3 min

Love in a time of anger

Being gay is exhausting, no doubt

Aside from Beer Pong, Flippy Cup must be my favourite drinking game of all time. Two teams face each other along either side of a table. Contestants place a plastic cup of beer in front of them. The first player from each team chugs their beer, replaces the empty cup on the ledge of the table, then lightly taps the bottom to flip the cup so it lands upside down on its rim. The next player repeats the sequence. The first team to have all their players flip their cups wins. It’s a glorious feat of dexterity, team work and beer.

On a recent vacation, my sister and I were deep in the throes of a Flippy Cup championship with a hilarious gang of North Carolinians we’d met. A few beers in and with my team well on its way to Flippy triumph, I was feeling great and grinning wide in the mid-winter sun. As we yet again trounced the other team, one of their members screamed out in defeat, “We lost again! Y’all are a bunch of fags!” Everyone ripped into loud-mouthed laughter.

Lately, I’ve been trying a new approach when faced with this kind of thing. Traditionally I’m a guns-blazing kind of guy. Which is great, except that single-handedly putting every homophobe in his place is exhausting. And though I have troubles articulating it, when I lash out at homophobes I sense that the fury I’m unleashing is taking me further away from the person I want to be.

So what to do? Before going on vacation, I decided that my holiday would also include a break from feeling obliged to speak out against lame oppressive shit. So when the Flippy Cup fag crap came along, I calmly said, “Whoa, fags? I think I’m gonna take a break for a while.” And I did.

I was happy with my decision to just walk away, but a slimy feeling lingered. When I pinned it down, I realized it was a simple case of feeling rejected. I’d been genuinely enjoying my Flippy friends and was feeling this good times bond (okay, a beer-induced bond, but still!). So it came as a shock when, in the midst of all that excited laughing, a clear line was drawn in the sand and I once again found myself on the outside of it because I’m a fag.

When I strip away the angry activist politics, underneath the defensive fury is some plain old pain at not being part of the gang — and wanting to be. And underneath that is the humiliation of having my naiveté publicly exposed once again: “Think you belong here? That it’s safe to let down your guard and just be? What a fool.” This unexpected rupture has played out hundreds of thousands of times since I was first called a fag at three years old and the element of surprise still has the power to shame me.

When explaining this dynamic to non-queers, I’ll often get the clichéd, “Stick with it, Nicholas. It’s a long haul, but your best chances are to change the system from within.” I find this extraordinarily patronizing. At its core, this is the non-queer exhorting the queer to put his heart on the line so that non-queers might one day realize their hate and then change. The premise being that, long-term, this painful process will benefit the queer — or at least queer generations to come.

While on vacation I read Rita Mae Brown’s Rubyfruit Jungle. Molly, the irrepressible dyke protagonist determined to demolish every glass ceiling she’s under, lobs this very cliché back in the face of her oppressors like a fruity Molotov cocktail.

When her family rejects her, she hitchhikes out of town and leaves them in her dust. When lovers implore her to scale down her ambition, she loves them and leaves them. When her university commits her to a psych ward for unapologetically loving women, she condemns them to their mediocrity and earns her own education the hard way. Every step is a fight rooted in defiant determination.

I love these kinds of subversive storylines. But I wonder if they aren’t setting me up for failure. Molly’s is a story of the trailblazing woman who triumphs despite the world around her. It teaches us we have only ourselves to rely on. Family will abandon us. Friends will betray us. Institutions are run for the benefit of the already rich, powerful and socially approved. And while all of this resonates with my brain, my heart despairs. I believe that, even more than the desire for self-actualization, the deepest human craving is for love, belonging and connection with others. Solidarity before singularity.

I recognize that under the crushing weight of homophobia, Molly’s approach is sometimes the desperate measure called for in desperate times. Still, I question whether it is a sustainable strategy in the long run. I cannot walk away from every table that excludes me. Yet there are few models of how to stay present at the table with dignity, righteously rooted in our non-queer communities despite their continued denial of our humanity.

I’m still working this one out. For folks like me who crave communion, it’s a hard cup to flip over.