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Friday, February 1, 2013

Straight Guys More Depressed and Stressed Than Out Gay and Bi Guys

Posted by Dan Savage on Fri, Feb 1, 2013 at 9:44 AM

The study everyone is talking about:

Researchers at Louis H Lafontaine Hospital, affiliated with the University of Montreal, tested the levels of cortisol—a stress hormone—and other indicators of strain in homosexuals, bisexuals and heterosexuals. "Contrary to our expectations, gay and bisexual men had lower depressive symptoms and allostatic load levels (a measure of body stress) than heterosexual men," lead author Robert-Paul Juster said.

The study also found that gay, lesbian, and bisexual individuals who were out to friends and family had lower levels of cortisol—the stress hormone—compared to gay, lesbian, and bisexual individuals who weren't out to friends and family. But it's the "gay and bi guys are less stressed out than straight guys" finding that people are latching on to. Stephen Colbert says the answer is obvious: gay guys don't have to deal with women, and bitches be all crazy and shit. (But what about bi guys, Stephen?) Andrew Sullivan linked to Joseph Stromberg's analysis of the study: being out isn't just a matter of integrity or dignity, but of public health. Encourage gay and bi men to be out—instead of doing the opposite—and their stress levels will drop, improving their mental and physical health.

But no one is talking about why cortisol levels are higher in straight guys and what can be done to bring their levels of cortisol down to gay/bi levels. Shouldn't the mental and physical health of straight guys matter just as much?

So, hey, maybe all straight guys come out as gay or bi—would that help?

Let's find out... after the jump.

Probably not. Performance anxiety alone—fear o' the dick—would be enough to send most straight guys' cortisol levels skyrocketing. No, what straight guys most likely need is something we out gay and bi guys have: a sense of security in our sexual identities and the sense of freedom that comes along with it.

While some folks—cough, cough—do sometimes question the professed sexual identities of some individual bi-identified guys, no one ever thinks an out bisexual guy is secretly straight. And no one scrutinizes out gay dudes for signs that they might not really be gay. Gay guys can be drag queens and/or leather guys (or both over one long weekend), we can be twinks or bears (or both at different stages in our lives), we can be musical-theater queens or heavy-metal fans (or both—wait, no, not both, never both). So long as you're into dudes and out about it, no one wonders if you might be secretly straight. A guy who comes out as queer is consequently free to do pretty much whatever and whoever he wants. He can be as butch or femme as he wants to be. Are you interested in stereotypically gay things like fashion, art, and musicals? Go for it, cocksucker. Are you interested in stereotypically straight things like football, baseball, and basketball? Go for it, cocksucker. You're free.

Straight guys aren't nearly as free—sexually speaking, I mean. Yes, yes: Straight guys run the world, the bastards, but when it comes to sexual identity, straight guys are pretty screwed. And this is because male straightness is defined by two negatives: To be a straight guy means (1) not being a girl and (2) not being a fag.

I don't know any gay guys who worry that people don't think they're gay. But I get letters every day from straight guys who are not only worried that people might not think they're straight, they themselves are worried that they're not straight. While gay and bi guys are free to do whatever girly or faggy shit we wanna do (look at the picture they used for story in the Telegraph!), straight guys are not allowed to do girly or faggy shit. And when a straight guy does something girly or faggy—or gets caught doing something girly or faggy—his sexuality is called into question. Did you have a feeling? You must be a fag. Did you attend a Broadway show? You must be a fag. Did you use a butt plug and like it? You must be a fag.

This isn't just something that straight guys do to themselves and each other: My Savage Love inbox overflows with letters from girls convinced their boyfriends are gay because their boyfriends like having their nipples played with or their boyfriends cross-dress or their boyfriends enjoy anal play. (I get letters every day from straight girls who are worried that their boyfriends are gay because their boyfriends want to fuck them in the ass!) It doesn't matter how crazy their boyfriends are about them or how much time their boyfriends spend facedown in their pussies. Just one girly and/or faggy interest—even an interest in anal sex—is enough to call a guy's heterosexuality into doubt.

It's nuts.

And you know what? I bet it's pretty fucking stressful, too—no, wait. I know it's stressful. I spent a few years trying to pass for straight. I policed my voice, my mannerisms, and my interests because I didn't want anyone to think I was gay. If it got out that I spent the weekend memorizing every song in Camelot or reading Pride and Prejudice and having a good cry at the end, no one would think I was straight. I wasn't straight, of course, and after I came out, I stopped having to worry about passing for straight. It was a big relief.

Straight guys, on the other hand, never get to stop worrying about passing for straight. And it's not even enough to be a straight man. A straight guy has to worry about being the right kind of man—a manly man, a "real man." Gay guys don't waste a lot of time worrying about whether people will think we're "real men." We had to get past that particular hangup before we could come out as gay. But straight guys know they're constantly being scrutinized for evidence of gayness or not-real-man-ness—by themselves, by each other, by their girlfriends and wives—and that scrutiny can make a guy paranoid and insecure. I mean, judging from my mail, constantly having to worry about whether you pass for straight is really fucking stressful.

It might be enough to make a guy's cortisol levels spike.

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