A Single (Gay) Man

As a single, gay male looking for love I often find myself caught between a rock and a hard place or, to reference ancient Greek mythology, between Scylla and Charybdis, one a many-headed sea monster and the other a giant whirlpool. On the one hand, I’m dating in a straight world which makes it so much harder to find men. On the other hand, a lot of straight people just don’t seem to care that much about the plight of the gay man. For them, gay guys are either sexually promiscuous Grindr-using tropes or decorative, GBF types who have great fashion sense and are good at listening. So to find love I have to navigate a most tricky crossing, being both vulnerable and bullet proof at the same time – vulnerable because to get a guy I have to be open about the pain I feel due to my loneliness, and bullet proof, because the likelihood of wider, straight society actually understanding this pain and doing something about it is pretty slim.

I guess for much of my life I have been told that my love is secondary to that of heterosexual people. Hets get their childhood sweethearts, sex education, cultural traditions and ceremonies. Hets get the chance to bump into their next date at work, church, climbing club, bingo or even the f*cking supermarket. Hets get to muck up their relationships and then make the same mistakes all over again, often with multiple people in one year. Hets get to feel like they win when they lose, I just feel like a loser. I have also been told that my pain is secondary to that of heterosexual people because hets are allowed to feel all sorts of pain – big and little, whereas I’m supposed to be the shoulder heterosexuals get to cry on or just be a cute, sassy and funny trope. My pain is often a punchline. Heaven forefend that behind my cutting wit and fleek fashion sense there might be such a depth of pain: one comprised of all the usual human trials and tribulations, and queerphobia, and the legacies of the AIDS crisis, and the unique gay experience of toxic masculinity, and internalised homophobia, and having loved ones who are HIV positive because our education system is failing us, and discrimination, and being the butt of so many jokes. One also born of the loneliness and sadness of not truly belonging in the world into which I was born. And, no, the odd gay bar (probably about to get shut down and converted into luxury apartments) and a once-a-year Pride event is not enough. Nowhere near enough.

As a great friend of mine says: “Queerness is either funny and light and joyous and palatable to straight people. Or it’s tragic and awful in a way that makes straight people glad they’re not one of us. We’re not allowed our own unique pain. We’re not allowed to just struggle day-to-day in  a way that isn’t funny or glittery or tragic or newsworthy.” Well, consider this blog post a piece of my pain and I share it with you freely.  If you are straight it might change, a little, the way you see the world and maybe even inspire you to take action to support a queer person you know, or maybe even one/s you don’t  (and, yes, I know I have essentialised you based on your sexuality…it’s not very nice is it). If you are queer, you might hear an echo of your own pain. Perhaps. In the meantime, until Queertopia is built here on earth I will keep on sailing between a many-headed sea monster and a giant whirlpool, honouring and suffering a pain that is often ignored but is no longer a joke. Maybe somewhere on this voyage I will meet another man to journey with and if you are him, come find me on the high seas.

Advertisements

Do I Owe You Anything?

“For we each of us deserve everything, every luxury that was ever pulled in the tombs of the dead Kings, and we each of us deserve nothing, not a mouthful of bread in hunger. Have we not eaten while another starved? Will you punish us for that? Will you reward us for the virtue of starving whiles others ate? No [one] earns punishment, no [one] earns reward. Free your mind of the ideas of deserving, the idea of earning, and you will begin to be able to think.” This quote from the sci-fi novel The Dispossessed by Ursula Le Guin ended one of my previous posts. And now I want to take a closer look – what might it actually mean if we were to free our minds of the ideas of deserving and earning?

To explore this I am going to get personal and focus on relationships. One sort of relationship is friendship and it is often governed by notions of deserving and earning. For example, if I give my friend a present for their birthday then I might think that I deserve to get one for my birthday, that I’ve earned it. But if we free our minds of the ideas of deserving and earning how then can we describe this scenario? It’s obvious that my friend and I care about one another, which is why we’re friends, so I give them a birthday present predominantly as a means of expressing that care. I don’t have to give them a present but I do choose to. Now, I’ve done a nice thing for them but does that mean they have to do a nice thing for me? Well, if earning/deserving are out the window then the simple answer is no. There is no universal law or cosmological truth or fundamental principle that means every good deed deserves another. However, my friend, uncompelled by abstract principles, might still choose to give me a present because they also want to express their care for me and because they know I like getting presents.

The two situations I’ve described above aren’t hugely different – they’re both about giving and receiving presents. However, in the first we can fall back on ideas of earning/deserving – “I gave you a present, so I deserve one”, as if there are unwritten laws that govern how friendships work. In the latter, we cannot fall back on these invisible laws but instead must take responsibility for our actions and choose what we’ll do accordingly. To go back to the quote we can consider the ideas of earning/deserving from two angles: either, everyone deserves everything, or no one deserves anything. The former suggests that we all deserve birthday presents and that sounds great but as soon as the scenario arises in which some people get lots of presents whilst others get none then the principle is undermined. Likewise if we all deserve nothing then we could use this to justify hoarding presents for ourselves whilst never giving them to other people. However, without the ideas of deserving/earning then the act of giving presents is about choice. We love our friend and might choose to express that via giving a present. And so, freeing our minds of the ideas of deserving/earning changes everything. Rather than being governed by rules or laws or decrees or commandments we are suddenly free to act however we wish – we can give as many or as few presents as we want. We get to choose. To put it another way rather than being forced to sing to another’s song we get to compose our own: we get to make our kind of music.

How Do We Beat Trump?

It’s going to take anarchy to defeat Trump, real anarchy. And that begins with the absolute freedom of the individual. In previous posts I’ve written about how money makes the world go round and whilst it dictates all our financial relationships it also affects our personal lives as we come to view friendships and partnerships as cost benefit calculations. We quantify the unquantifiable and enumerate what others mean to us. We refer to this as social capital and there’s even natural capital when it comes to measuring the use of the environment. Jessie J was right, everything has a price. I’ve also posted on the concept of debt, which is crucial to our monetary system, and how key to any debtor-creditor relationship is the threat of violence. Just as the master can threaten the life of their slave, so the bank can threaten with fines, the boss with unemployment, the government with benefit cuts and so on. Crucial to debt is the nature of ownership – that a boss can own a company or a master can own a slave, that anything can be anyone’s property. It is clear Trump, with his billions, thrives in such a world but there are others. In anarchy, where the principle of absolute freedom of the individual is realised, no one would own and no one would be owned. Can you imagine that?

Given we live in a world ruled by money and private property it’s hard to imagine absolute freedom. It’s the opposite of ownership, a world with no masters and no slaves. We would all be free. And whilst anarchy is often misunderstood as chaos and disorder there is one vital thing it would have in common with the current world ‘order’ of capitalism. Namely, relationships. If the bonds of capitalism are dependent on money, debt, ownership and the threat of violence then, I imagine, the relationships of anarchy would be dependent on trust, choice, freedom and the possibility of ceaseless love. Jessie J said it first – if it’s not about the money then “we’ll pay them with love tonight.” And can you imagine that, an economy of love? It sounds like a utopian dream and it sounds great.

We’d need to agree on some core principles such as equality for all – not just equality for the rich, or the white, or the male, but equality for all. This would mean we’d all be fed, housed and watered, no one would go hungry whilst others gorged. There would be enough for everyone. We would all have access to meaning, work and leisure. Competition would be replaced with collaboration. We wouldn’t hoard, we would share. We would all be loved. And whilst we’d still bicker, fall out, shirk and fight, we’d do it with the goal of absolute freedom in sight and not whatever the goals of today are. We’d do all this in honour of the generations that have gone before, for the sake of the ones to come, in reverence for the world we live as part of and we’d do it for each other and ourselves. And we would do it not because someone was holding a gun to our head or because the rules say we have to or because our masters forced us to, no, we would do it out of choice. Can you imagine that, such choice, such responsibility, such freedom.

I will leave you with the words of a character in The Dispossessed, one of Ursula Le Guin’s award winning sci-fi classics that compares the planets of Urras and Anarres, the former a mix of capitalist and communist states and the latter a world of anarchism (I’ve slightly edited the quote so it is suitable to all genders, not just men). It is an amazing book that asks us to imagine a world without earning and deserving yet a world in which all are free. It’s hard to get your head around it but I have a sneaking suspicion so many of our hearts are already there. Because to beat Trump and the system of which he is a puppet, figurehead and ruthless profiteer, we must at least be able to imagine an alternative. I dare you.

A thin, small, middle-aged man beside Trepil began speaking, at first softly, in a voice hoarsened by the dust-cough, so that few of them heard him. He was a visiting delegate from a Southwest miners’ syndicate, not expected to speak on this matter. “…what [people] deserve,” he was saying. “For we each of us deserve everything, every luxury that was ever pulled in the tombs of the dead Kings, and we each of us deserve nothing, not a mouthful of bread in hunger. Have we not eaten while another starved? Will you punish us for that? Will you reward us for the virtue of starving whiles others ate? No [one] earns punishment, no [one] earns reward. Free your mind of the ideas of deserving, the idea of earning, and you will begin to be able to think.” They were of course Odo’s words from the Prison Letters, but spoken in the weak, hoarse voice they made a strange effect, as if the man were working them out word by word himself, as if they came from his one heart, slowly, with difficulty, as the water wells up slowly, slowly, from the desert sand.

F*cking Men And Passengers

One a play at the Vaults Theatre in London about the lives of ten gay men, the other a Hollywood romance about a decidedly straight couple falling in love as they zoom through outer space. The former is a great piece of writing accompanied by some wonderful acting and the latter is actually surprisingly good given that it’s a romance at zero gravity. However, as I watched these productions I felt I had seen them before albeit in different locations: men f*cking in Manchester for example and straight couples falling in love, well, pretty much everywhere. And it was the way the scripts unfolded that disturbed me the most (spoilers).

F*king Men introduced us to a world of brief encounters between men in dark parks, closeted professionals worried their careers would collapse if they out themselves, put upon sex workers and porn stars, HIV stigma and homophobia. It was also a world full of laughter, love and heart as different individuals and couples tried to make it work in a world where guys just seem to want to f*ck all the time. Meanwhile, in Passengers there’s only room for two straight people as Chris Pratt and J-Law discover they’ve woken up ninety years before the spaceship has reached its destination. As it turns out Pratt woke up first, then, a year later, woke up J-Law. Obviously, when she finds out she’s pretty mad but she ends up forgiving him and (straight) love conquers all, it even fixes a hole in the spaceship caused by a tiny asteroid.

And it’s funny isn’t it that the scripts of gay men’s stories don’t always end quite so happily as those of straight lovers. Now, I know I’m comparing an Off-West End show with a Hollywood blockbuster, it’s hardly like with like, but I’m concerned that so many of the shows I see about gay men are bittersweet or sometimes just bitter. It’s like each time we have to go through all the homophobia, shame, prejudice and self-loathing before we can get to asking what might happen next. Whereas there are so many scripts for straight folk that they can do as they please and often get happy endings to boot. Passengers ends in engagement after all (which, I appreciate, doesn’t necessarily guarantee happiness) whereas F*cking Men ends with a young sex worker being given extra pay with which he might just be able to afford the mortgage on a flat with a kitchen – but, unlike the hole in the ship, the shame, stigma and self-loathing haven’t gone away. So, dear LGBTQIA+ allies, it’s another call for help – please help us queer folk get happier endings (and not just of the orgasm variety), please help edit the societal scripts that force us into hiding and get us hurt, and please listen to and share our stories. Next year I want to see two lesbians stuck in outer space, or two trans men, or two intersex folk, and I don’t want that plea to sound like a joke because I’m not being funny. And if you’re not going to write the script then I will and in the meantime I’ll carry on enjoying F*cking Men – seriously, it’s great – get your tickets here. Trailer below most definitely NSFW.

The Problem With Couples

Now, don’t get me wrong, I love couples. There are some great couples out there like Paul & Mary, Ben & Jerry, Brad & Angelina…oh. But sometimes couples can be problematic and here’s one of the ways I think that’s true. So, picture this: six nice people sat around a table at a restaurant having lunch. They’re all catching up about their lives, eating lettuce and sipping smoothies, something like that. They each take it in turn to talk about their lives and it turns out the first four are all straight and in relationships. They’re waxing lyrical about their partner, s/he is just fantastic, s/he just swam the Channel, s/he just invented a cure for cancer, etc. Wonderful. Isn’t that nice. However, person number five is straight and single and when it’s their turn things get a little awkward, they’re not in a relationship after all. As for person number six, they’re single and queer, so that awkward silence just got awkwarder. You get the gist right, let’s take a closer look.

Our society is just rammed with narratives that pressure us into believing in and aspiring to certain things. A big one concerns relationships. Rom coms, billboards, novels, magazines etc all encourage us to find that perfect partner. Alongside getting a job, getting enough money and finding meaning, finding ‘the one’ is just another box we need to tick on that all important list of ‘things you need to do to not be a total failure’. And it’s a huge relief when we finally find someone to settle down with (or endure for a year or so). It’s like a big weight is off our shoulders and we’ve just avoided a grim, sex-free future of loneliness and isolation, not to mention no grandkids. Phew. It’s understandable that if we believe in this narrative we will be relieved once we’ve found a partner and we’ll be happy as well, it’s fun having someone to share your life with, do stuff with and alleviate your insecurities. Ideally a best friend we can sleep with. Naturally, we want to tell our friends all about our new lover (finally, something interesting has happened in our lives).

Unfortunately, the flip side of this narrative is that it doesn’t work so well for ‘singletons’. Even the idea of being single implies we’re just a placeholder half-person until we gain meaning as a couple. We’re just biding our time and doing our best to ride out loneliness. Our lives must be grim. Which is why when lunchtime conversation shifts to us it gets awkward: if we’re single and unhappy then we affirm the narrative but also don’t really have a chance to talk about it because everyone else is coupled and happy. We’re often forced to pretend ‘everything’s fine’ even if on the inside we’re screaming. We do this because we want to fit in, because (coupled) people struggle hearing about others’ suffering and because we might believe that narrative too and think we’re failures. Next is the single but happy person, naturally, we’re considered slightly deluded because no one can be happy and unpartnered right, that sounds like far too much of a threat to this precious narrative. Then there’s the single, happy person who has lots of sex, also known as a ‘slut’ who just can’t settle down and hasn’t found the one. And then there’s the queer and single one, it’s highly likely we won’t even be asked about our relationship status because queer people don’t really exist right, we’re just some ‘exotic’ addition to a social group whose way of life is so different and alien to heteronormativity that it’s too hard for straights to get their heads around.

So, people in relationships, it’s time to step up. Yup, it’s great if you’re happy and in a relationship, well done, but please create space for people who aren’t in relationships be they happy or not. And please, if you believe that pressuring, deceitful narrative that life only means something if you’re partnered, please do not project that onto others. Basically, just do not become one of those smug and judgemental couples who will probably break up anyway because no decent long-term relationship can thrive off the mutual avoidance of fear (or maybe it can, I’ve never tried). Why not help out your single friends who want a partner by introducing them to other people (so they can enjoy the happiness of coupled life that you profess to) or offering some emotional support. And single folks, queer and straight, don’t single, be independent, and own it if you have the resources and the resilience. Also, if you need help, ask for it, even if you’re asking help from smug coupled people (they’re not that bad, well, most of them aren’t). Don’t give a toss about what they think because the priority is you getting the support you need and not pretending ‘everything’s fine’ if it isn’t. Anyway, I’m not single, I’m independent and if you find this blog challenges a narrative you hold dear then good. Here’s P!nk.

Why Do Fairy Tales End In Weddings?

And it all ends happily ever after – the dragon slain, the terrible King overthrown, the witch thwarted, the wolf outrun, the villagers saved, the damsel rescued and…wedding bells. In old folktales, in Disney cartoons, in far too many movies and, of course, all over real life. Many people spend a lot of time, pain and money trying to craft that perfect day – the white dress, the giant cake, the big guest list. Sometimes they’re lucky and the only problem is the slightly leery uncle and other times it’s a disaster of catering, drained alcohol supplies and family feuds. Either way it seems we’ve taken the concept of a fairy tale wedding very seriously and tried to recreate it in real life. But I think we’ve slightly missed the point.

I do love a good fairy tale but I get pretty bored when it’s all about cisgendered, white, straight guys rescuing helpless damsels and marrying them, yawn. But the tradition was somewhat reclaimed for me when someone explained why fairy tales have a habit of ending in weddings. It’s not because the tale is literally a how-to manual for planning the big day, no, it’s a little more subtle than that. One way to interpret a traditional fairy tale is to see the characters in the story as facets of our personality (or psyche). We all have a questing hero in us and sometimes we can be a bit of a tyrant as well. There’s a wild wolf in us too, a wise sage, a jokey trickster, a helpless victim, a cunning witch and even a terrifying dragon (metaphorically speaking). We’re not just supposed to identify with the hero (y’know, that dull straight, white guy), instead all the characters represent different aspects of who we are. Many of us might play the part of the fool more often than the wise one, or the tyrant than the victim, but the point is the potential is there and our psyche is multi-faceted (whatever those dull personality tests tell us, give me dragons and witches over ENTJ any time). Basically, folktales are a form of psychology and therapy developed hundreds of years ago, pretty cool huh.

So why the wedding? Well, it’s not just some random straight folks tying the knot, it’s the marriage of your psyche. Say what? It’s when all of you, all of you, is invited back home to one giant party – it’s when you finally come to terms with being you. In many traditional tales the wedding won’t just include the in-laws but the tyrant king will be there (and he may well ceremoniously die as metaphor for you conquering your inner b*stard), the annoying brother, the sage, the mentor, the dragon’s head maybe, the witch (providing she survived and promised to be a little less wicked) and even the wild wolf might be seen flitting around in the garden. The guest list is vast and the catering cost astronomical but the point is all of you has been welcomed back home. It’s not about white dresses and multi-tiered cakes, it’s about inner healing and empowerment. So, as symbolism for inner transformation goes I think fairy tales are pretty ace. However, if like me you’re not such a fan of heteronormative ceremonies traditionally based on the buying and selling of woman, you’ll agree that the tales need a bit of a 21st century makeover. No more weddings for me, just one giant queer house party. All welcome.

What Is True Love?

It’s a question on many of our lips as we navigate the marketing campaigns, movies and relentless narratives of heteronormative patriarchy that tell us true love is something to be shared with one other person of the opposite gender for the rest of our lives. True love will involve a white wedding, 2.4 children and a mortgage. True love will look good in public and any problems will be hidden behind closed doors. True love will be shared on Facebook and Instagram whilst the passive aggression happens off camera. Fortunately, P!nk and Lily Allen aren’t buying into this bullsh*t.

Well, ok, I think both Lily Allen and P!nk are married with kids although they probably own their houses outright rather than have mortgages. However, there’s a lot of angst in this song as they complain about how irritating their partners are, how infuriating, how stupid and a whole load of other negative things (there are also quite a lot of domestic abuse references as well as some causal anal sexism, but that will be another post). And at least they’re honest. Love isn’t all roses, doves and honeymoons it can be annoying, smelly and sometimes quite disappointing. But I do like the idea of taking the rough with the smooth and committing to something bigger than  just two (or multiple) people, where 1 + 1 makes more than 2 (or 1 + 1 + 1 etc for those in polyamorous and/or open relationships). I think that’s something worth committing to and not that crass and crushing heteronormative, consumer capitalist version of “true love” created to make us buy more stuff and go to bed feeling guilty and alone. And I don’t think that better kind of true love (maybe just call it love to sound a little less presumptive) has to last forever either, what a sad benchmark for a relationship’s success if it only counts if it ended at death. It also doesn’t need to involve kids and a mortgage, dogs in a housing co-op are ace too. And it certainly isn’t just for straights. Queers welcome.

Now, don’t get me wrong, I am not against people marrying, having 2.4 children and getting mortgages. It’s often a brilliant and inspiring (and very, very difficult) thing to do, hats off to you. But I do mind if that’s all you do, if you’ve just glanced at the ‘true love’ manual (aka watched a few Julia Roberts films and dressed your son in blue and daughter in pink) and taken it at face value. Worse still, not just read the manual but started to recite it as well, as you take for granted that society (and this includes politics, economics and culture) is often weighted in your favour (but only if you’re wealthy enough). I reckon the best thing you can do is acknowledge that space has been made for your type of love, enjoy it, and then set about helping create space so others can enjoy their types of love too. In brief, as with most posts on this blog, check your privilege and don’t be prejudiced. Then we can all have a go at mucking up true love (p.s. and yes, this post was basically an excuse to post that song, it’s just so catchy).