My name is Alexander Cheves. My nickname is Beastly. I write about sex.
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I love your articles so SO much! I wish I had texts like these to read when I was growing up gay, scared, depressed, and in the closet, in the conservative, Christian, south European shithole country I am coming from. Back then the only depiction of gay men was either as a joke or a tragic figure dying from AIDS. There were zero positive role models. I am 35 years old and I can only say I found some peace with myself and my sexuality in the last 3-4 years when I moved to a bigger city to live my free gay life and completely be who I wanted to be. Especially the last year and a half have been the best and happiest of my life. I met someone that I love and loves me back and completed my coming out (went better than I thought).
The reason that I am writing is to express a constant feeling of anger and sadness that overcomes me now and then. I know I am lucky and finally have a good life, but I constantly hear about incidents of homophobia and hatred and although not directed to me personally, they are enough to make me feel victimized and sad. I wasn’t bullied for being gay because I can easily pass as straight in hostile environments, but this has exposed me to the terrible things straight men say and believe about gays and women when they are alone with each other.
In general, I have anger inside me. I am angry with society in general for depriving me of the best years of my youth. I feel they were stolen from me. I feel I need to compensate, but I am not sure how. I feel that we, as queer people, start living (if at all) our lives much later. When straight kids are teenagers and slowly start their love lives with the support of friends and family, we have to hide and be depressed. I know of people kicked out of their homes, being mistreated at work, attacked, etc. I am afraid you know what I mean very well. When straight people go on a date they never have to discuss if they are out or if their families hate them.
Some days I think I cannot go on. I feel that my hard-earned happiness is perhaps just an illusion. That it is polluted by their hatred. Other times I think that I am maybe ungrateful and I overreact since for countless other queer people it is much worse. I do not know. I am wondering if my upbringing ruined me beyond repair and if I can one day finally feel safe, complete, happy, and calm. I apologize if this letter was too long or perhaps repetitive.
Ps. If you ever come to Berlin and want to grab a coffee, let me know 🙂
I empathize. Depression is hard and there’s no easy way to deal with it. Sometimes it helps to have someone to point out how well you are doing and how much you have to stand on. I hope to do that here. You have what many gay men wish for — a life out of the closet where you can live away from the opinions and beliefs that hurt you. Getting to such a place in life is no small feat. Give yourself some credit.
I understand this anger because it’s my engine. It’s why I wanted to write for queer magazines since I was a teenager and why I was president of the LGBTQ student group at college. I’m furious. That’s good. Great thinkers, artists, and activists were furious. Larry Kramer, an indefatigably angry AIDS activist until his death in May last year, said in the 2013 documentary The Out List that “anger is a very creative emotion.” Kramer founded ACT UP, a grassroots organization of people “united in anger and committed to direct action to end the AIDS crisis.” Rage and pain are how we led the movement to make people care about gay men dying from AIDS. Rage fueled the Stonewall Riots.
Anger will distinguish you from the queer men who simply enjoy the world we’ve created without ever thinking about the ones who paid for it. If you’re anything like me, you’ll have surprisingly little in common with them. You might watch drag shows with them and fuck them and speak the same social language as them, but you know there’s always a possible reality in which people come for us at night, drag us from our beds, and put us in camps. You know that some of us must stay on guard, ready and angry, because we know what’s happened and what could happen again.
This anger will, at times, make you a combative and sensitive person. I can cry any time I think about my history — about the things men like me endured in Nazi camps, the “purge” of gay men in Chechnya, and the queer kids in homophobic homes across the world who are suffering and alone. These things fill me with fury and remind me that our work is never finished.
Outness, yours and mine and everyone who lives openly, is a result of chance and struggle. Queers who come out have the difficult task of telling people and potentially losing people, but this work is easier or harder depending on where one happens to be born — a coin toss we have no control over — and the impersonal randomness of that chance is cruel. There are queer people alive now who would be our most celebrated artists and public figures if they were not in small countries in Africa where they can be murdered for sodomy. Even if life starts late and you spend your formative years in the closet, you are incredibly lucky to simply be able to make such an observation from the other side of the closet. Many never get the chance to come out safely. The work it takes to get out of the closet can’t be understated, so at least acknowledge that you’ve been through a major struggle and come out stronger on the other side of it.
Here’s the turn: anger can also make you miserable. Anger is a great tool, but it becomes a burden when it erodes the thing you fought for — a happy out life. Pride is generally more of a celebration than a dirge. It can still be fueled by fury, but that fury has to become joy. For the LGBTQ movement, joy and fury are so often laced together. Firsthand reports from the Stonewall riots say the trans folks and hustlers treated it like a party — they danced, linked arms, laughed, threw coins, and kicked their legs. Even today, when you see queer protests and powerful drag shows and big, colorful Pride events, you see tears of rage under all the camp and glamor of it. That is joyful rage.
Many of us are destroyed by hate, particularly those who experience it in our youth. Even after some queers get older and have better lives, they don’t heal. I know many gay men who never experience happiness because they never move past their childhoods. As adults, they’re bitter, mean people.
Joy is a fickle thing because it’s not the same thing as happiness. Joy co-exists with fury and pain. I equate happiness to something that I feel when my mood is “up,” when my antidepressants are working and I’m managing my stress levels, and that happiness can be elusive. It depends on the particulars of my day-to-day life. Joy, in contrast, stays with me, even when I’m stressed and sad, because if I ever sit down and clear away all the stuff that makes me scared and anxious, underneath it all I feel very honored to be here, very grateful for what I have, and very glad to be me. Being me is so much fun. I’m out and freer than I ever thought I would be. That’s joy. It runs under all the little things, and when days are hard, that joy is sometimes the only thing holding me up. No matter what happens, I have been here and seen this thing, life. I could not ask for more. Underneath everything that’s difficult and stressful, I have joy.
Zealots and fanatics are convinced that we’re unhappy because we’re “unnatural.” My father told me many years ago that a man can never love a man — the same thing countless queer kids are told — and I refute that ridiculous claim every time I look at Brent across a bar and fall in love with him a little more. He keeps me from getting too down and heavy, and his natural buoyancy is a big reason why we work — he keeps me from spiraling into the negative, which is where my mind naturally goes. If you’re like me, I recommend dating someone who’s not an over-thinker, someone who bends optimistic and doesn’t spend their life thinking about the wrongs of the world. Date someone who can snap you out of all that. Don’t date someone like you.
My anger has not gone away, but I’ve worked at keeping it where it needs to be and where it doesn’t need to be so that it doesn’t make me miserable or damage my relationships. I don’t always do this successfully. I need a therapist (I currently have two) who regularly helps me put things in perspective. My therapist listens and offers an outside perspective of my life, and in the process, always points out the good things that are working and that I’m doing right before moving on to the things I’m still working on. (That’s what I’m attempting to do for you in this post.)
We can talk about those moments of rage and depression, but first, we have to recognize what’s good, what you’re doing right, and here it is: though your life may not always be perfect, you’ve nevertheless been through the grit and fire of religious condemnation and cultural isolation and made it here. You’re out. There’s more to do — always — but it sounds like the greatest battles involving your sexuality and identity are behind you. Other struggles will come — I struggle with body dysmorphia, medical issues, the list goes on — but that painful period of wondering if I’ll ever be an out gay man is behind me, and it sounds like it’s behind you, too. That is such a massive thing to recognize, such a victory to stand on. We both probably know so many out queer men that the magnitude of this victory may occasionally appear commonplace, but for every out person we know, countless others dream they could live like we do.
My anger has caused problems. In casual arguments and disagreements, I get very combative. I’m a mean arguer, and this has lost me good friendships. I hold on to resentments, particularly against my parents. That’s what hurt does — it resists reason, closes against others, and can make you blind to love when it’s in front of you.
Your parents may not be where mine are yet, but I promise there are people in your life (people you may not even know very well) whose perspectives are changing and have changed because of your visibility — because you had the courage to be out. You need to see this change in people when it comes, because it’s proof that the world turns and ideas shift and perspectives can evolve to good places. Anger can keep us from seeing that, and we have to see it.
Your upbringing didn’t ruin you — it made you a fighter. Your anger is good, but you’re allowed to step away from it. You’re allowed to not think about the things that break your heart. You can put them on the shelf — they’ll always be there — and enjoy where you are and the people you’ve found. Get a good therapist (or two) and lots of queer friends. Work hard on being an active friend to them.
When in doubt about happiness, joy, or life in general, remember this: people live for people. Though we are born and die alone, life is about our relationships and exchanges with others. Our lives are not ours and only ours — they are shared, part of a web. You can expand that web to include all humans or shrink it down to your closest friends and loved ones, but you are never a party of one — ever. The cruelest and most unhappy people on earth are the ones who forget that. You are connected to humans you will never meet and lives you will never know, and they are connected to you. When I feel like I have nothing, I remind myself — to borrow a phrase from the poet Mary Oliver — of my “place in the family of things.” And that gives me joy.
I’ve been talking about a move to Berlin for years. Maybe we’ll get that coffee soon.