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S2: I wonder, what is it exactly that you expect to get out of a straight male friendship that you wouldn’t otherwise get it from someone else? Maybe like a gay friend.
S3: Yeah, I think, you know, we find ourselves more comfortable with people who are similar to us. And so I think having a friendship with a gay man, I am going to automatically have conversations that are different than a friendship with a straight man. And so I think in friendships with gay men or in my gay men, friends, oftentimes our conversations veer to the experience of a gay man. And, you know, if you only ever talk about this one small portion of who you are. I mean, a that’s incredibly boring. You’re eventually going to run out of content. You’re eventually going to not want to be that person. But also you’re you’re only ever presenting this small portion of yourself.
S1: This is Sam. He came to the show with this question. He wanted to know as a gay man how to make and maintain friendships with straight men. Towards the end of his college bid, he joined a fraternity, thinking new straight friends would give him an opportunity to understand masculinity in a new way.
S4: The more we talked, I began to realize that his real problems might actually run deeper than whose friends are.
S5: Hello and welcome to MAN UP, I’m your host, A-minus smile and on this show we crack questions big and small about manhood. This week, learning more about yourself through getting to know others.
S1: So Sam was recently telling me about how he found himself on this 8 hour road trip with one of his more right leaning fraternity brothers. You know, the type with less than enlightened views on homosexuality. But all he could tell me about was how much they learned from each other. Building off that experience and others like it. He’s convinced that he’s been seeing himself as the other for too long. He wants to fit in. And he’s convinced himself that straight male culture is the place to do it. But after years of venturing out of his comfort zone, he still feels like he’s only scratched the surface with many of those relationships.
S3: When I hang out with my friends who are straight, I think, you know, we’re playing video games, we’re drinking beer, we’re playing basketball. We’re not necessarily sitting down and having a conversation about about masculinity, which is something that we have done. But it’s not kind of the default, but I think it’s kind of almost this observation tool. Right. Is this ability to kind of watch other people and add someone who’s incredibly analytical. And I and I kind of sit there and process everything that’s happening around me. I think that’s what I kind of look for in that spaces. How do people present themselves? How do my friends present themselves in this space? And what does that mean for me, presenting myself in the space in order to kind of continue meshing that relationship?
S2: Mm hmm. Do you think they might see you differently? Like, why do you think it is that you’re not having that kind of experience with your street friends?
S6: So I think kind of really on the surface level there is that yes, they do see me differently purely based on the fact that I’m gay. And I don’t think that that inherently means anything negative.
S3: You know, they don’t. And that doesn’t mean that they treat me differently, but they, of course, see me differently. There have been times where, you know, when someone starts talking about girlfriends or starts talking about women in general, there’s sometimes you’ll get kind of the side eye of, oh, is Sam going to be uncomfortable or Sam going to contribute to this conversation? And those are conversations that I enjoy being a part of. You know, I love talking about people successes in people’s relationships and things that they really you know, you guys are celebrating parts of their milestones and their relationships. And I really love being a part of that.
S7: So I consider myself to be like one of those analytic type people, too. And I’m doing a lot of what you’re doing to when I’m in the room, I’m thinking about what people want to see or are not willing to say around. Like me, the Muslim kid in the room. And I think about that a lot. But one thing that I don’t do enough is take that analytical lens and think about how I’m feeling in that situation. And that’s kind of what I want you to try. Like, what are you going through when you’re in the room thinking about how other people might be closed off to.
S6: I think.
S3: I am very, very conscious of how I’m presenting myself and how I might be potentially perceived by the group in fear of saying something that might be perceived as trying to make a pass or perceived as me. I know I’m trying to make an effort not to be seen as an outsider, to just be a member of the group. And so I think that’s I’m incredibly aware of this during many interactions because of these fears that I had. Right. Because that otherwise, if I’m not aware of this, I might say something that is going to then make people very aware that there’s a gay person in the room and that they might be doing X, Y or Z, or they may be trying to, you know, find their target or something, right? Mm hmm. Growing up and in friendships, kind of even through high school, I had these relationships and friendships that I think would be traditional of a gay man, whether that was other gay men or or women. And I think the thing that I’ve been missing or or that I get out of relationships with straight men is the ability to get the perspective of a piece of me that I don’t feel like is there. I mean, I’m not a straight man, so I don’t get the experience of being a straight man. For better or worse. But I think being able to have strong and impactful relationships with straight men allows me to ask those questions, allows me to process my own masculinity in a frame that I wouldn’t otherwise have.
S8: Yeah, yeah, I get that. I mean, but I only want to just gently push back here. Sure. Because I I don’t know. I’m worried that that kind of relies a little bit on the stereotypical ideas of what gay men talk about around the game. And I’m wondering is because you’re you’re a gay man who likes talking about all different kinds of stuff, don’t you think that there’s other gay men out there like you that you can maybe have these more intimate conversations with?
S9: Absolutely. Absolutely. I think oftentimes, you know, and I think that might just kind of be the way that I’ve approached space or the way that I’ve entered space with gay friends. When I first kind of meet another person, another gay man, you know, the we kind of fall into that stereotypical conversation where it’s like, OK, this is the thing. We haven’t comments. That’s the thread we have to pull. So I think you’re right. I think, you know, there are I think a lot of gay men, if not all gay men, are are searching for having those conversations in a way that allows us to have deeper conversations. And I think part of it is kind of creating the space or entering the space to try not to immediately default to, you know, that stereotypical conversation, but, you know, start asking questions or having conversations about things that are just exciting, too, in general.
S8: You’re really trying to get in touch with the other parts of your identity. Am I getting that right?
S3: Yeah, absolutely, and I think it allows me to get in touch with the man part of who I am, and that’s not to say that spaces where I am is where I’m presenting myself primarily as a gay man. I don’t have access to that, but I get to experience what being a man is in different spaces. And that allows me to process masculinity and figure out what masculinity means to me rather than through a single lens.
S2: I want to ask you one more thing and.
S8: This is just something that I’m curious about. And if this is uncomfortable for you to answer, just don’t answer and we can move on. So is any part of your desire to feel closer to your straight friends coming from wanting to be validated by them and like the majority space?
S6: Yeah. Yeah, I would. I haven’t thought about it that way, but I think that’s definitely fair.
S3: I think there’s kind of been this vein of feeling like an outsider. You know, I’m from Maine. We don’t have a whole lot of LGBTQ persons. And so I think there’s this feeling of being an outsider that’s kind of followed me throughout my my path. And so I think being in straight space is absolutely one of the benefits as being able to feel like I am accepted, welcome and able to be involved in mainstream spaces.
S8: Yeah. I mean, do you think you’ll feel more confident in yourself if you were validated by your straight friends like they were to see you as also like a masculine type man?
S9: I think that is the story that I tell myself. Oftentimes, a lot of my fears that I have entering those straight spaces, there are fears that I’ve made up, fears that I’ve created. You know, not not for evap reasons, but. And so I think that that search for validation is also one of those kind of byproducts of that of those fears of, you know, things are less scary if the straight men say yet your valid where I’ve painted this picture that I’m not.
S1: After the break, we’ll hear from a gay man who overcame those same fears by creating his own space. Also, we still need your help to figure out what we’re talking about next. We’re looking for folks who wouldn’t mind coming on the show to explain how they, too, are a work in progress. So if you think that’s you call us at 8 0 5 6 2 6 8 7 0 0 7, that’s a 0 5 man up of 7. Or you can always e-mail us at man up at Slate.com. Cigarette?
S7: What do you think of Sam’s desire here for friends specifically?
S10: I totally can identify with it. You know, it’s a desire that I had in my past.
S1: This is Alex. Like Sam, he grew up in New England. Only one of a handful of out gay men.
S10: When I was a bit younger, I always used to say that being gay didn’t make me who I was, you know, it was just a part of me. And I felt frustrated by having sort of labels and stereotypes applied to me when I didn’t feel that they were necessarily accurate. And, you know, that was one of the big reasons I started gaybros is to sort of create a gay community that didn’t fit within the narrative that I felt was being forced upon us by mainstream media.
S1: So Alex started to piece together his own narrative. In 2012, he founded a Reddit community called gaybros. It’s this online meeting place for all different kinds of gay men who felt like they didn’t fit the mold. And we’re looking for some kind of community to validate the ways that they feel different. Its tagline was once. Gear, grub, guns and guys got some pushback over the years based on the idea that it reinforced traditional ideas about what guy stuff is and stereotypes about quote unquote gay culture. But it’s changed a lot since then and become a wider social network for gay men. Over the last decade, Alex has thought a lot about how to navigate masculinity in his gay identity. He also knows what it’s like to be the only gay man in the room, and he thinks he knows how to help Sam feel validated without minimizing who he is.
S10: I came to a few realizations and the first of those was that. Being gay while a part of me and, you know, not all of me is still it’s a significantly large part of who I am and it’s it affects me in ways that I didn’t realize it before, you know, a lot of my interests and characteristics, even things that I’m extremely proud of, that previously I wouldn’t associate with my sexuality are a result of me having dealt with my sexuality at a young age and how I felt growing up in those formative key years of development. You know, those played a huge role in my interests and you know, how I treated other people and my ability to empathize and how I formed friendships that were completely, you know, non-sexual in any way. But how I formed those friendships in those relationships and identified with other people were affected by that sense of feeling like an other or an outsider when I was younger.
S8: I wonder what else you think might be at play specifically for Sam’s desire. I want straight friends.
S11: You know, it could be a few things.
S10: I’ll say from my personal experience, my desire for straight friends when I was younger, I think I came to realize was me trying to get rid of a fear I had that I was in some way rejected by the group Empower the majority because I felt very confidently that I had value and that I had a lot to contribute to the world. And Sam, I don’t know how old you are, but at least for myself, you know, I’m 30 years old. The world has changed so much since I was, you know, in the ages of puberty and realized that I was gay because I grew up where it was very much clearly an outsider position.
S8: That’s really interesting what you said earlier about. Even if your sexuality was just one part of you, all of your other parts of your personality were still experiencing life through that lens of a gay man. And so that’s a little different than what we were hearing from Sam. Sam was saying that he felt like the reason why he wants to reach out past his circle of gay friends is that he felt like his sexuality was only one part of him. So I wonder if you ever felt that way, too, when you were a kid?
S11: Absolutely. As early as when I started gaybros, I was saying that quite a bit. I felt that. My sexuality was just a small part of who I was, and I had all these other characteristics that were equally valid and completely unrelated, and it took some conversations, quite a few conversations with people who disagree with me and listening to what they had to say and stepping back and trying to re-examine who I was and why I was that way. And I began to realize that a lot of who I was was a result of experiences that I had because specifically I was gay. And I came to realize that having that experience and having my personality shaped by something that I wanted only to be a part of who I was is not something that’s exclusive to gay men.
S10: I’ve had conversations with straight men who have felt defined by something that they didn’t choose, something that they were born into. And I realized that it can actually be when you step back and sort of look at it from a higher level of common experience, even if that characteristic that you’re defined by might differ from person to person.
S8: You know, I think that’s really interesting because I totally relate. I feel as a Muslim person, I’m still experiencing this world through the lens and experience of a Muslim person. So I wonder, because I’m I’m maybe somewhere between you guys where I feel like so much more than just a Muslim person. But at the same time, I don’t want to reject that anymore. I don’t want to feel like that’s such a bad thing. Like maybe I need to grow out of that Muslim box. What do you think someone like me needs to hear what you think someone likes and needs to hear so that we can maybe feel differently about our status in this country.
S11: Well, I’ll say for me, coming to the realization that it is a much more common experience than I had anticipated and stepping outside of my own experience and understanding that others feel similarly and are often defined or feel in some way limited by, you know, and, um, chosen part of their makeup or upbringing or past. Made me suddenly feel like part of the group in its own way, that realization alone made me feel closer to other people and a little bit less like an other because it suddenly became more universal in a sense.
S7: So I want to come back to Sam’s mission for a second. So he expressed interest specifically in making friends with his with straight men because he wanted his his friendships to be more complicated than than just like a repeated conversation about sexuality.
S11: Absolutely. I 100 percent identify with that. I have felt it many times in the past. And I’ve thought about this topic quite a bit because there seems to be this stereotype and this is a lot of what I was feeling back in 2012, that it’s being gay and amongst ticket. Your friends can almost sometimes feel performative more. There are certain phrases to say and there certain topics to hit, and you have to make sure you hit all the topics and you say all the freight and you talk about the certain shows and the certain musicians and then you drink a lot of vodka sodas and go home. And I think a part of this is because, you know, so many people find each other online and particularly for gay men. A lot of gay men find a majority of their friends online because apps and any sort of online resources are really the only easy way to figure out who is gay and who isn’t. Unless you have the world’s best gaydar, you can filter by who is gay. And these come down to things like dating apps, essentially Grinder, Tinder. These apps are dating and sex focused. So you’re going to find people who are there for a particular purpose. Nine times out of ten, of course, there are exceptions. And then a gay bar, you’re going to find the groups of people who like to regularly frequent gay bars. But what I realized was when you step out of the apps and the gay bars, there’s actually a huge amount of gay men out there who are interested in other things, who have interests and friend groups as diverse as straight men. There’s gay gamers who are really into video games and board games. There’s people who are really into hiking in the outdoors and they’ve created little nooks and crannies for themselves online. Or perhaps they’ve just found each other through local clubs, but they represent a much more diverse and complete representation of the gay community once you start to dig and find them. The problem is that they’re usually not in the easiest place to find gay people.
S7: It took me a while to realize that, yeah, I think I’ve a good understanding of what’s at play here, but I don’t have an understanding of what we could do about it. Like if you were in Sam’s shoes right now, is there something that he could do to have deeper conversations with his gay friends or do you think he needs to God is the world in and have it just as much of a diverse friends group as possible?
S11: I think for me, I’ve had the most success with people opening up to me by opening up to them first. Showing some vulnerability can often make others feel that it’s safe for them to show vulnerability in return, and they might not do it right away. But a small indicator of that that it’s OK for them might make them more comfortable. You know, it really depends person by person. Some people might be a little bit more resistant to something like that. But if he Sam, if you have friends, who are you feel that could open up and have something to share in in those areas? Sometimes it just takes, you know, starting the conversation yourself.
S12: Sam, when you think of that.
S9: You know, that’s something that I am trying to in all of my relationships is just be more conscious about, you know, presenting my true self. And part of that is sharing when things are difficult or even when things are happy and successful, I think we don’t share our successes enough as well. And so I think that’s I mean. That’s right. I think we can bond and expand our relationships when we when we open up and when we present our true selves.
S8: One thing that was really important for me in my experience, and I guess kind of is loving myself the way that I am, is that is that weird to say? I felt like I needed to just trust that I am on my own like a likable person. You know what I mean? And I felt like a lot of that confidence ended up working in my favor when I felt like I didn’t belong in spaces. And maybe it was like a sense of feeling like I needed to overcompensate to some degree for being a Muslim in a traditional non Muslim space. But it ended up working out. And I wonder how much self-confidence has to do with what we’re talking about here.
S9: Yeah. I guess I resonate with everything you just said. I can get a lot of it really does stem from telling yourself like you’re worth it. You’re. You are the person that you are. You are likeable. You’re you know, people want to be around you. And it’s just the anxiety that you’ve given yourself or that you have. You built doctors. Is that fear that. Because I’m other. Because I I’m different. Because that’s the part of me that I hold so dearly. But also kind of fear have a lot of fear around. I think we you know, that kind of makes a situation where I’m kind of like, OK, that’s the piece of me that someone’s going to look at and not like or not going to want to be around or, you know. So, yeah, I think just giving yourself that permission to be the person you are and that you are likeable and people want to be your friend is a super important piece of that. And I think that’s something that’s a lot easier to say that right now than than to do that. But, you know, maybe I need to wake up every morning and look in the mirror and say that to myself.
S12: Yeah, that sounds it might work because we tend to tell ourselves these stories based on stereotypes, not just of what people project onto us, but what we end up projecting back and what sense is at the very beginning of this conversation, I thought was really beautiful and poignant. Right. Wanting to rewrite the story that he’s been telling himself so that he can feel more complicated as an individual. I think that’s beautiful. And I wonder, as someone who has someone who’s founded their own group to surround themselves with like minded individuals. I assume that that needed to start with some kind of reshaping of the narrative that you’ve been telling yourself. Do you have advice for us on how we can start changing the stories that we’ve been telling ourselves about who we are?
S10: I think for me, it was the realization that.
S11: Most people, if not everyone out there, harbors a lot of similar insecurities and similar challenges in life that we might might not be aware of, so many people have these these silent insecurities and these questions about their validity and don’t feel like they’re good enough. Even, you know, groups of straight men, they all have plenty of their own insecurities. Suddenly, your own hopefully become a little bit less scary. And you can realize that even the strongest, most likable people probably question themselves quite a bit. And when you realize that you still like them, hopefully at that point you will be able to feel that others like you and that you are a completely valid and valuable player in that group or community or whatever it might be.
S13: Yeah, I think that’s. I think that’s right, I think it’s a lot of just kind of reshaping and read it in kind of shifting the way that we think. Which, again, you know, it sounds really sounds really easy to do, you know, sitting here on a podcast. But, you know, putting that in practice is a lot harder.
S12: Yeah. Yeah. I think this is just one step at a time. We can. Right. Staring into the mirror and being like, we’re so much more than what we think.
S14: And that’s the show. Thank you so much for listening. If you’re enjoying it, please hit us with that good rating in your podcasting app. It’s a free show and we could use all the help that we can get to get more people listening. Also, we still need your help to figure out we’re talking about next. We’re looking for folks who wouldn’t mind coming on the show to explain how they, too, are work in progress. So if you think that’s you call us at 8 0 5 6 2 6 8 7 0 0 7. That’s 8 0 5, man up 0 7. Or you can e-mail us at man up at Slate.com. You never know who else is grappling with these issues. And it can help a lot to hear somebody else talk through them. And don’t forget to make sure you’re subscribed because we’ve got new shows every week. And believe me, you do not want to miss out. Man Up is hosted and written by me a minute, right? It’s produced by Cameron Drewes. Our editors are Jeffrey Blumer and Lo and Lou. Gabriel Roth is editorial director of Slate podcasts and June Thomas is a senior managing producer of Sleep Podcasts. We’ll be back next week with more men up.