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'Sissies?' Gays are brave and tough as hell

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AP Photo/The Morning Journal, Paul M. Walsh
AP Photo/The Morning Journal, Paul M. Walsh


It has never made any sense to me that some people call gay men sissies. It’s nonsense. Spend a day in their company and you’ll realize they’re the bravest men you’ll ever meet.

Because they’ve had to be. Only drag queens are braver, frankly. I mean, if you want to know what real courage looks like, try walking from the East to the West Village in tight pink spandex and six inch heels.

I’m only half joking. When you’re gay there’s a list of life lessons that will temper you like Toledo steel, if you can survive them, and frankly not everyone can.

The first lesson is that you’re going to encounter prejudice. People are going to call you names right to your face, but more often behind your back, for most of your days.

You’ll quickly develop an instinct for who these people are, and considering how thoughtlessly they express themselves you’ll be much better off without them in your life anyway.

The second lesson of gay life is that sooner or later the world is going to break your heart. I know what you’re thinking, that no one escapes this, gay or straight.

Sadly that’s true.  But I have yet to meet a heterosexual who was disowned by his parents and dumped by his friends for telling them he liked girls.

Gay life is going to expose who your friends and enemies are with a rawness that will take some getting used to. Those same nice people who raised you can turn into ranting, Bible quoting fanatics overnight.

I’ve seen it happen. They can tuck you in one night and throw you out of the house the morning after. Call it the Linda Blair School of Parenting.

Your friends can suddenly grow shy of you and stop calling too. Instead of being the cool kid who made them laugh, you become a PR nightmare to be carefully stage managed before everyone starts wondering why you two were so close in the first place.

“If we don’t hang out anymore you’ll understand,” they’ll tell you. “I mean we’ve had great times and all, but…”

Lesson number three is that it’s going to cost you.

It would be one thing if all you had to contend with was bullies. But the fact is along with the bullies you’ll encounter state and federal laws that treat you like the second class citizen the laughing kids in the playground insisted you were.  Prejudice has a price tag.

Tax cuts, inheritance laws and benefits, medical bills, mortgages, international law, every type of spousal deduction get in your way all day every day.

Even now, when the Defense of Marriage Act has finally been consigned to an infamous grave and gay couples are finally being given about the same shot that everyone else gets, they are still contending with the accumulative cost of its destructive legacy.

Gay couples across the nation have decades of catching up to do.  You’re going to need courage to face into all of that.

Because you’re going to get your heart scalded. It happens all the time.

Gay teenagers make up a disproportionally large percentage of the number of homeless teens in the nation, statistics say. I’d say they also make up a large percentage of inexplicably dumped former best friends too.

Being Irish and from the north has always helped me find the inner fortitude I’ve needed, luckily.  The Irish, more than many, know a lot about the pitfalls in life that are just waiting to ensnare you.

Our ancestors knew about discrimination and what it can do to you too. When they came to America in the 19th century they were greeted not with handshakes but with contempt. They were lampooned as sub-human caricatures in the popular newspapers, or they were drafted as soon as they hit the dry dock in the Civil War.

Then they found themselves blamed for all of societies ills but not for its gains. That story sounds familiar to me.

They had escaped the floating coffin ship that was Ireland itself in the 1840s to come to a nation that would grind them to powder in the Five Points or on the Rail Roads or in the cannon’s roar.

Their lives were tough as hell. They were tough as hell. It amazing how quickly we forget what they went through.

I don’t forget because since coming to the U.S. I’ve really had the 19th century immigrant experience rather than the 21st.

I’ve seen my life and future debated in the newspapers for years.  I’ve seen people who have rights insist that I should never have any. I’ve heard the poisonous rhetoric of religious and political leaders and I’ve seen the violence it leads to. 

Most of all, I’ve discovered what it’s like to live trapped behind a glass wall waiting for it to break before my heart or spirit did. It was not a job for sissies.

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