• Phil McAuliffe

Am I gay enough?

I've been struggling with this question for a while.

I know you have been, too.



Hello!


You don’t seek out and then read articles about loneliness unless you’ve come to the realisation that you’re lonely. The stigma and shame you feel is real, and it takes a lot of courage to even engage with the subject.


I’m proud of you for opening this article. I recognise and admire your courage. Now that you’re here, let’s start getting you connected to yourself, those most important to you and to your community.


This article was written and published on Ngunnawal country. I wish to acknowledge and respect the Ngunnawal people’s continuing culture and the contribution they make to the life of Canberra and the surrounding region. I would also like to acknowledge and welcome other Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people who may read this post.


~ Phil


* * * * *


I received some feedback recently saying that I need to put more of myself and my story into my work to make me and the work more relatable.


This makes sense. After all, humans connect through stories. We see ourselves in the stories shared by those around us. Indeed, we must share our stories if we are to feel connected.


But, fuck me, this can be hard. It’s hard for you and it’s hard for me to put myself and my story out into the world. Being authentic sucks. But in the ‘good for me’ kind of way.


But I know that I must. It’s a way that you know that you’re not alone in thinking the thoughts and feeling the feelings of loneliness.


However well-intentioned and well-meaning (and right) the feedback was, it struck a nerve within me. All too quickly, the feedback morphed from my verbal response of ‘oh, great advice. Thank you!’ into an internal response of ‘I’m a fraud.’


The feeling of being a fraud is a common symptom of imposter syndrome. I’ve done a lot of work within myself over the past six years to better understand where these thoughts and feelings come from. I’ll explore these in some more content in the future, because there’s more to share.


For now, I have some strong thoughts about imposter syndrome as it’s portrayed in popular culture, especially as it’s something associated with women. I work as a coach for men (however they identify) and the thoughts and feelings of being a fraud are an almost universal experience for all the humans I support. If you experience with imposter syndrome, then I can say that you’re absolutely not alone.


For me, the response of feeling like a fraud comes right after I wonder if I’m gay enough to do this work.

It takes me milliseconds to get from receiving that well-intentioned feedback to me not feeling that I’m [gay/smart/relatable/fit/whatever] enough. The speed with which I can arrive at this conclusion is something of a superpower.


Why I don’t feel gay enough


I’m 45-years-old and am new to the whole living-life-as-a-gay-man thing. I was in a relationship with a woman for almost 20 years and we were married for 16.5 years. Together, my former wife and I had twin sons. They’re now 15-years-old.


I came out to my then wife and very close friends in October 2017 while we were living in Seoul (South Korea). We were living there because I was posted as a diplomat to the Australian Embassy. In August 2019, while we were living in Wellington (New Zealand) on her diplomatic posting, my then wife and I decided to separate, and I came out of the closet to live as a gay man.


I suspected that I was gay when I was 14-years-old. I didn’t have the courage to come out when I was younger. I took almost 30 years to own my sexuality and accept it as the superpower it is. Indeed, my hidden sexuality was one of the things that fed my loneliness: I was terrified of being seen and caught out saying or doing anything that could possibly raise suspicions and ‘out’ me. My relationship and my career all relied upon me thinking and acting in certain ways: usually for me to meet expectations I felt were on me.


I deprived myself of my sexuality to meet those expectations. It seemed that this was the price I had to pay. I paid it, until I couldn't.

I first met Jeff in October 2019 after chatting on Grindr for a few weeks. We've lived together in a committed relationship since the very beginning of the pandemic in March 2020. We're now joint homeowners in Canberra and are building a life together and our family under the concept of 'two houses; one home', so the kids know that they're home wherever they are with us or at their Mum’s house.


I could never have imagine that my life could look like this, with people loving me for being me. It was the opposite of what I thought I need to do to be loved and feel that I belong.


My life and my story could look a lot different to yours. My life experiences of living in Venezuela, Vietnam, Korea and New Zealand could be very different to your experiences. That’s okay.


Within that short synopsis of my life, I feel that there’s evidence to say that I’m not gay enough. That evidence includes:


  • I'm in a committed monogamous relationship (and open/polyamorous relationships feel more common)

  • I came out in my 40s, not in my teens or 20s

  • We have children


Additionally:

  • I've never taken party drugs

  • I've never been to a circuit party

  • I don’t really care for gay/queer pop culture icons

  • We live in the suburbs, not in the gay area of Canberra.


The evidence that says that I am gay is:


  • I enjoy gay sex

  • I've always enjoyed gay porn

  • I say I am.


I was triggered



The well-meaning and well-intentioned feedback on how I show up to support you triggered me. I pushed myself onto a

shame spiral.

I often engage in some good, old-fashioned comparative gayness. Whenever I play the comparison game – regardless of the topic – I always find a way to lose.

For reference, my shame spiral went something like this: feedback received => ‘oh, that’s helpful’ => ‘wait, why did they provide that?’ => ‘but why did they really provide that?’ => ‘I’m not good at what I do’ => ‘oh no, they think I’m a fraud’ => ‘I AM a fraud’ => ‘I’m full of shit’ => ‘Who am I to be doing this work? I’m not even a real gay’ => ‘It’s best that you stop doing this work’.


I went down that spiral in seconds.


I morphed the well-intentioned and well-delivered feedback into a destructive narrative that had me questioning who I am and how I am in the world.


I went numb for a while. Then I was sad. Then I got angry.


When I realised that I was angry, I remembered that anger is often fear’s bodyguard. I got curious about why I felt scared.


In speaking with a few people in my corner over a few days – including Jeff, but also with my coaches – I learned what was at the heart of it all:


I didn’t feel that I belonged. I didn’t feel that I was gay enough.


‘Enough’ was the big clue. Enough has a hotline to shame. Hearing or perceiving ‘not enough’ and ‘too much’ messages are sure shame triggers for me. I know they are for you, too.



Coming out of the shame storm


Shame storms are exhausting. They simply consume me. I can think of nothing else but the thing that’s triggered a shame response. In the past, I’ve said and done all sorts of things to make the feeling stop. They are usually things that I regret afterwards.


There’s no getting around the awfulness of a shame storm. I’ve learned that I simply need to let the shame storm happen. I also need to talk about it aloud with someone who I know will respond with empathy (and not judge me) and then practice a shitload of self-care.

Part of that self-care is being curious about why I was triggered. There’s a big difference between curiosity as a way of picking a kind of emotional scab and the type of getting curious once I’ve taken care of myself.


I got curious about why I didn’t feel that I belonged.


Getting curious


With kindness and honesty, I determined that I’d used my superpower to turn the feedback into another example of where I felt that I didn’t belong.


I’ve got a long list of events in life where I felt like I’ve been always at the periphery and never in the middle. I’ve also got a long list of events where I’ve been told that I wasn’t enough or, ironically, when I was too much.

I’ve tried to achieve perfection as it appeared to be the only logical middle ground. Perfection is a trap.


I reminded myself that I belong. I’m worthy of belonging, just as I am.


Who makes the rules?


From that place of worthiness, I decided to find out whose ideals I was trying to live up to.


When it comes to feeling gay enough, I’m still trying to find the authority who makes the rules. I’ve looked on the United Nations’ website to see if I could contact the relevant office for International LGBTIQA+ Affairs.

I thought that surely there must be a central authority who determines the agreed global standards for what is sufficiently gay.


There was nothing. There was no one.



No one is making the rules of gayness that I’m applying myself to. I’m doing that to myself.

This realisation made me angry. After all that I’ve done in my life to allow myself to be who I am and to be proud of myself, I learned that I have been quietly trying to fit into a new set of norms.


This realisation also made me immeasurably sad. After doing what I’ve done to become me, I’ve been willing to alter and edit myself to fit in to a new environment based on a poorly-defined – indeed, a completely amorphic and undefined – set of rules and criteria.


Fuck that shit.
I’m done with that.

I need to be kind to myself and show myself some of the grace I freely give to others. I may or may not be gay enough to do this work, but I certainly am me enough.


And that’s enough.


Here I am. I’m being me.


You’re tired of it, too.


As I was emerging from my shame storm, I sent an email to the awesome subscribers of The Loneliness Guy. In it, I shared my experience and I asked them to share their experience of not feeling gay enough with me for this post.


I received a few responses. And the responses spoke of others not feeling that they belonged, either.


Sentiments like:


  • not feeling welcome in gay spaces because they don’t fit the mould

  • being a gay Christian, but not feeling that they belong in either the gay community or in their faith community.

  • feeling not gay enough because they don’t own a house in Provincetown or Fire Island at their stage of life.

  • feeling a growing frustration that gay seems synonymous with ripped white men that excludes all others. As a result, they’re finding comfort and belonging in the term queer.

  • feeling not gay enough for preferring potluck dinners with friends to going to gay clubs.

  • feeling too gay because they don’t feel masculine enough.


It upsets me to hear that others do not feel that they belong in a community which espouses visibility, tolerance and acceptance of all because they feel that they don’t feel gay enough or feel too gay to be in those spaces.


There are a lot of reasons for this. An obvious and easy target is the media – social and traditional – we consume depicting and idolising narrow definitions of gayness. But the responsibility of what we allow to seep into our hearts and minds rests with us; you and me.


Like you, I’m guilty of allowing images and words to come into my mind and heart and give them a fertile place in which to take root and grow. Like you, I often give the most fertile land within me to those thoughts and feelings that tell me that I’m not good enough or that I’m too much or that I have no right to have my voice heard or presence noticed.

Loneliness is the harvest when I plant those hurtful, shame-based thoughts and feelings into the fertile soil.

My friend, I say this to you as much as I’m writing this to myself: you are worthy of love and belonging, right now, just as you are.


You are enough. I am enough.


You need to decide that anyone and anything that questions your enoughness deserves a place in your life. Feeling lonely or feeling connection depends on the decisions you make.


Questions for you:


  • Do you feel that you’re not gay enough too? How does this show up in your life?

  • Conversely, do you feel too gay? How does this show up in your life?

  • How does feeling not gay enough/too gay starve your connection and feed your loneliness?

  • Are you tired of feeling that you're not enough or too much and simply want to be you?

These have been my thoughts and experience. I’d love to know yours.


* * * * *


I’ll also having a coffee and a chat with you on this topic for the next episode of my podcast.

Please, join me from Thursday 1 December 2022 for Am I gay enough?



Loneliness is awful and it’s tempting to try to solve it or fix it yourself. Trying to do this defeats the purpose of loneliness: you’re meant to reach out for help. Please, reach out to your partner, a friend or someone in your orbit who you know is trying to put themselves into the world just like you are. That could be me through my mentoring services. That could be a therapist or a counsellor – including a crisis counsellor. That could be a coach. It could be a combination of all.


Be sure to check out my services page if you need help.


 

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Important notice: All views expressed above are my own/the authors and are intended to support, challenge and inspire gay men to consider the issue of loneliness and increase awareness of the need for authentic connection with themselves, with others and their communities as an antidote to chronic loneliness. They are not intended to, nor should they, replace the advice of a licensed helping professional. Please consult the Services page if you feel that you need the services of a licensed helping professional where you are in the world.

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