November 10, 2013

To All the (Gay) Men I Loved Before: A Torch Song.

I no longer need gay male friends to prop me up or make me feel better about myself and my life; I just love them because they are fabulous human beings who make the world a better place.

Illinois voters: thank you for getting it right on marriage equality last week!

My life has been so much better, so infinitely much better because of the gay men I’ve known, who have been my friends, and supporters and soul mates, that I can’t imagine anyone meeting any one of them (or any LGBTQ person) and deciding that it would be dangerous to society if they were allowed to be legally married.

I also have gay friends who have been married longer than I have, and in none of those relationships do I see anything different from what I see in my own marriage. (Well, other than the fact that in most cases they have fewer than half the rights I enjoy relative to inheritance, health insurance and end of life directives).

There is a kind of hard-wiring in me that has always led me to gay men like a divining rod.

The first boy I ever fell in love with was gay, although I didn’t actually know that until we were in college.

He was smart, and handsome, and funny, and he would dance with me at 7th Grade Activity Night. I remember dancing  in the cafeteria, my face buried in his Shetland sweater. I have known him since we were in elementary school, he is still my friend, and although we haven’t danced together recently, I still love him.

It turns out that nearly every boy I fell in love with between the ages of 9 and 18 was gay, which may explain why I didn’t have many dates. More than once I sat in a bar or a parked car and listened to coming out stories that were a mixture of triumph, pain, fear and pride.

I fell for gay men in college, by which time I clearly understood that the men in question were gay, but I somehow believed that if they really, really wanted to, they could choose me. I fell in love with Larry, who was talented, and adorable, and wrote me a song. I fell in love with Andrew, with whom I performed scenes from “Much Ado About Nothing.” I fell in love with Jeff, who had, at one time, dated Larry.

I was a not very pretty, not very confident girl, but I had an escort for every occasion, an escort who opened doors for me, knew how to dance and generally made me feel like maybe I really was pretty and confident.

As I got older and remained single, I wondered what was the matter with me. I dissected, I debated with myself, I tried desperately to figure out what signal was coming to me from gay men that scrambled my brain so that I fell in love with them instead of suitably heterosexual specimens. I had experienced several “real” relationships, and certainly enjoyed the sexual dynamic that was (obviously) missing from my faux boyfriends, but even in a happy pairing with a straight man, I missed the ease of being with my gay friends.

I missed the easy inside jokes, the shared love of beauty, the lack of arguments over petty things, and the deep discussions that lasted for hours and covered everything. I know that there is a difference between the ease of a friendship and the heavier tension and responsibility of a romantic relationship, but that difference doesn’t explain it all.

There is, of course, the kind of gay male friend made famous on “Sex and the City” who will go shoe shopping and give good advice, but I have always had girlfriends with whom I did that kind of thing. There was something else about those boys and men that I needed, and it’s not an easy thing to pin down, because they are all different from each other.

Some march in Pride parades and have rainbow stickers on their cars, and others live lives indistinguishable in any way from my own, including being married, having children and working. They are as diverse as any other group of people I know; one of them was even a Republican for a while. It’s not patent “gaiety” that I love, it’s something else about those men.

I don’t believe I am drawn to gay men because they are just a different kind of “girlfriend,” or because they are handsome and charming escorts. They are men, plain and simple. I think I love them because every one of them has had to struggle with being different, and afraid of rejection and judgment. That kind of mental work almost necessarily creates some level of compassion for others who suffer, and that compassion is very attractive to me.

My boys all have souls that shine like beacons to anyone who has been broken, rejected or misunderstood. I no longer need gay male friends to prop me up or make me feel better about myself and my life; I just love them because they are fabulous human beings who make the world a better place.

I will add that the whole business of comparing straight men to gay men and criticizing straight men for their failure to appreciate Jimmy Choos or going to the theater is, in my opinion, an unnecessary and unfair business.  Not all gay men are flamers with boas in their closets, and not all straight men are insensitive clods who’d rather be watching football.

Many of the finest straight men I know are wonderful precisely because they have some qualities or preferences that read as stereotypically “gay.” My brother says that people thought he was gay in college because he had a beautiful collection of neatly folded sweaters, and listened to Judy Garland. Not gay; just evolved. My husband has been known to cry a little at the end of a sad movie or after a particularly moving story. Not gay; just the hottest kind of thing a straight man can do.

I won’t have changed anyone’s mind here, and I didn’t intend to present any kind of logical argument for marriage equality. This really isn’t about civil rights at all, except to the extent that gay people are human and should have rights based on their humanity and not who they love.

I also don’t mean to dismiss or undermine the goodness of straight men, who offer a whole other kind of rich, complicated wonder to my life.

This is just a torch song to all of those boys and men who were so kind, and so loving and accepting of a not pretty, not confident girl, long enough for her to grow into herself and leave that girl behind.

P.S. There are many LGBTQ women in my life as well, but that’s a whole other post.


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Editor: Catherine Monkman

{Photo: Wikimedia Commons.}

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