Gay men versus respectability – stop trying to be just like everyone else.
Do ‘good gays’ get married? Are the guys having open relationships and anonymous hook-ups giving gays a bad name? Why are queer men so keen to be seen as ‘normal’? Why do we want to be just like everyone else?
What is normal?
It seems to be pretty well-documented and accepted that humans, on the whole, are social creatures that respond well to interpersonal interaction, building relationships, social networks, and family groups.
In Western cultures, the expectation is that heterosexual relationships will be monogamous and will be a lifelong commitment – or at least start out with that intention – and will have a certain Hollywood-style romance attached to it. In popular culture, relationships that are presented as aspirational have a sense of destiny, and true love – that you’ve both found ‘the one’.
Should we also be applying that same aspirational ideal to relationships between gay men? Queer men are painting themselves into an emotional corner if we accept that these heterosexual, Hollywood-style relationship rules automatically apply to us.
The doubled-edged sword of Marriage Equality
The fight for equality and the fight against discrimination has led us to a pursuit of Marriage Equality - an ambition that’s been successfully realised in an increasing number of countries.
The logic of Marriage Equality is fairly self-evident – if we’ve established that people shouldn’t be discriminated against because of their sexuality, why should same-sex couples be prevented from having the same recognition and validation of their relationship as everyone else?
However, the triumphant march of Marriage Equality highlights one of the ongoing tensions that queer men face in finding our identity in the modern world.
The reality of Marriage Equality seems to have resulted in an assumption or an expectation that if you’re a queer man, you will want to – and will eventually – meet a nice guy, settle down, get married, and probably create a family of some kind.
Hand-in-hand with that happy-family scenario is that your relationship, your marriage, will match the Hollywood-ideal that’s the benchmark that the rest of the world seems to measure their relationships against – that it will be monogamous, vanilla, respectable.
The assumption and expectation is that getting married means that the days of open relationships, casual sex, anonymous hook-ups, threesomes, and sex parties are automatically a thing of your dark and distant past.
Perhaps it’s an unintended consequence, but the flip-side of marriage equality is that the queer men who don’t get married, who don’t ‘settle down’, are seen as the bad gays. It’s the bad gays who are going to chemsex parties, getting their rocks off at sex-on-premises venues, cruising for anonymous sex in the parks or the toilets, and using location-based apps for quick and easy no-strings-attached encounters with other guys. Far from being respectable, it’s this kind of behaviour that ‘gives gays a bad name’. It’s the behaviour of the bad gays that stains the look-how-normal-we-are brand that many queer men spend a lot of energy trying to project.
Emotions are complicated
How did we get here? Were we all so desperate to fit in, to be liked, to be accepted that we’ve given up the freedom, liberation, and power of being different, of being outsiders? Is this a case study in how we’re still being tormented by our internalised homophobia?
Like most queer men that I know, when I was growing up I was always desperate to fit in. I didn’t want to be different. I wanted to be one of the guys, to not be singled out, to not be noticed. As the years passed – and I began to understand a bit more about who I was – my self-confidence grew. I learned to understand the value of being different, I learned to embrace the liberation that comes from not being like everybody else.
However, there’s still a big part of me that adores being in a relationship, that thrills in saying ‘I love you’ to someone special, that cherishes hearing that person say it back. I’ve probably been conditioned to value those experiences and emotions – I’ve probably watched one too many Sandra Bullock movies.
Emotions are complicated. I don’t want to get married. I don’t want to have children. But nothing quite beats falling asleep in the arms of a man that I feel an emotional connection with.
The liberation of gay men
One of the most incredibly liberating things about being a queer man in a Western country at this time is that we don’t have to play by everyone else’s rules. We can be ourselves – whoever that is, and however we want to connect with other people.
I love feeling a sense of community with other queer men - knowing that simply by being visibly and outspokenly gay that we are automatically at odds with the accepted order of things, that we don’t have to follow the rules and expectations of the world around us. We are different by our very nature – knowing that you don’t have to conform gives you an incredible level of freedom and power.
I’m a firm believer in equality - if two guys want to get married then there’s no reason that they shouldn’t be able to. But being equal doesn’t have to mean being the same. Being equal doesn’t mean that there’s any value judgement on those who choose not to exercise those rights. If you meet a guy and want to get married, that’s cool. If you want to have a monogamous relationship, that’s cool. If you choose not to have a monogamous relationship and that works for everyone concerned, then that’s also cool. If you want to go to sex parties, or saunas, or cruising, or have a threesome, or meet-up with guys using hook-up apps (and that works for everyone concerned – married or not) then that’s also cool.
Let’s not be ashamed to acknowledge that as gay men we enjoy having sex. Marriage equality is about legal rights – it doesn’t mean that gay men have to adopt the heteronormative ideal of the nuclear family, or that this is somehow the aspiration that we should all be grooming ourselves to achieve. Marriage is not a stepping stone to acceptance or becoming respectable.
I will happily have sex with you, but I will not try to be just like everybody else.