Single is the New Gay

9.3.2006

By Steven Bereznai

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 you're single, you're 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 Hostetler's 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 Hostetler's 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 didn't look for neuroses or pathology in people's 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 don't 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, I've 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 Good'Being Gay and Single Used to Be, Too' to 'Boyfriends and Husbands Don't 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 one's 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 one's assumptions of one's 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.

It's time for the back story.

Published by permission from Marlowe & Company, a Division of Avalon Publishing Group, Inc. Copyright (c) 2006 by Steven Bereznai.

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