You’ve probably heard of the idea of a queer “scene,” perhaps most often from people who don’t care for it. But what, exactly, is this scene? Who’s a part of it? Who isn’t? Who decides? Is there more than one? What happens when a scene evolves—or when it doesn’t? These are the questions we’ve gathered a group of writers to consider for an Outward special issue on “The Scene” in LGBTQ life today. You can read all of the stories in the issue here, and you can listen to a full episode of the Outward podcast covering more of the queer scene by subscribing on iTunes, Spotify, or wherever you get your audio.
At the age of 21, I deleted every show tune off my iPod Video and disciplined my wavy hair into an almost-military buzzcut. Now, I decided, I was really into trucks and hockey. Previously a too-fastidious Alex, I made people call me Al. I turned my nose up at pop culture, fashion, or anything associated with the gay scene—or at least what I perceived the gay scene to be. At the time, I undertook this overhaul because that stuff, with all its flash and pretense, had come to annoy me; in today’s slang, I would have called it all incredibly “basic.” So I left that basic shit behind and went on with my life as a newly non-basic, overtly masculine gay man.
Fast-forward two years. The lights were dim. I found myself descending to the lower level of a Fenway Park bar, hands cold and clammy with nerves, the music loud. I was hosting the first meet-up for Gaybros, a Reddit community I had founded months prior. I created Gaybros in early 2012 in response to what I saw as a lack of gay-friendly spaces online for men who liked “guy stuff.” Guy stuff, as our description explained, was sports, military issues, video games, camping, activities that left your hands dirty and were usually accompanied with country music. Our slogan was “gear, grub, guns, and guys,” and the banner image was a football field. It was consciously an anti-scene scene and took pride in that approach. It was also shockingly popular.
Taking off the letterman jacket I had bought for the occasion, I scanned the room for anyone I thought might be present for the meetup. In the far corner I saw a group of frat-types playing pool sporting snapbacks, tank tops, and biceps the size of my head. They fit the bill, yet upon spotting them I was filled with terror. Despite naming the community Gaybros, despite deleting all my show tunes, despite disowning the gay scene and making people call me Al, when the possibility of leading a bar crawl for bros became a reality, I was suddenly sure I didn’t have the charisma or confidence. That they would know I was a fraud.
Thankfully, they weren’t the bros I was looking for, so I took a breath and got myself an on-brand drink—whiskey. As I waited for the strangers to arrive, I tried to convince myself that the nerves were normal, that not being 100 percent rock-solid confident didn’t threaten the identity I had created for myself.
It was, after all, my second go at it. I began work on my first version of gayness when I was 12 years old. Right after I came out to my parents, I jumped into playing the part I thought I had been assigned. Drama club, regional theater, Wicked, Abercrombie & Fitch. If I was going to be gay, I figured the campy scene was my destiny, and as far as I knew I had no choice in the matter. Might as well get good at it. But like I would feel years later, waiting at that bar to introduce myself as “Al,” I could never shake the sense I was playing a part that wasn’t quite right. It didn’t feel fake, just somehow incomplete, and therefore inauthentic.
As users from Gaybros started to arrive, my nerves settled a bit, and I was surprised (and relieved) at how normal and kind they were. A graphic artist with a cartoon obsession. A socially awkward engineer. A junior salesman who could recite passages from Lord of the Rings from memory. They weren’t part of the scene, as I understood it, but they also weren’t hyper-masculine jerks. The occupied a safe and friendly middle ground I hadn’t been sure existed. I let myself breathe.
After awkward introductions and a few drinks, the nerves subsided, and we all departed as fast friends. As the years progressed, I continued hosting Gaybros meetups at home in Boston and in cities across the country. Every time, I found a similarly diverse, welcoming crowd as that first night.
The community continued to grow, and the disparity between its branding and actual users became increasingly obvious, and so the messaging of the group began to shift. We dropped the “gear, grub, guns, and guys” tagline. We relaxed the rules on what could be posted. We more actively defended a “come as you are” atmosphere. Not one of these decisions was truly mine, but rather reactions to the desires of a diverse community. As Gaybros evolved and its members asserted a more fluid definition of the space, I began to realize that much like Gaybros, I didn’t need such a strict definition for my own identity. Just like the users who posted every day, I could like show tunes AND sports. I could watch Cops AND RuPaul’s Drag Race. What may seem like an incredibly simple revelation actually felt quite profound. More than anything, it felt freeing.
As a young gay man, I was so invested in finding a way to feel pride in my identity that I had assumed identity must be some fixed, unchanging absolute. When one version didn’t fit the bill, I tried another, and another, ad nauseam. It wasn’t until Gaybros came along, until I got to engage with this wide array of guys online and at meetups, that I appreciated identity itself, like sexuality, is fluid.
It was the positive evolution of Gaybros as a community that allowed me to accept myself as a gay man who need not be all theater or sports, not all butch or femme, not all one thing or another. And ultimately, the journey toward self-acceptance lead me to realize that perhaps my understanding of the gay community was flawed from the beginning, born of insecurities that “Al” was created to extinguish. Now that Al has settled into Alex, I understand the value in embracing a diverse set of gay perspectives, interests, and experiences, both in others and myself. These days, the “stuff” this guy is into varies widely, but all of it feels authentic. I’m finally at home—with my bros, yeah, but more importantly, in my own skin.