Nine ways to cope with coronavirus crisis insanity

Essy Knopf coronavirus crisis tips anxiety coping
Reading time: 8 minutes

I was in transit from Los Angeles to Australia to visit my parents when the coronavirus crisis well and truly blew up.

As a journalist, I had followed early coverage of the pandemic, then in its infancy. Like most people, I hadn’t expected it to reach the proportions it eventually did.

Having planned this trip five months in advance, I was determined not to let a virus derail my vacation.

A few days later, however, the full gravity of the problem hit home for me – as did my need for some serious coping strategies.

Keep it in perspective

I hadn’t seen my parents in almost two years. I was expecting their undivided attention, but soon after my arrival, they were engulfed by the non-stop coronavirus crisis TV coverage.

Tiring of what I thought to be more of the usual alarmist chatter, I asked them to turn it off.

As all of our conversational topics turned towards coronavirus, I tried steering them towards another topic. I mean, was there any point speculating about something as unprecedented as a global pandemic?

During a trip to the supermarket, I saw many of the shelves had been stripped clean. My only reaction was to roll my eyes. 

The checkout operator complained about being unable to buy red meat.

“I told him my boyfriend was going to be getting chicken for dinner and he was NOT happy,” the woman said.

“No red meat?” I wanted to cry. “People are dying and this man is being denied a steak? Of all the injustices…”

Find distraction

As someone who tends towards extreme introversion, I didn’t consider myself a quarantine risk. 

Given I spend 95 percent of my time at home in front of a computer, I figured the odds of me getting anything other than an email virus were pretty low. 

Besides, I was dealing with crises of far greater personal significance than the coronavirus. Take for example the shaky internet connection at my parent’s home, which dropped out on an almost hourly basis. 

Then there was my phone, which refused to take charge and could not be fixed until my return to the US.

Unable to text my friends, I too now faced being swallowed up by the coronavirus news cycle.

The only alternative, as I saw it, was some form of preoccupation. 

I dug my Kindle out of my luggage and stared at it. My reading list was waiting. And yet the world as I knew it could be coming to an end. 

It was, perhaps in the truest sense, now or never.

Ban ‘what-if-ing’

Only when my airline Virgin Australia announced it was shutting down a week after I was scheduled to leave did I start to fret.

Five minutes after the announcement was made, I tried bumping back my departure online, watching in real-time as flight after flight became full. 

Two days prior, a flight change would have come in at $200. By the end of the booking frenzy, ticket changes carried a price tag upwards of $5000. 

I was on a shoestring budget, but still, I wondered: should I just bite the bullet and fly out at the soonest opportunity? 

I began “what-if-ing”. What if the US or Australia decided to close their borders completely? What if Virgin Australia ended flights even earlier? 

Come to think of it, $5000 seemed like a reasonable price for escaping indefinite exile on a mountain with no internet and just my parents for company.

It certainly sounded like a rather bad/good reality TV premise. Throw in a toilet paper shortage and the show would be a hothouse for family drama.

My parents as it turned out had decided to sidestep this issue entirely. Their solution? Purchase bidets for every toilet in the house.

But in the case of my flight, there was no equivalent of a bidet, and thus no point agonizing about worst-case scenarios. 

Avoid ‘transfer anxiety’

Over the next few days, I heard reports of grocery shortages in Los Angeles. The next thing I knew, the city had been placed in lockdown.

Friends who share my natural tendency for catastrophizing warned me I might be better off staying in relatively isolated Australia – at least for the immediate future. 

Some even insinuated I would, by virtue of boarding an international flight, be a transmission risk to others. 

Never mind I had spent the last two weeks in relative isolation from civilization, or that I was sitting at the rear of the plane, away from the potentially contagious horde. And let’s not forget Los Angeles already had multiple cases of coronavirus.

When a relative refused to see me until after a 14-day quarantine period, I was offended.

“What do I look like to you?” I wanted to shout. “Typhoid Mary?!”

Up until this point, my attitude about it all had been rather devil-may-care.

“Bring it on!” I’d say while pummelling my chest. “I’m healthy and in my prime. I’ll beat coronavirus hands down!”

But LA was swiftly becoming a hoarder’s paradise. Looting and martial law seemed like the inevitable next step.

As the hours went by, my anxiety grew. The choice it now seemed was between boarding my flight to a real-life Hunger Games, or canceling my ticket and leaning indefinitely on the hospitality of my folks.

Exhausted by the endless spiral of negative thinking – largely sparked by the worry-mongering of others – I turned off my social media, did my nightly meditation, and went to bed. 

Let go of your fear

When I woke up, it was to find I had been endowed with a new spirit of defiance.

While fixing myself a cup of tea, I sneezed. My mother, who had herself sneezed at least a dozen times since I’d arrived from the US, emerged from the bathroom.

“Why are you sneezing, Essy?” she said. I sensed the beginning of an interrogation.

“BECAUSE I HAVE CORONAVIRUS!” I cried. “Here, give me a hug.”

I grabbed for my mother and she pulled away.

Next thing, she was complaining to my father of a sleepless night and being sore. This sent him into a tailspin. “Sore” became “aches and pains”, which became “she has coronavirus”.

My father in his growing terror went racing from the house. 

When he returned five minutes later, it was to explain he’d gone to buy face masks for himself and me, only to find that the store was, predictably, out of stock.

“Dad,” I began, “you do realize that mum prepares all of our meals? That she touches the same surfaces as us? The kettle? The fridge? The TV controller?”

“We should still take precautions,” he said.

“DAD,” I replied. “There is no ‘pre’. If mum has it, we already have it.”

I didn’t consider this fatalism, but rather a possibility we would all just have to accept.

essy knopf coronavirus crisis tips anxiety coping

Wrangle paranoia

Later, my dad suggested we go for a hike. We arrived to find the narrow trail bustling with tourists. 

Despite the difficulty of such an endeavor, my dad insisted on enforcing social distance, which meant we had to stop and start walking constantly to avoid large groups of “potential carriers”. 

Each time they passed, my dad would turn his face away from his fellow hikers. He complained they were “breathing all over him”. At one point I even caught him holding his own breath.

When a man ahead of us bellowed, dad seized up, his eyes bulging.

The noise came again, an inarticulate groan. I noticed the man was walking with a cane.

“Come on, Shane,” said a female companion. “It’s alright.” 

Still, my father did not move.

“He has a disability, dad,” I told him, “not a contagion.”

At a lookout point, I took to baiting him.

“Don’t put your hand on the railing,” I warned. Dad immediately retracted his hands.

We’d paid a visit to the restaurant where my mother worked. On the car drive back, I cleared my throat.

“You do realize you touched the restaurant door handle twice?”

My dad registered this terrible fact in silence.

When we got home, he insisted I wash my hands and my face. My father proceeded to spray his wallet and every surface he had touched with Lysol, including the car door handles.

“What about the steering wheel?” I said when he came back into the house. “What about your seatbelt? What about the AC controls?”

Tiring of the sassing, my dad raised the Lysol can towards my face.

“What about your mouth?” he growled. Then went back out to the car to complete the job.

Find the humor in things

I intercepted my mother during her morning ritual of filling the bird feeder. 

“Are you sure that’s a good idea?” I asked.

“What do you mean?” she asked, pausing.

“With these shortages,” I said, in mock paranoia, “you might need the seeds yourself. You never know.”

My mother only ignored me.

Later that day, at an intersection, we saw a man, his head buried in what looked like a copy of the bible, mumbling verses. 

Whatever he was saying was lost to passing motorists. If he’d really wanted to be heard, you’d think he would have tried at least raising his voice. 

If I’m going to be honest here, the man was lacking in entrepreneurial initiative. Any end-times preacher worth his salt knows he needs at least a placard and a megaphone. 

I mean how are the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse ever going to know their services are needed if their heralds can’t even get their act together?

It was pitiful, really.

Be considerate

My return flight to the US was packed with vacationers and students making an early trip home.

Due to a flight change, the solitary seat I had booked for myself at the rear of the plane now came with a second seat. Worse still, it directly abutted a bathroom. 

This basically meant I would be exposed to all foot traffic – namely, potential coronavirus carriers – and worse: the terrible suction noises of the toilet.

As I took my seat, an elderly couple arrived. The woman looked at the seat next to me, her expression rather woeful.

“It looks like they’ve split us up, Rod.”

I stared at her as if to say: “I know what you’re trying here lady, and it’s not going to work”. No way was I giving up my window seat, not even for the coronavirus’ top targets.

“I’m happy to swap seats with you,” chirped a man. He looked like he had just come back from six months of fruit-picking without the benefit of a shaving razor.

Settling into the seat beside me, Fruit-picker produced a bottle of sanitizer and began spraying his hands, the tray table, and the chairback.

It was a ritual he would undertake repeatedly during the trip, spraying and attacking the same surface he had cleaned only an hour before. 

“Buddy,” I wanted to say, “we’re sitting next to the toilet. You’re trying to hold back the tide.”

Just before takeoff, I snuck a glance and saw him texting someone.

“Almost lost it at some kid behind me in the queue,” Fruit-picker typed. 

“He kept hitting my backpack. No idea of personal space.”

Then for the remainder of the flight, he proceeded to invade mine. 

Most people would consider the armrest the demarcation line between seats. Not my fellow traveler. Not only did he claim the rest for himself, but also part of my seat too.

Every time he rearranged his blanket or the contents of his tray table, I copped an elbow. Over and over, he would nudge me, without a whisper of apology.

When I attempted to fall asleep, I was awoken by yet another elbow graze and the astringent odor of the sanitizer.

By the time we touched down in Los Angeles, part of me was deeply regretting having not just taken my chances on the mountain.

Neither of us had wanted to board that crowded flight and brave the risk of contamination. But  I’m equally confident a little more social distancing on Fruit-picker’s behalf might’ve made all the difference.

Flatten the curve

Look, only a pundit aching for a faceplant or someone with a very accurate crystal ball would try to predict how serious the coronavirus crisis will get. 

Whatever the outcome, we all as individuals have limited agency. We do however have a responsibility to help flatten the curve.

A simple way to do this is by respecting national health department recommendations for maintaining social distance and personal hygiene practices.

We have as much influence over our behaviors as we do over our mindsets. Though given the uncertainty surrounding the current global situation, none of us could be blamed for worrying.

If you catch yourself becoming overwhelmed with stress and anxiety, ask yourself: are you taking the steps you need in order to feel better?

More information about the coronavirus/COVID-19 epidemic here.

Takeaways

  • The world is not ending. Keep things in perspective.
  • Stay occupied and suspend endless worrying.
  • “Quarantine” yourself from situations likely to result in transfer anxiety.
  • Put on your “humor” spectacles and look for a new reason to laugh.

15 transformational documentaries LGBTQI+ folk can appreciate

Essy Knopf gay documentary coronavirus lockdown
Reading time: 8 minutes

When I originally wrote this list, I was in the midst of the first coronavirus lockdown, stuck at home with not a whole lot to do.

The world has changed somewhat since then, but I believe these films remain as interesting and important as ever.

And while my selection isn’t exactly targeted at LGBTQI+ folk, many of these films have queer themes and subject matter.

All of them made the cut for a single reason: they each have the potential to help us become a little more thoughtful, informed, and empathetic.

So if you’re on a journey towards self-betterment, I’m sure you’ll find something of interest in the following list.


15. Touching the Void (2003)

A docudrama based on the book of the same name by climber Joe Simpson, Touching the Void is about his and Simon Yates’ ill-fated 1985 climb in the Peruvian Andes.

While the pair succeed in their quest to climb a 20,814 ft mountain, the trip quickly goes awry after Simpson breaks a leg mid-descent.

As severe weather bears down on them, Yates is forced to sever his friend’s rope, sending him plummeting to the bottom of a cliff.

What follows is a belief-defying tale of endurance that will leave even the most seasoned thriller viewer with lead in their stomach, right up to the unexpected finish.

Where to watch: Amazon Prime, iTunes

14. Encounters at the End of the World (2007)

Encounters at the End of the World is a mesmerizing look at the characters and creatures who choose to call Antarctica home.

The documentary perfectly embodies the sensibilities of German filmmaker-cum-philosopher Werner Herzog, who has made a career of chasing seemingly impossible film projects, often about figures bent on achieving impossible dreams of their own.

Herzog, who shot the entire film with a crew of two (counting himself), invites viewers to revel in the wonders and curiosities on the frontiers of human civilization in and around McMurdo Station.

Over the course of Encounters, you’ll meet scientists who listen to ice for the alien calls of seals, a deranged penguin toddling inland towards a solitary death, and a physicist who draws parallels between spirits and subatomic neutrino particles.

Where to watch: Amazon Prime, Google Play, iTunes, Vudu, YouTube

13. They Shall Not Grow Old (2018)

BAFTA-nominated They Shall Not Grow Old is a World War I documentary by a giant of cinematic craftsmanship, Peter Jackson.

The pioneering director of the Lord of the Rings trilogy has painstakingly restored and colorized archival footage while adding sound effects and voice acting under the stewardship of professional lipreaders.

Jackson sutures together more than 200 firsthand accounts by British veterans, offering new insight into the horrors and hardships of trench warfare.

They Shall Not Grow Old is a technical triumph that manages at various times to be buoyant, sobering, and deeply moving.

Where to watch: Amazon Prime, Google Play, Amazon, Vudu, YouTube

12. The Biggest Little Farm (2018)

The Biggest Little Farm chronicles American wildlife photographer John Chester and wife Molly’s almost ten-year attempt to construct a sustainable farm from the soil up.

The effort, inspired by a promise to one very loveable dog, plays out like a modern Robinson Crusoe. Chester and Molly are forced to adapt and improvise to the ever-changing demands of revitalizing a former orchard.

Along the way, they learn to harness rather than battle nature to create their own little patch of paradise. The film teams with an effervescent spirit of wonder, human ingenuity and hope. 

Where to watch: Amazon Prime, Google Play, Vudu, YouTube

11. Project Nim (2011)

Project Nim follows a groundbreaking scientific endeavor to teach American Sign Language to a chimpanzee.

Researchers’ efforts to socialize and train the eponymous “Nim Chimpsky” begin with his adoption by a human family.

From the moment we learn Nim’s human mother chose to breastfeed him, however, we see the road of good intentions and its inevitable outcome.

The result is as much a tale of hubris as it is of humanity’s mercurial – and often unwitting – capacity for cruelty.

Where to watch: Amazon Prime, Google Play, iTunes, Vudu, YouTube

10. Shirkers (2018)

Shirkers is an intimate whydoneit about an act of interference that derailed the promising career of a young Singaporean director.

It was the summer of 1992 and Sandi Tan and friends had set off to film Tan’s debut feature under the guidance of mentor and teller-of-tall-tales Georges Cardona.

Afterward, Tan charged Cardona with processing the raw footage, only for Cardona – who had shepherded the film from its inception – to vanish.

Almost 20 years later, Tan was able to recover all of her lost reels, sans audio. She uses the botched film as a springboard for exploring Cardona’s motives and true identity.

Shirkers is a wistful journey through the hypersaturated visual landscape of a changing Singapore, infused with a longing for a past lost and found, and a future that could have been. 

Where to watch: Netflix

9. Deep Water (2006)

How far are you willing to go in the name of pride?

This question underscores amateur yachtsman Donald Crowhurst’s single-handed race around the world for the 1968 Sunday Times Golden Globe Race (of no relationship to the annual television awards ceremony).

The film charters the family man’s battle against the odds to survive boat troubles, wild weather, and, ultimately, madness.

With Crowhurst hopelessly behind and his reputation hanging in the balance, he decides to put off radioing for help in favor of falsifying his yacht’s positions in his logbook.

Crowhurst’s final accounts of battles with cosmic beings elevate this story to the level of tragic parable, serving as a warning to all those who aspire to the heights of greatness, unaware of the fall that may very well follow.

Where to watch: Amazon Prime

8. Green Porno (2008)

Delightfully camp and playfully ludicrous, Green Porno is the nature documentary at its unsexiest.

Written, directed, and hosted by Italian-American actress Isabella Rossellini, best known for her roles in Blue Velvet (1986) and Death Becomes Her (1992), Green Porno technically isn’t a feature film, but rather a series of shorts.

In each episode, Rossellini dons cardboard and rubber-foam animal costumes to explain and enact usually bizarre, sometimes grotesque, and occasionally morbid mating rituals.

While her approach is essentially edutainment, the third season leans more into activism, highlighting the danger commercial fishing poses for marine life.

Green Porno is an unexpected delight, guaranteed to make you first cringe – then laugh.

Where to watch: YouTube (free)

7. Won’t You Be My Neighbour (2018)

More than a few of us long for the kind of father figure that was American television personality, Fred Rogers.

The host of the preschool TV series Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood, which ran for a respectable 33 years, the soft-spoken Rogers became a mainstay of children’s television, leaving an indelible mark on the hearts of countless viewers.

Modeling a distinct brand of openhearted kindness, Rogers served as a gentle counter to popular notions of masculinity.

Won’t You Be My Neighbour explores how the Presbyterian minister treated his show as a shelter for young minds, free from the barbs of insensitivity, violence, hatred, prejudice, and adult agendas.

The documentary casts the late Rogers as a kind of luminary, and perhaps rightfully so; the lessons he taught and the hope he bestowed continue to resonate today. 

Where to watch: Amazon Prime, Google Play, HBO Now, Vudu, YouTube

6. Last Train Home (2009)

Most gay men know intimately the pain of having to separate from their families, a choice that is often as much a product of choice as circumstance. It is a pain shared by the protagonist of Last Train Home, rebellious teenager Qin.

Raised by her grandparents and saddled with the expectations of workaholic parents who are, for all intents and purposes, strangers, Qin decides to cast off the yoke of their dreams of a better life through education.

Her decision is as much motivated by a desire for financial independence as it is a breakdown in familial understanding and empathy.

Qin’s story is tinged with bitterness, heartbreak, and a sense of loss that is certain to hit home for many a queer viewer.

Where to watch: Amazon Prime, Tubi (free)

5. Mommy Dead and Dearest (2017)

Academy Award-nominated psychological horror What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? (1962) was a camp classic about two ex-actress siblings, played by Bette Davis and Joan Crawford, locked in a battle of wills.

Echoes of this toxic family dynamic can be found in the relationship between the subjects of Mommy Dead and Dearest, Gypsy Rose Blanchard, and mother Dee Dee.

For years Dee Dee perpetuated lies about her daughter’s age, fabricating claims she suffered from numerous disabilities and chronic illnesses.

Dee Dee subjected Gypsy to physical and psychological abuse while foisting upon her a battery of unnecessary surgeries and medications.

Towards the end, Gypsy Made plans to escape from her life of captivity which culminated in a decision to kill Dee Dee with the help of a secret online boyfriend, Nicholas Godejohn.

Gypsy Rose and Dee Dee’s story is so unbelievable you could be forgiven for dismissing it as the stuff of schlock horror fiction.

It is indeed a story with few precedents, and yet its theme of toxic child-parent relationships is one many gay men are well acquainted with.

Where to watch: Google Play, HBO Now, YouTube, Vudu

4. Holy Hell (2016)

Holy Hell is a fly-on-the-wall account of the Buddhafield cult directed by Will Allen, a gay man who sought refuge beneath the ring of yoga master and cult leader Jaime Gomez.

Leveraging footage from his time as the cult’s videographer and chief propagandist from the mid-80s onwards, Allen depicts the cult’s rise under the influence of the enigmatic and increasingly paranoid Gomez.

He details the alleged control and sexual abuse inflicted by Gomez on male followers.

Gomez, a self-proclaimed “God” with a penchant for plastic surgery, swimming briefs, and eyeliner, is eventually unmasked as a Venezuelan actor and porn star.

Holy Hell functions as a warning that the comfort and safety offered by “gurus” may be little more than false promises.

Where to watch: Amazon Prime

3. Southern Comfort (2001)

Southern Comfort follows the final year of the life of trans man Robert Eads. Eads is succumbing to ovarian cancer. It is an illness, he tells us, that might have been averted had numerous doctors not refused him treatment until it was too late.

The film is not a grim march towards death, but a poignant portrait of a man whom society has failed. Southern Comfort moves at a meditative gait that seems to capture as much the spirit of its idyllic setting of rural Georgia as it does its subject.

Eads spends his last days celebrating a close bond with his “chosen” family while enduring a painful visit from the biological one that has rejected his new gender identity.

Yet Eads does not appear to harbor hatred for those who chose politics and self-interest above professional and familial duty.

Rather, he seems to emerge not torn by the injustice, but, rather, transfigured.

Where to watch: Tubi (free)

2. Paris is Burning (1990)

Before there was the award-winning FX show Pose, there was Paris is Burning.

This landmark documentary offers a snapshot of the gloriously queer underground ball subculture, in which self-fashioned models and performers take to improvised catwalks to compete for trophies and prizes.

Ball culture we learn was as much an exercise in gender and social class satire as it was empowerment, offering both refuge and a platform for creative talent within marginalized communities.

Paris is Burning serves as a celebration of its subjects’ resilience in the face of social opposition. It is also a historical document of an important cultural movement that gave rise to the likes of voguing. Mandatory viewing for all thoughtful gays.

Where to watch: Previously available on Netflix – check Google

1. How to Survive a Plague (2012)

The AIDS epidemic sparked mass panic of the likes we have only since seen with the rise of the coronavirus. It led to the deaths of millions from the late 80s onwards and fuelled the widespread stigmatization of gay men.

Academy Award-winning documentary How to Survive a Plague is directed by David France, a journalist who provided frontline coverage of the outbreak from the very beginning.

It covers activists’ battles with the US Food and Drug Administration to expedite the approval of often toxic, but possibly life-saving drugs.

One of the fruits of their tireless labor is the antiretroviral drug Truvada; a hard-won privilege often taken for granted by gay men today.

How to Survive a Plague for that reason serves as a timely reminder of our communities’ many successes on the road to secure our rights – and of the distance that still remains to be covered.

Where to watch: Amazon Prime, Google Play, iTunes, YouTube

essy knopf top documentaries

Why gay men suffer from internalized homophobia

Essy Knopf internalized homophobia
Reading time: 7 minutes

Even today, gay boys and men grow up facing the dual challenge of cultural homophobia and its byproduct: internalized homophobia.

The chance they will suffer from the latter is magnified when that homophobia plays out in the family home.

When I was 14, I remember a relative telling me that HIV/AIDS was the result of “gay men having sex with monkeys”. Say what?

“Oh, but it’s true,” the relative insisted. “Scientists have proven it.”

Today, such a claim could be easily disproved with a quick Google search. And while confusing being gay with bestiality might have been laughable, the statement had carried a hateful subtext. 

What this relative was really saying was that gay men were despicable sexual deviants.

That same message was conveyed in countless other situations. Once while visiting a friend of my father’s, I was forced to listen to him rant about a male flight attendant he’d noticed wearing makeup.

“He’s just a f****t,” the friend said, as if this explained everything. “I found it nauseating”.

These comments left me burning with anger. Any passionate defense I mustered would, of course, have outed me, and meant enduring the disdain not only of this homophobe but my father as well.

In high school, a girl I had considered a friend complained to the entire class about seeing a news segment about the annual Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras parade.

“Why do gay people have to shove it in our faces?” she said. “It’s disgusting.” Never mind the fact she herself had chosen to watch the segment.

Our teacher had simpered in agreement. Then—in a tone that was meant to convey tolerance—he stated that while he personally had no problem with gay people, he believed they should “keep their sexuality to themselves”.

Which is precisely what I did. With these kinds of comments being thrown about, there was zero chance I would be telling anyone about my sexuality any time soon.

It is no surprise then, that in this kind of hostile climate that we as gay men feel compelled to live lives of subterfuge.

The source of internalized homophobia

The same year I was told gay people should “keep their sexuality to themselves”, I undertook a job bagging groceries at a local chain store.

The store was occasionally visited by a rail-thin man wearing a goatee and garish gold jewelry, who had a tendency to mix and match his clothes: a tie-dyed shirt with cow-print pajama pants, a bucket cap with mandals.

I guessed by his mincing movements that he must be gay, a fact that left me puzzled. Every gay boy and man knew that flamboyant behavior invariably drew negative attention. Was this fellow trying to paint a target on his own back?

It is only with hindsight now that I realize this stranger’s campness was not necessarily an act of showy defiance but self-acceptance. The problem wasn’t his embrace of femininity, but the fact that I was uncomfortable with it.

Femininity, after all, was a quality I had long learned to disguise as a matter of survival.

Yet in accepting that my safety depended upon my ability to conform and “pass” as someone straight, I had unwittingly internalized homophobia.

The low down on gay men and femininity

Gay men face marginalization and persecution often because we tend to behave in non-heteronormative ways, which in turn enable others to identify our sexuality and use it as a basis for exclusion.

Gay men are typically portrayed in the media as being more feminine and are commonly labeled “sissies” and “pansies”.

But is there any truth to the claim that men are more feminine than their heterosexual counterparts? 

In Gay, Straight and the Reason Why, author Simon LeVay reveals that gay people do indeed tend to be “gender-atypical” when it comes to certain “gendered” traits. 

What traits exactly are gendered? According to LeVay:

In the area of personality, men rank higher than women on measures of assertiveness, competitiveness, aggressiveness, and independence… Women rank higher than men on measures of expressiveness, sociability, empathy, openness to feelings, altruism, and neuroticism… Men prefer thing-oriented activities and occupations (e.g. carpenter), whereas women prefer people-oriented activities and occupations (e.g. social worker). Women have better-developed aesthetic interests and less-developed technological interests than men.

As a group, gay men tend for example to score higher than straight men on tests measuring empathy, aesthetic interests, and verbal fluency.

Studies have revealed gay men are less physically aggressive. They are also gender-shifted towards instrumentality, expressiveness, and people-oriented occupations. (Note here the use of “shift”, as opposed to “inverted”; that is, gay men as a group do not completely adopt typically feminine traits.)

According to an analysis of a survey conducted by the BBC in 2005, gay UK-based respondents on average perceived themselves to be more feminine. This finding is backed by a number of other studies.

The pressure to be masculine

In my earlier article on embracing our authentic gay identities, I shared author Terrence Real‘s claim that from boyhood males are expected to reach for the brass ring of masculinity.

This masculinity involves a form of self-reliance that asks us to cut ourselves off from our emotional selves, our mothers*, and the support of our communities. 

Socialization teaches us to view emotional expressivity and vulnerability as feminine traits that must be avoided at all costs.

The prevailing definition of masculinity, of what it means to be a “successful man”, is one of self-reliance.  

This self-reliance and independence are further promoted by widely adopted social beliefs such as rugged individualism: i.e. “I don’t need anyone’s help, I can do this all on my own”, or the practice of stoicism, which advocates keeping a “stiff upper lip” in the face of hardship. 

Self-reliant masculinity is promoted by the archetypal male hero in movies and television, be it the hardboiled detective of crime fiction, the tough-as-nails gunslinger of Westerns, or the ironclad action hero.

These characters typically prove their merit through unflinching courage and physical prowess.

According to this definition, the opposite of self-reliance is weakness. When we exhibit “feminine”—that is, the gender-atypical—traits, we inadvertently signal to others that our masculinity is “defective”, thus inviting homophobic scorn and condemnation.

essy knopf gay internalized homophobia

Double-barrelled shame

Gay men historically have received a double dose of hostility, on account not only of gender-atypical traits but of being seen as inherently flawed.

Being gay was once viewed as an act of rebellion against the laws of God, as per the Bible’s accounts of Sodom and Gomorrah. Gays were viewed as “perversions”, on par with the likes of pedophiles.

The advent of modern science saw being gay reclassified as a mental disorder, a label that would remain until 1973 under the order of the American Psychiatric Association.

The perception that we were untrustworthy and possibly dangerous, however, persisted.

Consider for example the “Lavender scare”, in which thousands of gay people were purged from US military services and intelligence agencies from the late 40s and into the 60s.

In 1953, President Eisenhower even signed an executive order banning gay men from employment by the US government and its private contractors.

Suspicion towards gay men endured even from 1981 onwards, with the advent of what was initially called the “gay disease”, “gay cancer”, “gay plague” or “gay-related immune deficiency”.

Later retitled HIV/AIDS, the resulting epidemic triggered a moral panic that fueled further discrimination towards and ostracism of gay people. 

The impact on gay men

The negative light in which we as a group are regarded and the emotional repression demanded of us places significant strain upon our mental health.

Given we naturally tend towards empathy and expressiveness, I would argue this strain is greater than that faced by heterosexual men.

In the face of social pressure to emulate ideals of “manliness”, and the dismissal, ridicule, and physical harm we may face when we defy them, many of us find ourselves falling in line.

We do this by taking on the loathing others harbor for our authentic selves, altering our self-presentation along the lines of the masculine ideal.

That is, we learn to conceal our more evident “feminine” traits, including our interest in other men. Some of us may even avoid all possibility of judgment by eschewing the company of heterosexuals and moving to live in a gay village.

But the inauthentic shell which we don as a matter of necessity may become a new comfortable norm. Self-loathing will likely leave us crippled by ongoing covert depression.

Unable to tolerate our vulnerability, we find ourselves in turn unable to tolerate it in others. We adopt judgmentalism, rejecting other gay men as we ourselves were once rejected.

Gay bars, clubs, and dating apps are rife with this kind of behavior, which in many cases is an expression of internalized homophobia. Consider, for example, those who write “no femmes” on their dating profiles, or demand a highly specific “masc” type or muscular physique in their partners.

While not as dramatic as a closeted man cruising a gay nightclub and attacking someone for making a pass at him, this is a latent form of internalized homophobia. It is characterized by an emotional repression so painful that many sufferers find themselves seeking refuge in grandiosity or addictive behaviors.

The irony of this repression and its byproducts is that they only further our existing sense of isolation, creating conditions ripe for more depression.

In order to free ourselves from the tyranny of homophobia, we must learn to accept and embrace all facets of our identity – without fear of reprisal. Source: Elise Gravel

The cure to internalized homophobia

In order to overcome self-loathing, we must first acknowledge how we have suffered by turning away from our authentic selves.

To break the hold internalized homophobia has on our lives, we must learn to accept and embrace all facets of our identity—without fear of reprisal.

For some of us, this may involve an outward exhibition of our more feminine traits. We may choose, like the goateed stranger of my teenagehood, to wear whatever we want and to act in the way that feels most natural to us.

Or we may simply seek to reconnect with and express our emotions; to let down our guards and create conditions in which others can do the same.

It is through such shared vulnerability that I believe we can ultimately achieve true healing, not just as individuals, but also as a community.

Takeaways

  • Being gay historically was seen to be a perversion or illness.
  • Gays as a group show some “gender-atypical” personality traits.
  • One is the typically “feminine” trait of emotional expressiveness.
  • Expressive gay boys and men thus face double the stigma.
  • Survival requires hiding our authentic emotional selves.
  • The result is depression and judgmentalism.
  • If we are to heal, we must restore emotional authenticity.

* I acknowledge that disconnection from one’s mother may not apply to all men, for example in the case of being raised by a male caregiver, or gay parents.

How to quit gay dating apps and take back control of your life

Essy Knopf gay dating apps
Reading time: 4 minutes

About a year ago, I vowed to never use gay dating apps again. Too many nights spent engaging in rapid-fire exchanges with perfect strangers who would vanish by morning had left me feeling spent.

Initially, I’d accepted the duty of replying to incessant messages as part of the territory. Always being “connected” is a necessary evil of our age, especially when it comes to online dating, but Grindr’s old slogan “get on, get off” seemed more than ever like a bait-and-switch.

Any wonder. Dating app makers clearly profit by our continued use of them, deploying strategies to keep us engaged, so they can then sell us premium features.

Take for example Tinder’s addictive swipe-based mechanic, or the even more mundane – and equally rewarding – system of push notifications. 

For someone who prides themselves in being efficient, I’ve found gay dating apps to be anything but. The sense of never quite being finished – of there always being one more person to reply to – has always nagged at me.

For someone who already struggles with anxiety, it was only a matter of time before I hit a peak and decided to ditch the gay dating apps. Tinder, Scruff, and Grindr – deleted in one fell swoop. But for how long, exactly?

1. Don’t quit gay dating apps cold turkey

A grand total of six months, to be precise. After downloading the apps again, I (surprise!) found myself once more caught up in the drudgery of fielding lifeless small talk.

It’s a pattern we’re all too familiar with: left weary by the sterile objectification, the kinetic five-minute conversations that fizzle for no perceptible reason, we pack it in. Swear off the gay dating apps for good.

Then, in a moment of boredom and loneliness, we hop back on, just to see who’s around and if anything has changed. If we’re lucky, the app will have undergone a snazzy redesign.

Our previous exchanges will have been wiped, so no need to dwell on our many unsuccessful interactions.

Maybe the people around us will have forgotten us too. The novelty of our profile photo in the search grid will be renewed, and the affirming messages will begin to flood in.

We’ll feel momentarily buoyed by the realization that yes, we are still very much attractive, and that there will always be an anonymous mass of strangers waiting to objectify us. 

So, we decide to stay a little while, and before long we’re back to lurking, replying, refreshing. And the cycle begins anew.

essy knopf gay dating apps

Falling back into the habit is a very real hazard of quitting anything addictive cold turkey. But for those of us genuinely seeking connection, going back to the dating apps is shooting ourselves in the foot.

We know, after all, that “dating app” is a misnomer and that most gay men use Grindr and its brethren for hookups.

Admittedly, there is a certain comfort in knowing the adoration of another man is just a tap away.

So if you’re not quite ready to cut the cord, but you’re feeling overdue for a gay dating app detox, here are some steps you could consider taking:

2. Disable push notifications

This way, you choose when you engage – and not at the prompting of the app.

3. Limit your app usage

Trial an app-blocking service. These allow you to schedule specific days and times for usage while preventing you from accessing designated apps outside of that window.

4. Delay your replies

Sure, in the fast-paced world of ping-pong messaging, you risk losing the other person’s interest. But slowing down the interaction can help weed out people who weren’t really all that interested in you in the first place.

It’s important to remember that many gay dating app users are simply “playing the numbers game”, texting countless others just to see who will bite.

5. Ask to meet

Just because someone is available on a gay dating app, doesn’t mean they are necessarily available to meet you, if ever. This may seem contrary, given they somehow find time to engage in protracted back-and-forths.

I operate under the assumption that if someone can find the time to chat and both of you live in the same city, you can take 30 minutes to grab a coffee in person.

If you’ve requested to meet and it hasn’t happened after two weeks, you are well within your rights to disengage.

6. Have a cut-off point

Let’s be honest: unless you’re in it just for validation, endless chatting can become tedious. If you’re scoping the other person for facetime eligibility, then it’s perfectly acceptable to set a cut-off point for messaging.

We all obviously need to engage in preliminary screening to get a feel for the other person, their motivations, and their general vibe, so it’s difficult to settle on a hard number of exchanges.

But based on my experience, if neither person has broached the subject of meeting in person and set plans in stone by the 30-message mark, there’s a good chance that neither has any intention of doing so.

This is an opportunity to ask yourself why you are sustaining the exchange, and whether you might be better off investing your time and energy elsewhere.

7. Wipe your profile

If more extreme measures are required, consider temporarily wiping your profile before deleting each app from your phone. The effort required to download, log back in, and set the profile back up can serve as a good deterrent.

8. Take a hiatus

Obviously, there are no silver-bullet solutions. Gay dating apps have become a permanent part of the landscape, so permanently quitting them can seem not only daunting but unrealistic.

But too often feeding this time-hungry monster begins to feel like a hopeless, joyless, never-ending task. Like the legend of the Greek king Sisyphus, we feel condemned to keep rolling a boulder up a hill for all eternity.

Unlike Sisyphus however, we have the right to opt-out. If you need a break and a chance to recharge, your priority as a thoughtful gay man should be to take it. It may just be a question of when and how – and sometimes how long.

If you do decide to take a hiatus, bravo. Remember that the apps won’t vanish. Your romantic prospects will not suffer a fatal decline. And best of all, you’ll feel all the better for it.

Check out this post for some self-care tips. And if you’re still not convinced you should give the gay dating apps the kick, consider these five arguments.

Takeaways

  • Switch off gay dating app notifications and stop the reward mechanism that keeps you coming back.
  • If you’re struggling with self-discipline, consider using an app-blocker.
  • Weed out people who are messaging for the wrong reasons by delaying your replies.
  • Choose a cut-off point for number of messages exchanged and stick to it.
  • If the other person is vague or noncommittal about meeting, walk away.

Throw off the shackles of depression and loneliness. Embrace your authentic gay identity.

Essy Knopf gay identity
Reading time: 7 minutes

Well before I came into my gay identity, a man approached six-year-old me at the park and called me by a word I’d never heard before.

“You dirty little wog,” he said, apropos of nothing.

My dad overheard this and stormed over, executing some kind of judo move. Next thing the stranger was lying flat on his back—instant comeuppance I might have reveled in, had I recognized the racist insult for what it was.

This was my first real experience of prejudice, but it was by no means my last.

Growing up in small Australian towns, I was aware of the constant undercurrent of homophobia, xenophobia, and ableism. You’d catch it in the way people would weaponize words like “r*****d”, “s*****c”, “gay” and “special”.

Then there were the charming portmanteaus people would make of my name and those of infamous political figures, Osama bin Laden and Saddam Hussein. 

As a gay Middle Eastern kid with autism, I was subjected to more than my share of the nastiness.

In high school, some bullies caught me reading a play on the bus and branded me a “f****t”. I had a plastic water bottle thrown at my head.

In order to survive, I hid. By spending my lunch hours in the library reading and not talking to my classmates, I made myself a smaller target.

All the while, I secretly plotted my revenge. One day, I told myself, I would grow up to be someone very BIG and IMPORTANT and SUCCESSFUL—and then I’d show them.

The grandiosity I dreamed of would be the panacea to my feelings of being inferior.

Holding fast to my belief that I was someone important, I vowed to defy my bullies; to prove that I was inherently better. It was a thin veneer for my battered self-esteem and the shame of being different.

When grandiosity overtakes authenticity

For the remainder of my school years, I adopted a fierce work ethic. When I graduated, I was a straight-A student, at the top of several classes.

I was pleased—but I was not vindicated. And so, I labored on, well into my adulthood, abandoning my authentic gay identity.

I lost any concept of downtime. Weekends and holidays were sacrificed in pursuit of lofty goals and ambitious projects.

I accrued degrees, traveled the world, relocated several times, wrote multiple unpublished books, and released a feature documentary. Still, it was not enough.

My way of surviving had become my way of living. The world, as a result, had grown hopelessly grey, while I had become a prisoner at the mercy of an inner critic, whose voice was that of ancient bullies.

In an attempt to manage my depression, I would work around the clock for months on end, before the anxiety driving me gave out and I crashed.

The all-consuming preoccupations of grandiosity would flip into depression, then back again to grandiosity.

While trying to dig myself out of a serious bout of suicidal ideation, I was finally forced to accept that I was trapped in a cycle, one that was only getting progressively worse.

This survival mechanism had paradoxically created conditions ripe for self-destruction.

In the words of Self-Compassion author Kristin Neff, “Feelings of shame and insignificance can lead to a devaluing of oneself to the extent that it even overpowers our most basic and fundamental instinct—the will to stay alive”.

This, unfortunately, is a reality for many gay men. Pressured by society to reject our authentic gay identity, our lives are overshadowed by an enduring sense of worthlessness.

Gay men and depression

In I Don’t Want to Talk About It, a book detailing the silent epidemic of male depression, author Terry Real explains that as boys, we are socialized to split-off so-called “feminine” traits of emotional expressiveness and vulnerability.

We are told to turn away from the nurturing care of mothers, from our own emotions, and from the help of others. Instead, we are coerced into embracing a limited and perfectionist form of masculinity.

But this masculinity is not a state of being, so much as a kind of membership that is at constant risk of being revoked.

Given the widespread prejudicial association of being gay with femininity, we as gay boys in this sense are at particular risk of judgment, ostracism, abuse, and harm.

In most cases, we have no choice but to repress our shamed non-heteronormative identities.

Cut off from our emotional selves and the nurturance that is so critical to our flourishing, all boys suffer a form of passive trauma, which—if left unaddressed—can lead to covert depression.

Our inability to seek the help we need, to soothe ourselves in times of distress, combined with the pressures of conforming to an impossible ideal and the shame of not measuring up, inevitably forces us to seek relief.

So we turn to addictions such as drugs and drinking, or behavioral or “process” addictions like sex, gambling, food, video games or exercise, or the “performance-based esteem” offered by grandiosity.

What is grandiosity?

Grandiosity is a way of coping with the loneliness and grief of self-alienation. It can wear many faces, including those of achievement, perfectionism, and workaholism.

essy knopf gay identity grandiosity achievement perfectionism workaholism

Grandiosity is, in essence, the flip side of depression, and many of us spend our lives alternating between the two, with devastating effects.

The link between grandiosity and depression was first highlighted by Alice Miller in her book The Drama of the Gifted Child, and later, by Alan Downs in The Velvet Rage.

In The Velvet Rage, Downs outlines the struggles gay men face in the course of ignoring or silencing their emotions.

When we fail to investigate and integrate them into our gay identity, we are essentially “foreclosing” on our conferred identity as victims (to borrow a term by James E. Marcia).

We become trapped in a narrative that is not of our own making.

While grandiosity may anesthetize us against pain in the short run, whatever relief we might find comes at a cost.

Afraid that the ground might fall out from under us, we become dangerously addicted to chasing even more grandiosity.

The pursuit of meritocracy is further fueled by the belief that we live in a world where all hard work is rewarded, and effort makes all dreams possible.

This belief, however, can be dangerously deceptive, as philosopher Alain de Botton points out in his excellent TED Talk.

Adding weight to the desire to distinguish ourselves is “somebodyness”, a term coined by spiritual teacher Ram Dass.

“Somebodyness” refers to the popular Western belief that we are destined to one day be “somebody”. It fosters the idea of individual exceptionalism.

While these ideas can be motivational, for the grandiose gay man, they may lead him to view success and recognition as the only true measure of his self-worth.

When he fails to constantly achieve, he is thus likely to blame himself, to the exclusion of all other factors, thus denying himself the right to self-compassion.

In seeking external validation rather than internal validation, we grow increasingly distant from our authentic selves, which further reinforces the pursuit of grandiosity.

It is crucial therefore to recognize the role grandiosity is playing in stopping us as gay men from breaking harmful patterns and achieving true healing.

Authenticity = healing

Brené Brown in her book The Gifts of Imperfection describes authenticity as “the daily practice of letting go of who we think we’re supposed to be and embracing who we are”.

For Brown, authenticity involves:

  • “cultivating the courage to be imperfect, to set boundaries, and to allow ourselves to be vulnerable;
  • exercising the compassion that comes from knowing that we are all made of strength and struggle; and 
  • nurturing the connection and sense of belonging that can only happen when we believe we are strong enough.”

Thus, before we can achieve the true healing and self-acceptance offered by authenticity, we must first reclaim our split-off emotional selves.

Here are a couple of suggestions I have found helpful on my own journey:

1. Stop running from your gay identity

Our recovery depends upon our willingness to be self-aware. Self-awareness for me is a process of connecting the dots: we come to devise a clear story about how our past experiences have influenced our present circumstances.

Daily journaling and meditation help foster conditions for self-reflection. Two books I have found helpful for facilitating journaling are Jen Grisanti’s Story Line, which is designed for screenwriters but is nevertheless helpful, and Katherine Woodward Thomas’ Calling in “The One”.

essy knopf gay identity authenticity

It is through the process of excavating buried experiences that we will start to identify with our painful emotions and understand why and how we have repressed them.

These “Aha!” moments help bring into better focus the sources of our grandiosity. They enable us to reconnect with our authentic gay identity.

2. Do a cost-benefit analysis

Once you’ve identified why you might be driven towards grandiosity, draw up a simple cost-benefit analysis.

At the top of a page, write the habits or behaviors you are grappling with. Then create two columns below, one labeled “Advantages”, and the other “Disadvantages”.

Now grade both columns out of a shared pool of 100 points. Is it a 50-50 split? 60-40? 30-70? Your honest assessment should give you a good idea of whether it might be time to revise your grandiose habits.

You can find a sample version of a CBA by Feeling Good author David Burns here.

3. Face your depression

In order to reclaim our emotional authenticity, we have to surrender our addictive defenses, such as grandiosity, re-identify with the injured parts of ourselves and reject our entrenched sense of shame.

We do this by allowing our covert depression to surface as overt depression; by embracing the emotions we have long suppressed. It is by doing this that we reclaim emotional authenticity.

In the words of author Terry Real: “Depression freezes, but sadness flows. It has an end”.

This transformation can be achieved with the kind of corrective experiences offered by a therapist.

Through their support, we learn to “reparent” ourselves: to reconnect with our split-off emotions, and to employ self-soothing in times of distress.

4. Reprioritize self-care

Alongside self-soothing, we must also learn to employ regular self-care. A common belief with grandiosity is that your health, well-being, and happiness should never come first.

You can combat this perception by practicing self-care as a matter of priority. Consider:

  • Scheduling at least an hour of downtime every day.
  • Ensuring at least one day of the week is designated work-free.
  • Set time limits on activities you know lead you towards grandiosity.
  • Start self-nourishing hobbies like reading, gardening, or hiking.
  • Treat yourself to a bath, a massage, or a fancy meal out with a close friend.

Embrace your authentic gay identity

Ultimately, your journey towards wholeness can only happen if you are willing to accept that the promises of grandiosity are ultimately flawed.

You won’t prosper by them—not at least in the metrics that truly count. Nor will you feel better about yourself in any enduring or substantial way.

And the independence you achieve through grandiosity is a fallacy because it by its very nature demands your dependence.

essy knopf gay identity self-care tips

We are social creatures. Relationships with others are crucial to our sense of wholeness. And to love and be loved requires that we first be vulnerable. It necessitates interdependence.

So rather than clinging to some much-vaunted masculine ideal, we would be better served by embracing our authentic, vulnerable gay selves, rather than allowing ourselves to be defined exclusively by our achievements. 

Dismantling long-held ways of living is not an overnight process. But next time you catch yourself grappling with the inner critic, treat it as an opportunity to call grandiosity out on its crap—and to start being that little bit kinder to yourself.

Takeaways

  • Reconnect with your authentic gay identity through journaling.
  • Conduct a CBA of your current “survival tactics”.
  • Employ the help of a qualified professional to address your covert depression.
  • Make self-care a daily habit – starting from this very moment.