A few weeks ago in Berlin, I picked up Sheryl Sandberg’s Lean In: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead. I had read both chauvinists’ rebukes of the Facebook COO’s success and feminists’ articles decrying Sandberg for criticizing women’s lacking ambition instead of the establishment. The book seemed unrelated to my life—I’m a dude with no plans to join a boardroom—but the title sounded like a mom’s attempt to create a dance craze like “The Harlem Shake.” I flipped to a random page for a laugh, but the paragraph I read made me introspective, not snarky. Sandberg writes:
“Because it is harder for young women to find mentors and sponsors, they are taking a more active role in seeking them out. And while normally I applaud assertive behavior, this energy is sometimes misdirected. No matter how crucial these connections are, they probably won’t develop from asking a virtual stranger, “Will you be my mentor?” The strongest relationships spring out of a real and often earned connection felt by both sides.”
Although I have several long-term mentors (one who I even discuss familial matters with), but I can think of two professional relationships I blew because I asked the individuals for more than I should have. I underwent a traumatic childhood, and for a period of time tried to fill the hole in my heart with professional relationships—my profession being tweeting and oversharing about my personal life didn’t help the matter. I’ve learned from my mistakes, and now understand the difference between an email to a writer I admire and an email to a girlfriend, but if I read Sandberg’s advice a few years earlier, some bridges might still stand.
Sandberg works in Silicon Valley and wears Margret Thatcher type dresses to Facebook press conferences, but her advice seemed applicable for a young kid navigating New York media. I bought the book and finished it this week. Over a mere 168 pages, she offers advice and analyzes the forces the internal forces that hinder women’s careers. Using statistical data, she raises several problems: women’s fear to ask for equal compensation, the difficult balance of remaining likable while acting like a boss, and, most of all, women’s fear of ambition. These are the same forces that hinder young gay males.
Okay. Gay males will never produce breast men, but our sexuality shatters societal ideas. Although Modern Family and The New Normal act like homos sit around like pleasant one-man charities raising orphans, trying to live that hetero life, we actually participate in sexual activities that serve no biological purpose—fucking buttholes is just for pleasure. Just because Time Magazine claims America supports gay marriage, that doesn’t mean America supports non-conformist sexual practices. We continue to live in a rape culture; the world still sees sodomites as unwilling to stand up for them—the same false image society has assigned to women for millenniums. Our sexuality is the opposite of mainstream.
We have more gay role models today than ever, but these are models are Neil Patrick Harris hosting the Tony Awards, which is great and all, but nothing about Neil Patrick Harris or the Tony’s screams powerful—why do you think Anderson Cooper stayed in the closet for so long? Institutional forces create this problem—but we gays contribute to these problems every day. Well, maybe you don’t. But I know I do.
I’ve been out since I was fourteen. In high school, I wore eye liner to PF Changs and flaunted my sexuality, but, the first week I worked in the office, as a young man, I acted like Modern Family when I was Closer to the Knives. In the office I sat there like a quiet faggot—waiting. I wanted to approach my boss, but, despite my ambition, the thought made me anxious. My first Friday, bored out of my mind, I faced my fear. I asked my boss for a harder assignment. She gave me one—and continued to give me them.
From then on, I have never let my ambition waver. I want a career, and I’m not going to let a little anxiety stop me. For this mindset, I have paid a social price. Peers—both gay and straight—have called me a careerist and my articles’ sociopathic. This reaction confused me. Who the heck moves to New York without being a careerist? Why was I a sociopath and straight writers brave for oversharing?
Lean In made everything make sense. Somewhere along the way, I absorbed what society told me about gays—that we are only acceptable when we’re quiet push overs who adopt Asian babies—and presented that to my bosses. Now that I stand up for myself, betraying society’s vision of the quiet homosexual, I’m labeled a sociopathic bitch.
I don’t want to ruin the surprises, but Lean In offers advice to combat these negative forces. Gays have miles to go before reaching equality—and Lean In lacks the answers to those obstacles. But the book provides young gays with tools to overcome the personal flaws society has bestowed upon us.
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