Reflections On Gay Loneliness
Identifying as LGBT often leads to a loneliness that straight people don't understand.
I can’t speak for the rest of the LGBT community, but for me being gay often comes with a certain loneliness that I can’t see permeating my life in such a potent manner if I were heterosexual.
I don’t mean the type of loneliness you’re probably thinking of: me, alone in my apartment, a blanket wrapped around my legs and a pint of ice cream in my hands, staring longingly at the Netflix show I’m watching and lamenting the fact that no one is there to share in the moment with me. That’s my daily life, and that isn’t lonely - to me, that’s peace.
The type of loneliness I mean is a type of loneliness I feel most acutely when I’m with other people. It’s a specific feeling that is hard to describe simply due to the incongruity of the feeling itself: I’m with other people, so how could I possibly be feeling lonely?
Part of it is something anyone can feel, regardless of sexuality or gender identity. I’m perpetually single, so when I’m in situations where couple-dom is highlighted, I feel like I shouldn’t be there. For example, there are countless events in life that are catered to couples that I would love to do: cooking classes, shows, art exhibitions, etc. Obviously, some of these things I can do (and do) by myself or with friends, but there are certain events or situations that I feel like I’m infringing upon if I try to do them by myself - or worse, as a third or fifth wheel with other couples. People rarely say it, but sometimes couples want to do things with other couples without having to worry about the weird single dude’s feelings.
I don’t want to linger too long on the single aspect of this post, since there’s nothing groundbreaking about feeling like you want to be in a relationship when you’re constantly surrounded by people who are happily in love.
What I want to explore more of is the feeling of being an outsider among your own friends and family, simply as a result of being gay.
There are two elements to this feeling: the first is the loneliness you experience prior to coming out, which is starkly different from the loneliness you feel once you come out. The loneliness you feel when you’re in the closet can be suffocating; you feel like you’re drowning in thin air, with no one noticing your silent pleas for help. You can’t relate to other out gay people because you haven’t identified yourself as one of them, and you can’t relate to straight people because you have never been and will never be one of them. You’re stuck in a dangerous limbo, one which some LGBT people never make it out of.
Once you come out, that loneliness inverts itself. You now have the ability to feel connected to other out LGBT people, but you have now been “othered” from all of the heterosexual people in your life, whether that be intentional or unintentional. At this point, you become lonely in plain sight, rather than in hiding. And this “othering” from all the people who previously viewed you as one of them can be jarring.
This loneliness manifests itself in small ways that, over time, become larger problems. For me, it began with differing interests from most of the straight people in my life - particularly in my family. I’m not very interested in sports, I’m pretty liberal, I’m not religious at all, I love pop music, yada yada yada. All of these things differ from most of the straight people I know and love, and sometimes it can be difficult to feel like the black sheep at family or friend group gatherings when they talk about football or church.
As I mentioned, those things seem small on the surface, but they can add up. For example, everyone in my immediate family goes to the same church. This is a ritual that not only bonds them every week, but also forms a belief system that they all adhere to and I do not necessarily fit into. Their church is progressive (I don’t mean to imply any homophobia), but there’s still a huge aspect of our identities that differs, which can leave me feeling like I don’t belong.
With my friends, the loneliness stems more from a lack of understanding. They’re wonderfully supportive, but the sad reality is that my straight friends will simply never be able to fully understand what it’s like to be gay, just like I’ll never understand what it’s like for my black friends to be black. Sometimes this leads to conversations that frustrate me, simply because my straight friends will inadvertently say offensive things or struggle to understand the more nuanced aspects of my identity.
I think these little inconsistencies between myself and the people I love are what lead me to enjoy my alone time so much. It’s ironic to suggest, but I think being alone is the best cure for my loneliness. When I’m with other people who unintentionally make me feel like I’m different, I feel an acute sense of sadness at the fact that I am not fully “one of them.” When I’m alone, I’m able to process that sadness and take a step back from it, which enables me to understand that being different is not necessarily a bad thing - it’s just sometimes a hurdle to leap over.
I would never speak for the rest of the LGBT community, but I would venture to suggest that I’m not the only LGBT person who often feels lonely when they’re with the people they love. I don’t have the magic solution to this problem, but to those lonely LGBT people: know that you aren’t ever truly alone in what you are feeling, and you can always turn to other LGBT people to create a community that truly understands you - which is something I’ve been doing recently.
To the straight people who love an LGBT person: you don’t need to do anything other than continue to love them, but every once in a while just think about how difficult it is to feel different, especially among your own family, and go the extra mile to make that person feel like you love them and want to be around them, no matter what. Sometimes, the smallest things make the biggest difference.
Embrace your loneliness, and embrace the things that make you different, but don’t let it consume you. You are more than your challenges.
This post was brought to you by Party For One by Carly Rae Jepsen, because it’s a song that celebrates being alone - which is something I think we need more of in pop culture. It’s been added to my blog playlist, which you can follow and save on Spotify here.
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