Opinion | As a Gay Man, I’ll Never Be Normal

LGBT folks have a peculiar interest in normalization. Normalize men in dresses. Normalize trans athletes. Normalize throuples. Normalize fetishes. Here a norm, there a norm, everywhere a norm norm. Every norm everywhere all at once.

But as a gay man myself, I celebrate an inconvenient truth of Pride Month: We’ll never be normal.

Outside of culture wars or activist agendas — strictly by the numbers — LGBT identity is nothing remotely approaching mainstream. We’re here. We’re queer. You’ll never get used to it.

The percent of Americans who identify as LGBT or “something other than heterosexual” doubled between 2012 and 2022, soaring to a little more than 7 percent, according to Gallup polling. More than half of those non-heterosexual Americans (57 percent) are bisexual — by far queer America’s sexual majority, despite its persistent ridicule in supposed safe spaces. That majority aside, when we discuss self-identifying gay men, lesbians, asexuals, pansexuals, two-spirit, non-binary and transgender folks, it’s just roughly 3 percent of the population. Heterosexuals make up a greater percent of the country than white people do on the Supreme Court.

But ask everyday Americans to guess at just the gay and lesbian population and Gallup shows they consistently overestimate. In 2019, it was 23.6 percent — almost a quarter. A majority of the country thinks that at least 20 percent of Americans — at least 1 in 5 of us — is either gay or lesbian. Women and adults under 30 both guess almost 30 percent, nearly 1 in 3.

This gets complicated fast. The ACLU righteously blares that “trans people belong everywhere.” Of course they do belong everywhere but there are simply not enough trans people out there for their presence ever to hit those heights (the total U.S. trans adult population is roughly 1.3 million). Meanwhile, such outsized declarations provoke dangerous legislative panic among bigots and conservatives who think trans people lurk in every gendered bathroom and that drag queens prowl every public library. (There are 28 U.S. chapters of Drag Story Hour and thousands of public libraries.) Blame pop culture. A GLAAD study last year of 775 series-regular characters on broadcast prime-time television took glee in tilted scales, finding 11.9 percent of roles to be LGBT (mostly lesbians).

I don’t delight in overrepresentation or overestimation. I came out in the name of truth. The make-believe of overrepresentation is a kind of reverse closet where instead of pushing queer Americans to pretend to be heterosexual we ask the broader culture to costume as more queer than it is. I want less queer quantity with higher queer quality.

Queer America should be unapologetic, of course, and that means an unflinching embrace of facts including that we are a minuscule group of mostly bisexual people. It’s absolutely worthwhile to fight for the last among equals but the solution to being extraordinary cannot be to become extra ordinary.

As a closeted teen, I prayed fervently to be normal. What I was really praying for is comfort. I didn’t just want to be normal. I wanted all the ease that comes with blending in. Queerness was such a battle that all I wanted was peace. Every hill made me crave flatness. Every insult made me crave quiet. Every shove made me crave stillness. Every reminder of my different path made me yearn for a forgettable life.

The broader, blander mainstream desires authenticity in foreign cuisine or subtitled foreign streamers, but it demands sad homogenization of the forever foreign nature of queerness. Consigning someone to a caged and cataloged existence isn’t an act of tolerance; it’s an act of taxidermy. I can’t abide a merely unapologetic queer life; it cries out to be unfamiliar, uncomfortable, unpredictable, even unknowable. True queerness is a leap of faith — a pilgrimage to our fullest, truest selves — and despite Pride’s exhibitionism, we remain sacred mysteries even to ourselves.

People say “out and proud” as if it’s a packaged deal. But at first you’re just out. It’s isolating. It gets better, sure, but it’s not all rainbows and allyship (although, damn, it’s a looooot of rainbows).

Bit by bit, year by year, I have come into my own with my queerness. In my 43 years, I have shared candidly about rape and loneliness and the fact that few were taking PrEP, the pill that prevents the spread of HIV. I went on clumsy dates and indulged in wild nights of sex, including a fourgy with two college lacrosse players and a now-Emmy-nominated actor. I defeated gonorrhea and syphilis. And I realized how different it is to be gay in, say, Havana or The Bronx.

I still don’t fit in. And not just in the straight world.

I don’t watch “RuPaul’s Drag Race.” I’ve never been to Fire Island. My skin care routine is soap. I wear Old Navy and a raggedy bucket hat. Queer folks ask me if I’m a top, a bottom, or vers and I give the most unpopular answer: “Why wouldn’t I want to love my partner every way I can?”

But I have pride. I no longer crave the comforts of normalcy because so much joy and insight has come on the other side of fear and being an outlier, even an outcast. I have divorced my comforts from those of people around me. I know now that our culture’s fringe is also its framework. That is the power of queerness. Normalization is, frankly, anti-queer. No amount of respectability politics can change that. Being normal is a lie people tell themselves to cover up the reality that they are merely common.

Given how few in number we are, it’s a literally unpopular thing to say but I am gay. Companies this month and in future Junes — the Bud Lights and Targets out there — certainly face difficulty in nodding to queer values like acceptance, dignity, and inclusion. Boo hoo. Try living them. Try having that be your every day.

The riddle of Pride is this: Why fold an LGBT community so alive with agency, candor, empathy, kink and progressivism into compliance and deference to straight comforts, straight expectations and straight traditions? For what? How does that serve queer authenticity? Have we learned nothing from the pernicious “model minority” myth?

“It gets better” doesn’t just happen. We have to make it better. We have to push back.

I’m tired of pulling punches with “love is love” for folks who recoil at the parity that fellatio is fellatio. I’m bored of pop culture’s many monotonous queer minstrels. I’m wary of folks who flaunt AIDS ribbons but ignore PrEP use or HIV infection. I’m done with marketers who find queer people indispensable only when their incomes are disposable. Even worse are self-proclaimed allies whose allyship seems more about their graciousness than my well-being.

I don’t have it all figured out. I’m unspeakably uncool. Popularity is a ship that sailed long ago. Thankfully now, in all the demographic flux of this country, I give zero flux about being popular. Or normal. Or flat. Or quiet. Or still. Or forgettable.

Sometimes, admittedly, I can be too much. And folks who made that determination left me in favor of less. I don’t fault them. It’s a normal response.

Richard Morgan is a freelance writer in New York and author of “Born in Bedlam,” a memoir.

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