Thursday, October 25, 2012

Who Da Man?

Recently a friend asked me who is the man in Clark's and my relationship, and who is the woman. She's not the first to ask me this--my dad asked the same thing last year when I was dating my first boyfriend. It's a natural question to ask, based on the experience most people have with relationships. In the overwhelming majority of relationships, one person is (literally) the man and the other person is (literally) the woman. So it's natural to assume that gay relationships would somehow fit into this existing template, with one partner taking on the masculine role and the other taking on the feminine role.

And some gay relationships do. There are some gay men who are "tops" and some who are "bottoms," not just in the sexual sense but also when it comes to their roles in relationships with each other. I know a lesbian couple who, when I saw their wedding photos, I was not in the least bit surprised to see which of them was wearing a gown and which was wearing a tux. But there are also many gay relationships that make no attempt to mimic heterosexual roles. Clark's and my relationship is one of those.

Without knowing Clark, my friend guessed that I must be the woman in our relationship, because she saw a lot of feminine qualities in me. And it's true--I do have a lot of traditionally feminine qualities. I like to keep things clean, which means I'm usually (but not always) the one who does the dishes and cleans the bathrooms; I have no interest in sports except for the sake of learning to enjoy something my boyfriend enjoys; and I'm not afraid to wear pink or to put a little swish in my stride when the mood strikes. It's also true that Clark has a lot of traditionally masculine qualities: he loves to do yardwork, he not only watches football but played it in high school, and he's not afraid to get dirty. But the reverse is also true. Clark has much more experience and talent than I do in traditionally feminine activities like drama and music. I work in a traditionally masculine profession while he works in a profession more strongly associated with women (but it's worth mentioning that the team of managers I work with happens to be female-heavy, and my boss, her boss, and her boss are all women). Clark has a beautiful high-tenor singing voice while I have an ugly low-bass. In short, neither of us is the woman. As Clark likes to say, "If I wanted to be with a woman, I'd still be married."

Sure, you can call this sexist because it suggests that women are only concerned with trivial things like getting runs in their tights, but the real tragedy here is that Batman gets runs in his tights all the time but he can't talk about it, for fear of failing to live up to society's expectations of him as a man.

I'm personally not a fan of gender roles in the first place. I accept that some gender stereotypes are true of many men and women. But this is because we live in a culture that teaches and reinforces gender stereotypes. If I'm taught from the time I'm born that men are aggressive, then I'm going to grow up being aggressive and believing it's because I'm a man. Many gender stereotypes are harmless, but the problem with believing that they are genetically intrinsic is that you then allow them to limit you. I've become especially conscious of this since becoming a parent. I don't want my daughters believing they can't be construction workers or basketball players or Republicans if that's what they want to do. I don't want my son believing he can't be a nurse or a florist or a homemaker if that's what he wants to do.

So no, I don't try to fit myself or my boyfriend into traditional gender roles, because I think the traditional concept of gender is a flawed and silly system. But then Ellen says that better than I do. Seriously. Go watch Ellen.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Still Coming Out

I planned to write this post last Thursday, which was National Coming Out Day, but I ended up taking an unplanned trip to Las Vegas. So as you read this, pretend it's still last Thursday and you're still wearing your Coming Out Day party hat and maybe there's still a present or two sitting under the Coming Out Day tree. Maybe put some Coming Out Day music on to set the mood. (Lady Gaga's "Born That Way" is the one all the kids are listening to nowadays, but of course there's always the more traditional "I'm Coming Out" by Diana Ross.)

Most gay people--at least those of us who can pass as straight whether we want to or not--will tell you that coming out is not a one-time event; it's a regular occurrence. The first time is the hardest and typically it gets easier each time thereafter, but the thing is, the act of coming out does not permanently put a big "G" on your forehead so that good conservative parents know to hide their children from you. Maybe I came out to Matthew, Mark, and Luke last week, but if John wasn't there, then I'm going to have to come out to him this week. With each new person I meet, I need to come out all over again. And honestly, I kind of hate it. I love being out--I don't feel I can have genuine relationships with people when they don't know this major part of who I am--but I hate the process of coming out. I don't like to shock people, I don't like to make them uncomfortable, and really, this is all old news to me. It's kind of boring to have to explain stuff I've already explained a thousand times before.

Ideally, I'd do it casually with an offhand mention of my boyfriend. No explanation needed, no rehashing of old territory, just a single word that communicates this part of who I am without making a big deal of it. I did this last week when I was getting to know my sisters' cousin because I sensed it wouldn't faze her, and as far as I can tell I was right. I'd do it this way more often if I lived someplace like Seattle or San Francisco where I could be pretty sure no one would be shocked by the fact that I have a boyfriend. But I live in Smallville, Utah, where a good number of people are shocked by that kind of thing. Or they just don't want to hear about it. There are people here who would interpret a casual mention of my boyfriend as me flaunting my sexuality or shoving it in their faces. And you know how I feel about making people uncomfortable.

So I get around it in my passive-aggressive way by talking about my sexual identity on Facebook and on my blog, and very rarely in person unless I'm with someone who I know is aware of it and at least somewhat okay with it. Which puts me in the awkward situation of having some friends who may or may not know I'm gay, and I don't know unless they say something, so I avoid saying anything until they do. Which is sort of like being in the closet, in a weird way. And I think this is precisely why some gay people do "flaunt their sexuality." Don't get me wrong, I think some people are just flamboyant because that's their personality, but I believe for some it's a conscious or perhaps unconscious decision to wear their identity on their sleeve. If I'm a man in daisy dukes, snapping my fingers and talking in my best RuPaul voice, there's no doubt that everyone knows I'm gay, and I know exactly where I stand with everyone I know. I don't have to live in fear that people who are close to me will back off when they find out what I really am. I can definitely see the appeal.

This guy, for example, doesn't have to explain anything to anyone. 

At the same time, I recognize the advantages of wearing my sexuality a little more subtly. People who would otherwise avoid making a gay friend might be more likely to open their hearts if they already know me and know that I'm a good person before they realize I'm gay. Essentially, I can go undercover in the straight world and do some gay PR--win people over one at a time. More visible minorities don't have this option. A black man will have to get past a racist's prejudice before they can even become friends. I'm not saying it's ideal--ideal would be not living in a world where we have to worry about these things--but I am saying that it's probably good that among gays there are those who are too fabulous to fit in any closet, and those of us who fit so well in the closet that we need to come out over and over again. I'm at peace with my place in the big picture.

Sunday, October 7, 2012


The other day a friend asked me about my religious beliefs. I told her that I'm agnostic--I won't say there isn't a God, but I'm not convinced that there is. She said she doesn't believe me. She thinks that deep down I know there's a God, but I just don't want to admit it because I've been hurt by religion and I'm protecting myself. I don't agree with her assessment, but I'm fine with her believing that. Her belief is based on her worldview, and I won't claim that I never draw conclusions about others' motivations based on my worldview. But I'm self-aware enough to recognize what I do and don't believe, and my motivations for believing as I do.

In reality, I'm much more motivated to believe than not to. First, there's twenty-five years of religious training that has informed the way I interpret the world around me. When happy coincidences happen, I can't help but wonder if there's some divine force at play, guiding my life. Beyond that, there's my education in literature, which taught me to find meaning in everything. In a book, every word, every action, every act of nature is assumed to be part of the author's master plan, an attempt to convey some hidden meaning. It's only natural for me, then, to transfer this assumption onto the world around me, and if there's meaning behind every detail then there must be an author. 

But being a student of literature also gives me a pretty healthy understanding of the human psyche. Well-written literature gives us a peak into why people think and do what they do, after all. So applying my skills of literary analysis to the character Mr. Fob, I can see that there are reasons he is prone to reading meaning into everything. Apart from the above-mentioned, he is like most other human beings in that he wants to make sense of the world around him, and it would be very comforting for him to know there is a Master Author writing the story of his life. It makes him happy when a friend randomly shows up to talk on a night when he really needs to talk. He is grateful when another friend departs from her usual routine to read a blog post of his and reaches out to let him know that the content thereof does not, in fact, make her uncomfortable. And when he feels grateful, he needs someone to feel grateful to. So why not assume there is a Master Author, someone writing all these deus-ex-machina coincidences into his life? 

Really, I'm hoping that one day I'll find out that I'm the star of a comic book and get to meet the writer, like Animal Man did 

And perhaps there is. But I distrust my motivations for wanting to believe. The skeptic in me recognizes that these very same reasons--the desire to make sense of things that simply don't make sense--are likely what led humanity to invent God in the first place. There are too many ways theism fails to explain what it attempts to explain, reasons I won't get into here because I'm not trying to convince anyone and that's not what this blog post is about. So instead of believing in a Master Author, I choose to see life as the collaborative work of many authors. Just as with any collaborative work, it can be a mess if the authors are each trying to write a different story, but in the moments when those authors' visions sync up, the result is a synergistic masterpiece. And in those moments, I will be grateful to the authors who make it happen. 

Monday, October 1, 2012

One Year Later

One year ago today I moved out of the house FoxyJ and I had bought together and into a rented townhome. I was recovering from shingles at the time. We had been making plans to divorce for seven months, but hadn't told anyone until just a couple of weeks prior. The week after I moved out we filed our divorce papers and a week after that it was final.

We had been married for nearly ten years, so it was by no means an easy decision. The last thing I wanted to do was hurt FoxyJ or our children. I also didn't want to be the bad guy. I didn't want to be the kind of person who gets divorced--which is how I'm sure most people who get divorced feel. I wouldn't have been capable of making this decision if I believed there was any way for me to stay married without sacrificing my own happiness for the rest of my life. Despite all my fears and despite the fact that I am characteristically indecisive, from the time I told FoxyJ in February that I could no longer continue in our marriage to the time we separated, and then over the course of the past year, I have not questioned my decision. There are few things about my life that I claim to know, but this is one of them: I know that ending our marriage was the right decision for me.

I hope that it was the right decision for my children. Divorce is never ideal for children, but nor does it need to be the traumatic event that it is for some. FoxyJ and I have done our best to maintain a stable environment for our children free of conflict. I would like to believe that I am better capable of being a loving parent for my children now that I am in a position to be a healthier person. I hope that my children will always know that I love them, and that they will learn from my mistakes and my triumphs to make choices that will lead to their own happiness.

I would like to believe that in the long run our divorce will prove to be a good thing for FoxyJ. I admit that this desire is partly motivated by my need to see myself as someone who does not hurt others, but the fact is that I made a decision that hurt someone I love. I will have to live with that, but more importantly she will have to live with that. Whether or not she is better off without me, she has proven in the past year that she is capable of making the best of a difficult situation, and I am thankful for that. FoxyJ is a strong woman who will forge her own destiny.

As for me, I have no doubt that I am in a better place now than I was a year ago. I have been in two relationships and have learned a lot about myself in each. I also learned a lot about myself during the time that I was single. I'm in the process of learning what a healthy relationship looks like, and who I am in such a relationship. It would be a lie to say that leaving my straight marriage and starting a gay relationship has solved all my problems or to claim that I have a perfect life now, but I am genuinely happier, more fulfilled than I have ever been. I feel like I am more me than I have ever been.

And I like the me that I am, flaws and all.

I don't know what happens next, but apparently it's pretty exciting.