On being queer and mourning the loss of straight male friendships
I want to think sometimes that my wanting for a straight male friendship comes from yearning to know that such a thing is possible.
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I have always been queer as fuck, but when I was younger I somehow also managed to be what those invested in the gender binary might call a “boy’s boy.” I loved sports and fighting and discovering new ways to find myself covered in filth. I’m not quite sure how much of that can be attributed solely to the gender conditioning that was very much a feature of my growing up, and how much of it was just me. I am still struggling to figure that out.
I’ve long been divesting from the gender binary, so I know that my queerness doesn’t inherently have to be in opposition to sports and a lack of regard for hygiene simply because I was assigned male at birth and no longer identify with maleness, but gender conditioning really fucked me up. Rejecting that conditioning is unquestionably a necessity for feeling the only freedoms I know I can find today, but without a clear way to distinguish between conditioning and who I am, I have often erred on the side of rejecting it all.
I quit the track and cross country teams and haven’t really touched a basketball since senior year of high school, but there is still a part of me that still revels in throwing a football when one happens to turn up at a picnic, that wants everyone to know I can still scrap with the best of them, that feels euphoria on the rare occasion I do pick up a basketball and find out that I have residue from that nasty three I used to bring to the game (to the dismay of my opponents) living in my muscle memory. Sometimes, I feel like two different people. Sometimes, I wonder about what I have rejected of myself along the way of rejecting gender conditioning, and if that collateral was truly worth it.
It’s been hard to admit because it feels anti-queer—and maybe it really is—but the truth is I have been mourning the loss of my straight male friendships for the last few years. I have been mourning my best friend from middle school in particular, who had been like a brother to me, but who I now hesitate to even put on the invite list for my wedding because we talk so rarely. When we do speak, I feel that same rush at draining a three-pointer, the same exhilaration when I walk down the street looking gay as fuck confidently knowing I can and will defend myself, feelings that I attribute to lingering social pressures to prove myself a man even though I know sports and fighting aren’t inherently manly. I haven’t been able to find myself within this dissonance because I haven’t been willing to name it.
I have no straight male friends anymore, other than my brothers. On paper, I am okay with this. Straightness—and straight maleness specifically—has always been suffocating, and my queer and women friends are more than enough. If I could make the whole world queer, I would, and we would all be better and happier and freer for it. But there is still this mourning that feels like a remnant of the maleness I must get away from and like it is a part of me at the same time. I haven’t made it possible to be both, and that feels suffocating too.
I want to think sometimes that my wanting for a straight male friendship comes from yearning to know that such a thing is possible. That straight Black men don’t have to be suffocating and confining because then my father doesn’t have to be. Because then my mother won’t suffocate and confine me to fit into that role. Because then I can have my best friend back. I can’t make the whole world queer, but I can believe in this possibility. This hypothetical friend would be proof of what I truly believe about the possibilities for Black gender in this world, and right now I do not have it. I think believing in these possibilities are good and worthy, but without proof it often only seems delusional.
Other times my desire for straight male friends feel more performative, feels like when I try to show I can fight or throw a ball when no one has asked. Instead of showing a freeing way of experiencing gender is possible to my parents, a straight male friend would legitimize me to them and their carceral conceptions of gender. He would make them more comfortable with me only because of my proximity to what they know, not because they are okay with what they don’t. I know it’s not right, but when I want to give up on fighting against the world, it’s all that could be. And I want to give up more often than I like to admit.
My full truth is probably somewhere in the middle. There are moments where my desire for straight male friends comes from a belief in the possibility for a world we could live in, and there are moments when I am operating from a place of trying to find comfort within the current paradigm. I have thrown parts of myself away because I had to, and it’s okay to mourn them. Some healthy parts had to go because they were wrapped up in the malignant, and I have the responsibility to be more discerning in the future, because sometimes it isn’t worth it. It is possible to be more than one thing, and it is important that queer folks allow ourselves to be. Necessary, even, though it is also terrifying.
Gender conditioning has fucked me up, and it is the reason I ever associated fighting and sports and many of the things I enjoyed growing up with being straight and being a “boy’s boy” in the first place. How much of that role I put on because it was easy and how much was put on me because of what I naturally loved may never be revealed. Trauma is a master at hiding the bodies we lose in our childhoods. We may never discover them, but we can change how we view and interact with our dead, with the relationships we have lost.
I will likely never have straight male friends, and on most days I’m more than okay with that. I don’t ultimately regret anything I’ve lost in rejecting gender conditioning, including my friendships. But if I am going to grow in my queerness I will have to ask hard and terrifying questions about how I mourn that loss. I will have to look at every action and consider, is it being compelled by my past? Is it harmful? To whom and how? This is the only way to distinguish between those lingering anti-queer pressures and who I am, the only way to find freedom in the midst of this endless struggle. Those answers will change depending on the context, and that might make me feel like two or three or a hundred different people. I know I have to be willing to reckon with that. We were always meant to be more than a binary could determine anyway.