Saturday, November 8, 2008

Friends, Acquaintances, Relationships & Lovers

Rick & Steve - Cast

In the straight world the boundaries and definitions of interpersonal relationships are much more clear cut. Friends are people you care about and are faithful to support in times of adversity. Acquaintances are people you have met and are familiar with but share no special bond. Straight people have “relationships” with others they feel an emotional intimacy with and affection. Lovers are people that share an emotional and physical intimacy. In the gay world these categories lose all cohesion. In the gay world it seems that interpersonal relationships are as insubstantial as half-set Jello.

Its because we don’t clarify and respect the boundaries of our relationships that we so frequently appear flaky and shallow. We are our own worst enemy. When I say “we” I mean the collective gay “us”. With all the progress that has been made for gay people; hate crime laws, non-discrimination laws for sexual orientation, even gay marriage, we so often continue to play into the ridiculous stereotypes that the homophobes promote about us. Now that I live in a larger town I’ve seen a greater cross-section of the gay community. Ninety-nine percent of the time gay men are just the same as the people I know in the straight world. But, every once in a while they really “go off the reservation.” We need to remember, as the straight world does, how to treat our friends. We have to take care of our own.

I’m shocked at the cross-pollination that happens between gay relationships. For instance, some gay men share a close intimate relationship with a best friend yet they are not lovers. Some gay men quickly become physically intimate with a casual acquaintance yet they share no special bond. Friends are people to share a good time with but quickly turn on if its no longer convenient or comfortable. The lines are so blurry that its hard to make sense of things.

The most painful stereotype to watch is the exchange of snarkey insults and sniping that goes on between gay men. So often gay men are considered petty and immature. Its hard to disagree when two men are seen insulting each other about the color and texture of sportswear, or, when two men almost come to blows over who makes a better cheese dip. Its like watching an argument between Paula Deen versus Martha Stewart, but add testosterone. Hence, the many well-justified accusations that we gay guys indulge in excessive drama.

We don’t police ourselves on these situations either. Why is it that we older, more mature guys don’t keep the young bucks in check? If a couple of smartass college boys were to show up at a bar or bowling alley full of middle-aged straight guys and start criticizing them, the old-boys would collectively kick their college-boy asses. But, not the gays. Why do we tolerate any amount of bad behavior from these men just because they happen to be young and attractive? Are we so desperate for the attention of these pretty young things that we will accept insults, criticism, and personal embarrassment just so at the end of the evening we might get a brief hug and peck on the cheek before we head home?

Having said that, let’s consider the more positive relationships and associations between gay people. Quite simply we call it “family” and for good reason. Because most of us are single (un-partnered, unmarried…..whatever) we tend to look out for one another. If we don’t, who will? Its true that biological families love us but only a fellow gay man understands what its like to live in this skin. Only a fellow gay has lived with the repression, the discrimination, the feeling of alienation from ninety percent of the human population. When a group of friends can share their feelings about the hurts and laugh despite them, they become family. When they find that their affection for one another is deeper than the physical attraction, it exceeds friendship. It becomes something else. The closest analog in straight culture is family.

What role does this family play? They offer comfort, acceptance, and most importantly security. A sad and real truth about the gay world is that there are a few predators lurking in the dark. I’ve been the recipient of cautious advice from dear friends to avoid some characters I’ve met. I’ve seen young, newly out gay men fiercely protected by their seniors without any anticipation of an inappropriate reciprocation. There is great nobility in the gay community. After all, we are a bunch of queens, right?

Occasionally one finds the rare long-term, committed monogamous relationship between two men. It’s a rare and precious thing to see. When you consider that only ten percent of the population is gay, then consider that a smaller fraction of that has compatible age and interests with one another, its amazing that two men find each other at all. How special it is when two men happen to find each other and stay together for longer than a weekend dinner party. But, whether the straights believe it or not, that long-term-relationship (LTR) is that to which most of us aspire. So many people in the straight world believe gay folk to be promiscuous, carefree bon vivants with no capacity for true love or the ability to commit. If they only realized that its simply a problem of math. In the straight world there are dozens of potentials for every man and woman but in our world its one in ten at best.

I didn’t say all that to garner any sympathy or pity for myself or “my people”. I said it with a heartfelt intent to provoke and inspire thought about issues in the gay world that should be slightly more important than who should win the next round of “Dancing with the Stars”. I’m saying it to both the gay world and straight world to highlight the fact that we are more alike than different. We both care about the same things in life, our friends, acquaintances, relationships and lovers. We care about each other.

(photo credit: logoonline at flickr)

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