Wednesday, May 22, 2002
Andrew Sullivan, yesterday:
The broader argument that I and others have made is not that civil marriage or equal civil rights will somehow "tame" homosexuals. We're not animals and we don't need taming. The argument rather is that much of the dysfunction in gay lives stems from social marginalization and the deep psychological wounds of childhood, where same-sex orientation is stigmatized to this day. The effect upon the sexual and emotional development of gay kids can be brutal, and it is this experience - not homosexuality - that accounts for some of the social and psychological problems many gay men have. Imagine, say, that your first heterosexual feelings and crushes were simultaneously understood to be disgusting, threatening and vile. Now imagine suppressing all of those feelings for years, and living with layer upon layer of shame, guilt self-doubt, self-hatred whenever you found yourself falling in love or feeling the first lure of sexual and emotional intimacy. Do you really expect the adults who emerge from this psychological hell will be as adjusted as those whose sexuality and emotional lives have been affirmed from the very beginning? But when these adults have difficulty constructing relationships or maintaining monogamy, some social conservatives use that failure not to argue for a change in the way gay kids are brought up, or for involving gay people in mainstream society and institutions, but as an argument to reinforce the very social ostracism that helps create the dysfunction in the first place. And those gay men and women who, mirabile dictu, do manage to have viable, healthy lives and relationships are effectively dismissed as an insignificant fringe, or, when they struggle and fail, as examples of how depraved they all are anyway.

What I'd like to see in all of this is a little more wiggle room on the qualification. Sullivan gets off to a good start with "much of the dysfunction," "can be be brutal," and "some of the ... problems many gay men have" (emphasis obviously mine). But as he moves to the conclusions of his thought experiment ("Imagine, say..."), the qualifications vanish. The results become rather absolute: "Do you really expect the adults who emerge from this psychological hell will be as adjusted as those whose sexuality and emotional lives have been affirmed from the very beginning?"

Well, when you put it that way, of course not.

I agree with Sullivan's point that it's difficult to construct intimate relationships when you haven't had practice. Lord knows it took me forever to come out, meet other men in an emotional relationship sense, and build a life in a partnership. But, I think it's a fallacy to ascribe "maintaining monogamy" to the fact that as gay men we didn't date when we were young, that we didn't have access to the social structures of meeting others, going out, petting, dumping and getting dumped, etc. when we were fourteen or so years old.

Instead, I'd argue that lack of monogamy in gay men has more to do with the fact that we're men. I can't quantify, even statistically, how much more gay men in committed long-term relationships have sex outside the relationship than their straight counterparts do. My suspicion is that it's substantially more, but that the perception regarding how little straight guys do it is likely wrong. My own perspective is that lack of monogamy in gay male relationships has more to do with the intrinsic situation of being male and being gay -- of having more opportunities and of not being constrained to the same degree by social and legal structures of marriage and sexual committment -- than it does with the lack of intimacy socialization we experienced. I think it's also in distinction to the intimacy and degree of monogamy between two women in a same-sex partnership.

It's going to be interesting as kids come out earlier and earlier, as they have opportunities for same-sex socialization and dating -- e.g., boys taking their boyfriend and girls taking their girlfriend to the prom -- to see how this impacts the quality of longer-term relationships. My guess, my hypothesis, is that you'll see more successful longer-term relationships involving less baggage and greater fullfillment.

But many of those fullfilled guys will still be on AOL and gay.com cruising for tricks. That part of the gay culture is likely not to go away.