones I knew being straight and therefore not the least bit interested in what I had to offer. (Yes, I realise that sounds incredibly misogynistic and reductive; I was 15, so cut me some slack.)

Most of all, I longed to be included. Listening to the girls talk about what they’d do over the weekend, when they slept over at one another’s houses or just hung out, sans boys, I envied their friendship. Their fellowship. Their comradery. When they would steal away to have a private chat, I always wondered why they felt the urge. After all, I was gay and therefore unthreatening. Couldn’t they talk in front of me?

What I did not understand at the time, and what took many years of therapy and women’s studies classes for me to understand, is that my problem was twofold: I was living in a virulently homophobic society, and that coupled with the constraints of socially constructed masculinity meant that I did not feel free to be my authentic self. What else I did not understand at the time was that none of this was my friends’ problem.

We teach women to cater to men, to put kindness and accessibility above their own needs and desires. My friends did not do that, at least not with me. Good on them. Being able to set a clear boundary and exclude men—even gay men, even gender non-conforming men—is a right that women fought long and hard to have. My feelings did not matter more than those girls’ boundaries. That isn’t to say they didn’t matter—no child should have to feel as isolated as I did—but fixing the problem was the responsibility of the adults with a duty of care toward me, not the girls who, looking back, showed me nothing but kindness.

We place such a high premium on “inclusion” that we too often look at “exclusion” as being inherently bad. It is not. We exclude people all the time, for all sorts of reasons. After all, you don’t date every person who hits on you. You don’t take every job that is offered to you. You’re not friends with everyone you meet. Not everyone you know is invited ‘round for Sunday dinner. (Or maybe they are, in which case, call me after the pandemic.)

I am sure, looking back with nearly two decades’ hindsight, that I did think that “creating hard and fast rules” about when I was and was not welcome was “unkind.” I am equally sure that I was wrong. My friends understood that being sexually attracted to other men or liking makeup or pop music did not make me “like a girl,” because being sexually attracted to men and liking makeup and pop music are not the definition of being “a girl.” Or “a woman.” I was still a boy. I am still a man.

There is nothing wrong with being a boy or a man, including—I would say especially—one who likes other men and makeup and pop music. Who doesn’t love a bit of *NSync or Britney Spears? Come now. But none of that entitled me to the company of women, or an invitation into their shared spaces.

Looking back, I am glad my friends set boundaries and excluded me, because it taught me a valuable lesson: women have the right to say no. It doesn’t matter what boxes you tick, women are allowed to set boundaries which exclude you. Even if it hurts your feelings. Even if it means you are alone.

That doesn’t mean I want anyone to be alone. Like I said, the problem I had was not girls not wanting to hang out with me – they did, and frequently enough that I have many fond memories – but the problem was a homophobic culture which prevented me from forming friendships with other males who, when the girls excluded me for whatever reason, I could then go and hang out with. This was a problem that the adults in my life should have recognised and helped to rectify. (Though, if I’m being honest I am unsure what, if anything, they could have done given the general culture of 2001.)

But as much as anything, it was a problem of male entitlement on my part, of the superficial expectation that because I liked things society told me were “girly” that I must suddenly and magically be included as some sort of honorary girl or something. Not so. A boy is a boy is a boy becomes a man is a man is a man. No amount of makeup or pop music will change that.

Boundaries are not bad. Exclusion is not evil. Saying so should not make you a villain, should not make women villains. My high school friends understood this, and they were brave enough to stand up for their right to their own spaces away from me, a boy, and to clearly set boundaries. 20 years later, I hope young girls are able to do the same.

Skylar Baker-Jordan is a freelance writer based in Tennessee. His work has appeared at the Independent, Huff Post UK, Salon, and elsewhere. Follow him on Twitter @skylarjordan and become a sustainer at www.patreon.com/skylarjordan

#ThatAwkwardMoment when you get your big break, then leave the country

villiers street

Dreams do come true. In case you missed it, I published my first piece at The Advocate last week. When I was in high school, I used to sneak and read it at Barnes and Noble every time I visited my parents in Ohio. Never in a million years did I think I would have a byline on their site. To be honest, it’s still pretty surreal, but it feels fucking great.

It’s so funny, because when I started blogging again last month, I spent quite a bit of time lamenting the fact that I kept pitching and not hearing back. And then, one drunken election night, I tweet to the managing editor that I have a pitch, and she says to e-mail it over. Bam, there you go, first piece. I suppose this is evidence that if you just whinge and moan enough, the universe finally gets tired of hearing your bullshit and throws you a bone?

Haha, I kid. Look, I’m over the moon thrilled to have been allowed to write for The Advocate. It’s exactly the confidence boost I needed. In fact, I just finished another piece tonight that I’ve pitched to another high-profile site. I’ve got a couple more that I’m going to be working on in the coming days. I’m a guest lecturer at Triton College on Wednesday, where I’ll be talking about gender norms in same-sex relationships. I’m very excited for that.

But perhaps the most exciting thing happening to me this week is that I’m returning to my beloved London. I fly out on Friday, and I’m there for 8 glorious nights. What am I going to do? Not go to that Starbucks between Embankment and Charing Cross to see if Danny, the cute barista, still works there. Nope. That’s not happening.

Okay it might. It’s on my way to the National Portrait Gallery and it’s going to be chilly so I will need a coffee. Don’t judge me.

Honestly I’ve no idea what I’m going to do whilst back in the motherland. My mate Nick is making a Thanksgiving feast on Thursday, which coincidentally is the same day I’ve applied to be in the Question Time audience. So that’s one day booked. As for the other seven? No clue. I plan on doing some writing; I know a lovely coffeehouse in South Kensington I may squat at, but beyond that…?

I know, I know, I should try to take some meetings. And I’m going to put word out on Twitter that I’m there, and if any journalists or, more importantly, editors want to meet up for a coffee or a drink, I’m game. But I don’t want to just start tweeting at writers who follow me and asking them out to brunch. That seems intimidating, completely unprofessional, and a bit bonkers. “Hi, perfect stranger who sometimes reads my work, would you like to meet up with a totally-not-a-serial-killer stranger from the internet?”

Not a good look.

So we’ll see. Frankly, I’m not established enough yet to even have the clout to ask for and expect to receive a meeting with the likes of (NAMES REDACTED FOR FUTURE CAREER PROSPECTS). That’s why I’m not putting a lot of pressure on myself to network and find a job and make my dreams come true overnight. I’m a small fish going to a very, very big pond, and I’m going to just keep a low profile, look at some paintings of dead kings, and get drunk at a gay pub. Maybe make out with that guy in Kensington Gardens again. That was hot. There’s also an economist I’m looking forward to seeing again. Fingers crossed.

I don’t want to make it seem like I’m not super excited, because I am, or that my ambition is waning, because clearly it isn’t. But there’s some freedom in letting go. As I wrote about last month, the constant pressure to produce, perform, and skyrocket to the top took the joy out of writing. I’m rediscovering why I love this medium, especially online commentary and analysis, and so I’m just taking it day by day. I’m being proactive where I can, but otherwise, I’m enjoying living the life of a burgeoning pundit who just published his first piece at a major news outlet.

The only three things I do know with any certainty is that when I land, I’m going to be exhausted, but empowered by the adrenaline rush I always get when I’m back on British soil. I know that I’m about to see how the British interpret one of America’s most sacred traditions, Thanksgiving dinner. And I know that when it’s time to leave, I’ll once again bawl like a baby.

Everything else is being left up to chance. But considering how well this month has gone so far, I’m optimistic. Who knows? Maybe I won’t get a column with GayTimes, but maybe my quest for prince charming, or even better, the perfect pint, will come to an end.