Over the weekend several photos of Anderson Cooper's boyfriend, Ben Maisani, kissing an unidentified man in a New York City park surfaced in the tabloids. Almost immediately my Facebook feed was filled with comments gushing sympathy for Cooper, who, it was assumed, must be locked away in his multimillion-dollar bedroom, alternately sobbing and stuffing his face with thousands of woe-is-me calories in an attempt to dull the pain of this awesome betrayal.
Most believed the CNN anchor was the victim of an incredibly public and callous infidelity -- and just weeks after he had so bravely ventured out of the closet (and just weeks before he and Maisani were supposedly going to get hitched). Cooper deserves better than this, they asserted. And what was wrong with Maisani? If your boyfriend is Anderson Cooper, what more could you be looking for in a man?
But I wasn't thinking about any of that. I was having fantasies about what a radical moment this could be for America. Just days after Mary Gonzalez came out as the United States' first openly pansexual politician (and in Texas, no less!), we were suddenly being gifted with another chance to challenge how we think about sex, love, relationships, and what it means to be queer in this country.
Because, aside from the fact that we don't know when these photos of Maisani were taken (or if they're even real), we don't have the faintest clue about the terms of his relationship with Cooper. There's a very good chance that for Maisani, like many gay men in long-term, healthy, committed relationships, a make-out session in the park is not only acceptable but just another typical Saturday-afternoon activity.
It can be hard for some people -- both straight and queer -- to fathom that a non-monogamous relationship could not only function satisfactorily but be an ideal arrangement. But in the queer community, which has fewer hangups and restrictions on sex and less rigid parameters on with whom and how we love and lust, open relationships have long provided the stability of partnership with the excitement of being able to meet and sleep with other people.
So instead of assuming that Maisani was cheating on Cooper, as almost all the media outlets have done, why not assume that Cooper knew exactly where his boyfriend was and had simply said, "Have fun with Bob. I'll see you later tonight. Oh, and can you pick up some more milk? We're almost out"?
Because most of America isn't ready for that. It's barely ready for gay marriage (and, in most states, entirely unprepared for it). Right wingers are quick to argue that if they give their blessing to gay marriages, other unthinkable terrors, like polygamy and polyamory, won't be far behind.
And they're not alone. Even some queer people worry about what the larger consequences of non-monogamy could be. One gay friend of mine, who has been with his partner for nearly a decade but is unable to marry him because they reside in a Midwestern state where gay marriage isn't legal, thought the photos of Maisani could make it even harder for him to wed. He questioned how mainstream America would react to Maisani's public display of affection with a man who wasn't his boyfriend and how it would do anything to "help gay acceptance."
But in my fantasies, we're not gunning for gay acceptance -- especially not if the only way we're granted it is by "behaving ourselves" and struggling to fit into a heteronormative mold (which, as far as I can tell, hasn't really benefited heterosexual people very well, either). Instead, I want us to be pushing for queer liberation, which, to me, has always meant that when it comes to sex and love, we all get to do whatever we want with whomever we want as long as we're not hurting anyone (unless, of course, that person/those people are asking for us to hurt them).
If monogamy works for you, more power to you. If you and your girlfriend want to sleep with other people on occasion (or invite someone home with you at the end of the night), do it. If three men want to live as a throuple, let them live as a throuple. If a husband and wife want to take separate vacations and sleep around while they're apart, who is anyone else to say that that's unsavory?
I'm not saying that everyone is -- or should be -- throwing key parties or hunting for a plot of land to start a sex-based commune with 40 of their closest friends. I'm saying it's time to start breaking down our antiquated ideas about romance and relationships, many of which are largely based on ideas of control and fear, and start talking openly and honestly about what really works best for each of us.
And who better to lead the charge and get America on board than the charming, relatable Anderson Cooper? Sadly, that's never going to happen. He's only just left the closet, so I understand that it's probably a bit much to ask him to become the poster boy for non-traditional relationships, much less radical queer liberation. But a boy can still dream, can't he?
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