If you clicked into this blog post, it is highly likely that you have experienced a friendship or relationship within the LGBTQ+ community that was excessively competitive. While competition is obviously not unique to queer people, it is somewhat striking and (often) off-putting because like many other communities, we share a collective struggle. If so many of us go through the similar challenges in growing up and our daily lives, wouldn’t it make sense that we fiercely bond and support one another? Surely those friendships and relationships exist as well, but for anyone who has or continues to deal with the “competitive gay,” read on…
Speaking from my own perspective as a gay man, every time I meet another gay man there is almost an instantaneous “sizing up” that takes place. Reflecting on similar experiences meeting women or straight men, there is generally much less or no sizing up that I do on my end at all. Wait – am I the competitive gay? This blog post is taking a turn – but I will put myself on blast for the purposes of understanding. I think part of this is definitely a “man” issue period, given the heteronormative ideals many of us were raised around. So many of us were taught to win, be successful, and compete. None of us want to feel like a failure. Given that, most men are generally competitive and size up other men. But why can’t we take a stand against our twisted childhoods and stop sizing up – at least when it comes to our community?
Back to the sizing up when meeting a new gay person. Almost primitive in nature, I immediately reflect on how they look, what they are wearing, how they carry themselves, what I think they do for work, if I think they’re single, where I think they live, what I think they drive, whether or not they are self made, what type of activities they do and whether I do the same things. These and so many criteria immediately (and unfairly and judgmentally) allow me to place this person into a mental bucket. They are either “coming for me” or “not my kind of people.” That’s not to say I outwardly treat this person any differently or disrespectfully (I’m not a complete asshole). I guess what I’m trying to convey is my inner competitive gay is trying to determine whether or not I actively want to compete with this person or, if they are “not my kind of people,” basically put them on a mental safe list where I can actually be cool and not competitive with them.
For the safe listed guys, I am suddenly a pleasant angel to be around, but what happens with the guys I mentally deem as “coming for me?” Well, those friendships and relationships are somewhat doomed from the beginning. Because these men trigger some subconscious competitive beast within me, I tend to avoid the friendship or relationship altogether. I know on my end that I am constantly going to be sizing this person up and won’t have an enjoyable friendship with them. I will constantly compare – are they more successful? Are they funnier? Do they dress better? It’s a draining state of affairs. With the safe listed guys that I am nothing like, it is so much easier to just be myself, appreciate them for who they are, and see how our personalities interconnect and benefit one another. I also shouldn’t ignore the dating caveat. In my past, when I have dated guys very similar to myself, the competitive nature was completely woven into our relationship and generally made things miserable for the aforementioned reasons.
So – I am left with these considerations. One, can I just work on myself to turn off this competitive nature completely? Honestly, I doubt it. And although a bit unhealthy, competition is also good because it pushes you to work harder, achiever more, and build a better life for yourself (in my opinion). Two, can I try a bit harder to connect with gay people that are similar to myself? Absolutely. I think I can make a conscious effort to give these guys some benefit of the doubt. I am always jumping the gun and assuming they are going to be as competitive as me (partly due to firsthand experience), but that is not always the case. Maybe they can be great friends and our common interests would actually strengthen that bond.
Three, if for some reason I am the gay that is acting right, how do I diffuse a gay that is being competitive with me? There are a lot of strategies here. One is a healthy dose of self-deprecation – every time someone triggers a comparison or starts showing off, just point out some flaw in yourself or how that’s really awesome for them and you wish you can achieve (whatever they’re describing) one day. As soon as you take that approach, the other person accomplishes the one-upping they desired (and probably assumed you were going to engage in), so you generally surprise them and might even make them feel bad. This should calm them down and set a less competitive tone for future interactions. You can also limit the types of information you share with this person, or leave out the details that you feel will trigger competition. So if you just got a promotion or something, you may say “yeah my role changed at work – I’m excited to do something a little different” vs. “I got a huge raise and a corner office bih,” etc. Finally, if the other person just doesn’t get it, you can always try using a trigger phrase to snap them out of it, like “everything isn’t a competition.” Although uncomfortable, that might just do the trick.
Hopefully this post gets some of us (me included) to reflect on what is a pervasive issue in the community.