GAY TIMES October 2006

The gay and straight worlds are not separate universes. Homosexuals and heterosexuals are not different species. In fact, the connecting door between gay life and straight life is now swinging so far ajar these days that it is falling off its hinges.

To get down to fundamentals, Matthew Parris in an article in The Times challenges the idea that sexuality is fixed and that there is no choice in whether we are straight or gay. “I think sexuality is a supple as well as a subtle thing, and can sometimes be influenced, even promoted; that in some people drives can be discouraged and others encouraged; I think some people can choose.”

It’s a confused sort of article that has a grain of truth in it. On the one hand Matthew Parris says that there are people who are completely straight and completely gay (himself included), but that there are thousands of others who are wavering, according to circumstance and opportunity.

This isn’t a new idea, of course. But Mr Parris thinks that it is being resisted by gay activists because if we didn’t have clear blue water between “gay” and “straight”, then it would give succour to those who claim that homosexuality needs to be challenged, treated and eradicated.

“We gays have lived in a transitional era,” he writes, “in which we very much wanted to believe the claim that ‘God made us like this’ and ‘we can’t help it’. Whether or not this is true, it is comforting for those troubled by suppressed guilt, and has proved a knock-down argument against those moral conservatives who say we could choose, and therefore should choose, not to be gay. It has also seemed to rebut the complaint that homosexuality could be ‘promoted’ or that gay men might ‘corrupt’ potential heterosexuals.”

Mr Parris says that equality – true equality – will only be arrived at when we are as “careless as a blond or redhead might be whether we were made that way.”

“Does ‘I can’t help being black’ strike you as a self-respecting argument against racism? That ‘I can’t help it’ is a subtly self-oppressing argument for acceptance does not seem to have occurred to supposedly liberated gay activists, for whom it has always been an easy way of ending the argument.”

What Mr Parris doesn’t tell us, is what we do to oppose those religious activists who are determined to create the impression that homosexuality must be eradicated, because they believe it can be. If ‘God made us’, then God can unmake us, in their view.

But there are some of us – and Mr Parris is self-confessedly one of that number – who really don’t have a choice. Those of us who are right at the far end of the gay spectrum and don’t have the ambiguity of a Mark Oaten or a Ron Davis in our approach to the opposite sex. Where do we stand in this worldview? And how do we defend ourselves against those who tell us that we are simply being contrary, and that we really don’t have to live the kind of lifestyle that we do? If Matthew Parris thinks I have the option of saying: ‘Yes, maybe on day I’ll perhaps settle down with a lady friend and have kiddies and the whole damn thing” he has never paid a visit to the inside of my head.

Another writer for The Times, Iris Scott, told how “A week before my wedding I discovered that my partner had been cruising gay saunas for the past couple of years.” When she challenged him about this, he insisted that he wasn’t gay and begged her to give him a chance to “sort himself out.” He subsequently started therapy and his psychiatrist told him that, indeed, he wasn’t gay, but a sex addict.

Printed alongside her piece was another piece from a gay man who said he found it “odd to read of a woman’s shock of ‘discovering’ that her male partner likes men” because gay bars are full of so-called straight men. Iris was told by a gay friend of hers: “Of course gay trumps straight every time”.

Iris then asked Times readers what she should do. Their verdict on her dilemma was: no doubt about it, he’s gay.

But in a follow-up article, Iris Scott told how the story had developed. She had agreed with her partner – whom she called B – that the story should be printed. But she felt guilty that she had exposed him to public criticism. “But my guilt was misplaced,” she wrote. “As was my assertion that he must be homosexual. Unbeknown to me, three weeks earlier, before I’d even decided to write the article, B had slept with a prostitute, or a ‘tart’, as he calls them, and then slept with me the next day. There he was all over the papers, found guilty by a public jury of being a closet homosexual, and all the time he knew that a week ago, he knew he’d been having sex with a female prostitute.”

So, what is going on with B? “Looking back on everything that has happened,” writes Iris, “I don’t think B is gay; he’s a sex addict. He finds sex with strangers irresistible, a need as much as a pleasure. It doesn’t matter who they are – a sauna, a magazine, a grotty flat, a website – as long as it’s illicit, he doesn’t know them and there’s no intimacy.”

Iris wonders whether B’s attitude to sex is any different to the “gruesome” attitudes of the men he works with. B’s psychiatrist says that all men would be as promiscuous as some gay men are, if they had the chance. The only thing stopping them is women.”

Perhaps this is the explanation for the appearance of former defence minister Ivor Caplin putting himself on a “kinky website” “looking for orgies with men in uniform”. Caplin was uncovered (so to speak) by The News of the World which revealed that although he is the father of two sons and a daughter and only recently divorced from his wife of 20 years – he wants “group sex and other activities” with men in military and medical uniforms. He is quoted as saying: “My sexuality has been known to family and friends for some time.” But the question is: how long has heknown about it?

And, I suppose, we can insert George Michael into the equation here. There was a lot of tabloid tutting over George’s carryings-on on Hampstead Heath, but he was unrepentant, and insisted that it was part of his “culture” to go mooching in the bushes at midnight for a bit of disconnected cock. Johann Hari, writing in The London Evening Standard, said that George was “part of an older generation of gay men, and the fact that he comes from a very conservative immigrant community locates him even further back on the long road to progress. He didn’t come out and find a lover – as opposed to a shag – until he was in his thirties. He is closer psychologically to his uncle – one of the countless generations of gay people lost to homophobia – than he is to the generation of gay men I belong to, who find the idea of having sex in a lavatory or behind a bush pretty grim. He belongs to a generation that couldn’t adjust to open homosexuality, who preferred to remain in the shadow in the night rather than the lingering romance in the lights.”

But it’s not always sex that causes the confusion in the increasing cross-over between gay and straight culture. For women this cross over is far less problematic than men. Women with gay best friends are frequent, but straight men who like – even prefer – the company of gay men, but not the sex, are less obvious. One of them surfaced in the agony column of Salon.com, an on-line magazine. Its advice columnist Cary Tennis received a plea from a straight man – styling himself as “I-less in Gayza” – who just likes being around gay men but feels a bit funny about it. “I-less” had been divorced twice – and was no stranger to relationships with women before then, but “I just couldn’t get along with them. I was too critical, not attentive enough, just plain ornery, whatever.”

But the one thing that all these women had brought into his life was gay men. They all had gay friends and he had come to enjoy socialising with them. “I-less” found them such a relief from the straight men “who have too much focus on sports scores and cars, too much bluff and testosterone. I don’t find them relaxing to be around.”

He wants to make clear that he isn’t gay (“I’ve always been a pussy hound”) and finds the idea of “kissing a man, sucking dick or sharing a poop chute” a “total turn-off”. He’s convinced he isn’t suppressing anything – he just likes gay company. “What’s going on with me, Cary?” he asks.

Mr Tennis is a wise old owl who hits the nail straight on the head. “Maybe this isn’t about gayness at all; maybe it’s about friendship.” he tells his enquirer. “Maybe you like gay men because they exhibit a talent for friendship: concern for your well-being, discretion, wit, compassion, intelligence, good manners, discernment.” Gay men represent an antidote to straightness – not in the sexual sense, but in an emotional sense.

Cary says that he – and probably a lot of other straight men – need a relief from the narrow world of machismo. “Who wants to sit around with boring, rigid, frightened men, closed off and incurious? Yikes.”

This is getting interesting. Cary says that: “Some of us straight men grow up with only one way to be intimate with other people, and that’s by having sex with them. The only people we can have sex with is women, so the only intimacy we have is with women. So, if our relationships with women fail, we have no intimacy at all.”

So, Cary says: “But gayness – that is, your idea of gayness – performs an essential service to your psyche. It lets you off the hook, insulating you from the pressure to perform as a macho, heterosexual man. If you were with women, you might feel you had to play the aggressor or suitor or hotshot; and if you were with straight men you might feel pressure to play your role as competitive male. Being with men you regard as gay, with whom you are not competing for women, and who you don’t fear will look down on you if you show an occasional vulnerability, frees you from expectations, so you can just relax and be yourself.”

I think there are many straight men who would benefit from that advice.

QUOTES OF THE MONTH

“When I was a kid, I asked my mother: ‘Mum? What’s a transvestite?’ She said: ‘That’s your father, son. I’m over here.’” – Adrian Poynton, comedian, Edinburgh Festival

“For all those guys who posture and rant about the pleasure that condoms deprive them of, I have this question: Have you ever had an orgasm worth dying for?”- Dr. Monica Sweeney, State University of New York Health Sciences Center.

“George Michael claims it’s how gays behave. It’s not. It’s simply how he behaves.” – Simon Napier-Bell, former Wham! manager.

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