Performing Rick circa 2004

I’ve always felt somewhat like an outsider in the gay community. My first forays to gay bars after turning 21 elicited two types of responses from men. Standing there (all five feet seven inches and 128 pounds of me) trying to seem like I belonged,  I’d either get a well-intentioned, but withering, “Smile honey, it can’t be that bad!” or a chickenhawk telling me what he wanted to “do to me.” Either way, I wound up feeling alternately invisible, pathetic, or puny.


With the creation of Rick at the age of 26, I unleashed a part of me that got to be all body, and not brain. Rick was impulsive, tough, and uncensored. He could stand his ground as a little guy.


It was amazing to go out with the energy of Rick, and have men’s responses to me transform. One could argue I was simply playing into the performance of white, muscled, masculinity, that is so pervasive in the American gay community as the ideal, and being socially rewarded for it.


But just as going out as Dina Brown felt like a very natural skin, so did being Rick. As Rick I felt like a “man” for the first time. I allowed myself to take up space in a room. Rick could stand or dance alone at a club, or be comfortable in silence, not having to assert his identity through words or humor. His mantra was a celebratory, “Fuck it.”


And in my early years of teaching, where I felt like my body disappeared in the classroom, and all I became was words and ideas in a button down shirt, it was exciting to live as Rick outside my day job. And those years of clubbing in Los Angeles and Berlin, were the closest I’ve felt to being part of a gay community.


My encounters in this version of gay “community” proved largely superficial and sexual. Interactions began to feel more like transactions. And so at a certain point, Rick began transacting.


In the end, I think it was Rick who nearly killed me. After years of living under the tyranny of my mind and the litany of self-abuse and self-medication I’d inflicted on my body, part of me thinks it was Rick who finally rebelled in the Berlin subway on July 25, 2005 and said, “Enough. Fuck it.”


In sobriety, Rick is still with me, but he’s more integrated into my daily life. Rick has as much place in my classroom as he does in the gym. I’ve found a more intuitive and fluid sense of what it is to be a gay man, which is as much about being Dina Brown as it is being Rick.


I still feel outside the gay community, though. Maybe this is because I’ve reduced the idea of a gay “community” to scenes of bars, circuit parties, and other public gatherings that seem to revolve around status, substance (ab)use, and playing the music loud enough to be able to safely avoid conversations of any depth. With this limited definition of community, and the performances required to “belong”  I leave myself seesawing between feeling “better than” and “less than”, never quite hitting the elusive balancing point of “a part of.”


Join the conversation: finding community

  • Is there such a thing as a “gay community?” Is it a neighborhood, an online space, an idea, a political stance? What does membership entail? What are the possibilities and limits of such community identification?
  • Regardless of your sexual orientation, what communities do you consider yourself to be a part of? What function do such affinities serve in your life?


Share your thoughts and comments in the “finding community” blog feed below, and I’ll keep posting mine as well.


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