Untamed — Glennon Doyle Inspiring My Gay Heart

“Girls and women sense this. We want to be liked. We want to be trusted. So we downplay our strengths to avoid threatening anyone and invoking disdain. We do not mention our accomplishments. We do not accept compliments. We temper, qualify, and discount our opinions. We walk without swagger and we yield incessantly. We step out of the way. We say, I feel like instead of ‘I know.’ We ask if our ideas make sense instead of assuming they do. We apologize for… everything.

Glennon Doyle, Untamed

Glennon’s newest book is a powerful invocation for women to untame themselves from their socialized ways of being, ways of being that have kept them caged and muted. She challenges, inspires, and instigates the feminine spirit to soar and dance and shout without apology.

So why am I writing about it as a cis man?

Well first off, if men can’t read books written for women, we’re quite pathetic in relation to our female counterparts who have been reading books written for male audiences since the dawn of time, the Bible being the most classic example where women have had to cling to the few stories about women or project themselves into male characters.

But beyond the simple reality that a book written for women has so much to offer men, I think the reason I’m reading this book and why I can’t put it down is that she articulates things that I, as a gay man, have felt so deeply.

While it is obviously not every gay man’s experience, and it would be wrong to conflate a woman’s experience with a gay man’s, there are so many instances in Untamed where I feel like Glennon had somehow stepped into my bones, had someone put on my skin, the aforementioned quote being just one of many instances that shook me to my core.

Growing up, I felt like I needed to apologize for my existence because it felt like me simply being me was somehow a mistake; therefore, everything I did was also a mistake. I was a burden to everyone, and I needed to do my best to lighten their load.

With every engagement, I was looking out for the straight boys’ feelings, making sure they didn’t feel uncomfortable around me. “Don’t cross your legs. Deepen your voice. Learn the lingo. Keep your eyes down when in the locker room.” Every micro emotion was accounted for, trying to show up in a way that wouldn’t unduly burden my straight counterparts.

So as straight men would push their way through life, boasting with their testosterone-filled vibrato, always so sure, always so right, I would respond with “I can see your point of view… That makes sense… Maybe I’m wrong…” or just straight-up go silent…

Even though my perspective was never seen.

Even though their opinion sometimes made zero sense.

Even though I knew I was absolutely right.

When I would dare to speak my mind (more like when I was forced to speak my mind when that damn teacher would call my name), it always reeked of hesitation: “I feel like maybe, perhaps, sometimes…”

It was never sure. It was always diminished. Because I was never sure of how I should show up, so I diminished.

One of the critiques I often hear from straight people regarding gay people, specifically if they’re not actually affirming but they’re putting on a nice face, is, “I just don’t get why you need to identify with your sexuality. I don’t get all dressed up and dance down the street for ‘Straight Pride.’ Could you imagine if there was a Straight Pride? We would be hated on. It’s such a double standard. My point is, why does someone’s sexuality seem to dominate people after they come out? It like becomes all that they are. Like, I’m okay with you liking the same sex, but you tell the whole world about it.”

Because it’s the first time that we’ve ever been allowed to be, and we’re finally owning it for the first time as best we can.

Question: What happens when you take a can of soda, tell it to never open, tell it to stay locked up, then beat it up, shake it around, and throw it away?

And what happens when that can finally decides to audaciously open up?

What happens when someone who has been shut away their whole life finally decides to say, “I refuse to be locked away and I will not apologize for it because I don’t need to apologize for existing.”

image provided by Matt Botsford via Unsplash

Before coming out of the closet, I think a lot of us gay people felt like we needed to apologize for living. I know I did. Even after I came out, when I would write about my experience, I would be careful to not share too much or come off as too gay. I would metaphorically handhold my straight audiences, trying to make their journey was as smooth as possible.

But there’s only so long that a queer person can walk on eggshells, feeling responsible for everyone else’s feelings, before they explode.

With that in mind, is it no wonder that gay people want to dance and tromp and parade with reckless abandon, spiting the shame, spiting the fear, refusing to apologize for breathing? Is it no wonder that the word we have chosen as our anthem is Pride. It is courageously telling the weight and chains of shame that we’ve felt for our whole lives no.

For let us not forget, Pride was not first a celebration, it was a riot, a riot of trans women of color demanding that they be seen, demanding that they be treated as humans, demanding dignity and life. That spirit is embued into every Pride march, regardless of how pomp and glitter is showcased on the surface. It’s in our bones; it’s our inheritance, and it’s no wonder that Pride is such an imperative for the LGBTQ+ community.

When I first came out, I was looking out for everyone else’s feelings. When I chose a boyfriend, he needed to not be too gay so that my parents could at least tolerate him. When friends invited me over, I would go without my boyfriend to make sure things didn’t get awkward. When we went on dates, I wouldn’t hold my partner’s hand because the complete strangers might feel inconvenienced by our love.

But eventually, we reach a breaking point…

Eventually, we’ve had enough…

Eventually, we’re done apologizing…

And we step out of our cages…

And people who have been comfortable with our diminished hues, all of a sudden get scared when our vibrancy is finally turned all the way up. Because, in the words of Glennon, “She’s a goddam cheetah,” and people are scared of uncaged cheetahs, and they will use whatever forms of deceit and unfair expectations to try and get us back in our cages.

“She’s a goddam cheetah.”

Glennon Doyle, Untamed

“You’ve changed.” “Where did my child go?” “Where did all these opinions come from?” “You don’t have to be so argumentative.” “Do you have to talk about him like that?” “Why does your gayness have to be your whole personality?”

When someone comes out, sure, it may be a pendulum swing. Sure, some things a queer person dons may not be truly authentic to them.

But neither were your double-layered polos from American Eagle, Robbie, and neither were your low-rise jeans from Abercrombie, Tiffany, and neither was snorting coke all the time at our private Christian school, Ashley.

“Oh, but they’re just kids.” “Just give them time.” “They’re just figuring themselves out.”

So are queer people… for the first time in their lives…

Because while y’all were having a lovely, messy time figuring out who the hell you were, we locked ourselves up inside and held our breath to babysit everyone else’s emotions. We turned down our volume and decreased our vibrancy to make it through middle school… to survive high school… We didn’t have the luxury of a social “pass” that’s permitted to teenagers because they’re trying to “figure themselves out” during an “appropriate” time.

We had to figure it out later…

And often all on our own…

And yes, sometimes it gets a bit “messy”… (aka, not done the way you wanted or approved of from your straight perspective that doesn’t understand the queer experience by any stretch of the imagination)

But again I ask, what happens to a soda?

I know when I finally dared to open my can, it wasn’t what many would deem “pretty.”

I had loads of dangerous sex. I pulled away from everyone. I would get defensive towards everyone. I got into a horrible relationship that no one was allowed to speak into. I avoided queer spaces and queer people like the plague because I was still deeply homophobic.

It was all quite messy and bumpy and full of mistakes, but isn’t finding ourselves quite messy and bumpy and full of mistakes? And isn’t it even more messy and bumpy and full of mistakes when we have no guide or community or even a trail, not even a breadcrumb? And isn’t it possible, that after we’ve trampled in the woods of self-discovery, that who we find might look quite different from the person the world knew before they went in?

Just like adolescence, we must say goodbye to the cute, little, dependant, bouncing, cheerful, amiable baby that everyone is so comfortable with and say hello to the independent human that is finding their own voice.

Will they say the wrong words? Of course. Will their voice crack? Yes. Will they speak out of turn and will it sometimes be offensive. Absolutely. But didn’t we all?

The important part is that they speak, and in speaking, find their timbre and vibrato, their vocabulary and diction. It is through time and practice and failure and understanding that we learn language, and it is through language that we find our own voice — a voice for us; a voice for you.

Because your voice matters. Not a mimicked one. Not a learned one. But an honest and authentic one that has been forged in the fires of your soul. That one. The one that belongs to you. That’s the one that’s needed to call forth the song of the morning…

And with it, a new dawn.

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