“So everyone’s calling me gay since I was 15 years old and I’m not gay and I’m like, ‘Well what does that mean?’” the 22-year-old shared on an episode of Dax Shepard’s podcast Armchair Expert. “I had these problems with the way my voice sounded and I’m like, ‘How do I sit?’ I’m always first to cross my legs and sit with like a position of this feminine type of style and I really suffered with that s***.”
Mendes explained how the speculation made him question his public persona and even reflect on what he was expected to act like as a male musician. “I need to like be really f***ing messy and say the wrong things and apologize and say the right thing after I apologize and be confused about how to respond when people say I’m gay,” he said.
More importantly, however, he worried about the impact that the public dialogue and shaming would have on people who were actually struggling with or coming to terms with their sexuality.
“It was also so frustrating for me ‘cause there’s some people in my life I was very, very close to who were gay and in the closet, and I felt like this real anger for those people. I don’t know, I mean it’s such a tricky thing. You want to say I’m not gay but it would be fine if I was gay but also like nothing wrong with being gay but I’m not. You don’t really know how to respond to the situation,” he said. “But it kind of just like ended up becoming something that I wanted to just be really open about and really honest about too because I think a lot of guys go through that. And even worse than that there’s just so many guys who are gay and in the closet and must be hearing shit like that being like, I’m terrified to come out.”
Mendes grew up in Canada alongside his younger sister and female cousins, which also impacted his identity. “I didn’t grow up wrestling. I grew up getting my hair braided on New Year’s Eve. It just completely depends on how you grew up and your life, your surroundings.” He even shared how he’s tried to embrace his “middle ground” identity, likening himself to Freddie Mercury. “But I’m also not there either,” he admitted. “I’m still a little more manly, so I don’t know. It’s all confusing, so I’m just gonna let it be what it is.”
He also acknowledged the expectations put on men by the media and its portrayal of relationships, while sharing this his own with girlfriend Camila Cabello has allowed him to express his vulnerability in a healthy way. “I definitely know relationships of friends of mine who are like, ‘Well my girlfriend doesn’t want me to just tell her how I feel and cry and stuff around her, I gotta be strong for her,’” he explained. “I’m in a relationship where my girlfriend’s like, ‘We’re gonna get in bed and you’re gonna put your head on my chest and you’re gonna cry into my chest and you’re gonna tell me how you feel because if you don’t do that you’re just gonna be an a**hole for the next week and I’m not gonna deal with that s***.’ So I’m lucky to be in a relationship that’s for it.”
“I think people are quick to say, ‘Well he’s an artist so he gets a pass to be vulnerable and a pass to cry, but like most guys shouldn’t,’” he reflected. “Guys just need to be vulnerable. We need to cry. Stop thinking this is being brave and strong and start thinking it’s the opposite actually. We’re holding in these emotions and not crying and being a**holes. Nothing about that is nice.”
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