Ears ringing. Head spinning. The sound of metal clanging together is all that I can hear in the background. The smell of sweat and cheap deodorant, which I am fairly sure is either Old Spice or Axe, is saturated in the air. On that note, I’m still baffled by the fact that these multi-million dollar companies are still able to trick teenagers into thinking that these products will increase their sexual appeal. My head feels it’s literally going to deflate and I’m unsure how much my being can endure. This, unfortunately, is me every time I am at the gym. “Don’t be such housewife!” retorts “Mark”; I can’t help but roll my eyes at him and at his rather condescending and sexist comment. “Don’t be such a frat boy!”, I respond.
Retrospectively, my comment was not far from the truth. Though Mark wasn’t in a fraternity, he did fit a lot of the stereotypes associated with being in a fraternity. He’s 6’4’, Caucasian, comes from considerable wealth, drives around a Mercedes Cabriolet, gets invited to a considerable number of rather exclusive parties, and, of course, has the appearance of an Abercrombie and Fitch model. Although I am a big advocate of intellectual worth and the pursuit of knowledge, Mark’s physique, especially his six-pack and his pectorals, is really quite the eye-candy-not to mention the panty dropper. Aside the potential comedy value, there were quite a few times were I had frank conversations with Mark about girls reaching into his pants at parties while he was quite intoxicated.
I actually frequently laugh at the friendship that I have with Mark because of how different we are as individuals. I’m this overly jaded and somewhat cynical undergraduate pre-med student who can’t stop stressing out about grades and the impending apocalypse that is the MCAT. Meanwhile Mark is this bravado, confident, amazingly attractive guy who subscribes into the philosophy of “if it feels good, then do it”. Actually, please don’t buy into that; it’s a rather self-destructive life outlook that does not take into consideration potential repercussions that one’s actions may have- protective maternal rant over. I can’t describe how our friendship works, but I can definitely say that we have some sort of complementarianism; I make sure he doesn’t annihilate himself with his reckless behavior and he makes sure I don’t turn into a sociopathic killer from all of the acridness that I feel from being a pre-med. Sweet and sour is the jaded analogy that I think is the most suitable.
Despite his stereotypical frat-boy demeanor and my rather superficial and objectifying analysis, I was rather floored upon learning something about Mark that had never occurred to me. If I recall correctly- don’t aspire to go to medical school because it will severely mess you up- Mark and I were frantically studying in the library for our organic chemistry midterm which we were beyond unprepared for. I had way too much coffee that day and was going to the bathroom every 5 minutes. As I am leaving the bathroom for the fifth time and about to go into a burst into tears because of the fact that I could not comprehend nuclear magnetic resonance, I noticed that Mark had left our table with all of his notes still there.
After what had felt like 30 minutes later, Mark was still gone and I started to worry about the fact he might have went to go jump out the window or something. So, like any reasonable person would do, I went to go look for the guy. Having searched the library twice over three different floors, I was just about to give up and start crying. As I’m about to head back to my desk and possibly go curl into the fetal position, I noticed Mark’s cologne- the one’s that cost $500 and smell repulsive- and some kissing noises in a nearby corner. Stupid frat boy, I think; I can’t believe he’s trying to get laid two days before our organic chemistry midterm. On the grounds that I was delirious from sleep deprivation and a constantly creeping sense of stress, I decided to call Mark out and start telling him about my harrowing episode of frantically searching for him. My face instantly blushed when I saw Mark pin another equally gorgeous guy against a bookshelf as they were making out. I left immediately turned around and headed back to my desk, relieved, but also shocked and felt incredibly cynical. At least I can say both Mark and I got A’s on that dreaded midterm.
I’ve known Mark ever since freshmen-year of college; we’ve been through emotional highs and lows; we were friends who would share virtually all of our qualms, doubts, and concerns. Having said that, it was quite the shock for me to find out that Mark wasn’t as heterosexual as I had adamantly labeled him I was. He eventually told me that he identified as homosexual the year before he entered college and became friends. I found it oddly charming when he told me that he was “versatile” in the fact that his “bunk preferences” depended on what every the other guy liked- guess he wasn’t as egotistical or self-inflating as I once thought he was. But beneath my encouragement and undivided support for Mark, I began to internally berate myself for being so inflexible and jaded in how I saw the world.
As an avid LGBTQ supporter, I was very frustrated at myself in terms of how my prejudices and stereotypes affected the way I saw LGBTQ people. Having flashbacks back from my intro sociology professor and his various lectures on social theories, I had completely forgotten that sexual orientation is concealable and virtually impossible to determine just my mere superficial details. I was not as tolerant and accepting as I initially thought I was. Mark’s incident reminded me, again, that sexual identity is merely one component in the grand scheme of one’s sense of self. If individuals, let alone the rest of society, keep on holding onto the stereotypical “flamboyant gay guy” or the “motor cycle butch lesbian, we’ve ultimately defeated the idea of equality. In the manner I’m talking about equality, when heterosexual people talk about their sexual lives, no one even bothers to entertain a second-sober thought. Conversely, when a very virile and attractive man or a feminine and stunning woman brings up the topic that they are attracted to the same sex, we act surprised or even dismayed. Whoever one chooses to sleep with at night, is only one component of that individual. Why was I shocked that Mark was homosexual? It was because of the fact that my stereotypes and superficiality were obscuring my notions and understandings of human sexuality.
Upon more introspection about my thought process, I do realize that I have some flaws with my thinking. We stereotype because we don’t know. We depend on stereotypes as a cognitive guide in situations we are not familiar with. Not all of us are friends or even know LGBTQ people. Arguably so, much of our understanding of the LGBTQ community comes from popular culture that may or may not be correct on certain LGBTQ concerns. I laugh at the lack of understanding when I hear some say “I don’t understand why LGBTQ rights are such a big issue! They only make up 3% of the U.S’ population and potentially even less within the world.” The biggest reason as to why there are so few LGBTQ people in the world can arguably be attributed to the fact that there are still stigmas, taboos, and harsh prejudice associated with not identifying as 100% heterosexual.
People are still scared to go against rigid and outdated societal conceptions of sexuality and I applaud those who do have the bravery to risk their livelihoods by living in terms of who they are. Incessantly we are told that not being heterosexual is the worst thing that could ever happen to a person. Incessantly opponents of LGBTQ equality argue that non-heterosexuality is destroying the fabric of society. Arguments such as “God hates fags”, “there’s no such thing as being bisexual”, “how can you not like sex”, or “just choose a gender!” are continuously forced down the minds of people, regardless of the potential degradation to humanity and decency which those words may have. Despite all of the work that has been done in terms of LGBTQ rights, there is still work yet to be done. Society still bears the overwhelming responsibility of educating the public that sexuality is only one component of a person and is not necessarily central in one’s identity. Society still needs to overcome the seeds of intolerance and prejudice against the LGBTQ community that has been sewn into it.
Maybe I’m overthinking this. After all, what role is one voice from a bitter pre-medical student going to play in the grand picture of LGTBQ equality? Most likely, it won’t. But, I guess the only bit of optimism I have in this rather convoluted story about stereotyping, is the fact that another person’s perspective on LGBTQ equality has been changed for the better. Not only has my perspectives on LGBTQ people changed, but its evolved into a way that forces me to think more critically in instances where I have doubts about my perception of human sexuality. Just maybe, if more and more people gradually have these epiphanies, then, just maybe, will there be a chance that more progress in terms of human rights can be made possible. However, that’s just me dreaming. Let’s just hope that Mark and I’s organic chemistry final doesn’t destroy the last vestiges of my optimism.