Saturday, May 15, 2004

Under Advisement #1

Longtime readers may be aware of my small, bushel-hidden dream of someday being an advice columnist: it seems to me that I have a God-given talent for running other people's lives, which exists in exact inverse ratio to my ability to run my own. And since my own life is about as well-run as Rome under the Visigoths right now, I find the urge to advise growing strong.

I have in the past lifted other columnists' letters in order to try my hand at advising, and it occurs to me that this could very easily become a regular feature... if only I do it regularly. And so I am going to start reproducing letters that I find in advice columns that strike my interest, and give a little advice of my own (unless I get cease-and-desist orders from the publishers, in which case I'll find some other source).

The following was lifted from Margo Howard's column, "Dear Prudence" (I didn't realize that was a Beatles song until I performed a websearch just now), which appeared in the Oakland Tribune yesterday. The correspondent touched my heart, and I found myself wanting to write back to him... and unlike my usual rationale for stealing letters, that the original advisor's advice was somewhat lacking, I totally agreed with Ms. Howard's take on the situation (in fact I found her advice unusually entertaining)... I only wanted to give it the twist of my own personal experience, and to express myself without the spatial restraints that newspaper columnists must labor under. So here we go:
    Dear Prudie Marlénè: Until I was seventeen years old, I was gay, but I wasn't happy like I am now. I was always depressed and lonely and had the typical issues of growing up gay. I even acted the part. Instead of creating the stereotype, I let the stereotype create me — right down to talking effeminately.

    My parents caught on to this, cornered me and told me I wasn't allowed to be gay. My mother's reasoning was that she wanted grandchildren because my brother has learning disabilities and because she takes pride in me being the good son. I didn't say much, because I just wanted the awkward situation to pass, but afterward I was mad at them.

    But, as I thought about it, I wanted to be straight. I wanted that "perfect" life with a wife and children produced from a loving relationship. Also I loved my friendships with girls, one in particular. So, I effectively stopped checking guys out and stopped myself from finding any male attractive. Then I started dating one of my best friends. I fell in love, and through that love, I became sexually attracted to her. It was amazing. For the first time ever in my life, I actually liked who I was.

    The aspects of her body are what I find attractive, whereas before, if I turned my head to look at a girl walking by, it was because I liked her outfit. I'm still with this girl (three years now; we're at different colleges), and I love her deeply and find her sexually attractive.

    I still occasionally look at gay porn or have sexual dreams involving men, but I don't consider myself to be gay anymore. I'm happy and I like where my life is going, but what I'd like to know is whether changing my sexual attraction was a good thing.

    Happily Straight Now

    Dear HSN: Oh, baby darling, where to begin? I'm happy that you're happy, but if you were really happy you wouldn't be writing to "Dear Prudence Under Advisement," now would you? Miss Marlénè suspects that you are confused, and trying terribly hard to convince yourself of something you know isn't quite true.

    But before we begin: please, please do not marry and knock up this girl trying to prove that you're straight. You can't imagine how much unhappiness this will cause you, her, and your offspring later on down the road. By all means, love her and have sex with her; by all means marry her, if she'll have you as you are; and if everything works out after a couple or four years, start thinking about having those "children produced from a loving relationship" — but you have to be completely honest with this woman you say you love about your sexuality. She has to know, before you walk down that aisle, and long before she starts ruining her figure with children, that you find men sexually attractive. It is absolutely criminal to go into a marriage and start creating a family when one of the partners doesn't know something that important about the other.

    That said, let's back up and talk about your early experience of gay life. You felt depressed, you felt lonely, you had issues. Well, darling, so does everyone else. Even the straight kids. But you convinced yourself that the reason you felt lonely and depressed is because you were gay... not because you had parents you could not talk to about your feelings, not because you were excluded from the teenage mating rituals that engrossed your peers, not because you were young and inexperienced and raging with hormones that make every emotional twinge and tickle feel like an operatic cataclysm. You focused on the thing that made you different and blamed that, instead of coming to understand that all who are different are made to feel this way by a conformist society. You would have felt just as lonely and depressed if you had been different in any other way, if you were morbidly obese or remarkably ugly or a conjoined twin.

    And now, about your parents: I expect they mean well, but I'm afraid your parents are dumbasses. It isn't their prerogative to dictate your sexuality, nor is it their right to demand grandchildren of you. They should be proud of your behavior, your honesty and honor and goodness, rather than your ability to reproduce; I mean, what if you were straight and sterile, would they love you less?

    Your parents gave you life and raised you, at some considerable effort and expense no doubt, and for that they deserve your respect, your love, nice presents on holidays, and even your help someday down the line when they can't take care of themselves: but it is your life that you're leading, not theirs. I think it's terribly sweet of you to wish to conciliate your parents to this degree, I could tell from the tone of your letter that you're a classic people-pleaser, but you have to decide about your sexuality for yourself without pandering to their prejudices.

    Then there's your learning-disabled brother. Are we talking about a slight case of dyslexia or are we talking about Down Syndrome? Either way, you're parents (if they weren't dumbasses) should understand that even people with Down Syndrome can have perfectly healthy children... they may need help raising them, but they can certainly pass on a family's name just as easily as you can.

    That's another thing that I've been hearing a lot lately... passing on the family name. What a crock of crap that is! What the hell difference does a name make? I can imagine a title like a marquisate or baronetcy carrying some weight, or a very old noble name like Medici or Rothschild being carried on; but for most of us rank-and-file types, there are plenty of other people running around with our names, some of them born with them and some of them making them up for whatever reason. My family name fills two pages of the local phone book, and though the branch I sit on has run to the distaff side and I am the last male to carry my grandfather's name, there are plenty more of that name out there. The whole carrying-on-the-name thing is a pseudo-aristocratic affectation and the stupidest argument I've ever heard for polluting the planet with more children. And even if you did have children, they might all be girls, or queers, or sterile, and so what would have been the point of your noble sacrifice?

    But to get back to the main point, most psychologists agree that you cannot change your sexual orientation. That's a simple fact that you're going to have to deal with. But discovering what, exactly, your sexual orientation is... that's a little tougher. People tend to think in black-and-white, straight-or-gay terms. If you are effeminate you are gay, if you're not you're straight; but in reality, it's much more complicated than that. You can ignore one attraction for another, people in monogamous relationships do it all the time when they refrain from cheating on their spouses. But the attraction is there, you can't stop it... you can only stuff it away and lie to yourself about it, which is so not healthy.

    It seems to me that you're bisexual, as most of us are to some degree (though Kinsey's findings have been exposed as painfully unscientific, they can be used as a rule-of-thumb, and it deserves notice that no one has yet disproved the Kinsey Scale). You are strongly attracted to men, so strongly that this attraction emerged first in your budding sexual awareness; but out of social pressure you have turned to look at women, and have discovered to your surprise that the female of the species is not without allure.

    The thing is, HSN, you are not straight, not by a long shot. Just because you are attracted to one girl whom you love, the fact remains that you are still attracted to men, guys you don't even know, much less love — you dream about them and fantasize about them (I assume you were masturbating to the gay porn), and that makes you at the very least bisexual, if not a great big 'Mo who can get it up for a girl under the right emotional circumstances.

    If you are happy in a heterosexual relationship, that's fine; being in a heterosexual relationsip, in this society, is a hell of a lot easier than finding happiness in homosexual relationships... it can be done, millions of homosexuals experience happy homosexual relationships every day, but it's not as easy as pretending to be happy with what "everyone else" is happy with. You will find, if you investigate the matter scientifically, that a lot of the straights are pretending to be happy, too.

    At any rate, whichever way you slice it, you are still attracted to men, and it is apparent to me that if your parents were more supportive of your individuality instead of pressuring you to lock-step into their heterosexual paradigm, you may never have felt it necessary to explore your heterosexual attractions in the first place. I believe that the happiness you feel now is the relief of no longer swimming against the current. By caving into the pressure of your family and our society, you have found a safe harbor from the storm. You can't stay in harbor forever, though, if it's not your harbor.

    And trust me, I know whereof I speak... let me tell you a little story: when Miss Marlénè was a young boy, she felt lonely and depressed like you, HSN, and she had issues, too... lots of them (hell, she still does). I was effeminate from the get-go, an absolute paragon of the fairy stereotype practically from birth... my first steps were mincing, my first words were lisped. When I reached puberty, I began to find men and boys mightily attractive, girls not so much, and therefore surmised that I was gay... I didn't know exactly what it meant, but there it was. People teased me for being effeminate, in fact my effeminacy made my life a living hell; but I defended and clung to my effeminacy and later to my homosexuality because they were true things about me.

    If I wasn't really a homosexual, I would have had no reason whatever to put myself through all the torture entailed in growing up gay... the same torture you experienced, HSN. Why go through all of that if it wasn't something that came from inside of you? Why take on effeminate mannerisms unless you are trying (however misguidedly) to fit your deepest homosexual attractions into the boy-girl paradigm of heterosexual society by trying to become more like a girl? Stereotypes come from somewhere, darling.

    Moving along... my parents and stepparents and grandparents were not thrilled by my gayness, but at least they were kind about it. They wanted me to be happy, but the only understanding they had of happiness was the things that made them happy: family life, getting married, straight sex, having kids, and so on. They could not (and in Grandmother's case, still cannot) understand that this homosexuality of mine is not a choice I made, it was something that came installed and can't be changed. Being open about it was my choice, being a happily out gay man instead of an unhappily closeted homosexual was my choice, but the sexuality itself was hardwired.

    My church was also kind, it condemned homosexuality but considered it more of an illness than a perversion, and so the homosexual was more to be pitied than censured... "So sad that you're going to Hell, but we'll pray for you," and that sort of thing. But with all this gentleness and good intention, I felt pressured to be straight instead of what I was. My friends were all heterosexual, too, and everyone on television was straight, and everyone in books and magazines to which I had access were straight. So I was all alone, the sole gay person in my world, and it was very very lonely there.

    When I was seventeen, and all my friends had boyfriends and girlfriends and were sexually involved with each other, making plans for the future that involved engagements and marriages and children, I finally got too tired of being left out of all the fun: and so I started dating my best friend (just as you did, HSN). I didn't tell myself I was all of a sudden straight instead of gay, and my friend knew I was not straight instead of gay; but with a little side-step into bisexuality I did suddenly fit into the social paradigm... I had a girlfriend, someone to hold hands with at the movies, someone to dance with at dances, someone to make out with at makeout parties, someone to take to the prom... someone to point at and say "this is my girlfriend," just like all the other guys had. I fit in for the first time in my life, and it was heaven.

    And yes, I was surprised to find myself sexually attracted to my friend, even though she had not one masculine characteristic: she was small, voluptuous, pretty, feminine, nurturing... not like any boy I had found attractive. Though I was afraid to go to the extreme of genital sexual contact with her, we nevertheless engaged in sexual behavior; she could give me a hard-on, and I could give her whatever the female equivalent of a hard-on is, and we were perfectly capable of consummating our attraction in the usual manner.

    But really, darling, at seventeen (and twenty) you can get a hard-on in any number of circumstances... but you can't build your life on that. I was afraid that if we had real genital sex, my friend and I, we would no longer be playing at a straight relationship, we'd be having one; and I thought she deserved better than that. I loved her too much to make her the means of proving that I could be a "real man" by screwing and possibly even impregnating her. So we broke up (but remained friends), and she fell in love with and got involved with an actual heterosexual man who eventually married her and gave her two beautiful children, the things she most wanted in the world.

    And when I got out of high school and found the gay world waiting for me, I found what I truly wanted. Sure it hasn't been an entirely happy trip, I have not found love yet... I haven't even found particularly good sex. But I knew the first time I stepped into the gay bar and found the rest of My People that I had made the right choice. It was true, it was where I belonged. It was my harbor.

    Would I have been happier if I had consummated my relationship with my friend, gone on and married her and raised a family with her? Perhaps, but I doubt it. Eventually, the relief of finally fitting in would wear off, and the strong first sexuality would have reasserted itself. I would have begun fantasizing about men, as you do now HSN, and then maybe started having sex with men, and then what would become of my relationship with my wife? Especially if she'd never known about this queer side of my psyche? Well, the advice columns are filled with women who married a man and found out later that he was bisexual, or into cross-dressing, or had a penchant for sheep. It's not fair to your girlfriend or your future children to hide your true nature.

    If you are truly bisexual, HSN, it's completely possible that you can marry your sweetheart and not later wish to leave her for a man... the whole point of marrying someone for life is to exclude sexual contact with others, be they women or men. And I know a lot of people who married young and stayed married and happy for all their long lives. But for God's sake, don't marry her trying to prove that you are really bisexual or "straight." Marry her only if you can be completely honest with her, only if you can accept each other, warts and all, and only if you really believe you will be happy spending your whole entire freaking life with her. I can't stress that enough.

    Here's what I'd do, if I were you, HSN: sit down and think about what you want out of life, without consideration for what others want. Imagine that your parents and your brother were gone from this earth and had no opinion on what you did; imagine that you lived in a world where a homosexual was just as welcome and supported as a heterosexual; imagine that your sweetheart could be any gender at all and still be the person you love... what would you do? Imagine that the "perfect" life with a wife and children that you desire isn't really perfect, but merely one of many choices in life and perhaps the most common thing that people do; imagine that you could have anything you wanted without anybody getting hurt. What would you do then?

    Think about it for a long time, HSN. At least five years. Then make up your mind what you want, and follow through with honor and honesty. Because it is clear to me that you're not sure, and the worst thing you can do is to move forward into building a life with someone else when you're not sure. You're very young, and there is a lot of life out there to live, don't go and make a lot of misguided mistakes at the very beginning. Be careful, be completely honest at all times, don't do anything with lasting repurcussions unless your positively absolutely certain that you want those repercussions, and you will eventually find happiness.

    Trust your Auntie
If you have a problem you'd like to discuss, or if you come across an advice column you think I'd be able to plagiarize adapt, please send it along to me at If you have any comments about my advice, leave them in the comments box below. Thanks!

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