Monday, August 10, 2009

Crossing boundaries

I've been thinking about writing this post for a while (or any post, for that matter-- I haven't updated in general, mainly because I now have a "real" job as a preschool teacher as opposed to a mindless desk job where blogging keeps me from clawing my own eyes out in front of the computer for eight hours a day). I was revisiting "Tales of the City" recently-- the books and the miniseries-- and thinking about how the friendship between gay Michael and straight Brian resonates with my own life. When Armistead Maupin first released his episodic saga, it was seen as revolutionary in the way it both presented gay sexuality matter-of-factly and casually intertwined the lives of gay and straight characters. Of course, in a post "Will & Grace" world the idea of straight women befriending gay men is hardly a novel one; in fact, it's become cliche. But straight men and gay friend as friends might still be thought of as unusual or taboo. Of course, the ever progressing gay civil rights movement has brought about circumstances that would have seemed unthinkable ten or twenty years ago: gay straight alliances in high school, gay marriage in various states. But the concept of a heterosexual male having a close personal relationship cuts to the core of why gay sexuality has supposedly taken so long to be accepted into the mainstream. Men are more aggressively socialized and gender-normalized than women, and gayness was long seen as a threat to accepted social order, both because it challenged heterosexism and threatened to rip the lid off the homoeroticism that has long existed in society, from fraternities to the military and everywhere in between. Sure, maybe two particularly sensitive straight men could profess to love each other (i.e. the drunken "I love you, man" speech). But how could a straight man knowingly express affection for a gay man without threatening his own sexuality? In my experience, though, this boundary has been crossed and recrossed by my straight male friends with ease. Sure, my friendships with gay men are important, as are those I enjoy with straight women. (My best friend is female.) But I believe that my friendships with men in general are crucial, regardless of orientation. Truth be told, I've had positive and life affirming relationships with straight guys since high school. My first crush was a good friend, a high school athlete who not only accepted and appreciated me-- sexual orientation and all-- but who, I think, secretly enjoyed my fairly obvious attraction to him. (In today's world, any guy at ease with himself is surely flattered by attention, male or female, especially considering that-- as one guy put it-- "you guys are so fucking picky.") Another friend of mine is not only sensitive and compassionate but once joked that he'd plant a kiss on me if he ever saw a particular ex-girlfriend while we were out together! The most recent example of this for me is with my friend Ben, a former coworker. We bonded early on over our mutual love of horror films and have been to see several over the last couple years. While Ben isn't nearly as open as I am about his personal life, he has always listened respectfully to any number of my own problems and provided sympathy and support. The kicker came a couple months ago, when he left a voice mail on my phone. "I love you," he said at the end, seemingly without a second thought. It didn't matter that I was gay. It did matter that he cared about me, and I him. In 2009, men of every kind are finding that labels and differences aren't nearly so important as compassion and respect.