Queer envy: gratitude and resentment
By: Mason Wood
Not gay as in happy but queer as in I really like your shoes.
They probably don’t know me, but I saw them on the train this morning. I wanted to offer them my seat. Not because they looked like they needed it, but just so I could say hi. Their hair was crisp, their outfit stylish and I just loved their shoes.
I was thinking about how we live in the same suburb. About how I sometimes see them on my Grindr feed. Their face sits five or six profiles away from mine. In their photos, they sit in parks drinking carbonated beverages, wearing cute shorts and wide-brimmed hats. They show more skin than I ever do. My photos are bland and surly.
They were standing metres away from me, and I couldn’t pinpoint whether I wanted to be their friend, their lover or if I just wanted to crawl inside their hair. I couldn’t tell if I wanted to be like them in some ways, or if I wanted to be like them in all the ways possible.
Image: Felix Russell-Saw
Do you know how I can tell that I’m a human, and not just a bundle of exciting knots tied together in the shape of a boy? It’s because of the fervent envy that keeps my bones and muscles from puddling out of me.
This envy is often what I feel for people who possess a kind of a queer competence and sophistication that I feel I do not. I notice them with their mirror selfies, their sexual bravado, their body confidence! I’m on the internet looking at non-monogamous partners preparing their non-monogamous meals! I see their good eyeliner and their robust social circles!
These things I notice, they remind me what queerness can be. Starting out, I’m grateful that I get to observe them. Then like some poisonous Pokémon evolution, gratitude becomes envy, and envy turns to resentment.
I have come to hate them for representing a version of myself that feels out of reach. They’re a kind of gay recipe. I think to myself, “Do I want this because it looks good, or do I want this because I actually want this?”
Can I even want things in a vacuum? Should I want a vacuum? Would buying a vacuum be a good step in my crusade towards homonormativity?
I’m at some shitty club on a Friday night, and they are kind to me in the line for the bathroom. I’m wearing something basic and sparkly – I am a gay goblin of sorts.
I’m in awe of how they wear their clothes. Do they have design skills and a magic sewing machine? Or were they were scooped up from the seafoam just like this?
They are a nymph – in leather and chiffon. They stand out from the skinny jeans and Nikes in the crowd.
In their boots, they tower above me. I want to disappear into them.
Queer kids tend to skip the stage of having non-extraordinary role models. Instead, we might fill this gay gap with fictional characters in films or books. Or with celebrities leading just as fictional public lives.
I’m trying to think of early queer role models, and nobody springs to mind. All I have left is flat characters from bad movies and TV. That gay guy in Easy A? Glee’s Kurt? I say, “No thank you, Ryan Murphy!”
In her video essay, ‘Envy’, ContraPoints says: “Humans form our sense of identity and self-worth not by comparing ourselves to any absolute standard, but by comparing ourselves to each other.”
This strikes a chord. It’s the people who are like us in some way that incubate our feelings of competition and inferiority.
We’re more likely to envy others who represent a possibility of what we could reasonably achieve. Social media makes everyone seem closer. Living in a city teeming with gorgeous gay creatures has made everything feel within reach.
On the one hand, this proximity shows to me that queerness is good, visible and worth celebrating. On the other, it cements what being a ‘good queer’ looks like; placing a magnifying glass on any real or imagined shortcomings. I assess them through the lens of perfection – they are gay gazelles. I’m a polony sandwich.
They are not one person, but a legion. A horde of queers with nice hair and firm butts. I’m trying not to collapse them all together. They deserve individualism.
One is creative, popular and hot.
Another is athletic, also popular and hot.
Okay, most of them seem to be popular and hot. I question the silly gay yardstick I use to measure their popularity and hotness.
I beat myself up with said yardstick because I do not feel popular and hot.
What is it about them that makes me feel so powerless and pathetic? They are not even people anymore. They’re symbols; stand-ins for my own deficiencies.
My envy exposes to me the poisons of contemporary comparison. I think about where these ideas of queer success come from. I tell myself that the visibility of queerness is a privilege – to know that it exists in colourful and joyous shapes. Why then does viewing other people’s joy feel like a personal attack?
Envy can help us recognise values and aspirations that might be important to us. Do we then proceed to work on them, to meet the standard in a healthy way? Who gets to decide that any progress made is a healthy manifestation of envy?
Sometimes I’m in love with them, but other times they wear a beret. Is it leather? Or wool? They wear this beret, and they are a God. I own a beret; several in fact. I’m often too scared to wear them. I look in the mirror and think to myself, “who do you think you are? You have no right to wear this!”
I want to take up a scalpel and carve up their skin and walk around in it and feel their confidence.
When I’m wearing their skinsuit, I will inevitably learn that they’re just as laden with queer anxiety as I am, only with nicer shoes.
I will see how I worshipped a version of their queerness. I will leave the skinsuit on because no matter how much shame is compounded into our two bodies, it’s good to have nice shoes.
I’m on the train and a friend tells me that one day people will be inspired to envy me also. I’m not sure if this is a nice thing to say. My friend tells me someone probably already feels this way. That guy sitting on the bus; the older gay work colleague; some kid at the supermarket; or a very, very close friend who doesn’t want to make it weird by saying so.
I know they’re right – I’m not just the observer, but also the observed. I think about the version of myself that others might see, and I tell myself that being envied is not a marker of queer success.
My friend tells me to be conscious of my own visibility. My envy is just one tiny part of a massive, beautiful, ugly orgy. (That I wasn’t invited to).
Mason Wood is a writer in Naarm. He is published in Voiceworks and others. He is a recipient of the Wheeler Centre Hot Desk Fellowship 2022. He is currently the Marketing Manager of Going Down Swinging.