Friday, March 9, 2012

Man Series, Part 1: Ode to Gay Men

This month officially is Women’s History Month, so it seems a strange time to do a two-part series on men.  However, I feel compelled this month to express how a few very special men helped this little lady learn to have faith in the male species.

Let me start at the very beginning (I hear it's a very good place to start)… When I was a young girl, my parents had “the talk” with me – several of them, in fact, oh joy – that many parents have with their budding young daughters who are about to embark on their first romantic encounters.  My mom and stepdad filled me in on the ins and outs, as it were, of male-female interactions, both the clinical aspects – in waaay too much depth, thank you very much – and the more nuanced, interpersonal interactions. Many of these discussions focused on how teenage boys “want just one thing” from girls. Some of you may recall this post, and now you know what prompted it.

The result of all of this was that by the time I approached adulthood, I was fairly certain that men had a very limited capacity for love. Lust? Yes. Desire? Absolutely. Possessiveness? For sure. But love? Not really. I was convinced that what approximated love in men was really a combination of desire and possessiveness that aligned nicely with women’s longing to love and be loved.

Let me explain my thinking back then... Man wants woman, woman wants man. Check. Man desires woman, woman desires man. Check. Woman’s broad focus and driving force is love and an instinctive yearning to adore one man, thus making a relationship and marriage palatable and even desirable. Man’s broad focus and driving force is lust and possession, thus making a relationship and marriage palatable… maybe not ideal, but the best way to get what they want based on what women want. Check…?

In my head, at that time, I figured that men essentially went along with this whole “love” and “marriage” thing because it allowed them access to their end goal – consistent access to sex with less drama and challenge than they’d deal with by pursuing their real, but less realistic, dream of fleeting physical encounters with woman after woman after woman.  I had it in my head that it was sort of a male conspiracy. They knew the truth about one another, but they veiled it for us ladies and put it into our terms when interacting with us: "I love you." In other words, I gave men a lot of credit for their ability to be highly manipulative. You men may thank me for that another time.

Don’t get me wrong. The men I dated during and after college were wonderful. Kind. Respectful. Loving. I didn’t doubt that they cared for me. I simply doubted, at that time, their capacity for love and adoration. I didn’t hold it against them, though, because I figured they couldn’t be expected to go against their nature.

My breakthrough came in the mid 1990s, just after an argument a heated discussion at work about whether or not being gay was a choice. This is a topic that is very dear to my heart. Many of my close friends, a few of whom I’ve known since my earliest childhood, are gay. I’ve watched several of them struggle with acknowledging this aspect of themselves to themselves, in some cases well into adulthood. I remember years ago when one friend of mine almost formally “informed” me that her roommate was more than a roommate; she was blushing and trembling and had a look on her face of such wariness… and while I didn’t say it at the time, part of me was incredibly angry at the world for creating a situation where she had to worry that I might reject her as a friend for simply being herself, mad at the world for creating a situation where she felt she had to make a formal announcement to me about the gender of her partner. As if that should matter.

But I digress.  So we had this argument discussion at work, and I went home and stewed for a while and came up with fantastic come-backs to things said to me hours earlier. Don’t you hate that, when your wit and sarcasm take a few hours to catch up?  Again, I digress. I remember suddenly coming up short as a thought came into my head about something that I, myself, had said. My adversary coworker had implied, several times, that “gay” was all about sex. Nothing about love. Just a choice about a sexual encounter. I had argued back that many gay couples and lesbian couples remain in committed relationships for years or for a lifetime.

Do you get where I’m going with this?  You see, when I made that argument, it flew in the face of my notions about men. If men stayed in committed relationships and marriages with women solely because it was what women expected, then why in heaven would men, in the world as I believed it to be, have committed relationships with other men, who shared those same innate lust-desire-possession drives but a limited capacity for actual love?  If my assumptions about men’s feelings held true, it didn't stand to reason that gay men would feel obligated to commit to one another or to put on the whole “I love you” act. 

But in reality, rather than shun or devalue commitment, they muddle through the typical range of challenges in their relationships to try to make them work and they fight for the right to marry their partners. And they do this amid so much hatred that is flung at them at times by those who feel they have some right to judge. How many straight couples would be able to find the will and the love to stay together under such circumstances? 

That was my breakthrough moment, my friends. I remember it very clearly. It was one of those rare times in life when you have a real, all-at-once revelation. It took me some time to get through it all in my head, but the long and short is that because of gay men who share committed relationships, I regained my faith in men in general. Because of them, I decided to give men the credit that they deserve for their capacity to love. And from what I’ve seen since I had this revelation, that capacity is immense.

I pay attention now in a whole new way to the men in my life. I don’t observe through a veil of distrust. I think I’m kinder to and more appreciative of men than I once was. And I’ve gotten so much joy in return. So thank you to the gay men in my life. This one is for you. 

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