In this exclusive excerpt from his new book, Gay and Single...Forever?: 10 Things Every Gay Guy Looking for Love (and Not Finding It) Needs to Know,
Canadian journalist Steven Bereznai explores what happened to gay men during the journey to sexual liberation.
When did being alone become the modern-day equivalent of being a leper? Will restaurants soon be divided up into sections? Smoking, non-smoking, single, non-single?Carrie Bradshaw (a.k.a. Sarah Jessica Parker), Sex and the City
I am a catch.
I have a good job. I can use power tools. I own a brand-new condo high in the sky with floor-to-ceiling windows, and my cupboards are stockedmartini glasses from Caban, gourmet cheesecake recipes from Williams-Sonoma (thank you to my friend Parker!), and Ive dumped the Ikea couch in favor of a loveseat import from Montreal. The wool weave isnt brown, darling, its llama.
In short, as one of my personal ads on the popular queer Web site Gay.com once read: I have EQUITY. University-educated, well-read and -traveled. Im also funny. My improv teacher says so.
And lets be honest. Im not sore on the eyes. I boast a waistline thats smaller than it was in high school. I get compliments on my chest and biceps. Im versatile and my cocks bigger than a babys arm. Well, OK, its average. So apart from size queens (who needs them anyway?), Ive got a pretty good package.
And yet here I am, 32 years old, never had a boyfriend, chronically single-and-searching.
This is not how my life was supposed to go.
When I was 19 I started coming out to my dormmates during my freshman year. As this process gained momentum, it became imperative that I tell my parents that I was gaystat! Obviously once I started coming out, I would have a boyfriend in short order, and it would be unfair of me to expect my parents not only to open their arms to their fresh-out-of-the-closet gay son but also to enthusiastically embrace his new boyfriend at the same time.
Even as a 19-year-old in heat I understood that the right thing to do was to tell them I was gay, give them a bit of time to adjust, and then I could get into a relationship. I had to drop the pink bomb before my window of singlehood slammed shut.
Clearly there was no time to lose.
Aside from a deep blush on my mothers cheeks, and asking me three times in a row if I was sure (she cut herself off the third time: You already answered that, she said more to herself than to me), all went smoothly with friends and family. In fact, there were a couple of unexpected bonuses. Not only did mummy dearest take on the responsibility of coming out to my dad and older brother on my behalf, I finally no longer had to answer the dreaded question So, do you have a girlfriend?
Nor did they ask if there was a guy in my life, for which I was grateful. For a brief time I existed under an unspoken gay singles amnesty. Everyone was accepting of my homosexuality but just uncomfortable enough about the details to leave my dating life alone.
So, are you seeing anyone? my mother asked.
I nearly spat out my goulash.
Too much paprika? she inquired, her Hungarian accent indiscernible to me who'd grown up with it, but which my high school friends considered wicked, in the good sense of the word.
On the one hand the question was a sweet gesture that indicated acceptance, but in all honesty that query made my insides shrivel when forced to reply, No, no one special in my life. Still single. Nope, no one on the horizon. Couple of crushes. Nothey dont know that I exist just yet, but fingers crossed.
It was in that moment that my brief relationship grace period was over. Among my friends, and within gay culture, it never existed. My straight friends would excitedly introduce me to any new gay acquaintance, simply because we were both gay and single. Is that really the best you think I can do? I wondered, quickly learning to thank them while demurely explaining that I do not do setups.
And there were the times when, in the midst of sex with a trick, hed suddenly ask, So, do you have a boyfriend?
With my brain concentrated in the head of my erection I wondered when such questions had become casual pillow talk. Id stammer replies intended to assuage whatever fears might be attached to my singleness, for make no mistake, this state of being perplexed them, even though it was usually another single gay man asking the question.
But you seem like a great guy, hed persist.
And for the moment of silence that inevitably followed I felt as if they were waiting for me to rip off my mask and reveal my horrible defect.
Now, as I look toward the next 10 years and beyond, I begin to wonder, What if this is it? What if Singlesville is my final destination? Is there room for me in a post-Stonewall era, where the push to partner with a man has replaced the pressure to marry a woman? Where being gay is fine but the answer No, Im not dating anyone receives looks of pity, and in my moms eyes, fear that I will grow old and lonely, dying of AIDS from a presumed life of unsafe promiscuity? Again, not because Im gay, but because Im single and gay, and the old bird knows I must be getting my rocks off somehow.
Or maybe Im projecting.
Maybe thats what I fear for myself.
And what if there is something wrong with me? Maybe Im too materialistic. Or conceited. On the other hand, that could just be my cover for low self-esteem. Or maybe my personalitys deficient. What if my smarts, looks, and wit simply arent up to snuff? In retrospect, my improv teacher didnt say I was funny so much as she said I was good at following instructions.
Maybe I am damaged.
The more I grapple with these very real questions the more I find there are actual answers. Some are amorphous, others refreshingly simple, at least until they are applied to an uncooperative world that feels to me like an ever-shifting board game, Monopoly meets Life meets you sank my Battleship!, except all the players each seem to be following a different set of rules, moment to moment.
Im referring of course to the former fuck buddy who fell through just when I was finally coming around to once more accepting his advances, to the best friend who had the nerve to get into a relationship and put his boyfriends emotional needs ahead of mine, and lets not forget the biggest bitch of them all: HIV, raising the stakes and challenges in a sexual subculture where many recognize that to slide into a guy, or to be slid into, skin to skin, flesh to flesh, whatever the consequences, feels better than being sheathed, at least in the moment.
It can be ecstasy. Literally, figuratively, or in a pill. At other times, like a bad case of nonspecific urethritis, it burns.
And regardless of what Nietzsche might say, sometimes whatever doesnt kill you doesnt make you stronger. It just makes you limp.
And yet, even as I hobble across this minefield of gay love, putting my battered body, heart, and soul at ever-increasing risks, my stride lengthens, my confidence rises, my chakras grow strong.
Because to stay put, or worse, move backward, is, like quivering in the closet, far worse than facing whatever lies ahead.
And so I remove my emotional armor piece by piece, in therapy, in bars, in weekend naked workshops, with companions in the life, in improv class, with sex workers, on party drugs, in the arms of one-night stands and three-week fucks. How else do I get to the tender spots I once hoped a boyfriend would reach for me? And as this book has progressed I have felt a growing sense of peace. Thank you, yoga and Spirituality for Dummies. Its a quiet yet powerful feeling emanating from a powerful realization.
Single is the new gay.
This is not an all-encompassing truth, but there are striking parallels between the stigma of homos and that of singlehood, from their origins to identity politics to the role of nature versus nurture, not to mention the increasing pressure to pair with a man as the stigma of not marrying a woman decreases.
Clearly this thesis requires and assumes a certain level of acceptance of homosexuality as legitimate and moral and equal to heterosexuality. Obviously, this is not a universal understanding. As of print time there is not, and never has been, an openly gay athlete competing in the NHL or NFL. Olympic ice skaters are afraid to publicly come out. More severe, according to the International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission, 84 countries have laws criminalizing sexual acts between adults in private. During Jerusalems 2005 Pride march, a stabber attacked three people. Amnesty International cites instances in Jamaica of gays and lesbians being murdered, raped, or chased from their homes or communities. In 2001 a gay man was beaten to death while cruising in Vancouvers Stanley Park. In Wyoming, in 1998, 21-year-old Matthew Shepard was beaten with a pistol, tortured, and tied to a fence for 18 hours. He died five days later.
It almost seems in poor taste, and borderline whiny, to even be discussing gay singlehood as an issue beyond dinner-party kvetching. But then the same would have to be said about gay marriage. Battling for wedding bands, legal partner recognition, and a potential tax break can seem trivial when in some milieus fags and dykes fear and fight for their lives. And yet at the end of the day, the struggle is the same: for equality. The enemy is the same: fear and hate.
Different battles, same war.
Unfortunately, it is within those public and private arenas where homosexuality has gained status, be they professional or personal, group or individual, a micro- or macrocosm, that single is the brand many of us now carry, the abnormal status we struggle with. It is in this sense that I find single is the new gay. Of course, for straights it has long been thus, and the long tradition of associating singlehood and homosexuality (i.e., if youre single, youre gay) was used to establish a double pariah status within straight society.
The tables have now turned.
In the shadow of gay marriage, and our fight for equality, many of our more amorphous intimacies no longer receive their due, from tricks to fuck buddies to mentors and friends. The result? More and more single gay men are buffeted by a variety of internal and external forces to buddy up, oftentimes with consequences for the gay single not unlike those of the closet: a sense of shame, failure, and a quiet (or not-so-quiet) desperation.
And yet for all that, up to 60 percent of gay men remain single. Some are happily so, but many of us struggle to reconcile ourselves with this freakish state.
In terms of defining what I mean by single, I turn to the groundbreaking research of Andrew Hostetler, who has done the first focused study on how some gay singles have negotiated a sense of psychological well-being in a world that pressures them to couple. With few exceptions his research subjects interpreted single as being without a long-term (primary) relationship, and those who described themselves as single were generally saying that they were without a partner or significant other.
Works for me.
According to Hostetlers 2001 study, Single Gay Men: Cultural Models of Adult Development, Psychological Well-Being, and the Meaning of Being Single by Choice, the happiest among these gay men are those who have chosen to be so. Going through Hostetlers dissertation, prepared for the University of Chicago, I think what the Kinsey Report did for sexuality in the 50s, maybe Hostetler can do for single gay men in the new millennium. The beauty of the Kinsey Report, and part of why it is still widely referred to today, is that it didnt look for neuroses or pathology in peoples sexuality. Instead of looking at what people were doing wrong sexually, it simply asked What are people doing? By taking this angle, it expanded the range of acceptable sexual practices by making private acts publicly known.
So while Hostetler explores his thesis that those gay men who are single by choice will be happier than those who are single against their wishes, a key part of his research is simply looking at how these men are living their lives without imposing societal assumptions on them that they should be in a couple.
The comparison to Kinsey underlines the philosophy that I, with all my own predispositions, have tried to use in thinking about, researching, and writing this book. Having said that, I do have to be honest about one major bias. Just as books about gay relationships (getting one or staying in one) focus on couplehood and only have a few lines about singles who are not looking for a relationship, I reversed the ratios for this work, specifically focusing on men who have reached a level of peace and comfort with their singlehood, rather than those desperately seeking couplehood.
I have interviewed dozens of men, most of them over a six-month period, focusing on the alternatives gay men have invested in for building companionship, sex, and intimacy outside the framework of a traditional relationship. This is not to say that these gay singles dont face challenges or moments of loneliness. This is part of being human. But they have much to offer in terms of finding and enjoying love, sex, and intimacy in a world that believes in Mr. Right, but which often fails to provide him.
With these individuals help, I have cobbled together a map to help guide me through the danger zones of the gay lovescape. With their counsel, and through the twists and turns of history, biology, psychology, and sociology, Ive isolated 10 things that gay men, single or otherwise, must know about love and relationships to more fully open themselves to a fruitful and satisfying life.
From Gay Is GoodBeing Gay and Single Used to Be, Too to Boyfriends and Husbands Dont Protect against AIDS, I find myself rereading these rules in my darker moments as signposts toward the light. And, yes, there are still moments of struggle, and the odd crush that gets me practicing wedding vows in my head. That should come as no surprise.
After all, in any quest of Lord of the Rings proportions (Hello, Frodo and his friend Sam), one inevitably finds oneself at the top of a volcano, turning into a total bitch over a fucking ring that makes one invisible.
And it really does feel like the fate of ones inner Middle Earth is at stake.
In a way it is, for the question of being single forever is not an idle one. It can strike at the heart of ones assumptions of ones life course, where one ought to be by a certain age, and fundamentally it forces one to ponder how one intends to spend onevs life without the underlying assumption of coupledom.
But enough of the Shire.
Just as The Lord of the Rings does not begin at the beginning, neither does this tale.
Its time for the back story.
Published by permission from Marlowe & Company, a Division of Avalon Publishing Group, Inc. Copyright (c) 2006 by Steven Bereznai.