Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Physical Affection

An email I received earlier this month from a young lady in Mexico reminded me of something I’d long forgotten, and something I wish I’d been able to forget for many years after I first met Chris.  I became completely obsessed about it, to the point where it could have ended our relationship.  Of course, I’m grateful it didn’t, and I’m also grateful I had something to share with the young lady that I hoped would help.    

Her concern had to do with her girlfriend–that her girlfriend wasn’t as physically affectionate as she was and as she wanted her to be (for example, didn’t hug her as much).  And that she felt her girlfriend was essentially telling her she didn’t feel the same way about her emotionally, even though they’d been together for years.  Boy, could I relate to that.

When I wrote back the young lady, I told her that, when I was growing up, my parents never touched my sister and me, except to discipline us.  Consequently, I was starved for physical affection, for the validation that came from it.  I just wanted to be hugged.  Was that asking too much?  I wanted to know I was worth hugging, and thus that I was a worthwhile human being.  I wanted to know I made a difference to them for being here, that they were glad I’d been born.  But it never happened.

When I grew up and moved out on my own, I swore that, when I was in a relationship, I would be physically affectionate toward my partner.  I wouldn’t hold myself back from him.  I had this vision in my head that we’d hug and kiss all the time, because that’s what two people in love with each other do, right?  It’s only natural.  In other words, I wanted to make up for everything I missed out on when I was a kid.

Enter Chris.  He wasn’t raised in a touchy-feely family either; his parents had always been physically reserved with him and his sister.  When I learned that, I thought he’d be like me, needing to gain in adulthood what he'd lacked in childhood, needing to feel better about himself through the physical validation he received from me.  I couldn’t have been more wrong.

When I was physically affectionate toward Chris all the time, it drove him crazy.  He even told me so.  He never came to me and wrapped his arms around me first.  And, when I held him, he was always the first one to pull away, like he couldn’t wait for the hugging thing to be over.  Each time it happened, I took it as yet another small rejection of me.  I became deeply hurt. 

This went on for years–yes, years!  I kept forcing myself on Chris (that’s how I saw it, anyway), because I was determined to soften him, because I wanted him to know he had a safe place in my arms to be himself, and I would never hurt him.  I thought, surely, he’ll come around sooner or later.  Surely, he’ll start to trust me and see my heart's in the right place.  Surely he’ll start to initiate hugs and not be the first one to pull away. 

Didn’t happen.  And we had lots and lots of talks about it.  He told me hugging made him feel very uncomfortable–even hugging me–and I told him I craved being hugged, it was very important to me, and I was determined not to perpetuate the poor example my parents had set.  I knew from the look on his face he wasn’t happy with that.  I also knew that, if I kept doing it, I could lose him.  I lived with the fear of that for years.  

It wasn't until some time after we'd bought our condo together that we had the talk that would change everything for me.  During that talk, I remember asking him, is it me you don’t want to be physically affectionate with, or would you be the same toward anyone else?   It was a big risk.  What if he’d said it was me?  The idea of losing him, especially over something like this, scared the hell out of me.  But I had to know.  I had to feel loved.      

Chris thought for a few moments.  I rephrased the question, hoping I’d say it in a way that helped him sort out how he felt (although I knew my first question couldn’t have been more direct).  Finally, he said what I needed to hear, one way or the other:  It wasn’t me.  He said he would feel the same way toward anyone else.  What an enormous relief that was, because I loved this young man so much, and I didn't want to lose him or the wonderful life we shared together. 

The rest took patience, lots and lots of patience (which, regretfully, I don’t have enough of at the best of times).  And the belief that, one day, Chris would feel more comfortable being physically affectionate with me, that he might even come to me and hug me first, and that, at the least, he wouldn’t feel so uncomfortable when I hugged him and would no longer pull away.    

I don’t know when things started to change; I’m guessing well over a decade after we met.  But, still, not as much as I’d thought they might.  Does Chris eagerly wrap his arms around me for no reason at all, simply because he wants to?  No, I wouldn’t go that far.  Is he more willing to hug me when I go to him?  Yes, he is, very much so.  And good news.  Whenever I hug him, he no longer pulls away.  In fact, he consistently keeps hugging me…until I let go of him. 

It’s easy to think love looks the way it does in Hollywood movies.  That, when we find someone, he or she will be all over us, hugging and kissing, confirming on every occasion that we are the only one for him or her.  That he or she loves us as much as, if not more than, we love him or her.  That’s the way it should be, right?

My experience tells me it's not always the case.  And I'm also here to tell you that, just because you don’t receive the degree of physical affection you think you should doesn’t necessarily mean the man or woman you’re with doesn’t love you madly.  Some people are just naturally more reserved.  Some people have different ways of showing their love.  And their ways may not be your ways, but, make no mistake, they're still there.  You just have to become more aware of what they look like.   

And don’t necessarily throw in the towel on something that doesn’t look the way you think it should.  I can’t imagine what would have happened if I’d become so fed up with Chris that I’d put an end to our relationship, just because I thought I deserved to be hugged and kissed more than he was doing, and, by god, I'd find someone who gave me what I needed.  

In the end, Chris has given me all I needed, and so much more, for nearly the past twenty-two years.  I can’t ask for anything else.  I’m one lucky man, and I know it.  I'm also one grateful man. 

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Art or Message?

I wanted to like it.  I really did.  And, to a degree, I did like it.

Until near the end, when I didn't anymore.  And then I had to decide:  do I mention it on my blog and make you, dear reader, aware of it, or do I pass it over, like I have other things before?     

From time to time, I receive email requests from people who've produced something.  Either they want me to take a look at something.  Or they want me to listen to something.  Or they want me to read something.  In almost all cases, they want me to recommend it on my blog, whatever it happens to be.  Which I'm happy to do, IF–and this is a big IF–it's something I feel good about on a personal level, or it's consistent with what I try to do here at "This Gay Relationship."

Sometimes, the decision to publicize or not to publicize is a difficult one, because, as a writer, I consider myself to be a creator too.  I know how challenging it is to create something from nothing, let alone to risk putting it out into the world, hoping it not only reaches an audience but does some good too.   

That was the case recently when I received an email request from the producer of a short film.  Over the course of about fourteen minutes, the film features two Jewish families, both with two parents and a son.  One family goes over to the other family's house for dinner.  While the parents socialize downstairs–getting progressively drunk and talking about socially sensitive subjects, as people often do–the one son takes the other upstairs to his bedroom. 

The son whose bedroom they are in looks about fifteen or sixteen years old (I don't think he has anything to shave yet).  The other son wears sideburns, so I'd guess he's in his early twenties.  At any rate, I did not think they were equal in age, which may or may not have been a concern for the short film's producer.

In the bedroom, the older son eventually reveals to the younger that he's just come out to his parents.  They talk briefly about how that went.  One thing leads to another, and, despite the mother of the younger son saying to her guests that her boy is something of a player with the girls (at fifteen or sixteen?), the older son kisses the younger.

So far, so good.  I was okay with all this, because it didn't feel awkward or out of place.  Plus, the two actors who play the sons do a realistic, sensitive, and compelling job (unlike one of the mothers, who, I believe, is way over the top).     

Rather than the two boys talk about being gay, or "I think I might be gay too," the older son ends up asking the younger if he wants to hook up–then and there, in the younger son's bedroom, while their parents are downstairs.  The next thing we see are the two boys in shadow, engaging in oral sex.


How I wish a different creative decision had been made here.

I see why the producer had the two sons engage in oral sex:  Because, near the end of the film, as the dinner party comes to a close, the younger son's father goes upstairs to his boy's room, opens the door, and discovers what's going on (which, judging by the look on his face, he's not too pleased with).  The father seeing what's going on between his son and the other one is the climax of the film (if you'll pardon the pun).  If this hadn't happened, perhaps the producer thought his short film would have been pointless.   

But it felt wrong to me.  If the father had caught his son kissing the other one, I believe a similar point could have been made, and I would have thought it was more realistic, under the circumstances.  But, really, did they have to hook up?  Was the right creative decision made for the two sons to go from scarcely being comfortable enough to kiss each other one moment to engaging in oral sex the next?

That's where this short film fails for me, even though it's apparently won a number of awards, and it's being used as the catalyst for helping people reveal something difficult.  Unfortunately, it plays to the stereotype that, apparently, two males, no matter what their age and specific circumstances, are more likely to hook up, given the least interest or opportunity, than not.  And that doesn't work for me.  Nor is it consistent with the message I try to put across here in my blog.

I wish the producer of the film hadn't been lazy, hadn't fallen into the usual trap.  I wish he would have challenged himself to maintain the innocence of the two sons, while at the same time still get across the point that it's difficult to come to terms with being gay and to come out.  I wish he wouldn't have perpetuated the same old stereotype that all two males have on their minds, if they're the least bit inclined, is to have sex together.   

This short film had me, and then it lost me.  It's too bad.  I'd like nothing more than to provide a link here, so you can view it for yourself.  But I can't recommend it.  I wish I could.

If you're an artist, and your intention is to change minds about what it means to be gay–garner a little understanding, maybe even a little empathy–then for goodness sake, make better creative decisions.  Handle your subject in a more restrained and respectful way, and not in a way that probably most people already expect.

Just saying… 

Monday, January 13, 2014

Request for Advice from Another Reader

Here's another request for advice I received from a reader, this one male, in late December:

So a bit of background.  I'm 23, and he's 30.  Both of us have good jobs.  We started going out three months ago.  After seeing each other since March of this year, we've had some obstacles, but nothing too major.  He is wild with a drink, enjoys a good night out and the odd party pick me up (takes the odd recreational drug, nothing that I worry about at the moment).  We are happy together.  In fact, I'm the happiest I've ever been.

We were out last Saturday with his friends, had a great time, both of us got very drunk.  We then moved to the scene area of the city.  We went into this pub.  I went to get some drinks.  I looked around to see where he was.  I saw him chatting with this other young gay guy (his age close to mine, I think).  When I paid and turned around with the drinks, I saw him head to the toilets with this guy. I went down to the men's toilets, and no one was there.  I then went to the women's toilets, suspecting the worst.  One of the cubicals was locked.  I burst it open to find him and the guy in the cubical (I never caught anything going on).

I punched the other guy and slapped my partner before heading out of the place.  He then followed me home, pleading that he was only about to take a little cocaine. 

I finished that night by talking to my friends in an absolute state of hurt.  They all told me it was a bit of cocaine only and not cheating, but said they would have reacted the same way I did.

So that's the story.  Now we're back together, and I'm struggling to come to terms with what happened.  I just can't get my head around it.

So given the benefit of the doubt here that this was just a bit of cocaine, have I done something wrong?  Should I have concerns?  Why can't I come to terms with it?  I'm happy to hear everything and anything you guys have to say, good and bad.

The only thing I would say is that I am a good person.  I never want to hurt anyone, I just want to happy.  I understand life isn't a bed a roses, but come on…

Help me out, guys.

Thanks for reading.

Here was my response:

Since I read what you wrote a few days ago, I’ve given some thought to how best to answer it.

As you may or may not know, Chris, my partner, and I met in June 1992.  He was twenty-three, the same age you are, and I was thirty-two, nearly the same age as the fellow you’re seeing.  So we’re similar in that way.

I also want to get this out of the way.  I don’t drink alcohol at all, and Chris likes only the occasional glass of wine.  We’ve never been drunk in front of each other, and we’ve never taken recreational drugs.  I don’t drink because my late father was an alcoholic, and I’ve never taken drugs because I've always believed it’s important to be in control of myself at all times and not act out in a way that’s inconsistent with my usual behavior.  Alcohol and drugs add a whole other dimension to a relationship that is often challenging enough without people potentially conducting themselves in an unpredictable and inappropriate way.  That said, I understand people wanting to have a good time.

Okay.  I think the best thing to do is to tell you how Chris and I would have handled the situation you found yourself in.  I’m sure you’ll probably find the answers you’re looking for in that.

Even from the beginning of our relationship, I think Chris and I knew we were “together” and exclusive of each other.  That made a difference in how we conducted ourselves.  It meant we were accountable to each other for what we did.

So let’s say Chris had gone to the bar to get a couple of drinks (like you did), and someone neither of us knew had approached me (like what happened to your partner).  If I had had any intention of following the fellow into the bathroom for whatever reason, I would have let Chris know what I was doing, with whom, and where.  That would have just shown my respect and consideration for him.  I would never have disappeared into the washroom without Chris knowing what was going on.  And if he had said to me he didn’t want me to go, I wouldn’t have gone.  End of story.

If there’s the understanding between you and your partner that you’re coupled, then neither of you is a free agent anymore.  You can’t come and go as you please, especially when you’re out together.  Again, respect and consideration.  What I’m trying to say is, Chris and I would never have found ourselves in the situation you and your partner were in.

Did you react in the best way you could have when you found your partner in the washroom with another guy?  No, of course not, and you know that.  Part of your response was about jealousy and anger.  The other part was about being drunk.  I would never, under any circumstances, hit another guy or slap Chris.  EVER! That’s not the way I roll.  Physical violence never solves anything.  I suspect your response would have been very different if you hadn’t had so much to drink.  But it’s done now.  Chalk this up to a learning experience and never do it again.

At the time Chris and I first got together, we had THE conversation–the one about cheating, having an open relationship, etc.  And both Chris and I said we would never cheat on each other–EVER!–and neither of us would tolerate an open relationship–EVER!  So our relationship was built on a foundation of trust and honesty from the beginning.  Had either Chris or I not been in complete agreement on this point, we wouldn’t be together today.

These were heavy-duty, deal-breaker issues for both of us.  If we didn’t agree, then our relationship would have gone downhill from there.  You can’t go into a relationship expecting to change the other person, because it won’t happen.  Know what you’re getting into from the beginning, and make your decision to stay together or to separate accordingly.

 If you and your partner haven’t had this discussion yet, you should, and right away.  And, if you haven’t talked about what happened in the bar, you should talk about that too.  In detail.  As honestly and openly as possible.  Both of you need to understand what happened, from the other person’s perspective.  And, most importantly, how what happened made you feel.  You need to respect the other person for what he says, even if you don’t agree.  And, based on what you say to each other, you need to decide if what you share can recover from it and go the distance.

Listen, relationships are tested all the time.  Each test is an opportunity to grow closer together or further apart, based on how each of you deals with it.  I can’t tell you if your relationship will last a lifetime.  Only you and your partner can make that decision, based on how you relate to each other after an incident like the one in the bar.

I hope this helps.  I'm happy to talk about it further, if you wish. 

Request for Advice from a Reader

During the Christmas holiday season, I received the following email request from a female reader:

I recently discovered that my husband has been watching gay porn. I feel very confused. I am afraid that if I ask him about it, he will deny it. I also don't want to make him feel ashamed about it. But I think it's something we need to discuss.

Do you have any advice on how I should handle this? Do straight men watch gay porn?

I love him and I think he loves me, but I am worried that I am not what he's looking for.

Thanks for reading this.  I appreciate any words of wisdom you can give me.

Here's my response to this reader, which I share with you in the hope that, if you're going through something similar, my words will provide comfort and support.      

Before you become too concerned or upset about what discovering your husband watching gay porn could mean–although I suspect you already are–you should consider the possibility that he’s nothing more than curious about what two men do together sexually.  Or that he’s exploring the possibility he might be bisexual. Until you know more than you do now, I wouldn’t jump to the conclusion he doesn’t love you, or you’re not what he’s looking for.

I have never been in favor of couples not facing challenges within their relationships head-on.  So, whether you’re comfortable bringing up the subject or not, and regardless of what the outcome might be, you owe it to yourself, and to your husband, to ask him about what you discovered.  Initially, he might deny it; however, if you give him a safe place–that is, if you invite him to be honest, and assure him that the two of you can work through this together, no matter what–I’m sure you’ll be able to get him to open up.  Your first step should be to encourage him to talk, not to confront him before knowing the facts.     

I hope you’re on the same page as me when I say that, above all else, what you want to avoid is a situation where you put your head in the sand, think all of this will just go away, and believe you’ll never have to give it another thought.  If you’re lucky, that might happen.

More than likely, it won't, especially if it’s not addressed in some definitive way now.  You could find yourself, years down the road, when you’re even deeper into your marriage, facing the possibility that your husband is gay and needing to live the truth of what he is. That doesn’t necessarily mean you would end up getting divorced–there have been instances when marriages between men and women survive, with the wife turning a blind eye to her husband’s other life.  Only you can decide for yourself if that’s something that could work for you, bearing in mind that you love this man and don’t want to lose him, and he likely loves you and doesn’t want to lose you.

You ask the question, do straight men watch gay porn?  Since I’m not straight, and I don’t have many straight male friends, I can’t say for sure if they do.  But, if I’m totally honest, I’d say that if a man is one hundred percent straight, I doubt he would have any interest in watching two men together.  He might do it once, just for the hell of it, but I suspect he’d be disgusted by the whole thing and never do it again.

Sexuality is a complex thing.  I’m aware, for example, of a heterosexual couple, where the husband was interested in being with another man, and the wife was interested in being with another woman.  So, together with another couple, they explored their fantasies. While the two husbands engaged in sexual activity together, to the extent they felt comfortable, the two women watched, and vice versa.  I’m not saying this is something you might ever need to consider, or that I'm recommending it.  But I am saying it’s possible to remain happily married with your husband while exploring other sexual opportunities–as long as the two people involved are willing.

I hope I’ve given you something to think about.  Right now, you need to sit your husband down and have a talk.  If you don’t, this will continue to weigh on you.  If he’s on the ball, he’s already sensed something is up. Sooner or later, you’ll find yourself having to face it, so why not do it now?  Once you know what’s what, then your next step will be to work through it as a couple.  Don’t expect the worst, and, above all, treat each other with respect, consideration, and love.   

Thanks for your question and the opportunity to share my thoughts.  I hope everything works out for both of you.   

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

Thought for the Day, #71

Bringing more people out of the closet accomplishes the things she hoped would happen with [the legalization of gay] marriage: a breakdown of internalized homophobia, an antidote to a feeling among some gay teenagers that being gay is the "end of their whole life."

She is Edie Windsor, whom Time magazine describes as "the matriarch of the [modern] gay movement." 

In 2010, Windsor sued the U.S. "government for a $363,053 refund of the estate taxes she had to pay when her spouse [Thea Spyer] died [in 2009]."  Windsor and Dryer had been together since 1963.  This past year, Windsor won her case, opening the door to the downfall of the Defense of Marriage Act and the legalization of gay marriage in a number of other states in the U.S.

From "Edith Windsor: The Unlikely Activist," Time, December 23, 2013, p. 102-115.