In a world that prizes social
behavior, can the shy gay man survive?
Our lives are increasingly
massaged into a social existence. Some psychologists argue that we are social
beings and thus interacting in group environments—and liking it—is sign of
normal, adjusted behavior. Under this thought, the man that shies away from group
behavior is seen as maladjusted, an outsider, loner or freak.
However, group mentality is often
confused with a monolithic lifestyle. Everything around us encourages not only
group-think, but same-think. I'll never forget my office days when collective
thought and a homogenous environment were synonymous with teamwork. At one Park
Avenue company, any sign of individuality was discouraged. Cubicle decorations
could not reach above the carpeted walls. Only certain colors were allowed in
the strict dress code. And although we were told we could manage our groups
with our own styles, we were routinely asked to compare "best
practices" with each other in hopes of developing one uniform way of doing
things. Morning, lunch and evening commutes were modern version of Metropolis in
full black and white.
Along those lines, another large
Detroit-based manufacturer sat me at a work-space just under a pole.
"A8" read in big letters on a sign hanging from a pole overhead.
Looking around there were rows and rows of similar desks, so indistinguishable
that they needed to be labeled like parking lot spaces. I'll talk to you later,
Bob. Oh silly me, I sit at A8 not B5. Not surprisingly this company was
notorious for designing one product marketing it as three "different"
Is there any surprise gay men
have a difficult time being out at work? Team is tantamount, even during water
cooler talk. No wife, no kids, no grass to mow? Not a team player.
Workplace aside, our lives are
gauged by social potential. Measurements of manhood have slowly evolved
from penis size to
Facebook friend lists and Twitter followers. The popular kids in school have
taken over and our family, friends and potential dates are in on the contest.
Where before we kept some things private and others public, there is ever
increasing pressure to broadcast the full package. Those details are shouted
into the depths of the internet, only to await comparison and judgement.
For gay men this is a dangerous
cycle. I recently met a mother who spoke of her gay son's
Facebook habits. I don't mind that he's gay, she says proudly, I
just don't think he needs to put all of those pictures up on Facebook for the
family to see. Like the office, there are rules to being cyber social that
mirror what society considers normal behavior. Post a pic of your cat, your new
apartment and your vacation in Cabo, just crop out your boyfriend because we're
not that type of crowd.
Unfortunately for the gay outsider,
sometimes called the loner or the anti-social, the closet door can slam all
over again, and again, and again with each page load. I've seen my fair share
of gay men and women who are asked to censor themselves for fear of
"offending" family members (many who aren't even invited to
Thanksgiving) or "embarrassing" straight parents and siblings. The
deadbolt is turned in our own community where the extrovert is praised as
confident and sure while the quiet guy blends into the furniture.
For more social gays, rejection
from others is a call to cling tighter to other circles of cyber family and
friends. But what of the shy or introverted gay man? Does he take the blows in
full resolution or retreat into where he wants to be most: with himself and a
limited group of confidants? And, is he a freak for enjoying a party of two
more than two hundred?
A common misconception is that
the guy hanging out by himself at the bar or in other social settings is there,
alone, not by choice but by some defect or circumstance. Thoughts fill most
heads. Some pity him, assuming he's afflicted with the disease of solitude;
others lambast him as the next headline: "Gay Serial Killer Seen Sipping
Drink Alone At Bar".
It's here that most stereotypes
and generalizations are born. The gay man that stays clear of the pride parade
is assumed many things, his biggest offense being his refusal to join in the
fight. The assumption is that he's not fighting at all. His anti-social
behavior is seen as a rejection of an entire community, when in fact he just
might not like crowds. The "loner" gay man's choices can root in a
number of things ranging from social phobia to shyness. The presumtion,
however, is most often slanted towards his perceived inadequacy or danger to
"Shyness and introversion —
or more precisely, the careful, sensitive temperament from which both often
spring — are not just normal," says Susan Cain, author of Quiet: The Power of Introverts.
Where in many social environments shy gay men are seen as rejects, Cain
acknowledges that all introverts are "valuable." She goes as far as
saying "they may be essential to the survival of our species."
Get Over It!
Cain's book is a loner in a crowd
of publications and articles that tell men that the key to happiness is
dropping the shyness for a more extroverted existence. Come out of your shell!
Be less shy and more social! You can get what you want if you only accept that
RSVP! I'm guilty of pushing gay
men towards their dating goals with a similar solution in the
past: Just walk up to a guy and ask him out! If anything, group-think is contagious.
In the article "Gay Dating Online – The Solution for Shy Gay Men" DatingTips247.com agrees
that the personalities of gay men are often overshadowed by fear and shame from
their surroundings, but posits that being shy is a symptom of those
experiences. As with every symptom, there is an implied cure. Get off of your
ass and introduce yourself,DatingTips247.com chants with many other sites
eager to get introverted gay men out of their shells. That's the cause of all
of their problems, right?
This only works if being
introverted is a problem and for most introverts it's not! In a New York Times
opinion piece, Shyness: Evolutionary Tactic?, Susan Cain mentions the
position of science journalist Winifred Gallagher:
"The glory of the
disposition that stops to consider stimuli rather than rushing to engage with
them is its long association with intellectual and artistic achievement.
Neither E=mc2 nor 'Paradise Lost' was dashed off by a party animal."
Not all glory nor personal satisfaction
is found in crowds. Shy individuals and introverts (sometimes not one in the
same) make significant contributions to our cultural collectives. Their
sociability does little to indicate their real motives. Put plainly, there are
some who go to parties to enjoy the people and music; there are others who get
more joy out of dissecting the atmosphere to figure out what makes it so
attractive to the party animals. They aren't anti-social. They have different
As individuals we're wired with
the same basic organs and limbs, but how we view the world is as different as
the fingerprints on our thumbs. It is the shy, quiet guy, however that gets
pushed to the back of the line for his seemingly lack of transparency.
Ironically, most introverts don't see themselves cryptic at all. You want the
truth? Ask the shy guy. They're not concerned with keeping up appearances.
Their social image is already lower than the confetti on the dance floor. Want
to know how many years of hearing you've shaved off of your life hanging out at
the bar, the introvert is your man. Want to know who's slept with whom and
he'll shake his head bewildered. Chances are he knows who you can ask,
The fact is no matter how many
men we dress in the same suit, add to the same circle of friends, or wrap in
the same flag, we are all different. We share many identities, such as being
male and liking the same sex, but next to it all are other more individuals
ways of thinking. For some that means being the life of the party; others are
comfortable with their single stool at the restaurant. With each, the process
to unraveling who they really are is the same. It digs well beyond the
Admit it or not, much of our gay
lives are dictated by stereotype because "that's just what gays do."
Gay men like parties. Gay men like multiple partners. Gay men live for the
lifestyle. Gay men are not loners or individuals.
Then, when the hackneyed ideas
have been exhausted we easily default to gender roles where masculine guys are
tops and the quiet reserved fellow a bottom eager for attention.