My name is Mike Gillerman and I’m not a homophobe. There, I said it.
It's baffling to have to say that considering I’m a comedian who talks extensively about being gay on stage. Why would anyone think I’m afraid of other homosexuals? Yet the sentence “I’m not a homophobe” has passed through my lips so often, at this point it should be tattooed on the side of a penis. The irony is every time I've had to say it, I was defending myself from another gay person.
At some point back in the early 1980s, the elder council of homosexuals all got together to watch episodes of Dynasty and vote on what they classify as gay. Most of the criteria came from seasons 1 through 3 of Will & Grace — spooky, as the show wasn’t invented yet — with a bias toward “Jack & Karen.” They decided if you enjoy sports, dress in what makes you comfortable (not what’s in season) don’t enjoy going to gay bars (what’s not to love about a bunch of guys on their phones, leaning against the wall judging each other like they’re trying out for the next season of “Who Wants To Be A Jealous Bitch”) or a myriad of other arbitrary ideals that primarily involve the butt, then you don’t qualify. These were the rules.
The problem is, some gays didn’t get the memo. I myself don’t remember coming out to my parents only to hear a knock at the door from a representative for the gay community with a clipboard in hand. I can recall no conversation when I was given explicit rules on how I was to dress and act, and if I didn’t agree I had to sign on the X and hand in my prostate. That never happened. I’ve been out for 10 years and still await that knock. Yet every passing day I am discriminated against by the gay community.
“I don’t think you’re actually gay. I think you’re gay for pay and you do it for the laughs.”
Those are actual words uttered to me by the bartender of a very popular gay bar in the West Village right before I went up the other night. Words that burned me to my core, that made me realize — sorry Dan Savage — sometimes it doesn’t get better. At another show, where the audience was primarily gay, no less than four different guys came up afterward to ask if I was making it all up to connect with them. Their ignorance shows the bigger problem at hand. More and more, the discrimination homosexuals face is not from straight people who don’t understand, but from other gay people, who should know better.
Not only is this thought process outdated, it’s dangerous — if anyone truly is pretending to be gay just for the “beer and a burger” paycheck of being a stand-up comic, find a therapist immediately. Being an out gay male in stand-up has boosted no one’s career. There are no household names. I challenge you to name one. Go ahead, I’ll wait. Anyone who comes out on stage as a gay man risks losing work, alienating themselves from other comedians and the very real possibility of physical violence when doing shows in certain parts of the country. We also face much greater scrutiny from other gays who would rather drink themselves into a coma than relate to the real insecurities being discussed on stage.
The era of the gay stereotype is over. More and more, the landscape of sexuality is changing. We hear fewer stories about kids being kicked out of their homes for coming out and even fewer people seem to care if someone is gay. The climate of homosexuality has evolved to include everyone. The only ones not embracing it are homosexuals themselves.
I have sat by and watched as a culture that fosters rampant drug use and unprotected sex calls me and people like me “self-hating” — or even better, "homophobic," for pointing out the hypocrisy in it. At Pride parades, we showcase public nudity and untrue caricatures of homosexuality while demanding rights — and alienating the people we hope to persuade. All the while, gay men and women who choose to live their lives as individuals are bullied by people who call themselves a community. I can no longer sit and observe. The one place we should feel protected is around each other. Like the drag queens of Stonewall in 1969 the time has come for those of us who don’t fit the idea of what is/isn’t gay to stand up and scream we’re not gonna take it anymore. We are Twisted Sister and this is karaoke night.
“I’m here, I’m queer but on my terms, not yours.”
That’s the new slogan for people like me. I represent the thousands upon thousands of us who “happen to be gay.” Those of us who live our lives by what we enjoy, not by our sexuality. Who pick our friends based on their character and not whether we’d be OK “accidentally” sleeping with them on a drunken night. Who don’t have “no asians, blacks, latinos or any other race besides white” on our online profiles. Who enjoy our masculinity — or femininity if you’re a lesbian — enough to read as heterosexual on the street and couldn't care less how that’s perceived in any community. We are the people who are comfortable enough in ourselves to enjoy a Sunday at the game and a marathon of the Golden Girls and make no apologies for it.
The time has come for the GLBTQ — and every other letter we’ll eventually add to that acronym — to stand up and recognize that half the fun of being gay is that we don’t have to fit in. It’s OK to have straight, flaming gay, happen-to-be gay, Broadway queens, jocks, lipstick lesbians, bisexual, midgets, asians and every other classification as friends. Not wearing a rainbow flag doesn’t make you self hating or homophobic, it means you enjoy a more subdued color palette. And while everyone should have the right to marriage, it’s not a slap in the face to Cher if that’s not every gays’ top priority.
I like to think that more than making people laugh, a great stand up comic should challenge the ideals people hold. So I challenge you, stop judging what is and isn’t gay and just enjoy the freedom to be yourself. If not for you, then for the guy in the younger generation who still hasn’t gotten a knock at the door and really wants to keep his prostate.
My name is Mike Gillerman and I have sex with men. In the end, that’s all that really matters.
MIKE GILLERMAN is a comedian and writer in New York City. He's the creator of The Movin On Up Comedy Show in Harlem and a frequent guest on The Rocking Comedy Show radio program in Las Vegas.