It seems to be a social norm, everyone has their own pigeonhole, everyone fits into a specific category in life. We categorize, pigeonhole people from the moment we first meet them, often before any personal contact takes place, and do it without asking them, or ourselves, whether such a strict ordering actually fits each case, each individual person. And within the accepted categories are hundreds if not thousands of sub-categories which help us define a person, place them on a social ladder, in a hierarchy of our own invention. The widely used term Gay is one category used to cover a wide range of different people as well as some actions or events. It is not unusual to hear people using the word gay to define something which has happened, which is unusual or even unacceptable.
The term Gay, initially used to signify happiness or an event which was bright and full of enjoyment, is now a definition for the sexuality of a person. Someone who is gay is a homosexual and has a sexual preference for members of the same sex. Within the terms homosexual and gay there are various sub-categories – such as but not limited to lesbian and bisexual – as well as an acceptance that the word gay predominantly refers to male homosexuals. Terms and categories, however well defined, do not describe an individual in anything more than a shallow sense, in the same way as saying someone is an office worker does not describe what they do or who they are in anything more than general terms. The category given covers many aspects, but not the person themselves.
Ask any person with heterosexual preferences what it feels like to prefer members of the opposite sex and the answer will invariable be: absolutely normal. As a society we consider this explanation perfectly acceptable: a heterosexual person is a normal person with everything that goes with it. Is a gay person, whether male or female, any different?
For most gay people, those who have come to accept their sexuality despite the norms set by society, being gay is also absolutely normal, something inherent within their character, a biological fact of life. It is not something they have consciously decided to become, nor is it forced upon them – as with heterosexuality – by elements of society or by social customs. They lead a normal, everyday life, both working and leisure, as does everyone else with few exceptions; rather than watching women go by, as a man, they look at and feel attracted to other men and, as a woman, other women. The feelings and experiences are, generally, exactly the same as anyone else who calls themselves normal.
There are, however, certain differences. As a gay person there is often a perceived need to hide their true sexuality behind a heterosexual facade, to portray a personality and sexual inclination at odds with reality. This is a social need more than anything else, a need for secrecy forced by social standards, by social and business acceptance. It begins at an early age with the fear that Coming Out – the public revelation of sexual preference – will cause family, friends and work colleagues to turn away from them, to abandon them or to place them in such an awkward position that further friendship, a continuation within a work environment, is no longer possible. There is the feelings that being gay is something unusual, unacceptable, not quite right imposed by society. It is felt that many heterosexual people fear gays, are scared of the differences, of the sexual preference, as if a homosexual is likely to jump them at any time or demand sexual favors, and this belief is enhanced by those heterosexuals who turn against homosexuals, who insist that they feel as if someone of the same sex is mentally undressing them each time they meet. The fact that heterosexuals can also cause fear in the opposite sex through undesired overtures is generally written off as being part and parcel of a normal, healthy life, a socially acceptable state of affairs and such inclinations no reason for anyone to fear anyone else. A heterosexual man mentally undressing a woman is considerably more acceptable to society than a gay man checking out another male.
Being gay also brings a certain level of insecurity with it, a fear of violence from those who cannot accept another person for what they are or who, despite our enlightened times, still insist that homosexuality is against a religious norm, against a set of religious writings or a personal religious belief. It is unlikely that any news source will ever bring a headline claiming a sexually motivated attack against a person because they are heterosexual. There is a fear of persecution in the workplace, especially for lesbians who refuse or refute the advances of men, and the destruction of their good name, their reputation right through to the loss of their jobs and work or social position.
So, what does it feel like to be gay? Despite everything written above, despite all the pressures and demands of society, despite all the personal worries and fears, it feels and is absolutely normal.