Have I Got It Wrong?

Note added 3rd April 2015: a considered response to the issues raised here by ‘Eric’ appears as a comment on the subsequent post ‘Transatlantic Teenboys’ … the writer takes the opposite position…

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When I’m not promoting books, I spend most of this blog promoting the values and benefits of fitness for guys of all ages – gay or not. A recent thoughtful e-mail contact from Eric of West Massachusetts prompted me to reconsider whether the tone of this blog is all wrong.

With Eric’s permission, what follows the next picture is his edit of two lengthy e-mails offering a point of view which I had not considered, and maybe should have. Both Eric and I would really appreciate your points of view as comments here.

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Hey Tone,
I am a little bothered by your explanation of your gayness in terms of guys being a herd or pack, of not wanting to be an outcast from that pack, and your comparison of being outcast to being picked last for team.  My concern isn’t just with the “Why Are You Gay?” post, but with an attitude or perspective that’s fairly pervasive throughout your website, but I’ll focus my comments this particular post.
The first thing about that post that really struck a nerve was the comment about not wanting to be an outcast from the pack.  When I was a kid (back in the 70s & 80s), kids weren’t explicitly bullied for being gay–perhaps because there were no openly gay kids back then (at least not at my schools)–but there were always a few kids who were “outcast,” and therefore a target for bullying, for any number of reasons (e.g., they were “nerds,” they were “brains,” they were bad at sports, they were shy and sensitive, they dressed unfashionably or wore their hair wrong, they were smaller than average, they were “weak,” they were “weird,” or they were otherwise simply easy to vicitimize).  It seemed to me that most “normal” kids seemed to equate being gay with being different in any or all of the aforementioned ways, and it DOES seem like most of us get caught in the net–the majority of gay guys I meet have ugly and painful stories of not fitting in when they were kids and being bullied for it–they weren’t necessarily bullied for being “gay,” they were bullied for being “different.”  The gay guys I’ve met who weren’t bullied as kids tend to be those who were tall, handsome, athletic, popular, outgoing, and very careful to hide their sexuality from their friends, family, team mates, etc.  (As adults, such men may talk about the pain of having to hide their sexuality when they were young, but I think they generally grow up to be more confident and well-adjusted than those of us who were outcasts).
Anyway, going back to your need/desire to be accepted/wanted/respected by the pack of (sporty) guys…  I think that many (most?) gay guys take a different approach.  I think a lot of us decide that achieving acceptance by that pack is neither possible nor desirable, turn our backs on sports and other athletic endeavors, and seek satisfaction and fulfillment in the pursuit of other interests.  Some of us seek acceptance in other communities (e.g., art, music, theater), move to a gay mecca, get involved in gay rights, or join some exclusively gay subculture (e.g., drag queens, leathermen).  Others end up rejecting the “pack mentality” altogether, shunning the company of other men, or even of other human beings, in the pursuit of solo interests.
But the comment in your post that really rubbed salt in the wound was the comment about not wanting to be the kid picked last for the teamAs the kid who was always picked last for the team (or maybe 2nd to last, if I was lucky), that really hurt.  (God, that was 25+ years ago…I thought I had put it behind me long ago, but I guess not.)  I just hope that you realize that being one of the last kids picked for the team is cold, hard, cruel reality for some kids.  There are lots of reasons for it:  Some kids are developmentally behind the other kids or may have conditions such as asthma or poor eyesight.  Others are simply clumsy, awkward, uncoordinated, or otherwise not athletically inclined.  I suspect that a disproportionate number of such kids are gay.  In any event, such kids are often perceived as gay and subject to the same kind of bullying that gay kids often endure.  
Speaking for myself, not only was I unable to compete with other guys physically when I was growing up, but I realized long ago that I’d probably never be able to compete with other guys physically.  For one thing, all the exercise and training in the world won’t overcome certain inherent physical limitations; even if I worked until I reached my maximum potential, there’d always been someone stronger and more skilled–someone able and willing to smack me down.  But the other reason I’ll never be able to compete with other guys physically is that I’m simply not interested in doing so.  I just don’t want it badly enough to put in all the work when I’d rather be doing just about anything else.
I’d be lying if I said that I wouldn’t like to be stronger, fitter, slimmer, and better able to defend myself in a physical confrontation, but my priorities have always been elsewhere.  I’ve had to accept the consequences of those choices–one of which is an overweight body, another is the psychological and emotional impact of the media-pervasive message that we all need to be young and beautiful.  I can handle that, but I found your website a bit harder to take.  It took me back to my childhood and reminded me of the bullying and humiliation I suffered at the hands of the kids who were stronger, faster, and good at sports (e.g., being physically overpowered, called a “weakling” or a “girl,” etc.), of other guys simply not wanting to associate with me, and of the cruelty of gym teachers and coaches who were contemptuous of the kids who couldn’t run or jump or throw as well as the other kids.  (I have some especially bad memories of the Presidential Physical Fitness Test.  I couldn’t come close to the benchmarks; for me it was like a form of torture).
Obviously its not wrong to pursue/promote physical fitness or athletic skill, nor is there anything wrong with associating with other guys who have similar interests in a way that’s “competitively supportive” (or maybe “supportively competitive” is a better term) as you describe throughout your website.  In a way, it’s great that there are gay guys who are willing and able to subvert the stereotypes and confront the homophobia and heterosexism that may exist in the “sporty guys” pack.  But I’m worried that the way you explain your sexuality in terms of seeking acceptance by that pack and wanting to be “equal” to the guys in that pack may be very alienating to your gay brothers who followed a different path; it implies that anyone who is not part of the pack are not your equals and are not worthy of your attention or respect.  In other words, rather than subverting stereotypes (e.g., gay men can be strong and athletic), you seem to be supporting and reinforcing the stereotype that only strong, athletic, physically fit men are worthy to be considered “real” men, worthy of membership in the pack, and the rest of your gay brothers remain outcasts, something less than men, as we have always been treated by the dominant, heterosexist culture.
I just hope that you realize that some of us simply can’t compete (i.e., “rank alongside” or “measure up”) with the guys in the “pack.”  Consequently, I’m not inspired by the way you try to promote physical fitness (which I think is an extreme form of physical fitness that goes far beyond was is necessary for good health).  Frankly, I find the way you talk about physical fitness to be intimidating and alienating.
On a more positive note, in spite of what I just said, you have got me thinking about physical fitness and maybe putting my physical health a bit higher up on my list of priorities, although my goals are much more modest that the level of physical fitness which you seem to be promoting.  I’ve been changing my diet and I’m trying to do a little bit of exercise every 3 days or so.  I’m trying to think about exercise in a positive way, focusing on how happy I’ll be if I see results rather than on how much I hate the actual act of exercising.
Thanks for considering my perspective.  I hope you are well.
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Thanks, Eric. I mean that. Thanks for taking the trouble to set out your thoughts so carefully.
The post in question set out to slightly ridicule the frankly stupid I was asked – ‘Why Are You Gay’ – as if it was my choice from a range of options. Yes, my friends, family and I are a load of fitness fanatics, I suppose, and we like to promote fitness which, frankly, is our business. But I never intended to exclude anyone – gay or not – sporty or not. Most certainly I did not intend to demean any gay person who is not sporty. I think that the trap I have fallen in to, at least in part, is the argument against the assumption that is sometimes made that a gay couple must include one effeminate ‘wife’ – at least in the opinion of those who do not understand that two guys can be in love without one of them having to play some artificial ‘role’.
I have replied to Eric at length, off line, but both of us would appreciate your views. That said, this blog is (and always was) intended to celebrate gay love, our love of a particular brand of sports – lifting, acrobatics, circus – and to promote a number of books which merge those subjects with a bit of adventure. See previous posts, or the head-up sticky post, for details of those. So that’s where I’m coming from, and what the blog will continue to do. I asked Eric to tell me if there were particular images that he would not wish to see associated with his message, and he said that he was kewl with my choices. So a few more, just to make this post a little more ‘normal’. Whatever that means. We look forward to hearing from you. If you prefer to use e-mail and let me condense your thoughts into anonymous comments, use gymacrobat@gmail.com
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About tonycavanagh

Born Northampton UK; school Oxford UK and Oak Ridge Tennessee, where I met my wonderful partner Dave, also from UK. Oak Ridge is our main training base for acrobatics and circus stuff, but we also established a base in Wales (UK) to serve us when we are working in Europe. Our 'story', of finding gay love, learning the acrobatics trade and then of how we got shot at during our show (and worse was to follow - just to prove that the risks of being an acrobat are not always the most obvious ones!) are now available in my three books 'Loving the Boy', 'The Power of Love' and 'Against All Odds'. Links available on most blog posts. Actually, waiting for the imminent arrival of the first printed copies was far scarier than anything we do in performance. A fourth book - not about us but exploring the sadness of a gay Native American boy denied his true identity - is currently with an agent for evaluation. watch for 'Let The Future Find Me' in due time. And now to book five... another boy, another quest... seems its always boys...
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2 Responses to Have I Got It Wrong?

  1. Pingback: Time Warp Time | Tony Cavanagh

  2. Pingback: Transatlantic Teenboys | Tony Cavanagh

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