The difference between “gay” and “straight” relationships

Gay wedding bandsSocial media was buzzing last night over Jodie Foster’s Golden Globes acceptance speech in which she supposedly outed herself as a lesbian. I say “supposedly” because for many of us that’s old news. The actress has always been cagey about her private life, but as early as 2007 she was referring to her then-partner of 15 years, Cydney Bernard (who she left for writer/producer Cynthia Mort in 2008). So it’s not like it was a big secret.

Secret Gay Identities

Today actor Victor Garber (“ALIAS” and “Argo”) announced that not only is he gay but he’s been with his partner, artist Rainer Andreesen, for thirteen years. Garber is also quiet about his personal life and said that he doesn’t really talk about it, “but everybody knows.”

This is reminiscent of when Anderson Cooper finally came out this past July, and we learned what we already knew about his relationship with Benjamin Maisani. The two have been together since 2009.

What I found most curious about both announcements was that both couples were said to be “dating.” I’m not sure what world these writers are in, but if you’ve been with the same person for more than a couple of years, you’re not “dating.” You’re a piece of paper away from being legally married. I know heterosexual couples whose relationships haven’t lasted as long as Cooper and Maisani’s.

The Emperor Is Naked

The uncomfortable fact is that for as accepting as our society is finally becoming of the LGBT community, there’s still a fundamental disparity between how our relationships are perceived. Gays casually date and have fleeting relationships. Heterosexuals get married and have stable families. So it’s schizophrenic to see a couple who has been together for thirteen years described as “dating,” as if tomorrow Rainer could leave Victor for some cute young twink he ran into down at the local gay bar.

It’s disappointing but not surprising then to see the media pretending not to squirm when talking about same-sex couples. Nobody wants to say it. Marching orders and talking points are marriage equality and pro-gay rights. But deep down, the people who run the networks and sign off on the headlines seem uncomfortable with the idea of two men or two women in a loving and committed relationship. And they seem to think the majority of Americans will be uncomfortable with it too, and stop watching and reading.

How ironic then that it was ESPN who recently referred to the man Scott Norton kissed on the air as his husband, and not “partner” or “boyfriend.”

Stop Seeing “Gay”

There are no “gay” couples. There’s no such thing as “gay” love or “gay” marriage. We need to stop seeing sexuality as a society, just as we’re trying to stop seeing race and gender. Until news media portrayals of same-sex couples align with the message that love (and not gender) makes a marriage, it will be that much harder for the majority of Americans to stop seeing us as “gay” and embrace us as “neighbors.”

5 thoughts on “The difference between “gay” and “straight” relationships”

  1. I think that this is reading to far into the word dating being used. Most of the time, celebrity couples seem to be dating if they aren’t married. As far as being referred to as gay, I agree that this separation needs to be addressed. I am a man and a person, and I don’t need to be defined as gay. More often than not, my friends will say…”my gay friend Chad”… I feel secretly offended by this, because I don’t call them my straight friend. I just say friend, and I don’t feel the need to classify them into a category. Why is it that people constantly have to use the word gay in conjunction with us?

  2. This is why I say I am “seeing” someone or that I have a boyfriend, once it is official that we’re a couple and out of the “dating” phase. I don’t see any reason to treat it differently than a straight relationship. The problems that our society has with labeling gay relationships as such or differently than their own would, I think, be remedied quickly once gay marriage is normalized. I think the very fact that gay couples have, for the longest time, not been able to see themselves having a future with another man like straight couples have forever because they couldn’t marry, adopt, etc. has retarded our community as a whole. Once we can marry and adopt across the United States at the very least, let alone the entire rest of the world, I think it will make a huge shift in how the GLBT community sees their relationships and how our future could be with others. It only makes sense that if the community doesn’t seem to have much of a future in commitment that we would have what seems to be so much more promiscuity and casual sex than straight people. It’s like the relationship won’t/can’t last and we can’t have that happy dream of anything like married bliss, so we might as well just screw around. Maybe this will encourage more people of our community to be willing to settle down and have committed, loving, stable relationships in the future. I’m looking forward to the change!

    1. I don’t know that it’s that gay guys necessarily need encouraging to settle down, per se. Many of us want to, but many may still not know that they have a choice. Because you’re right: For so long it’s never been an option, and there was no reason to hope for more than a one-night stand or a couple of ‘friends with benefits.’ Yet last night I was reading Christopher Hitchens’ review of a biography of British author Somerset Maugham, who was with his partner Frederick Haxton for nearly 30 years until the latter’s death in 1944.

      In a way, Stonewall both liberated and limited gay men, bringing us out of the closet but into a world where the only thing we had was illicit sex (since homosexuality was still criminalized in the States until relatively recently). We’re on the cusp of achieving full, legal equality for the first time in history, yet we’re kind of like Tom Hanks in Castaway: Home, but still living on the island, and not really sure how to adjust to the outside world. We can settle down without having to worry about being arrested, but we haven’t totally moved past the mindset that we find in shows like Queer as Folk; of leaving behind the frenetic modus vivendi of the clubs and NSA hookups and never having to really grow up for something more substantive and permanent.

      But what is married bliss, anyway? How many couples do any of us know who are truly blissfully happy? I don’t know any who are that way all the time. At the risk of sounding cynical, that’s a myth created by Hollywood to sell movies. The love story always fades to black before the morning after and the monotony of getting down to the real business of living together begins. No one always ‘feels’ in love with their partner. There are days when couples hate each other, fight, get bored with the relationship. I love the scene towards the end of the 1946 William Wyler film, “The Best Years of Our Lifes,” where the daughter tearily tells her parents that they can’t understand her situation (she’s in love with a married man) because they never had any trouble in their marriage; to which her mother bemusedly turns to her husband and asks, “How many times have I told you I hated you and believed it in my heart? How many times have you said you were sick and tired of me; that we were all washed up? How many times have we had to fall in love all over again?”

      In our society we place a high value on being in romantic relationships. It’s another thing we’re supposed to have, like a new car. But maybe the question we should be asking is, Do we even know what we’re getting into, or what we want?

      1. People like Somerset Maugham and James Randi are quite the exception and not the rule in having long-term gay relationships. It makes me grin and sometimes even tear up a little when I hear stories about gay couples that have been together for so long. Personally I like watching shows like QAF just to watch something entertaining that I feel like I can identify with, yet at the same time it’s sad seeing people struggle for love and something more meaningful in their lives when almost all they’re presented with is just sex. Sometimes I feel very isolated in not joining the crowd, clamoring for hot sex in some vain hope of validation and to feel wanted by someone else. I’ve done the one-nighters and the club scene; I understand what it’s like and how it feels..

        I know few married couples that ever have moments of bliss, let alone a perpetual state of that feeling. It isn’t realistic. There are a lot of psychological factors involved in marriage being a reality for us, not least of which is no longer being treated as inferior, second-class citizens. Maintaining a lasting relationship is a harder reality than some people are up to facing, gay or otherwise. Perhaps marriage isn’t for all of us, or at least the idolized “dream marriage” fantasy that we are led to aspire to.

        Hmm, “Do we even know what we’re getting into, or what we want?” A very good question! Too often what we thought we wanted in life or in a given relationship turns out to be nothing like what we thought it would be. It can be hard to do, but I find it best to bring as few expectations to our experiences as possible. Things change and we’re bound to attach value judgments to circumstances based on those expectations. Sometimes we don’t come to understand what we DO want so much as we come to understand what we DON’T want in our lives, all through trial and error. This all goes back to one of the oldest questions about life: what is it to live the Good Life? I’m sure this very question has plagued humanity for tens of thousands of years, always changing according to the times and the individual, the question lingering down through the generations to this day. It’s part of the reason philosophers exist! Social and biological pressures, the need to breed, the need for affection, our passions, the quest for understanding ourselves and the world….it’s quite a journey in trying to sort it all out. Myself, I’m willing to wait for a person that will complement my life and personality. I’m not willing to settle for merely “acceptable.”