Anniversary weekend activities, including camping at Uretiti and attending the Urge underwear party, confirmed (as if it was necessary) that sex is readily available for guys of all shapes, sizes and ages. But can the same be said for love?
Sex may be easy to find but it seems that love is another matter. My summer reading included Secret Historian, the biography of Samuel Steward, whose sexual experiences from the 1930s onwards were used by Kinsey as part of his research and writing on human sexuality. Steward documented each of his thousands of encounters in graphic detail, but even after so much intimacy with other men he could still write late in life, “I don’t know what love is. My heart has been dead for a long time”.
In an era when it was difficult to sustain same sex relationships publicly, Steward’s experiences may have been common. But there are some signs that things have changed and that the love two blokes can feel for each other is now recognised as good as any love that two humans can experience.
Take for example the fact that in Australia, child care organisers are now turning to the gay community to be foster parents. The Benevolent Society is going to be stepping up their efforts to recruit gays as foster parents during the Mardi Gras Festival and they report that almost 25% of its existing foster carers identify as gay. Barnardos reports that it recently facilitated adoptions by two gay foster care couples after NSW legalised same sex adoptions in 2010.
But when I look for tales of gay love (as distinct from sex!) there are still too few stories being told. Where, for example, are the Hollywood blockbusters about love between a couple of guys? I adored the beauty of A Single Man, and that was indeed a gay love story, but without any of the gritty messy bits that are part of two men loving each other.
It may be no coincidence that most of the stories of gay love I have come across are written out of grief. Mark Doty’s account of his partner dying of AIDS, Heaven’s Coast, is a beautiful account of pain and love, while David Plante’s The Pure Lover, about the loss of his partner of 40 years, Nikos Stangos, is a profoundly moving story of love, and loss. Timothy Conigrave’s Holding the Man is another beautiful story of love (and death) between two men, turned into compelling theatre that drew large and appreciative audiences locally. I can relate to these tales, as I know what love is because I have experienced it too, though it took the death of my partner Greg (after 12 years together) for me to realise it. And while that love had a sexual component to it, it was about much more than that. It was, I realise now looking back, about the fact that we were there for each other, come what may (which eventually included my nursing him as he died). I can also relate to Joe Kort’s assertion in 10 Smart Things Gay Men Can Do to Find Real Love, that falling in love is more likely to coax men to come out than just having gay sex, for I fell deeply in love with Greg and subsequently came out (at the age of 35).
So I have no doubt now that love between two men is possible, and that while legislation may be able to target what we do physically, no external force can ever touch the love that can exist between two guys who love each other.
In his compelling case against the hypocrisy of the church’s attitude to gay love, Andrew Sullivan asks, “What, if homosexuality was, in fact, more profoundly about love than sex? What if it contained, like heterosexuality, all the nobility and failure of the search for intimacy and need for affection? And what if sex was merely one, albeit profound, way of expressing that intimacy?”
Reconciling the profound human need for love with our sexual natures as gay men can be an ongoing challenge and one of the reason gay men, when they do form relationships, often create innovative forms of relationships. How we reconcile our need for love with the constant availability of new and exciting sexual experiences seems to me to be at the heart of many issues faced by gay men. We have won the right to practice our sexuality openly, and many of us have taken full advantage of that. Now if we put as much effort into sustaining love in our lives might we not be happier as gay people? Getting sex is easy, but building and sustaining loving relationships can be a real challenge. But is it not the ultimate act of gay affirmation? And does anyone really want to be like Steward and at the end of their life not know what love is?
| Stephen Rainbow