Thank God I’m gay – why I proudly let my sexuality shape me

If there was a pill to make you straight, would you take it? This was the question my friend and I pondered recently over a lukewarm soy white mocha.

It was confronting to consider and I nearly choked on my drink’s tepid foam. Straight Gary would never do that, I thought. He’d drink an espresso, no sugar. Down in one. He wouldn’t even wait for it to cool down.

I almost feel ashamed to admit it, but there was a time I absolutely would’ve taken that pill to become Straight Gary. Probably even as late as my early 20s and I’m 37 now.

But that shame doesn’t belong to me; it belongs to British society. It belongs, specifically, to every politician who voted for Section 28, the law that made it illegal to ‘promote homosexuality’ in schools like the one I attended. Homophobia festered. It convinced me I had some horrible disease.

Not anymore; I absolutely wouldn’t take that pill today. My friend, sadly, said he would. Even now. It shows how far there is to go.

Many gay people – myself included – say that being a homosexual is just part of who we are; it doesn’t wholly define us as fully rounded people.

In fact, we can get annoyed when someone diminishes us to our sexual orientation. ‘I love gay men’, they’ll gush. ‘They’re all so lovely and fabulous’. My eyes have barely finished rolling before I offer to introduce them to far-right political commentator Milo Yiannopoulos.

They’re absolutely not all lovely. They’re as complex and flawed and diverse as any of us. This much should be obvious by now.

Defining us by our gayness alone can feel reductive and dated. And a bit irritating, if well-intentioned. We’re more than our sexual orientation. It doesn’t define us.

But the question ‘who would you be if you were straight?’ has forced me to revise this.

If I was straight, my core values would not be the same

Being gay is far more than who I sleep with. It influences how I vote, my lack of religion, where I socialise, my attitude towards women, where I’ll work, my outlook and views, the music, icons, culture, films, books and art that speak to me.

In this way, being gay doesn’t define me but it certainly shapes how I live my life.

I was culturally gay before I was sexually gay. I remember mum allowing me two illegally copied £2.99 cassettes down Strood market. I chose: Diana Ross and Gloria Estefan. I was nine. And a lifelong addiction to VH1 Divas Live was born.

Of course, not all gays love Cher (she’s such a survivor though!) and the wrestle over gay culture’s camp stereotypes can be problematic for some. But being gay goes beyond culture too.

If I was straight, my core values would not be the same. It was surprising to me, but I concede that I’d be an entirely different person, society’s structures still being as they are.

I don’t know who he is and I don’t want to know. It has amplified my gratitude for being gay and all the qualities I believe that has gifted me with: drag queen wit, humour, and resilience. I vote based on empathy and compassion.

I hate to think that Straight Gary would vote from a place of self-interest but how can I be sure white male privilege wouldn’t take hold?

The fact I even ask myself this question – you can bet your last pork scratching straight men don’t ask who they’d be if they were gay – shows how powerful the messages of assimilation were, which I absorbed growing up under Section 28.

But that difficult ‘what if’ question arises occasionally. At least we have Cher’s Song For the Lonely to soothe us.

Screw Straight Gary, I’d much rather remain a lukewarm soy white mocha drinker. Espresso just tastes bitter.

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