After 150+ hours of interviews, I often reflect on a key assumption I had before starting The Pillow Talk Project. At first, I used to think that the only men who got the importance of this project and would be more forthcoming were queer, not straight. But I realized it’s not that simple. 

I have had a lot of experiences as a queer man of color that shaped my perspective about what I might expect. From an early childhood wrought with bullying, persecution, and just plain ole treachery to a young adulthood of confusion laced with happy memories, I’d grown to believe that queer men were the most evolved when it came to being empathetic and in touch with their feelings.

For as long as I could remember, I had often been misunderstood because I didn’t fit within the box of what a man was expected to be. So, in my eyes, the men who fit that definition couldn’t possibly know what it felt like to be me.

Funny enough, that hypothesis couldn’t have been further from the truth. In fact, there were moments during interviews where I wondered if I’d been completely wrong about everything, and if my own childhood experience was just a fluke. I wondered if there was either something wrong with me or if my experience was just an exception. As a result, every interview has been one epiphany after the next.

If I’ve learned anything–and I must admit that I’ve learned a lot–it’s that every man has a unique perspective when it comes to beauty, masculinity, and male desire.

Yes, every man. From the man skipping down the sidewalk colorfully in flaming red pumps to the man who can bench press like nobody’s business, has zero percent body fat, and was born with a football in his hand.

From the LGBTQI activist trying to make school a safe place for all identities to the guy who screams “faggot” to any person he doesn’t like, every chance he gets. There’s a reason for everything we do. And it plays a powerful role in shaping not only who we are but what we believe.

Ultimately, it shouldn’t be about who is more empathetic or sensitive–there are a number of factors that influence our belief systems and perspective on the world around us.  And to put one group of men against the other only furthers the rift that already separates us. In the process of listening to stories of men from all walks of life, I’ve realized  that no matter one’s belief systems, orientation, or identity, we can all relate on the pressures around beauty, masculinity, and male desire.

Don’t believe me? Here are five lessons from interviews with queer and straight men that made me check my own assumptions, and expand my own horizons in the process:

1) Brian explained that not only can intimacy be so good it hurts when it’s gone, but that when it clicks, it can best be described as that, ‘I see you, baby,’ ‘Oh word?’ type of connection.

2) Junior schooled me on the fact that a truly meaningful relationship for some is  a partner who knows when to be your best friend, instead of just your lover.

3) Gordie taught me that a 10-year Ph.D. in Sex reminds us that we’re all playing roles instead of being honest about what we really hope for and need: to be wanted.

4) Anonymous interviewee The Storyteller reminded me that no matter one’s sexual preference, we’re all yearning for the opportunity to be loved and show our love in return.

5) Jarren revealed that some jocks know how to not only throw a football, but be multi-talented artists who feel, hurt, and love like the rest of us.

Every day I wake up, I’m excited about the fact that I toughed it out and decided to tackle such a challenging but rewarding project like this. As a result, I’ve learned so much more about the world–and the men–around me.

If you join me on this journey, I bet you will, too. Learn how you can join the movement, and share your story and unique perspective with the world.