As a queer man living in America I have regrets. There’s a ton of things I wish I could tell my younger self. I grew up in a time where there was little queer visibility. We’d lost a lot of our mentors and prominent queer icons to HIV. There weren’t many gay people on television, in media, or in the public eye. You also didn’t even know who was gay in your life. We did not have the legal protections we have today. It was lonely, scary, and I had to learn a lot of things the hard way. And that’s not as sexy as it sounds.The irony…I’m not even that old. I’m still only in my 30s. And yet, so often I’m confronted with younger more self-assured queer people. I see their level of self-awareness, comfort in their own skin, and confidence. I’d lie if I said I wasn’t jealous.
I’m not the type to bash younger millennials or whatever pop psychology generational title Buzzfeed has given the budding adults of today. I am always pleasantly surprised by their level of emotional intelligence and deeper understanding. But there are some things you can only learn over time. There are existential concepts we consistently redefine over the course of our entire life. What works for us in our teens and twenties does not serve us in our thirties and forties. So I’ve collected a few pieces of advice I’d wished I received when I was a baby gay.
- Integrity Is Timeless
Maybe you weren’t popular, maybe you have funky relationships with your family or maybe you have daddy issues. But one thing every man (cis, trans or in between), hell, every person should know is your word is your bond. You should live by your own code of ethics, morals, and integrity. If not, are you really living? It can be easy to be lured into abandoning our integrity for money, “love” or attention but once you do you find a whole host of other problems. It’s much easier to weather the storms of life if you have a core sense of integrity to stand by.
- You Will Never Be as Young or as Cute as You are Today.
They say, “Youth is wasted on the young.” Why waste time and energy dragging yourself down. We are our own worst critics but why not just enjoy our youth. The people who don’t want you to feel good about yourself are probably threatened by you. And bashing yourself is way more unattractive than any arbitrary physical or personal quality you may have. Bashing yourself is a drain and a turn off. Enjoy your vitality, find your cute factor and lean into. Feel good about yourself. If you can’t, how can you find someone else who will? Besides, some things can be changed. It just takes a little effort and a lot less complaining.
- People Will Rarely Validate Your Best Qualities.
Some people have great supportive families that celebrate every accomplishment. But some of us did not have cheerleaders growing up. It is possible to surround yourself with people who sing your praises. We can sometimes forget given our gender fluidity or unique space on the gender spectrum that we are still men. Like in the wild, many men will challenge other men. And in our toxically masculine society, some of the worst male qualities become the norm for all society. More often than not, people will attack the very things that make you unique and powerful. Duh, it’s because they’re threatened. Hurt people hurt people. And so often, people will attack your security, self-esteem, or confidence because they feel threatened. Remember that, so you can look at them with more empathy than fear and not give your power away.
- Learn to Love.
So often, guys will complain about being single. They’ll complain about the qualities of the men they date. But as men how do we learn to love? We may be more sensitive or emotionally aware than the average straight man. After all, many straight men are actively suppressing their emotions to fit into our toxically repressive patriarchal society. We may even be more aware of how we are feeling. But, we are not any more experienced in love. There are no models of dating and relationships for us. We don’t get time before sex is on the table to learn qualities like tenderness, vulnerability, and the purity of just enjoying someone’s company. Some of us get traumatized so we can’t just be ourselves around someone else. Learning to love is the most important lesson. And when you learn it, it can shift so many of your life problems. You find you have more patience, emotional space, and you’ll find love is a resource that expands exponentially.
- Your Boundaries are Yours to Create, Set, and Defend.
Let’s be real. Every interaction with a fellow queer man means setting our own unique set of boundaries. You may have some friends you have sex with or are sexual around. Or you might keep it super platonic. There is no rulebook. But the onus is on you to be upfront, honest, and to set your boundaries. While I am all about consent culture, there are nuances that can be lost on people. We all come from different backgrounds and upbringings. And I think we tend to give more empathy to non queer people. Be clear with your comfort level and be direct. Most people may have a bruised ego but they’ll respect you more for asserting your boundaries than reacting to someone crossing a boundary they don’t know you have. Remember, no one is psychic.
- You Don’t Know Everything.
Check your inner Karen. Your intelligence is not marked by what you know. It’s marked by your awareness of your own ignorance. We should be learning all the time. While I love that young queer people can have healthy egos and personal confidence, there was a time where you had to be intelligent, witty, attractive, and successful as a gay man. Now there are gays for all seasons. So now we have true equality you can have dumb gays. But, let’s not be like them. Be open to change and to be surprised. We all bring something to the table and people can often mistake simplicity for stupidity. We can all afford to share our gifts and learn from each other for the inevitable gay global domination.
As queer people, despite all we have in common we tend to focus more on our differences than our similarities. We often opt out of giving people the benefit of the doubt. I’m not the type to bash millennials. I am often shocked at their level of emotional intelligence and self awareness. And yet, I do sometimes find it shocking how hard it is for them to empathize with others. When I was a baby gay, you would use the code word “family” to see if someone was gay. You’d ask, “Are you family?” It was a way to not out yourself and tactfully and indirectly ask if someone was queer. And yet, we don’t look at each other as family. Eventhough that other queer person could have the potnetial to be your best friend, boyfriend, or future husband we tend to not see them not as family but a means to an end. Instead, remember other people have as complex and vivid emotions as you do. Their lives are no less complex or complicated as yours. It can be easy to get sucked into the game of Pokemon Hoe that is Grindr and app culture. But we are all people. We should act as such because society at large isn’t identifying us as individuals.
In times like these it’s clear some people are doubling down on their privilege. In life we get confronted with a choice. Are you gay first? White first? POC first? The LGBTQ community, while contentious, has always been an umbrella. Our acronym is so annoying and confusing because it’s so inclusive. That’s a blessing. But we have to honor everyone’s differences. We have to work on developing the diplomacy and empathy to see the intersectionality of our identity and the experiences, oppressions, and privileges of other queer people. When we do we fortify the strength of our community.
These are just a few of the things I wish someone had pulled me aside to tell me. But, if I’m being honest, I probably wouldn’t have listened. I just hope that it can spare some of you some heartache or give you an ace in your pocket for navigating these crazy times. We’re stronger together than we are apart. But as queers, we do love the drama of being hopelessly unique. Either way, stay safe out there.
Christian Cintron is a writer, actor, and stand-up comedian. He has written about entertainment and gay culture for Edge Publications, Queerty and DNA Magazine. He’s also a regular contributor to Backstage.com.
YouTube: CintronicComedy // Twitter: AbsoluteCintron // Instagram: @SighKickScream