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June 17, 2011 7:49 AM   Subscribe

Going Straight: My Ex-Gay Friend Also: Living the Good Lie: Therapists Who Help People Stay in the Closet. (Both links NYT, via)
posted by zarq (90 comments total) 21 users marked this as a favorite

 
I read this yesterday. I cannot even possibly begin to enumerate the number of things in that article that bother me.

Mental illness really is a sad thing.
posted by schmod at 7:59 AM on June 17, 2011 [1 favorite]


Mental illness really is a sad thing.

Whoa. I think calling every bizarre viewpoint a product of mental illness is a sad thing. Something strange happened to this guy, no doubt. Its inexplicability largely speaks to our own vast ignorance in the realms of sexuality and religion.
posted by shivohum at 8:06 AM on June 17, 2011 [2 favorites]


I have no doubt that there are people who wake up one day and realize "holy shit I'm not gay I'm straight". Just as there are people who wake up one day and realize "holy shit I'm gay". You can live a lie in either direction. However, what is unbelievable to me is that anyone could go from that to "ALL GAY PEOPLE ARE LIVING A LIE and I will work to abolish gayness in the name of God because homosexuality = death". Like come to fuck, man! Can't you just live your fucking life and leave the rest of us alone?
posted by spicynuts at 8:09 AM on June 17, 2011 [26 favorites]


He seems like a victim of ideology. If that's mental illness, then most everybody at rallies is mentally ill.
posted by gorgor_balabala at 8:10 AM on June 17, 2011


Can't you just live your fucking life and leave the rest of us alone?

The article addresses this a little- "As Ben and I reminisced, I couldn’t help wondering if Michael’s new philosophy might, in a strange way, be a logical extension of what he believed back then — that 'gay' is a limiting category and that sexual identities can change. Ben nodded. 'A radical queer activist and a fundamentalist Christian aren’t always as different as they might seem,' he said, adding that they’re ideologues who can railroad over nuance and claim a monopoly on the truth." It sounds like Michael Glatze is an activist; was then, is now. His beliefs may have changed but his personality seems the same.
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 8:12 AM on June 17, 2011 [16 favorites]


Well I'm only 2 pages in.
posted by spicynuts at 8:13 AM on June 17, 2011


shivohum: "Mental illness really is a sad thing.

Whoa. I think calling every bizarre viewpoint a product of mental illness is a sad thing. Something strange happened to this guy, no doubt. Its inexplicability largely speaks to our own vast ignorance in the realms of sexuality and religion.
"

The guy became a literally different person almost overnight, and essentially lost the ability to relate or empathize with other people. That's a bit more than a bizarre viewpoint or ideology.
posted by schmod at 8:15 AM on June 17, 2011 [7 favorites]


Wow, that second article is really interesting, much more so than a scan of the headline would suggest. Indeed:

Headline: Therapists Who Help People Stay In The Closet
Pull-quote from a profiled therapist: "The idea that I am helping the client stay in the closet is bizarre to me.”

I know that headlines are never written by the author, but it's really odd to me that they'd title the article that considering that it's a sympathetic profile of the therapists involved.
posted by Ian A.T. at 8:18 AM on June 17, 2011 [1 favorite]


I don't think you know what the term 'literallly' means. Or you didn't read the article.
posted by spicynuts at 8:18 AM on June 17, 2011 [1 favorite]


The guy became a literally different person almost overnight, and essentially lost the ability to relate or empathize with other people. That's a bit more than a bizarre viewpoint or ideology.

Sure he didn't just start reading Metafilter?
posted by happyroach at 8:20 AM on June 17, 2011 [4 favorites]


"The idea that I am helping the client stay in the closet is bizarre to me.”

From context, he doesn't mean "bizarre" as "untrue," he means it as "baffling" (I am baffled by the fact that I help the client stay in the closet).
posted by muddgirl at 8:26 AM on June 17, 2011 [1 favorite]


I have no doubt that there are people who wake up one day and realize "holy shit I'm not gay I'm straight". Just as there are people who wake up one day and realize "holy shit I'm gay". You can live a lie in either direction.

Not all lies are equal. Entire generations of straight people aren't educated to hate and fear themselves to the point where they decide to act gay and construct so many mental defenses and barriers that it takes years of pain and anguish to undo. Shit happens, but do not pretend that the social pressures and discrimination that force gay people to create false identities work both ways.
posted by londonmark at 8:27 AM on June 17, 2011 [21 favorites]


The comments on the NYTimes site on the first article are pretty interesting so far.
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 8:28 AM on June 17, 2011 [2 favorites]


Ian A.T.: " I know that headlines are never written by the author, but it's really odd to me that they'd title the article that considering that it's a sympathetic profile of the therapists involved."

Well, "Therapists Who Help People Stay In The Closet" is accurate. That's exactly what Mr. Flanigan is doing.

On preview, two of the "reader recommended comments" are from people Michael counseled during his former days as an activist.
posted by zarq at 8:30 AM on June 17, 2011


I agree that it's factually true, it just seems to me that "helping people stay in the closet" has a negative connotation that the article doesn't mirror. Though I'll admit that I'm not sure how else you'd say it...

But enough of my derail! Again, the article is fascinating and well worth a read.
posted by Ian A.T. at 8:33 AM on June 17, 2011


I'm not sure I see the connection between these two articles other than the fact that both relate to sexual orientation.

The second article is very interesting. History seems to teach us that visibility is perhaps the best way to fight stigma and societal oppression of a minority, so visibility is always desirable for the group, but it is almost never desirable for each individual member of the group because the gains in personal authenticity are so often accompanied by economic consequences as well as social ostracism and dissolution of familial bonds. Every individual has to weigh the benefits and harms and make a very personal decision as to what amount of pain and risk will outweigh the desire to "come out." On the other hand, the group will naturally put increasing pressure on group members to refuse to pass in order to further its objectives.

I find the conflict fascinating, and it comes up again and again: transsexuals whose insurance may cover medical interventions as long as transsexualism is classified a disorder vs. some transsexual communities who desire transsexualism to be perceived as a normal variation; the conflict within the gay community between people who see coming out as a moral obligation of community members and the debate about involuntary outing as well as, on a more abstract level, the conflict between community members who want to blend in with majority values and those who want to express minority preferences openly (e.g. marching at PRIDE in full S&M regalia); etc.
posted by prefpara at 8:35 AM on June 17, 2011 [5 favorites]


/He seems like a victim of ideology.

Before, now, or both?

I wonder if anyone's ever done a study of the type, the Seekers After Purity. There's a need there, it seems, a desperate need for a total gestalt, a system of belief which defines everything, thought, work, fashion, language. (don't drive straight, drive forward.) and if you just get it right --- everything, everything, everything right --- you will be safe, whole, saved. And so will the world be, if it follows you.

Fucking hedgehogs. You seem 'em flip, every once in a while, if the old Way starts to break for 'em, but they always seem to flip to a New Way, with the old passion...or at least the ones you hear about do.
posted by Diablevert at 8:36 AM on June 17, 2011 [17 favorites]


On a sidenote, the NYTimes magazine has gotten a makeover in the last year or so (new editors, writers, features), and I think it's possible they're trying to get more pageviews online using sensational headlines. The Motherlode blog had a post the other day titled, "Should Women Be Doctors?"
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 8:37 AM on June 17, 2011 [4 favorites]


prefpara: "I'm not sure I see the connection between these two articles other than the fact that both relate to sexual orientation."

I combined them into one post in part because both have to do with public and private gender identities, and how religious belief and cultural cues / pressures may affect them.
posted by zarq at 8:37 AM on June 17, 2011


I started reading this yesterday (and my internal "when will this show up on the blue?" clock began ticking), but it irritated me for all kinds of reasons. I'll go finish it now.
posted by rtha at 8:39 AM on June 17, 2011


There's a need there, it seems, a desperate need for a total gestalt, a system of belief which defines everything, thought, work, fashion, language. (don't drive straight, drive forward.) and if you just get it right --- everything, everything, everything right --- you will be safe, whole, saved. And so will the world be, if it follows you.


Mental Orthorexia.
posted by The Whelk at 8:41 AM on June 17, 2011 [5 favorites]


ThePinkSuperhero: "The Motherlode blog had a post the other day titled, "Should Women Be Doctors?""

Heh. But it wouldn't be the Times if they didn't also say, "Yes, it’s a purposefully provocative headline, but it goes to the core of the debate over life/work balance." in the very first sentence. :D
posted by zarq at 8:42 AM on June 17, 2011 [1 favorite]


"Goes to the core of the debate," my ass.
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 8:43 AM on June 17, 2011 [8 favorites]


Thanks for posting these articles.

As ThePinkSuperhero noted above, this seems like the most interesting bit from the first article:

"As Ben and I reminisced, I couldn’t help wondering if Michael’s new philosophy might, in a strange way, be a logical extension of what he believed back then — that 'gay' is a limiting category and that sexual identities can change. Ben nodded. 'A radical queer activist and a fundamentalist Christian aren’t always as different as they might seem,' he said, adding that they’re ideologues who can railroad over nuance and claim a monopoly on the truth." It sounds like Michael Glatze is an activist; was then, is now. His beliefs may have changed but his personality seems the same."

I remember XY magazine, which I hungrily devoured as a teenager. It was an odd mix of (non-pornographic) pictures of teenagers and 21-year-olds hanging out and badly written queer-theory diatribes. Not that there is any other kind of queer theory. For me, the pictures were very important -- many of them were reader-submitted, and they gave me a sense that were many other regular gay kids out there, and I'd find them sooner or later.

Queer theorists aren't just like fundamentalist Christians in that they are ideologues. Both groups accept the same basic framework for discussing homosexuality. Fundamentalist Christians say that the gay rights movement seeks to overthrow traditional moral norms and institutions, and queer theorists say "Absolutely -- and that's a good thing!" In this way, perhaps Mr. Glatze hasn't become a different 'type' of person at all.
posted by fugitivefromchaingang at 8:45 AM on June 17, 2011 [3 favorites]


ThePinkSuperhero: ""Goes to the core of the debate," my ass."

?

The debate is whether women are as productive as men when it comes to careers in medicine, and the question raised by Dr. Sibert in her editorial was whether they should even bother becoming doctors in the first place. So yeah, that's the core of the debate. I think it's a completely moronic and blindered thing for her to suggest, but it is what she said.
posted by zarq at 8:47 AM on June 17, 2011


The juicy, juicy core debate, ripe with seed. Come see the core debate. Bring a friend. Make a night of it. First paragraph is free.
posted by It's Raining Florence Henderson at 8:48 AM on June 17, 2011 [2 favorites]


Firstly, it's not a "debate" just because one person says it. Secondly, even she didn't say women shouldn't be doctors- she said people who are going to only work part-time after graduation (and she thinks this applies mostly but not fully to women) should consider not becoming doctors because the profession deserves more. There's a lot of valuable things to wrestle over in the topic and "Should Women Be Doctors?" is not on the list, which is why I was surprised the NYTimes chose to make that the banner. Or maybe I'm not surprised- on the Motherlode blog especially, I'm sure they love to rile commenters up and watch the pageviews roll in.
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 8:54 AM on June 17, 2011 [6 favorites]


I still don't understand the concept of a "sexual identity." Is that like if I'm polyamorous but want to be in a monogamous relationship? Or if I'm into BDSM but my wife is vanilla? Or does it only apply to religious gay folks?
posted by muddgirl at 8:55 AM on June 17, 2011


My gender is male. My orientation is straight. My sexual identity is Zargon, Emperor of the Fifth Dominion.
posted by It's Raining Florence Henderson at 8:59 AM on June 17, 2011 [28 favorites]


I can understand someone being confused about their sexual orientation; I've wavered around a lot myself -- and I know someone who has identified as lesbian only to later realise that she was bisexual. Somone could be biologically bisexual and identify as gay, only to realise later that they were (mostly) straight - I find that sexuality can be very fluid for younger people.

But I don't understand the backlash against gayness.

on preview: I think the issue about sexual identity/orientation is that it is the personal interpretation of a biological phenomenon which doesn't have strict lines. I mean, the biological phenomenon is the attraction to people - whether male or female or green. But how you interpret it is the sexual identity - a female someone who is mostly attracted to women but occassionally attracted to a man might identify as lesbian or as bisexual, and which she choses isn't a hard and fast rule but a personal choice. Similarly, a woman who is most often attracted to men but occassionally attracted to women may identify as straight or bisexual or, particularly if she ends up in a long-term same-sex relationship, as a lesbian. Me, I treat it like race: how someone categorises their skin tone/facial features is a personal choice, though (of course) the rest of their community may have an identification they would like to impose.

I guess the added thing for ex-gays and their supporters is that they don't believe in the biological phenomenon - they believe that the identity controls/shapes who you are attracted to, rather than simply describing/categorising it. And some queer theorists would also agree, but for different reasons.
posted by jb at 9:03 AM on June 17, 2011 [4 favorites]


spicynuts: "I have no doubt that there are people who wake up one day and realize "holy shit I'm not gay I'm straight". Just as there are people who wake up one day and realize "holy shit I'm gay". You can live a lie in either direction. However, what is unbelievable to me is that anyone could go from that to "ALL GAY PEOPLE ARE LIVING A LIE and I will work to abolish gayness in the name of God because homosexuality = death"."

The other weird thing: When the guy abandoned his "gayness," the article made no mention of him actually being interested in women (apart from the quip about wanting to join the Mormon church because they'd find him a wife).

And, let's also be honest -- very few people are actually 0 or 6 on the Kinsey scale. Most people are somewhere in between, and choose to date exclusively on the side that they are closest to. (And when folks do meet some guy/gal who challenges your declared hetero/homosexuality, it can be bloody confusing and traumatizing, especially if you're a '5' or a '1'. )
posted by schmod at 9:03 AM on June 17, 2011 [1 favorite]


I still don't understand the concept of a "sexual identity." Is that like if I'm polyamorous but want to be in a monogamous relationship? Or if I'm into BDSM but my wife is vanilla? Or does it only apply to religious gay folks?

I always figure that "sexual identity" is a concept of the now - it doesn't have some kind of truth status, it's not eternal, but used lightly it's a very, very helpful way to negotiate the world in which we live. Sure, two hundred years ago no one thought of themselves as "gay" as we understand it now; two hundred years hence "gay" will be so different as to be unrecognizable. None the less, you know, if you feel like you want only to date men it's helpful to say "I'm gay". And although perhaps sexual identity is fluid in some grand sense, it's not experienced as 100% fluid by most people living now; I can't just will myself into attraction to cis straight men, for example.

All these "identities" are strategies. Naturally, they'll change along with the world, reciprocally changing the world. That doesn't mean that it's helpful to tell someone that their identity is meaningless because it's not "true" like gravity is true.
posted by Frowner at 9:04 AM on June 17, 2011 [3 favorites]


The other weird thing: When the guy abandoned his "gayness," the article made no mention of him actually being interested in women (apart from the quip about wanting to join the Mormon church because they'd find him a wife).

Yes it did. He says he dated two women but he did not want to discuss sexual details. He said he was 'less than godly' in those relationships.
posted by spicynuts at 9:06 AM on June 17, 2011


Because most people (including APA publications) seem to use it interchageably with orientation, but the therapists in these articles seem to be implying some cultural identity - like a straight sexual identity would be a Ward and June Cleaver relationship, while a gay sexual identity would be like sex and drugs and STDs.

It seems to be implying that when my straight friend fell in love with a woman (while still identifying as straight), she assumed a lesbian sexual identity, while maintaining a straight orientation. That seems really problematic to me, as it conflates all aspects of a long-term relationship (emotional, phyiscal, financial) into one label. She is certainly identified at first sight by others as a lesbian - is that the kind of identity we're talking about?

On preview:I think the issue about sexual identity/orientation is that it is the personal interpretation of a biological phenomenon which doesn't have strict lines. I mean, the biological phenomenon is the attraction to people - whether male or female or green. But how you interpret it is the sexual identity - a female someone who is mostly attracted to women but occassionally attracted to a man might identify as lesbian or as bisexual, and which she choses isn't a hard and fast rule but a personal choice.

This seems to imply that every person has some platonic "Sexual Orientation," and that sexual identity is the expression of that ideal. Again, that doesn't jive with my own experiences.

I always figure that "sexual identity" is a concept of the now - it doesn't have some kind of truth status, it's not eternal, but used lightly it's a very, very helpful way to negotiate the world in which we live.

So what is the difference between identity and orientation?
posted by muddgirl at 9:06 AM on June 17, 2011 [1 favorite]


I've always thought of orientation as the "inside' and identity as the "outside".
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 9:09 AM on June 17, 2011 [5 favorites]


With Maynard’s help, Flanigan began studying alternative interpretations of Leviticus (“You shall not lie with a man as with a woman; it is an abomination” could be read more generally as a call to reproduce) and the letters of the Apostle Paul. (Even Maynard sees those as “not so easily untangled.”)

The problem is as Maynard states -- the passages mentioned aren't so easily untangled, at least if you are a member of a church that views the Bible as inerrant. You can't have it both ways -- because in those churches, the Pauline epistles and what they state about homosexuality is completely unambiguous. There have been debates on the blue and elsewhere about what these words really mean and to whom they apply, but the point is that in churches that take the Bible literally, there is no room for any interpretation that takes the apostle Paul's words to mean anything other than the way they read on the page.

“God loves you more than any dude will ever love you,” he told me at the cafe. “Don’t put your faith in some man, some flesh. That’s what we do when we’re stuck in the gay identity, when we’re stuck in that cave. We go from guy to guy, looking for someone to love us and make us feel O.K., but God is so much better than all the other masters out there.”

What's so chilling and creepy about this to me is that it sounds literally word for word like what my Bible study mentors told me in the Jehovah's Witnesses when I was a teenager. If I questioned the word of God, I was in a cave, and God and Jesus would love me more than any person ever would. That Michael Glatze story creeped me out on so many levels I can't even begin to unpack it all. I guess the first thing that comes to mind is the idea that some gay people have that once all the "old people" you see on the news fulminating against the disordered and diseased nature of homosexuality die off, then everything will be rainbow unicorns and sweet joy. But the missing element is that those values don't just die out because of a historical moment of acceptance that is, in the scheme of things, a small moment in the continuity of time. Those values get transmitted to younger generations and turn people like Michael Glatze from what he was into what he is now. It may be that some people are more ready to accept the transmission of those values than others, but the transmission still happens, even if it's under the radar of the media, which wants to paint a picture of steady and inevitable progress toward full societal acceptance.
posted by blucevalo at 9:09 AM on June 17, 2011 [6 favorites]



Not all lies are equal. Entire generations of straight people aren't educated to hate and fear themselves to the point where they decide to act gay and construct so many mental defenses and barriers that it takes years of pain and anguish to undo. Shit happens, but do not pretend that the social pressures and discrimination that force gay people to create false identities work both ways.


I don't think you really read my comment properly. I said nothing about the process working EQUALLY both ways. I simply stated that there are people out there who have woken up 'not gay'. Maybe it's only 10 people in the entire history of homosexuality. Whatever. My consternation is that I can't understand both waking up 'not gay' and suddenly wanting to eliminate gayness from every corner of the world. I can understand being forced by others to pretend to become not gay and then by extension of the self-hate resulting from being hated by others, projecting that self hate onto the entire world of homosexuality. But this dude was not forced into re-orientation or anything of that nature. He came to it himself. You don't want to be gay...don't be gay, but don't force your world view down the rest of our throats.
posted by spicynuts at 9:13 AM on June 17, 2011 [1 favorite]


So what is the difference between identity and orientation?

The thing is, these terms are convention, not science.

"Orientation" is a political term - to my mind - which makes the argument that you're "turned towards"/attracted to men or women naturally and unchangably. I kind of provisionally believe this in the short term - you can't up and decide that today you're attracted to women after a lifetime of only being attracted to men.

It might not be useful to someone to say that they have a sexual orientation; it might not express their understanding of sexuality. (Note that sexuality does not form a perfect analog with gender or race in this context. Or ever, really.)

"Identity" connotes more about choice, fluidity and specificity. Ie, people usually don't say that their "orientation" is queer, even if they are men who sleep only with men - the idea of queerness is about rejecting a particular narrative of sexuality where your sexuality is fixed, eternal, reveals some kind of strong truth about you. "Queer" can be described as an identity but I don't think I've ever heard it described as an orientation.

These are all terms in particular kinds of discourses about sexuality which are mobilized for political purposes. It's really useful to say "my orientation is bisexual" in certain contexts because it answers some political questions and precludes others.

The difference is one of purpose and discourse, that is.
posted by Frowner at 9:15 AM on June 17, 2011 [3 favorites]


Years ago, one of my exes, who had been bisexual in terms of her relationship history but who identified politically and culturally as a lesbian, fell in love with a gay man. He fell in love with her (and he was one of those gay guys who was gaygaygay). They've been married at least 12 years now, and, last I heard, both identify as queer. At the time, a number of their friends (mostly queer) were like "You...what...what? Um. Okay," but I don't recall that anyone flat-out dropped them.

Identities can shift and change, and I'm mostly okay with people trying to live their lives in whatever way causes them to experience the least amount of pain - as long as they're not trying to cause it for other people. Woke up one day and decided you were straight instead of a big homo? Whatever. Write articles that tell lies about homosexuality? Fuck off.

And this: He never considered having a male partner or attending a more liberal church, because neither conformed to his religious beliefs. “I can’t pursue being a follower of Jesus and picking and choosing from what it is in Scripture that I want to follow,” he told me. For him, there is only one way to read the Bible.

This causes me some serious cognitive dissonance, because I cannot, and have never been able to, wrap my head around how some (many, I guess) believers apparently don't see the contradictions in the Bible. It contradicts itself all over the place. So how can you possibly not "pick and choose"?
posted by rtha at 9:16 AM on June 17, 2011 [7 favorites]


ThePinkSuperhero: "Firstly, it's not a "debate" just because one person says it.

No, it's a debate when one person says it and a bunch of other people, including bloggers begin arguing about it. Which is what happened.

Secondly, even she didn't say women shouldn't be doctors- she said people who are going to only work part-time after graduation (and she thinks this applies mostly but not fully to women) should consider not becoming doctors because the profession deserves more. There's a lot of valuable things to wrestle over in the topic and "Should Women Be Doctors?" is not on the list, which is why I was surprised the NYTimes chose to make that the banner. Or maybe I'm not surprised- on the Motherlode blog especially, I'm sure they love to rile commenters up and watch the pageviews roll in."

I don't think the headline was perfect, but women's role in the industry and whether can devote the time needed for a career in medicine is what the debate has been about.

This is something that society has not needed to deal with until relatively recently because a doctor's parenting intentions didn't matter when they entered the field. At the physician-level, medicine has until recent years been entirely male-dominated in every field except pediatrics. In our society, men were the family breadwinners, and not expected to take on child-rearing responsibilities that might cause conflicts with their jobs. And in this particular case, the job in question required far more time than your average 9-5 desk job in an office. Doctor's hours are notoriously long.

And yes, the points Ms. Sibert are raising include the basic and incontrovertible fact that women who intend to raise families must balance those obligations with their jobs, which causes conflicts. Any time a mother goes to work, there are decisions to be made with regard to childcare. When it comes to a doctor who may be working a 70 hour week, and be on-call for an additional 20, the inherent conflicts become more complex. Among other things, she's discussing commitment and quality of care.

Sorry, but I disagree with you. This is the core of the debate. And it seems to me to also be the core of what she's saying.
posted by zarq at 9:17 AM on June 17, 2011


As I've always understood it (which admittedly could be wrong), identity is literally how you identify, while orientation is more where you land on the spectrum. The difference between how you feel in the holistic sense and how you choose to define yourself at any given point in time.
posted by It's Raining Florence Henderson at 9:17 AM on June 17, 2011


The thing is, these terms are convention, not science.

Of course. What do the therapists in the second article mean by "straight identity?" By my interpretation, they mean "in a relationship with someone of the opposite sex." Am I interpreting it correctly?
posted by muddgirl at 9:21 AM on June 17, 2011


rtha: "This causes me some serious cognitive dissonance, because I cannot, and have never been able to, wrap my head around how some (many, I guess) believers apparently don't see the contradictions in the Bible. It contradicts itself all over the place. So how can you possibly not "pick and choose"?"

I suspect that for people who do that, their religion become a sort of self-fulfilling prophecy. Their interpretation of scripture agrees with and supports their beliefs, and creates circular thinking.

So Johnny believes homosexuality is evil. And he interprets that passage in Leviticus to agree with him. He undergoes no thoughtful consideration or analysis to reach for further conclusions. He simply uses the bible as a support system because it agrees with what he already believes.
posted by zarq at 9:22 AM on June 17, 2011 [2 favorites]


What do the therapists in the second article mean by "straight identity?" By my interpretation, they mean "in a relationship with someone of the opposite sex." Am I interpreting it correctly?

That's my interpretation as well. It seems to read as if they want to convey the tension between sexual attraction and sexual identity.
posted by It's Raining Florence Henderson at 9:28 AM on June 17, 2011


Of course. What do the therapists in the second article mean by "straight identity?" By my interpretation, they mean "in a relationship with someone of the opposite sex." Am I interpreting it correctly?

I'm sorry we're talking at cross purposes - I feel like maybe I'm accidentally belaboring things that you already know just fine and maybe sounding like a jerk about it.

I had interpreted that more as "an authentic relationship - a true, natural relationship - for this person is a relationship with someone of the opposite sex". If a "straight-oriented" person would be in a "gay" relationship, that relationship would be on some level inauthentic, not true to the person's real self. No matter how happy or convenient the relationship, it would be suboptimal because the person would be "really" straight.

This is why I think orientation is actually sometimes an awesomely useful term, because you can use it to say "no, I shouldn't be in a straight relationship, that relationship won't be authentic". You don't have to argue about convenience or happiness or morality, because you've packed all that into authentic/truth/real self.

Metafilter advice is often predicated on ideas about the authentic self. Honestly, I don't think there is an authentic self, but I also think that it's very useful shorthand for a lot of stuff.
posted by Frowner at 9:31 AM on June 17, 2011 [1 favorite]


Except I was thinking of the first article, so I was wrong! Oops, sorry about that. I read them in reverse order to the post.
posted by Frowner at 9:33 AM on June 17, 2011


I am always really confused, and tend to say, "that guy's crazy" when someone goes from one extreme of belief and then flips *completely* over to another, because I really really don't understand it at all. It seems mentally ill to me, though I recognize that is pretty judgmental of me to say.

I see it as someone having an un-moored personality. And people like that freak me out. I mean, I change. Have changed quite a bit since my early adulthood. Have been known to leave whole groups of friends behind because I found their activities tiresome. I don't know... maybe that last bit means some people see *me* as having gone off the deep end or something--going from dating women to living in an old Victorian house with a man, but to me it all has seemed a pretty natural progression. And I still identify myself as queer, march in the occasional parade...

I just couldn't imagine going through the sort of change that would make me utterly condemn who I'd been in the past. And frankly, in that photo he looks weary and very unhappy.
posted by RedEmma at 9:33 AM on June 17, 2011 [3 favorites]


Reminds me of drug users I've known who have devoted their lives to Jesus. From a distance, they seem to have dramatically changed their identities. But up close, they seem exactly the same as they ever were.
posted by It's Raining Florence Henderson at 9:38 AM on June 17, 2011 [9 favorites]


Diablevert: IIRC "desire for purity" has been shown to correlated with authoritarian personality; don't have a specific link right now but some cursory googling should find what you need
posted by jtron at 9:39 AM on June 17, 2011 [1 favorite]


muddgirl: " Of course. What do the therapists in the second article mean by "straight identity?" By my interpretation, they mean "in a relationship with someone of the opposite sex." Am I interpreting it correctly?"

I think you are, but I'd widen the definition slightly to "in a relationship or seeking one with someone of the opposite sex."
posted by zarq at 9:54 AM on June 17, 2011


"Because most people (including APA publications) seem to use it interchageably with orientation, but the therapists in these articles seem to be implying some cultural identity - like a straight sexual identity would be a Ward and June Cleaver relationship, while a gay sexual identity would be like sex and drugs and STDs."

That seems like a rather bizarre and inflammatory misreading.

Re: Your friend. It sounds like her orientation is bisexual and her identity is straight — she identifies as straight. The therapists are all talking about a personal construction of identity — obviously mediated socially, but subjectively constructed.

There's a lot in existentialism about the idea of being-for-others as it relates to existential bad faith that might be helpful for you in understanding what's meant with regard to identity as separate from orientation.
posted by klangklangston at 9:55 AM on June 17, 2011


Also: TPS, Zarq, can you stop arguing about an NYT article that's got nothing to do with this post? It's a derail.
posted by klangklangston at 9:57 AM on June 17, 2011 [1 favorite]


It's Raining Florence Henderson: "Reminds me of drug users I've known who have devoted their lives to Jesus. From a distance, they seem to have dramatically changed their identities. But up close, they seem exactly the same as they ever were."

The fervor finds a different outlet through sublimation.
posted by zarq at 9:58 AM on June 17, 2011 [2 favorites]


klangklangston: "Also: TPS, Zarq, can you stop arguing about an NYT article that's got nothing to do with this post? It's a derail."

Yep, sorry.

It would be poor form to derail my own post, after all.
posted by zarq at 9:58 AM on June 17, 2011


Re: the first article - dude has a health scare, confronts mortality, reacts very strongly. This is hardly unknown - but it's still terribly sad. He worked for the Party of Love but the Party of Fear got its claws into him. The younger version of dude would've been awesomely inspirational to younger Kinsey-2* jtron, co-founder of his incredibly stuffy high school's GSA**.

* "Gay, straight, bisexual... why aren't there any good choices?" I am married to a lady but "straight" doesn't adequately label my internal workings; love that one social site I'm on gives "heteroflexible" as a choice
** "Gay And Straight People" aka GASP and if there's a more camp name for a GSA I'd love to hear it

posted by jtron at 10:11 AM on June 17, 2011 [3 favorites]


Identity is that which you identify as. So, when men who have sex with men identify as "straight," that might be misleading--they might be lying--but "straight" is still their identity, because they identify as it.

To say that a MSM in denial is "straight" because he says so is correct, though unhelpful. To say he is of a heterosexual orientation is incorrect.
posted by LogicalDash at 10:14 AM on June 17, 2011 [1 favorite]


Poor guy. Sounds like he used to be cool.
posted by dazed_one at 10:15 AM on June 17, 2011


Back on the subject: it might be worth putting Glatze's story in a different perspective than Denizet-Lewis' admittedly-personal take on things. Here's an article from Ex-Gay Watch from a couple of years ago. The subject is a series of explicitly racist posts that Glatze made on his blog (all of those blog entries have been wiped out, and Glatze's new blog seems to consist solely of interviews that he did after his conversion, with other people, as well as a link to the NYT article and a bible quote), but it also challenges the notion that he was a gay rights leader of any significance and describes him as something of an attention seeker. I tend to agree with jtron that Glatze comes off as someone who ran face-first into his own mortality and is still reeling from the shock.
posted by Halloween Jack at 10:24 AM on June 17, 2011 [2 favorites]


** "Gay And Straight People" aka GASP and if there's a more camp name for a GSA I'd love to hear it

That is fantastic. At my college, our group was initially called DAGLO - Dartmouth Area Gay and Lesbian Organization. I've also always had a fondness for Bennington's: ROTC - Reaching Out of The Closet. We didn't have a formal group in high school, because it was the early 80s; instead we had glee club and drama club, as usual.

posted by rtha at 10:24 AM on June 17, 2011 [3 favorites]


I have a friend who's dealing with the whole orientation/identity thing very personally right now. Her (female-bodied) partner of 20+ years is beginning his transition into living his life as a man. She loves him very much and isn't going anywhere, but her identity as a lesbian has always been a big part of her life, and she's trying to figure out what to do with that. Is she no longer a lesbian because her partner made a change? Is she still a lesbian, but one who's married to and deeply in love with a man? It's complicated.
posted by KathrynT at 10:34 AM on June 17, 2011 [1 favorite]


This seems to imply that every person has some platonic "Sexual Orientation," and that sexual identity is the expression of that ideal. Again, that doesn't jive with my own experiences.

Everyone has different experiences, of course, but there are a great many people who do report that they have an innate attraction to one sex or another. It's not Platonic unless you are a Platonist - which I'm not - but appears to have a biological origin in that people are "born with it" (rather than develop it though culture). I realise that science is still studying the matter, but I'm currently sitting on the biological side -- especially since I've read historic evidence for what looks a lot like modern lesbianism and transexualism in time-periods when the words didn't exist (such as the 17th century), but the behaviour/feelings did. They didn't identify as "lesbian" or "transsexual", but they did a) engage in romantic relationships with other women (against the mores of their society) and/or b) express the belief that their soul/true self was actually male.

Some people do appear to have fluid sexual orientation - they find themselves attracted to a sex they have never before been attracted to, for example. But many people do not have fluid sexual orientation, they are attracted to one particular sex and only people of that sex, and they couldn't change what sex they are attracted to whether they wanted to or not, any more than I could make myself naturally blond or 3 feet tall (without chopping off bits that I'm using).
posted by jb at 10:49 AM on June 17, 2011 [1 favorite]


but the point is that in churches that take the Bible literally, there is no room for any interpretation that takes the apostle Paul's words to mean anything other than the way they read on the page.

No church takes the bible literally, no matter what they say. They pick and choose what parts reinforce their worldview, take THOSE parts literally, and handwave the rest away. There is no godhatesfags brand of christianity that also puts equal weight on all the hardline socialist views that Christ purports, or that still gives two shits about wearing mixed fabrics. It's a shame that someone convinced a man in a place of self-doubt to hate himself so thoroughly, but self-hate/negation is a pretty large motivating force in the compulsion for veneration of a giant imaginary daddy figure.
posted by FatherDagon at 10:49 AM on June 17, 2011 [7 favorites]


That seems like a rather bizarre and inflammatory misreading.

No, I understand that - I'm not drawing it straight from the article, but from some other stuff I've read as well (can't cite it now - it was published in a British paper buy a gay man who decided to "go straight" so he could have a family). But I was reminded of that article because no one in the second article seemed to talk about gay relationships, just gay sex. They contrasted opposite-sex relationships with same-sex desire, and that just seemed like a really typical social construction of gay vs. straight identities to me.

Re: Your friend. It sounds like her orientation is bisexual and her identity is straight — she identifies as straight. The therapists are all talking about a personal construction of identity — obviously mediated socially, but subjectively constructed.

So attraction to one person of the same sex gives someone a bisexual orientation? This is I guess my main problem with the concept of an "orientation" vs. an "identity" - how do I know what my platonic "orientation" is? Do I have to wait my whole life to see if I am attracted to any woman, ever, before I decide that I have a straight orientation?

There's a lot in existentialism about the idea of being-for-others as it relates to existential bad faith that might be helpful for you in understanding what's meant with regard to identity as separate from orientation.

I don't really understand what "existential bad faith" means.

Maybe I'm confused because when we talk about gender, we talk about identity vs. presentation - someone can be a male who culturally presents as feminine. Someone can be androgynous but present as masculine, etc. So I'm trying to map orientation to identity and identity to presentation and maybe it doesn't work quite like that.
posted by muddgirl at 10:51 AM on June 17, 2011 [1 favorite]


KathrynT, I think your friend is exactly who she has always been. We're all somewhat fluid in our identities, but I think to a large extent, we like what we like and we love who we love, and maturity is learning that what we desire is often not the same as what we actually want. For example, people often ask each other what their "type" is. If I were to describe my ideal type, there is no way you could pick my wife out of a crowd. And I'm not actually her type, either. Yet, 26 years later, we're going strong, and neither one of us has ever really wanted to be with anyone else. And neither one of us has ever really felt deprived, either. You like what you like and you love who you love. And if you find someone to love who loves you back, why the fuck should anyone else care what they look like or what you call yourself? All jokes aside, I consider my sexual identity to be "married." To whom should be irrelevant to everyone but us.
posted by It's Raining Florence Henderson at 10:57 AM on June 17, 2011 [3 favorites]


This is I guess my main problem with the concept of an "orientation" vs. an "identity" - how do I know what my platonic "orientation" is? Do I have to wait my whole life to see if I am attracted to any woman, ever, before I decide that I have a straight orientation?

I think this is where the split between orientation and identification is especially useful. You don't have to define your orientation- it's going to be whatever it is. It's what you identify as that's up to your judgment. Your friend chooses to identify as straight, despite that the fact that she is in a same-sex relationship. I know women who would identify as bi-sexual despite being in a monogamous heterosexual marriage. There may be cultural mores saying everything has to box (sex = gender, orientation = identity), but in reality, people can do anything! And they do! It's a rainbow (pun!) of humanity.
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 11:01 AM on June 17, 2011 [2 favorites]


So attraction to one person of the same sex gives someone a bisexual orientation? This is I guess my main problem with the concept of an "orientation" vs. an "identity" - how do I know what my platonic "orientation" is? Do I have to wait my whole life to see if I am attracted to any woman, ever, before I decide that I have a straight orientation?

Even as far back as the Kinsey scale it was recognized that orientations are analog and not binary. Basically, if you really wanted to be precise, you'd have to attach a margin of error any time you called someone gay or straight; most people figure they're "certain enough" and don't bother.
posted by LogicalDash at 11:01 AM on June 17, 2011


(*cough* any timed you called someone heterosexual or homosexual)
posted by LogicalDash at 11:02 AM on June 17, 2011


So attraction to one person of the same sex gives someone a bisexual orientation? This is I guess my main problem with the concept of an "orientation" vs. an "identity" - how do I know what my platonic "orientation" is? Do I have to wait my whole life to see if I am attracted to any woman, ever, before I decide that I have a straight orientation?

Maybe. Or not. Lots of people still think that I just haven't met the "right" man yet, and cannot or will not grok that for me, there is very probably no right man. No wrong man, either. No man at all. At the same time, if I were to be celibate for the rest of my life, I'd still be a lesbian. Is that identity, rather than orientation? To me, it doesn't matter.

But that doesn't mean it's not how it works for someone else. It also doesn't mean that someone who has been heterosexual in thought and deed their entire life might not fall in love with someone of the same sex; whether or not they choose to identify as bisexual (or gay) in that circumstance is up to them.
posted by rtha at 11:03 AM on June 17, 2011 [3 favorites]


You like what you like and you love who you love. And if you find someone to love who loves you back, why the fuck should anyone else care what they look like or what you call yourself?

But you might still care yourself, as KathrynT's friend does. Accepting a minority sexual orientation and publically embracing that identity --- especially 25 years ago --- meant enduring a lot of scorn, struggle, and pain. It also meant identifying with a group, taking pride in your membership in that group, finding a lot of support and love from your fellow group members because you were part of that group. The public part is key. And if that was something that was important to you --- if one of the virtues you value in yourself is your efforts to stand up for the rights of you and your group --- then a situation like this, where staying with the person you love will mean an apparent and/or defacto renunciation of that identity must be disquieting, to say the least.
posted by Diablevert at 11:17 AM on June 17, 2011


Did something happen to the second link? It leads to My Ex-Gay Friend now. In fact, a quick Google gives me the same article as the first result, and MetaFilter and a handful of aggregators as the only other references to the article. What happened?
posted by byanyothername at 11:26 AM on June 17, 2011


I absolutely get that, Diablevert. I just don't see why KathrynT's friend has to change her public identity in any way as a result of the change of her partner. KathrynT's friend isn't changing. Her circumstances are changing. All of those signifiers you described are still true. If and only if she feels different as a result do I see any reason for an update in her social status. Now maybe she will feel different. Or maybe her social circles won't see it as simply as I do. It's not my place to guess or to judge. It's just my opinion. She's in a commited relationship. I think that's wonderful for her. I understand why she might stress the details, but I wish she didn't feel the pressure to do so. She should feel free to love who she loves, no matter the details.
posted by It's Raining Florence Henderson at 11:29 AM on June 17, 2011


byanyothername: "Did something happen to the second link? It leads to My Ex-Gay Friend now. In fact, a quick Google gives me the same article as the first result, and MetaFilter and a handful of aggregators as the only other references to the article. What happened?"

I emailed the mods using the contact form. Hopefully they'll be able to fix it soon. This is the second article.
posted by zarq at 11:35 AM on June 17, 2011 [1 favorite]


No church takes the bible literally, no matter what they say. They pick and choose what parts reinforce their worldview, take THOSE parts literally, and handwave the rest away. There is no godhatesfags brand of christianity that also puts equal weight on all the hardline socialist views that Christ purports, or that still gives two shits about wearing mixed fabrics. It's a shame that someone convinced a man in a place of self-doubt to hate himself so thoroughly, but self-hate/negation is a pretty large motivating force in the compulsion for veneration of a giant imaginary daddy figure.

I should have been more careful with my language and said: "in churches that claim to take the Bible literally." That is true. Whether it's veneration of a giant imaginary daddy figure or not, in the United States, an overwhelming number of people claim to believe that this daddy figure exists and runs their lives, and that claimed belief is the basis of dictating what sexual orientation/identity is legally normative. That would tend to inspire self-hate and self-negation in someone who didn't already have strong reserves of psychic defense against it. I can't say that I'm always 100% non-self-negating in that regard when the relationship that I have with my partner is still invalid, legally and otherwise, in most of the 50 states, because God allegedly deems it unnatural.
posted by blucevalo at 11:36 AM on June 17, 2011


All of those signifiers you described are still true. If and only if she feels different as a result do I see any reason for an update in her social status

If they go to a ballgame and she smooches her honey, before people would have known she's a lesbian, now they'll take her for straight. She can't do anything about that.
posted by Diablevert at 11:42 AM on June 17, 2011


Eric Hoffer wrote about people like Michael in his book The True Believer.

In essence, the lack of internal self worth leads to the passionate embrace of external ideas or beliefs that fulfills the need for self affirmation.

I know it may sound like a bunch of new age hooey, but sixty years ago, this sort of stuff was revolutionary as it began to supplant Freudian explanations for behavior, and applied to the political and religious mindset, it still provokes some interesting discussions.
posted by mygoditsbob at 11:44 AM on June 17, 2011 [5 favorites]


Yeah, I know Diablevert. People suck, though. She shouldn't have to fucking care, that's all I'm saying. I'm not saying it won't affect her. I'm just saying it shouldn't, and therefore she shouldn't feel like she has to make the choice to identify any differently than she always has, no matter what others choose to assume. I'm sadly aware that it won't be that easy. People suck. But we can't let that be the deciding factor. We just can't! I know - easy for me to say.
posted by It's Raining Florence Henderson at 11:50 AM on June 17, 2011


"So attraction to one person of the same sex gives someone a bisexual orientation? This is I guess my main problem with the concept of an "orientation" vs. an "identity" - how do I know what my platonic "orientation" is? Do I have to wait my whole life to see if I am attracted to any woman, ever, before I decide that I have a straight orientation?"

Well, technically yes, since "bisexual" is the broadest of the three generally-agreed orientations. And if you're in a sexual relationship with someone, especially a long-term, ongoing sexual relationship, claiming your orientation is 100 percent straight seems a little odd, given that I assume they have sex and enjoy it. Likewise, claiming to be 100 percent gay if you're in an opposite-sex relationship would be a little hard to justify too, especially since "bisexual" covers pretty much all the ground in-between, and is infinitely graded.

How do you know what your racial orientation is? This was more an issue a couple of generations ago, but my extended family went through a weird vacillation where a great-grandpa who had been "Italian" for years suddenly got acknowledged as black (which was pretty obvious from the photos — dude looked like Morgan Freeman) and then when the not-as-racist relatives died off, he was suddenly "Italian" again. Still, outside of my sixteentharoon joking, my "identity" is white even if my "orientation" might be mixed.

"I don't really understand what "existential bad faith" means.

Maybe I'm confused because when we talk about gender, we talk about identity vs. presentation - someone can be a male who culturally presents as feminine. Someone can be androgynous but present as masculine, etc. So I'm trying to map orientation to identity and identity to presentation and maybe it doesn't work quite like that.
"

"Bad faith" in existentialism relates to inauthenticity and not making choices based on truth to ones' self. The canonical Sartrian example is a waiter who defines himself as a waiter, and acts to conform to the role of how he believes waiters exist — it's based on "being-for-others," and is always, according to existentialism, necessarily false. A simpler example is someone who defines themself as a runner, who then loses both legs in an accident. They are still the same person, but they are no longer able to define themselves as a runner (or at least couldn't before prosthetics advanced to the level they are at today).

That's acting in bad faith, in that the construction of identity will always be inauthentic. More here. It's a term of art for existentialism, and I'm giving a total sketch version.

It gets complicated with regard to Sartre, in that I doubt Sartre would have seen sexual orientation as an inherent delimiter to choice (he pretty famously claimed that it was only a preference not to eat coal for breakfast that kept him from doing it). But in placing the locus of the choice of sexual partner or openness with regard to identity in religion or society, it seems that there's a pretty clear abnegation of individual freedom.

For me, it was kind of interesting to read the therapist article with an eye toward existentialism — the gay therapist who encourages people to think about the consequences of their actions, even if that means staying closeted, seems to be encouraging honest existence (Being) even as the former conversion therapy folks seem to be tacitly approving bad faith by failing to challenge the obviously unhealthy religious framework that seeks to deny self in order to conform to some pretty arbitrary rules.

Of course, the real materialists say that free will is an illusion anyway, so who knows?
posted by klangklangston at 12:07 PM on June 17, 2011


Um. In case it wasn't obvious, I'm not swearing at you, Diablevert. Not at all. I'm just frustrated that people put each other in these horrible boxes. It's all so destructive and unnecessary.
posted by It's Raining Florence Henderson at 12:09 PM on June 17, 2011


Well, while I do think that, you know, in a cosmic sense, on the whole, people suck. But I don't think people suck for assuming you're a lesbian if you are in fact a lesbian. I don't think you would suck for wanting people to assume you're a lesbian if you are a lesbian --- that way other lesbians who think you're hot will ask you out. And from a civil rights perspective, publically embracing an identity can help raise awareness and change minds.

It's not that I'm not sympathetic toward the idea that you love who you love, embrace it and damn the torpedoes. I just think that while "I love you," are three important words in relation to personal happiness and fulfillment, so are "I am a." and I don't think that will change, or ought to. Almost all the great romantic tragedies are ones in which the weight of those second three little words crushes or chokes the first. But I think it possible that it might run the other way, too, that there's a price to be paid for keeping a heart and losing a country, a culture....
posted by Diablevert at 12:17 PM on June 17, 2011 [2 favorites]


Well said.
posted by It's Raining Florence Henderson at 12:20 PM on June 17, 2011


some people know exactly what their innate orientation is -- if, for example, people of the opposite sex are not just neutrally non-attractive to you, but actively unattractive, you are probably completely gay. Or vice versa, like my gay-positive but a little turned off by naked men friend, who is completely straight -- and thinks that all those conservatives who think being gay is a choice must be bi, because he knows that orientation is no choice for him.
posted by jb at 12:35 PM on June 17, 2011


Chiming in yet again as the queer activist...
"Gay" and "lesbian" are a little confusing here, because we use them to mean three quite different things:

1. The (physical, obvious morphological) SEX of the people we're attracted to
2. The gender presentation of the people we're ROMANTICALLY interested in (keeping in mind North American and some other societies assume all gays and lesbians are cross-gendered - effeminate men and butch women being assumed to be queer. But not so, if you've ever met a British actor or a ranch wife)
3. The social environment we most IDENTIFY with (why coming out often includes learning a new set of social rules and cues).

We usually conflate all three - to be lesbian or gay is to be sexually, romantically, and socially (perhaps politically) involved with persons sharing one's own sex, gender, and love of civil rights, power tools, and/or Broadway show tunes. it's perfectly possible to adore 1, be equivocal about 2, and actively participate in quashing 3 - think of both the "real" Roy Cohn and his Angels in America character, or any rightwing politician or evangelical religious preacher with a gay scandal.

But it's not that simple. The therapist in the NYT article is helping men, (uhh, people), negotiate how to satisfy 1 in the LGBTQ world, and 2 & 3 in the current religious right planets. Seems reasonable to me, if quixotic.

It also adds to the flat-out wrong view that gay men can't be both good parents and gay men at the same time - there has to a wife involved, even if you deceive/manipulate her every day of the relationship. If it's important for these guys to be manly fathers and not faggots, why not just do a single parent adoption?! (Yes, I know these are very difficult in many states/countries).

What I find irritating in both articles is we never hear from the female partners of these men - they're both exclusively about white male US evangelical xians - and the whole debate is couched in terms defined by white male US evangelical xians. And how unhappy white male evangelical xians can be - why don't I just read more Tea party rants, at least I know to stop early on, instead of trying to find a message interesting to me? They are a f*cking minority, even if a powerful one. As a queer activist, I demand that hegemony change. Tell OUR stories, of how WE are affected by these white male evangelical xians IN OUR FAMILIES. Not just another whine of the unhappy elite.
posted by Dreidl at 1:00 PM on June 17, 2011 [2 favorites]


I too was going to mention Eric Hoffer's The True Believer as an answer to Diablevert's question before mygoditsbob beat me to it.
posted by dhens at 1:07 PM on June 17, 2011


Because I was sexually active at ten, and in a consensual, playful, exploratory way with a friend, and then a circle of friends, all my own age, I sometimes have a hard time understanding the level of angst and uncertainty that comes with sexual identity for so many people. It's not that my parents were super-liberal (they were relatively moderate), or my community particularly gay (we were in a farm county, where there was still a strong huntin' shootin' fishin' spittin' judgin' contingent), but once I knew about the magical potential of my male body and other male bodies, I just don't know how anyone could convince me to feel shame or remorse about using them in the ways that worked oh so very delectably well. Hell, I'm more confused as to why straight guys don't like dick more.

As in the discussions of things like "post-mo," post-gay, queer, questioning, and other post-movement etcetera, there's always a thread of distaste for a gay culture that's foreign to me except for the brief stretch when I lived in the gayest part of Atlanta, fourteen years ago. I watch the occasional bit of Logo here and there, like "1 Girl, 5 Gays," and I just think, "this doesn't describe me at all." I don't know what shoes go with that belt, or what color would make the kitchen counters "pop," and the last thing in the world I could possibly want to talk about is Kathy fucking Griffin or some horrible superstar's new plastic surgery disaster.

I know how to get the air-oil mix just right in a two-stroke engine, or how to smooth a piece of wood with a blade so the grain's left intact, or how to lay ceramic tile fit for the Alhambra, but that doesn't make me hate or despise the foamier flavors of gay culture enough to regret my queerness—it just makes me glad that I live in the age of the internet, so I can specifically find people who share my interests. The existence of a culture that's not mine doesn't change my own understanding of self. We're all our own things, or not, inasmuch as we pick and choose our affectations.

I'm not sure why there's this sudden break for some people, where they're so completely involved and obsessed with a sort of reflexive, self-referential, politicized gayness and then it just...turns for them, but I have a pretty good grasp of where the disillusionment crops up.

Two days ago, my "it's complicated" of the last eight years told me that he's found someone and is in love, and my cool, rational, earnest, open-minded self has gone completely out the window.

"I don't know why I'm so mad and sad," I tell my gal pal. "He's living three thousand miles away, I've made some decent attempts to date, too, and it's the fucking twenty-first century. Aren't we past all this relationship bullshit?"

"Well, Joe, it's pretty much a core thing for humans."

"Fuck the core. I'm going lesbian. Let's become lesbians and move to West Virginia and go hunting all the time. I know how to dress squirrels real good, you know."

"Umm...what?"

"You know, let's be lesbians. You can be the butch this time."

"But I'm not a lesbian, and you're not a girl."

"I'll tuck it under, like drag queens do, and shave off my beard."

"You're a mess."

"I know," I say, and I do know. I am a mess, and just now, I am completely attracted to that feminine energy, and the kind of intimacy you mostly get with women. I could tuck it under, shave, and play Annie Get Your Gun in the mountains for a while, but I'm also clear that that's heartbreak talking. A little time will go by, and I'll be my usual incomprehensible self again. What pushes someone far enough over the edge to make it permanent? Give me another week of suddenly bursting into tears on the street, on the train, in the kitchen while I'm frying scrapple, and let me listen to Sea Change about fifty times straight through and sing "There There" into my hairbrush until I lose my voice and I'll be as good as I'm going to get.

Some people's hearts break and stay broke, though, and that's when all they can all reach for the path of lesser resistance, blaming the strain of being in a marginal category for their existential issues, and flee the whole world that vexes them. Maybe it's that accumulated frustration with the veneers of a culture built on a necessity that's not as necessary as it once was.

"Holy fuck," I say, holding up a loaf of bread in the Ansley Square Publix. "Paul! Did you see this?"

"What is it?" my ex asked, though he wasn't my ex quite yet in '97.

"Fucking rainbow bread. Gay-ass fucking multicolored rainbow bread for rich white gay homosexuals with little BMW roadsters!"

"You're in a mood."

"Well, yeah. Haven't we met?"

"Unfortunately, yes."

Maybe it's the realization that the openness, the freedom, the happyface supergay urban life hides things like racism, misogyny, and the roots of a real deep, ugly conservatism. Maybe it's something in relationships unfulfilled, gone bad, or broken...just something that makes a person think "it's not me. This life is not me, and I can't get what I need here."

I lay my head on my friend's bosom like a kid who's just fallen off his stupid bike and bashed his knee, and she smooths my hair in a way that makes me feel like whole world outside is just going away.

"I'm so over dudes," I say. "Fucking complicated insane obnoxious goddamn assholes."

Where the dividing line lies for some people, to make them go so deep into that lonesome, empty place as to make them feel strong enough to attempt to rewrite their programming, is something I don't fully understand. If I did, maybe I'd be one of the people who step across the border instead of a pompous, excessively poetic blowhard who throws big words and threats of dramatic change around as an unconscious way of telling myself the truth about the world.

"Uh, you wanna see it?" my best friend asked, back in '78, and the fine hairs on my forearms bristled like the hackles on a dog seeing another dog on the street as he unzipped his stiff indigo Toughskins in the dimly-lit corner behind the furnace. "Now show me yours."

I'm so over dudes just now, but these things pass. If I'm to expect people to offer up an ample bosom and a heartfelt "there, there," when I need it, I've got to pass it right down the chain. When my previous previous ex, Tom, was living in an ex-gay group home in DC, having bombed out of gayness some time after I packed up and left for college, we talked a lot, and I was sufficiently political to be pissed that he'd jumped ship, but I knew him well enough to just shrug and ask "how's it going?" without judgment.

He wasn't political, though, railing about the ruinous evil of the gayniverse or reaching out for converts. He was, and is, a Christian who feels his faith deeply and was exploring an alternate route, and his road led back into the fold, in due time. If it hadn't, and he'd made it work for him, I suppose I'd have been just as happy for him. I tend to think so much of the fragmentation that's going on in sexuality-specific culture is a sign that the things we needed decades ago have done their work and laid the groundwork for now, and it's already clear in the plastic, open identities that I see in my nieces' generation, where they're not so hung up on titles, categories, and specialization. I think the genie's out of the proverbial bottle, and it's going to take more to turn that tide back than any of the fundamentalists can muster.

In the mean time, they rage and revolt against their straw castles, little realizing that the battle's already lost. Those of us in the crossover generations—well, we are accidents waiting to happen, as my hairbrush will attest. When we do it right, we hurt, we withdraw, and we process what's broken our will. When we do it wrong, we rewrite the whole world to absolve ourselves of the responsibility to define ourselves as ourselves, without worrying what anyone else thinks or believes, and turn into foot soldiers for the endless age of heartbreak.
posted by sonascope at 2:37 PM on June 17, 2011 [17 favorites]


I should stay in the closet so I can marry Hugh Hefner, but first I'll have to take out a loan to pay for the breast implants, the real blonde hair extensions, the facial surgery to make me gorgeous, and the lobotomy.
posted by bad grammar at 2:58 PM on June 17, 2011


Obligatory.
posted by gcbv at 4:25 PM on June 17, 2011 [1 favorite]


When we do it wrong, we rewrite the whole world to absolve ourselves of the responsibility to define ourselves as ourselves, without worrying what anyone else thinks or believes, and turn into foot soldiers for the endless age of heartbreak.

Responsibility for what, now? I don't think anyone has a responsibility to be aware of their own desires or preferences or whatever, although there are good practical reasons to do so. And if the effort of pursuing a desire isn't working out for whatever reason, giving it up can be a fine choice, although I do wish the "ex-gay" crowd would just call themselves "celibate".

It sounds to me like what you're objecting to is spite, which is often manifested in those who have given up something by the sort of sneering contempt that we tend to associate with televangelists and the freshly converted. Spite is everywhere. It's not unique to people who have rejected some part of themselves.
posted by LogicalDash at 7:34 PM on June 17, 2011


I am always really confused, and tend to say, "that guy's crazy" when someone goes from one extreme of belief and then flips *completely* over to another, because I really really don't understand it at all. It seems mentally ill to me, though I recognize that is pretty judgmental of me to say.

I see it as someone having an un-moored personality. And people like that freak me out. I mean, I change. Have changed quite a bit since my early adulthood. Have been known to leave whole groups of friends behind because I found their activities tiresome. I don't know... maybe that last bit means some people see *me* as having gone off the deep end or something--going from dating women to living in an old Victorian house with a man, but to me it all has seemed a pretty natural progression. And I still identify myself as queer, march in the occasional parade...

I just couldn't imagine going through the sort of change that would make me utterly condemn who I'd been in the past. And frankly, in that photo he looks weary and very unhappy.
posted by RedEmma at 9:33 AM on June 17 [2 favorites +] [!]


Reminds me of drug users I've known who have devoted their lives to Jesus. From a distance, they seem to have dramatically changed their identities. But up close, they seem exactly the same as they ever were.
posted by It's Raining Florence Henderson at 9:38 AM on June 17 [9 favorites +] [!]


I think these two comments get to the heart of it. The un-moored personality thing. There is something 'off' in them that they drift from cause/group to cause/group. Some kind of social/cultural ADHD? A chain of intense focus and embracing of something, and then some kind of disappointment or distraction, and then nothing and moving on to the next shiny object. It works especially well when that next shiny object reinforces the disaffection from the last one.

I don't see how this guy's path is particularly unbelievable. A feeling of belonging is awesome, as are orgasms. Why can't that cross sexual orientation lines?

Similarly, some people are addicted to sex. It's not about enjoying the connection with another human, but finding a fix for that psychological blackness that feeds an addiction. Why can't that cross gender lines too?
posted by gjc at 8:59 AM on June 18, 2011


And this: He never considered having a male partner or attending a more liberal church, because neither conformed to his religious beliefs. “I can’t pursue being a follower of Jesus and picking and choosing from what it is in Scripture that I want to follow,” he told me. For him, there is only one way to read the Bible.
This causes me some serious cognitive dissonance, because I cannot, and have never been able to, wrap my head around how some (many, I guess) believers apparently don't see the contradictions in the Bible. It contradicts itself all over the place. So how can you possibly not "pick and choose"?


Whenever I'm confronted by someone who says something like this, I simply start asking them about their eating habits. Are they keeping kosher? Do they enjoy cheeseburgers? How about shrimp? Are they wearing a polyester/cotton blend fabric? How about their siblings? If their brother dies without a male child, are they going to fuck his widow until she conceives a boy?

There's so much bullshit that flies around when people say that there is only one way to read the Bible, and that they can't pick and choose... But they ALWAYS ignore the parts of the book which have to do with diet or clothing or polygamy and family issues...

At that point, I can usually just walk away from the conversation knowing I've made my point whether they're willing to admit it out loud or not.
posted by hippybear at 5:51 AM on June 19, 2011 [1 favorite]


I think these two comments get to the heart of it. The un-moored personality thing. There is something 'off' in them that they drift from cause/group to cause/group. Some kind of social/cultural ADHD?

I've seen this happen with my own eyes.

I used to work with someone at a magazine who was known as being 'unusual'. He was very intense and serious with none of the usual interest in small talk, gossip or office politics (nothing wrong with that, just somewhat out of the ordinary). He had a habit of making ill-judged, offensive comments about people on internal message forum. He would come into work looking absolutely exhausted and confess he'd hadn't slept for many nights as he'd been busy making his album in his improvised home studio (it was true, I heard it, it was good, he was talented).

Mostly he was on an even keel and about managed to keep it together, but he'd have periods of extreme drunkenness that got him a reputation for being an out-of-control crazy person. On one occasion it led to a night in the cells after he tried to out-bark a guard dog through a chain link fence. On another occasion, during a work jolly to New York, it led to him disappearing for a number of hours and nearly missing the flight home.

Then one day he walked into work and told us all that he's become a Christian, and was now a proud member of some obscure church. It seems he'd been recruited on the street with the promise of new friends and a new life. Looking up this church online, it became clear it was some low-grade cult - one of the ones that requires you to give up 10% of your income and asks you to go out yourself onto the street and recruit. Dating can only be between church members and must be chaperoned, etc etc.

From that point onwards he spent his time in work reading the Bible and regularly telling us all how misguided and lost we were. He stopped socialising with us, saying he only wanted to be with other members of his church. He completely gave up even pretending to do any work and was sacked in the end for following a (female) atheist into the toilets and shouting 'why are you so damaged?' over the cubicle at her.

After that, he was gone. He became a mythical figure, with people every now and then claiming sightings. Looking back on the whole thing, I wonder if he was on the bipolar spectrum - the lurching from extreme drunkenness to obsessive creativity and back again seemed to suggest he was suffering from some kind of depression.

But whatever his story is about, it's not about music, drunkenness or religion, just as this story isn't really about sexual orientation. It's about an extreme 'all or nothing' personality type that seems to be only vaguely understood.
posted by Summer at 7:32 AM on June 19, 2011 [1 favorite]


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