Friday, January 15, 2010

Not About the Sex

In the days before I had come to a full acceptance of my gayness, I had a fantasy. I actually told my fantasy to my best friend at the time, the guy around whom the fantasy centered. I told him that I wished we could always stay together and be friends forever. In my fantasy, we would each marry women and have families of our own. But we would buy houses that were located literally next door to each other. We would work at the same company. We would see each other every day. Our wives would be best friends. Our kids would play together. We would share meals every day. I imagined no fences in our backyards. We'd come home from work, and have a big family barbeque together. We'd hang out and talk until it was time to put the kids to bed, and then we'd retire to our respective homes until the next morning, when we'd see each other again. Ready to be best friends again for another day.

I knew it would never be a reality. I knew that each of us getting married would in reality pull us apart, separate us forever. But a guy's entitled to dream, right?

It's interesting to me looking back that gay sex was nowhere to be seen in my gay fantasy world. I remember a time when the notion of actual gay sex kind of scared me. Did I want to touch and be held and always be close to a man? Absolutely, yes, with no question. Was I ready to get naked and get crazy? No way.

I've seen similar fantasies floating around in the gay Mormon blogosphere. Celibate fantasies where guys live together forever as best friends. Fantasies about the restoration of a kind of modified polygamy that would let us have our eternal marriage cake and eat it too. Gay dating that lasts forever, that never goes past first base so we can still answer the temple recommend questions the right way. So many blog posts devoted to the theme of finding some way to find the emotional and social and spiritual fulfillment of same-sex love, without the excommunicatey aftertaste!

Recently, Scott posted about his continuing search to meet basic emotional/social/physical needs (needs for touch and for friendship) in a way that lets him stay true to his marriage. Mohohawaii posted a comment that struck me as particularly poignant. Most gay men, at some point, do hunger for the intimacy and connection and physical relief that sex provides. But the fundamental drive is not toward sex. He used the terms "bonding" and "nesting" to describe what we essentially long for. I was struck by the "nesting" comment in particular, because when you look at the various asexual Moho fantasies out there -- including my own pre-coming out fantasy -- that's where it went. It was all about preserving and nurturing in some form a primary male-male bond that includes constant fellowship, if not actual living together.

My last grasp at heteronormative sociality went beyond the realm of fantasy and into a real, actualizable homosocial lifestyle. I spent the summer in a Roman Catholic monastery in central France (with the Brothers of St. John), and seriously considered the possibility of joining the Catholic Church and taking vows. My spiritual wrestling with that very real possibility eventually led me to the conclusion that I did not have a "calling" to be a Roman Catholic monk. But if there had been a way for me to live a fully satisfying life with the potential to meet my deepest emotional and social cravings, that would have been it.

(Either that, or being a Mormon missionary forever and ever. I've actually also had fantasies of being one of the three Nephites!)

But the point is, being gay is not and never has been primarily about the sex. It's been distorted into that in certain segments of the gay community. A couple of the other comments posted on Scott's Selfish Again post suggested (in the usual stereotypical fashion) that gay relationships just don't last; that gays find it harder to forge committed relationships than straights. Well, there's a grain of truth in that, if you look at aspects of the gay American subculture. There are elements of that subculture that romanticize fast, easy, noncommittal sex; that romanticize a perpetual search for hotter guys and intenser experiences. There are way too many gay guys who have taken the bait of the culture of pornography and free sex, and haven't figured out yet how to break the bad habits that keep undermining healthy relationships and true happiness. I've posted elsewhere about this problem. I see it as a consequence of centuries of stigmatization and homophobia, and yes, the continuing efforts of our society to undermine gay relationships through political campaigns like Prop 8. Of course I'm the first to admit that the only way we can break the cycle of unhealthy sexuality is to take responsibility for ourselves and our behavior and for each other. We can't blame Prop 8.

The unhealthy stuff in gay culture is unhealthy precisely because it fails to take account of the true nature of our yearnings. It's not about sex. it's about relationship. Any married couple will tell you (and I'll add my voice to the chorus), marital sex has its ups and downs. On occasion it's great -- transcendent! "Holy," as Mohohawaii put it. Göran and I have been together for going on 18 years, and some of the best sex we've ever had is now. But often sex meets a need, and it's done. And sometimes it's outright frustrating or disappointing. We have a refrigerator magnet that says, "Not tonight, dear. It's a gross misdemeanor!" Often you just don't feel like it, and you go without it for a while. A marriage that is just about sex will not last long. Marriage isn't and never has been just about sex, and sex doesn't meet our most basic needs. But the sex is an expression of something profound and important. It's one of many forms of physical touch, which we do need. It expresses profound emotions that can't be expressed in any other way.

It is one facet of the profoundly human need that is best expressed by the gay fantasy of two guys living together as best friends forever.


Daniel said...

This is one of the most profound and insightful blog posts I have ever read. Not only do you get it, but you express it so well.

I wonder how this post will impact the gay Mormon community, because the fantasies you have so accurately identified are just that--fantasies. And though they reflect real longings and real nature, they are not part of the real world. So how can we learn from this realization--especially since we are all in so many different places.

Quiet Song said...

Sooooo, if one has never experienced the kind of longing for either sex that you describe, what does that mean in your opinion?

I wonder if childbirth and the subsequent demands of childrearing deaden or satisfy said types of longings?

Do fully opposite sex attracted people experience this longing for the opposite sex? Or, is this a gay phenomenon only?

Or have I not experienced this longing because I may be both opposite sex and same sex attracted concurrently?

J G-W said...

Daniel - Well, I owe a major part of this insight to Mohohawaii's discussion of "nesting" and "bonding." I'm really grateful to him for helping to frame this issue that way. It really rang true to me too, which is why I wanted to elaborate in this post.

I think a major benefit of blogging is that it helps us in the quest to know ourselves. Where we go with that understanding is a different question all together...

Quiet Song - It sounds like you're telling me you are an introvert; that you feel perfectly able to meet most of your emotional needs on your own, without bonding with someone else (either male or female).

You wouldn't be the only one who feels that way. I suppose that makes it less complicated in some ways... Relationships are hard. They are so hard, we generally wouldn't put up with them if we didn't feel we couldn't live without them. (But I find mine rewarding for that same reason!)

El Genio said...

I couldn't agree more. Having recently been through my own "first" I can now clearly state that anything like a hookup holds absolutely no attraction for me. It's not about the temporal stimulation. Heaven knows I can get that on my own whenever I want. What I really desire, is an eternal relationship - someone to love, cherish, and server for "time and all eternity." Now if only I could find him.

Quiet Song said...

I know there are many theories of personality. One of my employess thinks he has me thouroughly analyzed. I suppose that makes "him" easier to manage. LOL

I can see how it might be thought that I am an introvert and maybe I always have been. But, . . . and here is the clincher, I really like people, all kinds of people, they don't have to agree with me, look like me and most of the time don't even have to be nice to me. I still like them. I like going to social events, but don't get to participate as much as I would like to because my DH IS an introvert.

I have done a lot of caregiving in my life where I was forced into solitude or limited relationships due to the responsibilities placed upon me. This caregiving has been both physical and emotional. I chose to develop a rich internal life. So I can see your point, but I still wonder if there is some fundamental building block of relating to people in terms of sexuality that I am missing, since I have not ever felt this powerful draw myself.

I want you to know that I'm not playing devil's advocate here, just wondering what is so different for me, or if it is that genuine "like" of all people instead that represents that powerful pull. And, explains why I have been attracted to both sexes?

I also think that having had to share the confines of the same body with another human for several years and the subsequent breastfeeding of said humans both male and female for additional years (remember I am granola and everything of this nature is done to a relative extreme in my life), may have something to do with not having a recollection of experiencing this powerful pull.

Either that or I am just so old now I cannot remember anyway.

J G-W said...

El Genio - As gay men, we need to build ourselves up, strengthen ourselves and encourage each other to form lasting, nurturing relationships. So, Amen!

Quiet Song - Now that I think about it, introversion versus extroversion isn't the issue so much. I don't know if this is what you are talking about...

In the culture of sexploitation that is American popular culture, it can be easy to feel like an oddball if don't buy into that for whatever reason. I sense that you are pretty centered; you know what you want and what you don't want, and you know where your joy is, and you pursue it accordingly. If that's the case, you can consider yourself blessed....

Quiet Song said...

No it's not THAT, I like both the American and the National league. It's just that while I slightly prefer the American League, I am not particularly drawn to either league or any particular team. But, I totally enjoy the game while it's on the TV, but I'm not going to be a fan or go to great lengths except for the team that's closest to home.

I think I'd better stop while I'm ahead here.

J G-W said...


Bravone said...

Very good post. I don't want to change subjects or create a debate, but I believe that because it is not all about the sex that makes it possible for some of us to marry a woman and find fulfillment.

I need, absolutely need, positive close male friends in my life. I need healthy relationships where I can bond, confide, hug and hold without violating my covenants with my wife.

I also need physical love, and find that with my wife. As you mentioned it is also necessary and allows us to express feelings and bond in ways otherwise impossible.

I think we are not as different as the world would have us believe.

J G-W said...

Bravone - I understand what you're saying.

But I guess my point here is a bit different. Another way to state it would be to imagine living the rest of my life in a nonsexual relationship with someone. Would I choose for that someone be a man or a woman? Without question, it would be a man.

I can literally count the number of women I've dated in my life on one hand (four). With two of the four women, the dating was generally initiated by the women. The two women I initiated dating with, I did so at BYU, and I did so largely so I could participate in group dating with male friends, and because I felt under pressure by my Bishop (who told me my number one duty was to marry). Even when all the pressure of Mormondom and heterosexual suburban American culture was brought to bear on me, I couldn't muster enough interest to date more than 4 women in the first 25 years of my life, before I finally came out...

It's not that I have any kind of aversion to women...! I cherish my friendships with women. I love women. I admire women. Some of the great role models in my life have been women. I've just never been able to imagine forming a primary, "nesting" bond with a woman, even an asexual bond.

To me that says something about the nature of my sexuality.