When I first came out, I wasn’t expecting to discuss attractive guys as much as I did. I knew I would, and the thought felt exciting. Expressing my attractions felt like placing the final piece to my identity puzzle. What struck me as odd, though, was how consistently attractive guys were brought to my attention. This piece framed my identity instead of fitting into my identity’s frame. My girl friends always pointed out attractive guys — whether it was the cute guy across the street or the actor on TV. I couldn’t understand why I was given such acute attention to anything male and attractive. Even more puzzling became my frequent exclamations about cute boys. These comments felt subconscious, yet I sensed this spotlighting enough to realize I didn’t understand it.

Michael Schramm

I now understand this phenomenon’s root: oversexualizing the LGBTQ community. Though our entire culture is sexualized, the gay community carries a heightened sexual sense where members are defined by their sexuality. Since orientations outside heterosexual are minorities, we emphasize those members’ personalities as linked to their sexuality. For example, if you’re interacting with a lesbian and a straight woman, the straight woman’s orientation wouldn’t induce much thought. You’re desensitized to her sexuality since it’s common. But being a lesbian is more uncommon, and therefore, you’ll more likely highlight her sexual orientation in constructing your perception of her identity. This means that you’ll more likely associate “gay” with “sex,” and — because sexuality connects with romance — this also implies a tendency to associate LGBTQ members with anything romantic.

These perceptions create stereotypes seen in the media. A recent study examined the degree of sexual material in DNA and Instinct, magazines targeted towards gay males. The study found that 47 percent of advertisements focused on selling materials of an explicitly sexual nature, including underwear, male enhancement materials, pornographic DVDs and lubricant. This 47 percent didn’t include car, clothing and alcohol advertisements, which commonly use sex to sell. Of course, sexual content runs rampant through the media, but I highly doubt half of “Men’s Health” contains advertisements for penis pumps, condoms and porn.

These stereotypes also leak into health fields. Sexually transmitted infections and other sex-related topics represent most commonly discussed LGBTQ topics in medical school, but many members suffer from other issues. LGBTQ youth are five times more prone to homelessness, three times more prone to suicidality and twice as prone to depression — yet medical school, which spends, on average, five hours covering LGBTQ issues, rarely covers these topics. This creates serious consequences. Though doctors may know about STI risk, they aren’t aware of potential psychological dangers to LGBTQ members. They may be educated on suicide and depression, but they don’t understand their impact on LBGTQ members. How is that fair? This isn’t doctors’ faults. They don’t select the medical school curriculum, but nevertheless, these issues are dangerous and require education.

Such stigmas also create social ramifications. In my experience, gays and lesbians talk about their relationships and sex lives more than heterosexuals. If this talk occurred among only specific individuals, I wouldn’t be concerned, but I see this happening consistently. I even see it within myself.

Though it’s important to embrace sexuality, we shouldn’t feel restrictedly bound to them. Instead, like any heterosexual, we should feel encouraged to decide how much we incorporate our sexuality into our personalities. The problem is that my sexuality presses me into being the “gay guy,” and I believe lesbians and transgenders feel the same way. This can cause a slippery slope leading to complications.

By pressuring LGBTQ members to fulfill sexually based stereotypes, we inadvertently pressure them into fulfilling other stereotypes — i.e. feminine gays and butch lesbians. Now, there’s absolutely nothing wrong with being a feminine gay or masculine lesbian if that’s truly who you are. What concerns me is that feminine guys and masculine girls feel driven to these personalities based on fulfilling a sexuality-based stereotype.

The truth is that my sexuality — and the sexuality of many other LGBTQ members — is no more important than a straight person’s. On most occasions, I’d rather discuss “Twitch Plays Pokemon” over some guy’s biceps. But that doesn’t mean every member does. Some, just like straight people, frequently gossip about relationships, hookups and bodies. We each favor hookups or relationships based on our personalities. How often we think about sex depends on who we are as individuals.

Most importantly, we, or at least I, want to choose how much we define ourselves by our attractions. Sexuality’s purpose is providing clarification about who we are as people. By flipping this concept and instead defining someone by their sexuality, you’re not only enforcing stereotypes, you’re overlooking the purpose of sexuality.

Michael Schramm can be reached at mschramm@umich.edu.

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