Part of "elevating the experience of being gay" is understanding ourselves better. When we understand ourselves better--truly see, as if for the first time, what we do and why we do it--we have the opportunity to change and to improve our lives. To this end, I want to clarify something I've written about repeatedly, something frequent readers will know is a big issue for me in the gay community.
I'm hard on gay men, and I know it. That's because I want better for them, even though they may not want better for themselves, or they may not realize better exists, and they deserve to have it. I'm hard on gay men in general because I deplore their promiscuity, the emphasis they place on sex at the detriment of other things in their lives. I have new insight on gay men and promiscuity, and I want to share that with you.
My eyes were opened when I recently read The Velvet Rage: Overcoming the Pain of Growing Up Gay in a Straight Man's World, by Alan Downs, Ph.D., an American clinical psychologist for over fifteen years, who works with many single gay men and gay couples. If, as a gay man, you want to understand yourself better, I highly recommend this book. I have no doubt you'll see yourself in its pages.
Where promiscuity is concerned, as it relates to gay men, I confess I had only half the story. Yes, in general, many gay men indulge in sex, a lot more than their straight counterparts do. Yes, many gay men indulge in sex because they're filled with self-loathing, thinking so little of themselves they readily give their bodies away, as though they have no respect for who they are.
But the piece I wasn't aware of, until I read Downs's book, is many gay men use sex for validation. At the risk of over-simplifying, when they're children, gay men typically don't obtain validation in the usual way non-gay children do. For a variety of reasons, our fathers, the first men we love, were unable or failed to provide validation, usually leading to our mothers over-validating us for the wrong reasons.
In school, Downs writes, "children, probably more than any other people, are keenly aware of differences in one another, and often torment other children they perceive as different [p. 11]." He continues, "Maybe you remember just how cruel children can be? Most gay men have early memories of this kind of rejection at the hands of their playmates [p. 11]."
It's no surprise, then, that as we enter adulthood, we have little or no sense of our self-worth, because we were not validated. Or we may have been validated, but for the wrong reasons, which has the same detrimental effect. Filled with shame throughout childhood, we pretended to be something we weren't (i.e.: straight), only to realize the validation we received was for being fake. Downs calls this inauthentic validation.
On the subject of sex and validation, Downs has the following to say:
"The validation we achieve through sexual encounters is immediate and stimulating, even if it is essentially inauthentic. We play a role, one that we have mastered over the years of being on stage, that seduces our beautiful conquest-to-be. When he gives up his resistance and succumbs to our siren call, we feel the rush of immediate validation. If no one else, at least this one man sees something of value in us. This blissful moment rarely lingers, but in that moment it satisfies.
"Hidden in our search for validation is both a truth and a lie. The truth is that validation is good and necessary for our psychological well-being. The lie is that we have not yet discovered or accepted ourselves, hence, the validation is of something less than authentic. It is the validation of a facade we masterfully erect [p. 77]."
"Some gay men who have a particularly difficult time with self-validation rely on sex to feel good about themselves. This kind of gay man needs to see others excited by his presence and adoring his body in order to feel worthwhile and acceptable. If other gay men fail to notice him or be attracted to him, he begins to question his own value. On the surface, this may sound a bit juvenile, but in reality it is something that many, if not most, gay men struggle with to some degree. We rely heavily upon the adoring reactions of others to our presence for our own self-esteem [p. 98]."
"Virtually all of gay culture is defined by sex and the pursuit of desire and beauty. Whether it's a gay bar or a gay news magazine, the hard driving, heart-pounding message of sex is omnipresent. And it's not just sex--it's toe curling, mind blowing, hard body, all-night-long sex.
"Is this enough? I am a man. I need to be loved. I need to love myself. I need to feel strong and to cry. I need to feel alive and to grieve my losses. I need to know that there is someone in this world who truly loves me. I need to love someone. I need a safe, stable and committed home. Truth is, I need all these things much more than I need great sex [p.p. 22-23]."
(The Velvet Rage is published by Da Capo Press, A Member of the Perseus Books Group, ISBN: 978-0-7382-1061-2)