Last week I met a guy off of Hornet who I wanted to have sex with -- as is often the case when you meet someone off of Hornet (a mobile-device meeting application which has caught on quickly in Paris). Over a bottle of wine at his apartment "Romain" and I made small talk and when he asked me what I was writing my master's thesis on and I responded "something on political strategies used during various marriage equality movements." He said, "Oh I find the whole idea just ridiculous. No one should get married nowadays. Not straight people, not gay people."
Thinking that we were headed for a conversation about the meaning of marriage today, I said "Really? How do you mean?"
"I was married to a woman. I have two daughters. I used to date women, too. It's really just silly."
So far in life I've encountered an even-split between gay men with children from a past marriage who talk about their sexuality as an evolving identity (that their newfound homosexual sexuality does not invalidate their years of being with their ex-wives or dating women), and those who tell it as a movement from the closet to a fixed gayness, which does more or less invalidate their years of "living a lie." So I was curious how Romain might tell his story.
"That's interesting. Can I ask you how you identify? I know another guy in our neighborhood who used to be married and has two sons but now identifies as gay because he felt he was closeted. And since you've dated women and been married to one, but now sleep with men, I'm curious -- "
"Oh well I'm not really out y'know. I don't really see the point with people who've known me as a straight man all my life. I mean my ex-wife knows and my daughters know, but it's not something I really say; I'm just a normal guy y'know. But if I had to choose a word, I'd say homosexual -- not gay though. I don't really see myself in the Marais [the gay area of Paris] y'know? I'm not a bear, or a twink, or a queen or queer, y'know."
I no longer wanted to have sex with Romain.
"Ok, I'm going to finish this glass of wine and then I'm going to leave."
He looked at me, surprised. "Oh?"
"Yeah. As someone who does identify as queer I take offense to what you just said. For you to say, 'I identify as homosexual, an acceptable medical identity, but not gay, the social identity,' you're pretty much saying that you're better than them, the bears, the queens, the twinks, and the queers. You're perpetuating all that ugly stuff on Grindr and Hornet: Masc out of the scene guy looking for masc, white guys. You really look like an asshole."
"No! That's not what I was saying at all! I think you have the wrong idea of me. I'm actually very attracted to femme men, and especially black men!"
"Wow. Well that's a different discussion entirely, but you liking a certain body has nothing to do with the fact that you just said you're biologically gay because you fuck guys but certainly not socially gay like those silly stereotype-gays in the Marais."
"Well maybe we've misunderstood each other because I didn't know the difference between homosexual and gay before."
"The point I'm making has less to do with the vocabulary you used to express the idea that you feel better than gay people, than the fact that you feel you're better than gay people."
"Well I guess I just can't say anything to satisfy you."
"Oh sweetheart, satisfaction became impossible 10 minutes ago. This is me being patient and telling you that something you said hurt me and is actually pretty violent. Oh look. No more wine." And I left.
I have discussed previously how when we say faggot, sissy, nelly, nancy, "I'm fine with gays but why do they have to flaunt it?" or "I'm gay, but not a queen," it's usually misogyny expressed by policing the too-feminine gender expression of a male body. While both these types of violence stem from heterosexism, Romain's comment expresses something a little more modern than just misogyny: in saying he's comfortable identifying as homosexual but not as gay, he is saying that, homosexual is neutral or normal enough, but being socially or culturally gay is too stigmatized, too much. His explanation echoes Roy Cohn's in Tony Kushner's 1993 play Angels in America: "Roy Cohn is not a homosexual. Roy Cohn is a heterosexual man who fucks around with guys."
The difference is the time-period: being a born-this-way homosexual is significantly less stigmatized today than it was when Roy Cohn died of AIDS-related complications in 1986. But it appears being gay is still an unsavory identification to many men who Men who have Sex with Men (MSM).
Putting the astounding fact that homosexual is apparently becoming normal aside, I'd just like to make a final point on MSM perpetuating heterosexism. That tension between assimilating to heteronorms or not has existed since the birth of homophile, gay, lesbian and queer activism and doesn't seem to be going away, so let's just agree on this:
You can identify however you want: gay, homosexual, bisexual, queer, MSM, or other; that's your business. The moment you assume that because you can pass as a normal straight man, you are better than those who don't is the moment you become an asshole who's pretty out of touch with his feelings because you're not mad at those "overtly gay men"; you're mad that you're grouped in with them by straight people who might have the power to decide whether you get a certain legal right and think that "normal" is an important quality for an oppressed minority to embody, who lack the humanity to view gays as people plural instead of a people singular. That moment is the moment when you become a mouthpiece for pernicious, conservative politicking based on deciding which lives are legitimate, and which lives are "too much," or "are ruining it for the rest of us" or "asking for it." Doubly depressing is that in scapegoating a member of a group that, in the eyes of those straight people who view us as a people, you're a part of, you do violence to yourself.
And that's a bad thing.
While I will be the first one to admit that unlearning all the stuff we're force-fed since we're born like gender roles, racism, homophobia, and classism (to start) is a long, mistakes-filled process, I have to be optimistic that it's possible and happening because the alternative is so marvelous. Being queer is a freedom from all of those harsh norms and expectations that we might measure ourselves against: what a real relationship is, what a real family looks like, what real happiness looks like. The joy of being queer is that we have the opportunity to construct and choose our own ways of being, of family, and of loving.
And that's a good thing.