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The Goodness of Gay Men’s Relationships

I first identified publicly as a Gay man in 1977. Since then, I have been spat on, had a knife pulled on me in a public bus, had my tires slashed, and been told by a potential employer that he would not hire me because of my sexual identity. I participated in one Gay rights march in which we were threatened by young men with rifles, and had to have a police escort to reach our destination. When my partner of nearly seven years died of HIV,1 some of the people who had been closest to me in my life would not attend his memorial. I work as a researcher and public policy advocate; I learned years ago not to identify myself as Gay in my professional life because I lost important allies on other political issues when they found out I was Gay.

There has been a real price to pay in my life for being Gay. There are many, many situations in which I have to be careful what I say, what I show, how I talk about my home life and family. I am vigilant all the time, because Gay oppression continues to be legally-sanctioned and widespread.

At the same time, there have been huge benefits for me in identifying as Gay, and when I think through the trade-offs, I have never regretted my decision. Being Gay has given me many gifts. I understand what oppression is about in a deeper way than I might have as a white, middle-class U.S. male. I understand how much the patterns of this society conspire to deprive people of humanness in nearly every aspect of their lives.

One of the places I feel I have gained permission to be more fully human has been in my relationships with men. Being a Gay man means that the “rules” about how I should relate to men are thrown out the window. One of the “rules” men face is that we are not supposed to be close, really close, to other men. In identifying as Gay, I had to struggle with Gay oppression’s pressures to make me feel not like a man, less than other men, not fully human, monstrous and perverse—the whole package—and I have come out the other side. I know who I am, I’m pleased with the person I am, I know I am a good and honorable man. Gay oppression could still hurt me externally—it could deprive me of employment, I could be beaten up, I could lose certain rights or privileges—but I can’t lose my sense of myself to it. It can still bother me sometimes, but it can’t confuse me about my goodness as a man. And so it has lost its ability to make me obey some of the “rules” about being a man.

The main gift I feel I have gotten from identifying as Gay is an opportunity to be close to men, closer to men than men are supposed to be, to have wholehearted, primary emotional relationships with other men that have been deep and satisfying.

I came to the Gay identity with many of society’s stereotypes about men: that men were cold and unemotional creatures, incapable of loving or caring for other humans; that they were emotionally disabled and reliant on women to complete them by offering them the love, compassion, and understanding they were unable to give to themselves or to other humans. I always resisted these stereotypes and held out high hopes for how much men could care about each other. Co-Counseling theory supported me in this, helping me to keep my hopes and goals intact as I moved into the Gay men’s communities of that time, which were heavily organized around sex and could be pretty2 de-humanizing.

Among Gay men, I have found warmth and brotherhood. While the oppression and internalized oppression have been very hard on us (and the society’s oppression-driven lack of response to HIV killed many of us), we have made families and communities with each other.

There are some hallmarks to our communities and relationships that point toward realities about humans:

• Unconditional love and acceptance. For years I attended a mostly Gay church in San Francisco, California, USA. Our congregation welcomed everyone just as they were—Gay folks, non-Gay folks, homeless people, drug-addicted people, people experimenting with their gender identities. During the height of the HIV epidemic in San Francisco, illness, death, and grieving were everyday occurrences, and the church was a place where people could come, in whatever shape they were in, and be loved and accepted, just as they were.

• Unity amid diversity. We are the people that society rejected, that our home communities rejected. When we come together, we face every divisive issue that the society faces—racism, classism, anti-Semitism, ageism, disability oppression, and so on—and we know at some level that who we have is each other. We can be plenty hard on each other, but we also share a common bond, not only from the oppression but from our decisions that we are going to love the people we weren’t supposed to love. This has meant that our movements and communities have set high goals for confronting the oppressions in our midst and being allies to each other across traditional boundaries.

• Forgiveness for our distresses. Our distresses can be pretty blatant. In a relationship between two Gay men, there is a high likelihood that issues of sexual fidelity will raise their heads, as the guys struggle with the sexual compulsions that sit heavily on many of us—compulsions that the oppression has set up our communities to reinforce. But at least some of the time, there is a sweet understanding about these things, an understanding that when a partner acts out the compulsions it is not necessarily a personal affront to the relationship, that it is not some huge big deal that signals that the end is imminent. At least some of the time, we don’t take these “lapses” in our agreements with each other personally. We accept and love each other as the packages we are, rather than the packages that we should be.

• Loyalty. Throughout history, a lot has been written about the bonds men are capable of in war, in sports, in friendship in earlier eras. This era seems to make it harder for men to really have each other and be enthusiastically for each other. Yet I find a successor to those earlier bonds in the Gay Bisexual Transgender (GBT) community. There is a passionate commitment to each other, an excitement about each other, a belief in each other, and a willingness to be family for each other, in the sense that Harvey3 used to talk about family—the people who would hide you and lie to the police when they came looking for you.

Some of these qualities I’ve found in my life and relationships with GBT men outside of Co-Counseling. There is also an important place, inside of RC, where I have watched these relationships and helped them grow over many years: the annual East Coast (USA) GBT Men’s Workshop that I lead every January near New York City (USA).

A core group of men has been meeting at this workshop for nearly fifteen years. It is the high point of our counseling year. We come for a strong reminder of reality about ourselves and to plug back in to a community of men who care about us and want us. As workshop leader, I have poured hours and hours of resource into these men over the years, and I have hugely enjoyed watching them figure out how to do the same for each other.

The workshop is a place where guys are happy to scoop each other up.4 One year one guy was in a car crash on his way to the workshop. When he arrived late, several of the guys immediately organized one-way time for him through the next day so he could discharge the hurts from that experience. When another guy’s niece died during the workshop, a group of guys gathered and gave him a chunk of one-way time until he went home for the funeral.

The support-group leaders at this workshop get better and better at loving the guys and challenging the deep hurts, odd behaviors, and distresses that are often restimulating to many people but that people don’t want to challenge, because doing so would be “oppressive.” There is so much love for and acceptance of each person that permission to challenge each other’s distresses is much greater than it often is. People come to count on5 this workshop as a place where they will be thought about, cared about, and fought for. My relationships with these men travel with me to every other workshop I lead—sometimes in the flesh,6 when the guys go out of their way to come to my other workshops, and even more often in my mind, as I go through life knowing that I have men who love me and respect me, who are on my team and in my corner.7

With all the good things I have gotten from cherishing the Gay men’s community and from rejecting the limitations of identifying as a heterosexual man by identifying as a Gay man—including caring deeply about men and being cared about deeply by men—the oppression aimed at those of us who identify as Gay still gets to me8 sometimes: I still find myself asking myself, “Have I made the right decision? Would my life be better if I were not Gay?” These are not rational questions—they come directly from the way that Gay oppression has internalized itself in my brain. Attempting to answer them can be a daily battle against the oppression. Fortunately, I have the picture of what humans are really like that I get from my friends, colleagues, and Co-Counselors, as well as the many examples of the goodness of Gay men that I can see in the Gay men’s community in RC, the Gay men who are friends and family to me outside of Co-Counseling, and my daily life of living with and loving and prioritizing another man. These things help remind me that it is definitely a good decision to love a man this much, to really prioritize a close relationship between two men, to put his and my re-emergence together as a major priority and project, and to put the energy, thoughtfulness, and counseling resource into it so that we see, and live, what is possible when two men really love and fight for each other.

“David Nijinsky”
Assistant International Liberation
Reference Person for Gay Men
Washington, D.C., USA


1 HIV stands for Human Immunodeficiency Virus.
2 In this context, pretty means quite.
3 Harvey Jackins
4Scoop each other up means do everything to help each other.
5 Count on means rely on.
6 In the flesh means in person.
7 In my corner means completely there for me.
8 Gets to me means affects and confuses me.

 


Last modified: 2014-09-18 17:07:26+00