In 20MALEGAYNYC, filmmaker Blake Pruitt offers us a peek into the minds of a group of gay New Yorkers in their early 20s. Pruitt, 19, had heard several gay men say in passing, "I hate gay guys," and wanted to explore why, in an age of unprecedented miracles in the courthouses of America, so many gay men find themselves deeply at odds with each other out on the streets. The film has just been accepted into the Johns Hopkins Film Festival.
First posted on Andrew Sullivan's Daily Beast blog in December 2012, the 10-minute-long compilation of video interviews has since inspired hundreds of impassioned comments on that blog and on websites like Advocate.com and NextMagazine.com.
Many of the responses take aim at the men's views on the desirability of masculinity and femininity among gay men. The interviews suggested that a masculine man is both the sexual prize and the personal ideal, while a feminine man is not only sexually unwanted but sometimes repulsive on a personal level.
One perplexed commenter rightfully noted that some of the interviewees embody the very same feminine qualities that they so despise in other men. Another commenter wrote, "They are all so insufferable and self-hating." A contrasting voice rebutted, "Those of you who are attacking these young men are only doing so because they are speaking truths that are painful to you because they are so real."
Indeed, there are many soundbites in 20MALEGAYNYC that we can roll our eyes at or brush off as culturally insignificant, but a closer look at Pruitt's film reveals a selection of seemingly ordinary men, each of whom is struggling to reconcile his beliefs about what makes a man lovable with the reality of the man looking back at him in the mirror.
This struggle is not uncommon; many gay men find their own qualities, perhaps apparent to everyone else but them, extremely discomfiting in other gay men. We slither in embarrassment for them or laugh uneasily and toss snide remarks. Comments about 20MALEGAYNYC are full of this type of response, belying a self-righteous anger that simply does not coexist with self-awareness.
A self-aware man instead asks himself this challenging question and affords himself the compassion to answer truthfully: "What qualities do I find upsetting in other gay men, and do they reside in me?"
Author Simon Peter Fuller wrote, "What angers us in another person is more often than not an unhealed aspect of ourselves. If we had already resolved that particular issue, we would not be irritated by its reflection back to us."
Often, a quality in someone else that provokes a deep, visceral reaction has been within us all along, yet we choose to blame them rather than admit that they've simply reminded us of our own dark thoughts.
The saving grace of this "mirror" perspective is that the qualities we so admire and desperately seek out in others have also been within us all along. The sexiness, the strength, the confidence. They reveal themselves when we dance to our favorite music when no one is watching or think about being stars at our dream jobs. In exhilarating moments like these we feel what it would be like to unleash the fullest possible version of ourselves.
We are quick to disconnect from such images of glory, rejecting them as fantasy or narcissism. We ask ourselves, "Who am I to be sexy, strong and deeply at peace with myself?" Looking at our mental list called "Things About Me That I Need to Change Before I Can Be Happy," we conclude that because of what we have done or have not done, we are unworthy of the power that owning our sexiness, strength and confidence would bring us. We have the fabulous qualities; we would just rather that someone else own them for us. This is how many gay relationships begin. And it's how many end; we may ultimately feel unworthy even to be loved by someone who has the power we want for ourselves, so one way or another, we unconsciously drive it out of our lives.
But it is not narcissistic or arrogant to think that you deserve an amazing life. It is humble. The evolutionary impulse of the universe effortlessly turns an acorn into an oak tree. It does the same thing with a zygote, turning it into a fully functioning adult human. And this evolutionary impulse wants to do the same thing with the circumstances of your life: grow and expand them to their highest potential. We need only get out of the way and allow the universe to do its job. When we truly forgive ourselves, we automatically release the judgment we have held toward others and humbly accept our rightful destiny as sexy, strong, powerful children of the universe.
Of course, these life lessons apply to all human relationships, but a gay man is on a spiritual fast-track to learn them, or at least he can choose to see it that way. His primary relationship is with himself, and all others are mirrors of it. An honest investigation of what irritates him about or attracts him to another gay man can hasten his own quest for personal power and authenticity.
The miraculous shift in perspective that begins to evolve your life is going from saying, "I totally hate that guy," to asking, "What is he showing me about myself?"