This is the last in the Guy Talk Series, so I am going to wax a little bit. Last week, my wife and I went down to a gay bar in the city so I could play in a poker tournament to raise money for a shelter (The Foyer) that serves homeless LGBT youth. I lost, but I had fun. As we were walking back through Rittenhouse Square, I had a chance to reflect on how different I am now especially around issues of sexuality. I can assure you that when I was in college, I would not have felt comfortable in a gay bar, with a drag queen—“The Contessa”—leaning over my shoulder working out a particularly complex betting arrangement that arose at our table. (This was the hand that took me out but that is another story.)
But why don’t I feel uncomfortable anymore? I realized that it is because my sexuality is “settled.” Even though my orientation is not culturally controversial, I do remember how it felt to try and figure out what it meant to be a man. It was supposed to seem easy, but it was not.
Homophobia pervaded so many of our male conversations growing up in rural Iowa. It was not so much that we knew what it meant to be masculine, but we thought that we knew what it did NOT mean: Gay. Back then, we were told that people chose to be gay, that they were able somehow to override the natural order and be attracted to the same sex. I remember feeling very threatened by this idea. I did not feel gay but could I become gay if I tried it? It is a ridiculous lie, but I believed it at the time.
When you develop your sexuality based on avoidance, it is easy to fall into a very narrowly defined masculine stereotype. This can keep you from growing into a better man: father, husband and person.
This stereotype demands that we display “masculinity” in simple obvious ways. (This has nothing to with being straight or gay. There are stereotypes for being gay as well.) The early stages of male sexuality are dangerous and sometimes get out of control. The masculine stereotype is convenient and addictive. In a culture that has defined masculinity as conquest and sexual prowess, it is all too easy for guys to act like “men” even if it costs the dignity of another person. It is a powerfully intoxicating cultural force, but it is a trap.
I have one friend who has never liberated himself. He is living in a state of aging adolescent sexuality. On the outside it’s all about his conquests and exploits and whatever, but once he ran out of stories he was left asking me what its like to be in a real relationship. We don’t talk much anymore. He is sad, lost and I feel sorry for him. This does not have to happen to you.
Here is what I have to tell you from the other side: It gets better. It will not always be this difficult. Your sexuality will settle down. You can get control. Despite what our culture tells us about the aging man, it gets better! But if you think that this will happen automatically, however, you are going find yourself middle-aged and miserable. Male sexuality can be something amazing and deep, but only if you start working your way out now. And whatever you do, don’t let your masculinity be defined by Anheuser-Busch.