Since this whole issue of "sex without shame" has come to the fore in recent issues of "XTRA! West," I've had to stop and ask myself, why is this so important to me, important enough to write a letter and to go on record with my thoughts and my beliefs.
As I begin to write this, I don't know where it will lead me. I might like where it ultimately goes, and I might not, but what I know for sure is that it bothers me a great deal, and I need to explore what that's all about. In the end, it might help me to understand myself better, and why this issue is on the verge of becoming a crusade for me.
First, while "XTRA! West" gave this matter the short name of "sex without shame," I believe that's an incorrect assumption. The name suggests that anyone concerned about the over-emphasis of sex within the gay community is ashamed about having sex with someone of the same gender, and that's not how I feel. I have no shame about having sex with my partner, Chris, over the past seventeen-plus years. Shame doesn't even enter into it. Why should I feel the least bit shameful about having sex with the man I love, the man I share my life with? So let's give it another short name. How about "over-emphasis on sex"? For now, that works for me because that's what I believe it is.
The name I gave this post is, "Why we must be about more than sex to get what we want," suggests that we, as the gay community, want something. So let's next take a look at what that is.
I can't presume to speak for the entire gay community, because we are as diverse as any community can be. So I'll answer the above question for myself, knowing that other members of our community will probably want some or all of the same things I do.
1. I want being gay to be a non-issue for every gay and lesbian person in the world.
According to Wikipedia, in countries like Saudi Arabia, Fiji, and most of those on the African continent, homosexuality is illegal. In some countries, like Jamaica, male homosexuality is illegal and punishable by ten years of hard labor, while female homosexuality is legal. Where homosexuality is illegal for both sexes, penalties for simply being who you are run from fines and whipping, to imprisonment and even death.
If Chris and I, as a long-term gay couple, were to travel to some of these countries, we would have to be mindful of how we conducted ourselves around each other for fear of being arrested. We certainly couldn't be ourselves (which is not showy in any way, but you never know when we might do something that would lead someone to figure out that we're gay).
The bottom line? As long as one gay or lesbian person is discriminated against anywhere in the world, our battle for equality isn't over. And, obviously, there's a lot of work to be done in this area.
2. I want being gay to be a non-issue for everyone in my own home country (Canada).
While gay marriage is legal in Canada, and Canadian society as a whole seems to be more accepting of gay and lesbian people, there are still instances where we are discriminated against. It hasn't happened to me personally, but I've heard or read about instances where gays and lesbians are denied jobs and housing because of their sexual orientation, even though that's illegal in Canada. Also, I have no doubt that we don't have all the rights and privileges that straight couples do, for example, with respect to rights of survivorship when one member of the same-sex couple passes away, and decisions are made about what to do with the deceased's estate. Thankfully, Chris and I haven't crossed this bridge as a couple yet, and we hope we've taken care of everything by completing legal wills that leave everything to the surviving spouse, but we'd like to know there won't be any challenges to our last wishes, and we're not one hundred percent sure of that at this point.
But there's more to ensuring being gay is a non-issue in Canada beyond the above. I don't want to live in fear that the epithet "faggot" will be hurled at me even one more time. I don't want to live in fear that the largely heterosexual, blue-collar, child-rearing community Chris and I live in will turn against us at some point, because it no longer believes that we belong here, because it believes that their young sons are at risk given that there are two gay men in the neighborhood. And I don't want to live in fear that walking with Chris somewhere in downtown Vancouver, even in the Davie Village, or riding on public transit, could lead to a case of gay bashing, when someone suddenly decides he doesn't like the two of us and lashes out in violence.
I believe Canada as a whole sets an example for its citizens on how gay and lesbian people should be treated, but I also believe there are rogues who despise gay people and who want to take matters into their own hands. These are the individuals who scare me the most (although they don't prevent me from living my life fully; I just have to be discreet sometimes).
3. I want the experience of young gays and lesbians to be completely different from mine.
In other words, I don't want young gay men and lesbian women to be teased or taunted or ridiculed in schools or in social situations because of their sexual orientation, their self-esteem diminished and their spirit crushed as a result (I'll have more to say about that in an upcoming post).
Actually, even before a young person comes to the conclusion that he or she is gay, I don't want anyone, male or female, to feel the least bit threatened at any time by the possibility that he or she could be gay. Some of the challenges we face in society are the result of the message that's gotten out that being gay is unacceptable, which is detrimental to the frustrated and angry young male who knows he can't be himself. As a result, he lashes out at anyone who's different in the same way he is, teasing and physically abusing them at school and perpetrating gay bashing on our city's streets. Coming to the realization that you're gay must not be a negative experience. It must be as natural as everything else is to the maturing teenager, so that no issues whatsoever are raised regarding sexual orientation.
4. First and foremost, I want gay men and lesbian women to love and respect themselves.
Because being gay has been stigmatized in our culture for so many decades, recent improvements in the overall attitude of the country toward gays and lesbians hasn't completely changed how many people feel about us. In truth, the deep faith that some people have in their religions often causes them to be intolerant of us and makes the issue of homosexuality a moral one, a simple case for them of right and wrong. They maintain they are right in their belief that men laying with other men and women laying with other women is morally wrong, and, in many cases, they are prepared to do whatever they must to uphold their point and to follow their hearts, including even disowning their own children.
What I want, perhaps more than anything else, is to ensure that not one more person in Canada (or on this earth) is led to feel badly about him- or herself because he or she is gay. As a society, we must create a safe place for gays and lesbians to be who they inherently are. We must create a safe place where no one has to fight who he or she is because parents or society or our culture has told them that what they are is wrong. We must not judge anyone on the basis of sexual orientation, whether we think it's right or wrong. That's not for us, as human beings, to decide. And we must not attack someone's self-esteem or diminish someone's spirit because he or she is gay. I don't want even one more person to suffer what I did because of who he is.
5. I want every gay man and lesbian woman to be looked at as a human being, period.
This means I want us to get to the point where being gay or lesbian no longer matters. I want every human being, regardless of his sexual orientation, to be considered on the basis of his merits--that is, who he is, what he believes, what's important to him, how he treats other people, how he contributes to the betterment of the world, and so on--not on the basis of whether he emotionally connects more, or physically has sex, with other men or with women. As far as his worth as a human being is concerned--and, make no mistake, each of us is worthy just by being born--sexual orientation plays no role in it whatsoever. We must get to this point. Again, there's a lot of work to be done here.
These are all the things that I want.
Whew! I didn't realize the list would be so long, or so detailed and complex.
I can't imagine any gay or lesbian person not wanting the same things. Where I think we run into trouble is that younger gays and lesbians are too much into themselves in their twenties and thirties to have a broad worldview. They're just realizing who they are, in some cases, just coming out of the closet, beginning to live their lives as fully realized gay people.
Would I have wanted these things when I was in my twenties and thirties? Probably not. I was focused on myself then--on figuring out who I was as a gay person, on validating myself through other gay people, on having my friends and family accept me, on finding the right person to spend the rest of my life with.
Did I care anything about gay people in other countries of the world, or other gay people in Canada as a whole, or improving the experience of young gays and lesbians coming after me, or wanting gay men and lesbian women to love and respect themselves, or ensuring we were all defined as human beings before anything else? Nope. That's the nature of youth. For a period of time, the world is all about us, and what it can do for us. Seldom do we give a thought to something that's not about ourselves. And that's probably as it should be. After all, if we don't focus on ourselves, at least initially, who will?
But there comes a point when what's really important dawns on us, even begins to weigh down on us. This is when we begin to wonder, why am I here? What's really important to me? What do I hope to achieve in the short time I have on earth? How can I contribute? How can I make a difference in the lives of others? And maybe even, how will I be remembered after I'm gone? As someone who only cared about himself, or as someone who cared about other people and wanted so much more for them??
My guess is that any gay person still in the midst of understanding himself, and celebrating coming out and self-actualization, and self-realization by engaging in sex, lots and lots of it with many different partners, is still young and immature and unaware of the greater issues in life. I mean this as no insult, only as the reality of their situation.
While having sex is certainly an important part of being gay--it's an important part of being human, actually--focusing on sex--on how much of it you have, on how much of it you're exposed to, on how much of it occupies your consciousness--at the detriment of everything else that makes you a full, well-rounded human being does little to orient you around the bigger issues of life, and to what's important outside of yourself. In that sense, I think sex can be self-indulgent. You can be so intent on being a fully-realized gay man by exploring the wide world of sexuality that you become overly focused on it. Your life becomes little more than linking up and getting off, a reward in the moment but ultimately empty and meaningless. And, while we're off indulging ourselves in physical pleasure, the greater world around us keeps turning, trying to get our attention, helping us to realize there's work to be done and we're just the people to do it.
A recent letter writer to "XTRA! West," I think, had it right. As is almost always the case, the middle of the road is probably where the answer lies. In the case of "XTRA! West," we can't completely deny our sexual selves by not wanting to see or read any articles about sex. After all, sex is good and fun and life-affirming and fulfilling and exhilarating and a necessary part of life.
On the other hand, sex for the sake of sex is never enough. An over-emphasis of sex, in our lives and in our publications and on our TVs, is never enough either. Nothing of any importance that we want to achieve--I draw your attention back to the five points above on things that I want--can ever happen by having lots and lots of sex. As the only legitimate publication in the gay and lesbian community in Metro Vancouver, "XTRA! West," as I see it, has a responsibility to present the full spectrum of the gay and lesbian experience. Yes, that includes sex, but it also includes other items of interest or of concern to us.
"XTRA! West" should never, ever underestimate the opportunity it has to help shape our thoughts and feelings about items of importance through what it publishes. In that sense, it should, for all columns and articles published, make conscious decisions about whether each one builds us up as a community or chips away at us, bit by bit. "XTRA! West"'s mandate should always be to celebrate what's unique and special and exciting about being gay. If that's the occasional, and useful, article about some aspect of gay sexuality, so be it.
But it should just as easily be about some aspect of the gay community completely unrelated to sex. After all, our community is diverse. Some people want to read about our sexuality, but others want to read about people who make a difference, people who want to improve the world for other gays and lesbians, and people who make our experience a better one through their consciousness and hard work.