Sunday, October 12, 2008

Love in the Time of Promiscuity

Gay men don't have relationships like straight couples. There are no expectations, no wedding bells in our ears, no age at which we become old maids or wasted bachelors. We don't think in terms of forever. Maybe when we were young, before we knew how to live and navigate the gay currents where the light is brief, promiscuous and secret.

These days it's a new time, thinking about gay marriage, and maybe boys coming up now have a different idea about what a relationship is supposed to be, an idea closer to the marriage of straights. But even 10 years ago, there wasn't this idea in our culture. If gay people stayed together for years, it was without the ceremonial and especially the social constraints. 

Cheating is different for gay men. It's like we've had to deal with our sexual selves more realistically. Because for so long we were not allowed to have relationships openly. We had to face the realism of a human sexuality that simply isn't biologically geared to monogamy. We had to have had promiscuous, profane and illegal sex lives. What is cheating, when the only way you meet other gay men is secretly? Well, it's not that way anymore, but the point is we've had to face the idea that we could never be together openly and if we met in secret it could only last for so long. Hence, the sorrows of Brokeback Mountain

When I was younger, say in college, the whole dilemma was how would I ever meet someone? I didn't even really know I was gay. My parents never had gay friends, no one in my family was gay. I didn't feel terribly different from my peers, and when I did I just thought I was nerdy. "Gay" was just something funny that adults laughed at. Then in college I just didn't know where or how to meet anyone. The only gay guy I knew about was this big flouncy queen, and at the time it just seemed too foreign to me. Too scary. I mean, was I going to be a lispy, bouncy thing? I was still a virgin, though I messed around with a few girls, so it was difficult to navigate. 

Once I answered a newspaper add in the back of the school paper looking for "gay athletes" for a party. I ended up in this older fat guy's living room where he blew me. I was grossed out afterward. It was traumatizing. I never knew his name. He didn't ask for mine. I did not look into his eyes or close my eyes in his arms. He put in some porn and got on his knees and an hour later I was walking home choking down tears. I was lost and really alone. I had girlfriends, but never felt anything romantically. I always felt like I was looking for some answer to my loneliness. My first experience was all sex and no eros. 

I thought meeting someone else who liked me, meeting a . . .  I didn't even have language for it, not gay--gay was a feeling about bouncy girlish strange boys, a feeling I was scared other people would have about me--and not man, I don't know why. I wanted to meet someone who I could be close to in the dark, and who would be close to me.

I really believed this was the whole dilemma.

15 years later, I know that the struggle is much more complicated. Much less romantic. Gay men are insecure and terrified. We are bullies, we are co-dependent. We are terrified of commitment. We are desperate for commitment. We want so much to be in love, and we don't believe in it. 

When I finally fell in love I really only wanted that forever. He was a swimmer and a painter. He rode his bicycle and had a dog. We met on the racetrack outside the gym. 

We still talk everyday. We live in different states, across the country now. 

The truth is that I cheated on him and he cheated on me and it wasn't until years later, years of heartache and ruin and getting to know him more fully, years of becoming family, all the while dating and sleeping with strangers, years making ourselves necessary to each other while making a distance too big to cross, becoming lifers and something more intimate than lovers, but not lovers any longer. It's not until these years of distance and longing that I understand his place in my life and my place in his. I am married to him more and more, but we won't ever be married. We may never sleep together again. But it's there. That love. That meaning.

He is not the man I was dating when I found out I was H.I.V. positive.

This closeness, this trust. 

And this promiscuous reality. 

I came of age between them. 

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