Thursday, August 13, 2009

Introverts, Extroverts, and being Gay

In my first article on "Overcoming Asexualization," I suggested that we go through an automatic cascade of judgments when we see (or sense) other people, from identifying their identity, establishing their gender, judging physical traits, and assessing various aspects of their personalities. Each stage of judgment closely influences the following ones. I've discussed several of these preconceptions in terms of my own personal experiences with my homosexuality and the LGBT world. However, I've neglected to address the fourth stage of judgment, which I've more or less promoted as the best indicator for truly assessing someone's potential as a mate. I'm talking about the aspects of ourselves that pierce deeper than the skin: personality. Such a multifaceted topic is hard to take on; where to begin?

When I was in high school, we took a personality test in our health class. I had never really done anything like this before, so I wasn't sure what we were even assessing. The questions were generally lame, and I was beginning to wonder if it was some kind of a joke. Would I climb a tree if people around me were urging me to do it? No, certainly not! Then we went through all of our answers and tallied up our scores. We weren't told what they meant until after we had our number. It turned out to be a test of extroverts vs. introverts. The teacher described that most people had a personality that was some combination of extraversion (a highly social personality) and introversion (a quiet, inward-seeking personality). People started reading off their numbers, and I was shocked by how many extroverts there were in the room. Most people were either strongly extroverted or middle-of-the road. I remember thinking, "all you people would climb up that damn tree?" I was the only person who was a true, 100% full-blooded introvert according to the test (no one else was even close to that). I changed my answers to keep the teacher from holding me up as the shining example of introversion to the class. So, in the end, yes, I mounted that tree.

That day did provide, however, a revelation for me. I realized that there was a name for the quiet, socially restrained aspect of my personality. I've always been able to entertain myself with my own thoughts and research, but I also have a sincerely social side and love to talk to new people at public gatherings. That is, once I've managed to break the ice with someone (or rather, someone's done it for me--before that moment happens I often feel nervous and like a social failure). While I might claim to be an introvert, I've never been a fan of absolutism; the suggestion that anyone is entirely one thing or the other is absurd. But I did start noticing that there do seem to be people who are "more extroverted" and "more introverted," and they do have differentiable personality characteristics.

As an introvert, it is often difficult to meet people and make good friends, so it seems like the unending pursuit of friendship has defined the story of my social life. In my (sometimes desperate) quest for amity, I often found myself gravitating toward the "more extroverted" types. They were easy. I could start a conversation with them, and suddenly I would feel like I was at the centre of their world. However, just as soon as someone else they knew would walk into the room (or I would leave), our seemingly unbreakable connection would vanish just as quickly. I personally prefer to conjure deeper, more intimate friendships. Furthermore, often finding myself lost in a group setting, I do much better to focus on the individuals I enjoy spending time with in a one-on-one fashion, which always seems better when engaging them on a more intellectual and personal level.

These modes of interaction appear to be inadequate for the 'more extroverted' people I have courted for friendship, and it seems like a lot of my invitations to extroverts have been simply snubbed or brushed off. Me being a bit quirky and not 100% "normal" is also probably a turn-off for some of the extroverted types as well, as I've noticed they often like to project a particular image of themselves to attract others. Despite all friendly overtures toward these persons-of-interest, I was never invited to their parties or over to their houses. And while extroverts often do have close personal friends, I find that there are often too many people in competition for the same extrovert's affections for me to be a valid candidate for close friendship. Among the competitors are probably more people like me, individuals seeking that easy, fresh, intimate connection with someone. At some point in the course of all this pursing of extroverts, I stepped back and realized that I was doing just what I didn't want other people to do: ignoring the introverts!

So I decided to try a bit harder with the introverts around me, so far with mixed success. Considering that I am reserved, but I'm not timid, shy, or otherwise mute in the presence of others, I figured that I had an advantage if I could just be social enough. However, I discovered that, while the introvert might provide the best chances for a deeper, more meaningful friendship, it's also substantially harder to break through to them (harder than I know I am personally to get through to). It's especially difficult if they're already satisfied with the friendships and relationships they have in their life, and if correspondingly they're not looking for an expansion of their personal social network. Even though I've lived in Montreal for several years now, it's still a struggle breaking into this pre-existing social fabric. In the end, reaching that point of finding good friends seemed to be a nearly insurmountable task in my attempts with introverts and extroverts, and my overtures have been outright rejected by some. It seems like my most rewarding friendship was with one (heterosexual man) who is an in-between type; social, but not too much so, and not lacking room in his life for new, close friendships. It's time with him that constitutes my primary social life in Montreal, as he invites me over to his house and to social gatherings. In the end, in a very introverted fashion, I have only a couple of good friends in the city where I live.

At some point, I began to question how my personality affects the way I carry out my sexual orientation. Perfectly beautiful, introverted heterosexuals have to face the same realizations sooner or later. It's clear that the "more introverted," such as myself, are at a general disadvantage when it comes to building a social life.

Furthermore, I argued in my article entitled "A Small Town Network of City Gays," that the gay community is highly geared to providing LGBT persons with a manageably-sized forum of people, through which they can make contacts, find new friends, and develop love interests. This community seems thus to be naturally geared toward extraversion. Those who are extroverted and enter the gay community are much more likely to find a social network, ready-made and willing to revolve around them, which is just what many of them are looking for there. Introverts, however, are quite another story. In operating best outside of the group-setting, they may find it difficult to really find an 'in' in the gay community. Furthermore, once there, many may find it, as I have, more difficult not to be trampled in the never-ending stampede toward the extroverts. This makes logical sense, as the extroverts are inarguably the most potentially profitable social contacts one could have when building a rapport with others in the gay community and eventually finding someone to love. Introverts, who often take time to 'warm up' to new social situations, have fewer contacts, and may find it virtually impossible to break the ice by themselves, may be more readily dismissed in such an environment. As a result, in order to generate more interest from others, introverts in the gay community may have to rely unduly on their physical attractiveness (third level of judgment) to entice people to get to know them better.

If an extrovert takes a distinct interest in an introvert and builds a relationship with that person, it can be a very fruitful experience for both individuals; they may even find that their contrasting qualities complement each other well. However, being more socially focused on a few individuals, introverts may be more readily crushed when one of these relationships (either friendship or romance) fails, and may thus find themselves back at square one in the gay community. I worry that this greater escalation of commitment on the part of introverts (those who are seeking something more) may make these individuals more vulnerable to some of the ugliness that can exist in human interactions and relationships.

In the heterosexual community (i.e., the world), people are coming from all directions on any given day; all of them are assumed, by heterosexist norms, to be heterosexual unless otherwise indicated. In this expansive and diverse world, there is more opportunity for heterosexual introverts to meet new people who share their romantic desires. Unlike LGBT persons, heterosexual introverts also do not fall into and out of their sexual-social fabric with the gain or loss of one contact. But the gay community, which is highly limited in space, time, and members, and is geared strongly, competitively toward networking, seems, at least to me, to leave the introvert on the sidelines more often than not. This observation is certainly not true for all people, but it does provide food for thought.

My concluding question: is there any hope for the heavily introverted individual in the gay community? I'm sure there are some wonderful success stories, which I'd be delighted to hear, as I'm definitely not one of them. I think there is some hope, however, if the extrovert-seekers (like I formerly was) would stand back and look at the types of personalities (introvert vs. extrovert and other dimensions of personality; there are many, many others) that they have been favouring. In doing so, I would hope that they question what they are looking for, and what it might be like to seek human relationships with people having similar interests but different personality types. I think if we engage in this thought experiment, and put our curiosity to practice, we might enjoy what we discover. If I may be so bold to say so, on the behalf of gay introverts seeking to grow their social networks, we are ready and willing!

1 comment:

  1. This is amazing. A lightbulb went off in my head this morning about the possibility of gay culture being extravert-oriented, did a Google search, found this post, and felt like you were inside my head. I almost want to print it off, carry a copy with me at all times, and hand it to people.