Being Cheated on Showed Me the Toxic Masculinity Within the Gay Community

I was a feminine boy in a school dominated by the worst kind of masculinity, and repression became my go-to coping mechanism. Perhaps the best representation of this is my experience of coming to terms with my sexuality.

I’d repressed so much of myself that I was barely a fully functional human when it came to my emotions. It wasn’t until I met a boy who opened my eyes to something I didn’t actually know existed – myself – that I got comfortable with my emotions.

Most queer people agree that the internet is where we first found out about the queer community, but he was the first person I ever knew in real life who identified on the spectrum. This interaction was the first time I realised that there were other gay people in social circles not so far away from my own. This boy made me feel so amazingly confident in myself that I came out to someone within a couple weeks of meeting him.

We didn’t only come out to ourselves, we watched each other come out to friends, and accepted that our love was something that demanded to be cherished. A couple months, two adrenaline-powered ‘I love you’s’ and a first kiss under a table later, we were together in something that felt like it would last forever.

It’s only now that I understand how skewed the power dynamic was. He would go on power trips, gloat about how he could ruin lives. He knew I was blindly high on my first love, but he was more experienced. He knew which words would throw me into bouts of anxiety, and when he could use them to his advantage.

We inadvertently became the token gay people within our circles – representatives of a community we didn’t know much about and hadn’t fully immersed ourselves in yet. As the ‘gay best friend’ for so many female friends, I was used to this tokenisation. It was the first inkling I had of the fetishisation of the queer community.

My boyfriend moved to another city a couple months into our relationship, and that’s when it all went downhill. Despite the light I’ve painted him in, I know there was a part of him that cared for me as he could tell I was becoming a shell of myself without him. This was maybe the largest indication of my dependence on him. I was repeatedly questioning my decision to attempt a long distance relationship when it clearly wasn’t working.

The final nail in the coffin was a late night call when he said, “I can’t do this anymore. Something happened, I kissed __”. I was in shock, or rather passive disbelief, as I said, “It’s okay, mistakes happen, let’s give it another shot.” I know now that mistakes don’t happen on one drink and cigarettes, and they don’t last for as long as this one did. It took a few days, supportive friendships and alcohol for it to actually sink in: I had been cheated on.

I ultimately ended things a week later, coming out of it feeling like our friendship could survive. We both knew it was the right step to take. But then, a phone call from a friend revealed a whole other secret. “A friend told me about a boy who was unhappy in his relationship and wanted to end it, and so he cheated on his boyfriend but still wasn’t being broken up with.”

By now, we were deeply immersed in the community, and I knew how small it was and how fast word travelled. I was hearing stories of how quickly he’d moved on, without knowing if they were true or not. But I did learn that my relationship was far less monogamous than I was led to believe.

As I developed more friendships within the community, I understood I couldn’t trust everything people were telling me. I realised that he succumbed to the attention he was receiving, and the cheating was intentional. Men were sliding into my DM’s too, but they were most likely attempts to take advantage of me. Entering the community was exciting, and thanks to our, admittedly, highly-public social media profiles, we were often looked at as ‘fresh meat’.

Within the community, the lack of sensitivity towards newly-out men is shocking and scary. Screenshots from Tinder and Grindr are shared regularly, and discussions on deflowering new entries are common.

Coming out is never easy; it’s a deeply nerve-wracking and emotional process. You don’t know how the person on the other side is going to react and you internalise discrimination and homophobia on a regular basis. Given how many people go through this mental exhaustion, I don’t understand the lack of empathy in the community, especially one that’s often seen as liberal and warm. To feel that you’re being taken advantage of by the very people who you thought would accept you – when you feared no one would – is a harsh and disconcerting reality.

I don’t mean to drag the entire community; it’s not all bad. I’ve found and lost love again within it, made irreplaceable friendships and gained the confidence to take charge of my queer expression. I’ve realised the power of my sexuality – and the responsibility I bear to challenge the fetishisation we face every day. The way I interact with or behave around people, who are only just learning about the multiplicity of sexual identities, shapes their impression of the queer community as a whole. This is why watching other people taking advantage of our minority status makes my blood boil.

Being cheated on made me realise that there’s quicksand in the most unexpected of forests. It also taught me what love is and how powerful it can be. I realise now that my actions are looked at through a microscope, and the way I emotionally and sexually express myself can influence new people within this community. It can reinforce the fact that there’s immense power in saying ‘no’, of shaping how we look at and understand consent, while we navigate a community that’s isn’t exempt from its own version of toxic masculinity.

The author has chosen to remain anonymous.