Saturday, December 10, 2005

The G Word

Tonight I went to David Sedaris' The Santaland Diaries at the Salt Lake County Performing Arts Center with my brother and his friend's wife (a setup only slightly more awkward in theory than the time Svoid and I took Melyngoch as our shared non-date to a play because Foxy J had to stay home with a sick S-Boogie, but really neither situation was awkward in practice).

The Santaland Diaries is a one-man show about a guy who gets a job as an elf at Macy's in New York. It's quite amusing, and has a nice quasi-heartwarming moment at the end to temper the cynical sarcasm of the rest of the play.

At one point in the play the elf mentions that one of the other elves he works with is cute, and that he enjoys flirting with him. This is really all you get to tell you that the character is gay--my even mentioning it is making a bigger deal about it than the play does, and I feel like I'm violating the point of such a low-key representation of homosexuality, and my own stance on the matter, by doing so. But I'm getting to a point, and it's that I really like the approach the play takes. The character is gay, and once he establishes that, the audience is aware of it, but it's not at all the point of the play. It just is.

One of the major points of "Getting Out" (see sidebar if you have no idea what I'm referring to) was that I feel that, regardless of one's religious/moral stance on homosexuality, it should be something we can talk about without making a big deal about it. A guy should be allowed to casually mention that he finds another guy attractive.

The problem with this is that there tend to be two extremes: either I'm not going to mention homosexuality at all because it's a dirty secret I have to hide from the world, or I'm going to run around yelling in people's faces, "I'm gay! I'm gay! Ha ha, pooh on you, I'm gay!" In my attempt to avoid the former, I have been accused of the latter. I don't think the accusation was justified, and I told the accuser so, but still I'm concerned because I recognize that it's easy to jump from one extreme to the other.

Here's the thing: Your average straight man doesn't run around yelling, "I'm straight! I'm straight!" (and if he does you can be 98% sure he's not). But, in the course of his everyday conversations, he mentions the girl he's attracted to, or he mentions his wife, or he mentions the dream he had last night about Katie Holmes. Not because he needs to affirm that he is straight, or to rub it in your face, but just because those things are part of who he is. This is why I like the approach Santaland Diaries takes. The character doesn't say, "Look at me, I'm gay"; he just mentions a part of his everyday life that happens to reveal his sexuality as part of who he is. I don't expect anyone to put up with gay people shoving their homosexuality in one's face, but I do think that a gay man should be able to mention, in the course of his everyday conversation, the guy he's attracted to, or his husband, or the dream he had last night about Christian Bale.

This puts me in a strange situation. The fact that I am gay is an integral part of my identity. I am aware of this, either consciously or subconsciously, for a large portion of my day. I claim my right to talk about this part of who I am. At the same time, though, I'm not going to talk about my husband because I happen to have a wife, and I'm not going to talk extensively about the guy I'm attracted to or the dream I had last night about Christian Bale because to do so, I think, would be disrespectful of my wife. Just as any wife, she's aware that I'm attracted to people besides her, but it wouldn't do much for our relationship for me to spend a lot of time talking about who has a cute butt and who has a sexy chest. Which means that, if I choose to talk about the part of my identity that has to do with my attraction to men, I can say, "I am gay." And that's it. And who knows? Maybe by choosing to marry a woman I've given up that right. Maybe I should listen to the people who think I'm an asshole for publishing "Getting Out" and say nothing at all. (Though it's a bit late for that now, and to be honest I have not a single regret about publishing it; I'm just entertaining the possibility that they're right in order to appear openminded.)

Just to be absolutely clear, I'm not complaining. I chose to marry Foxy J because it felt right at the time and I have chosen to stay married to her because it still feels right and because I have weighed my options and decided that this is the choice that will make me and the people I love happiest. And, lest anyone give me a hard time for not stating something I find obvious, I am married to Foxy J because I love her.

I just want you to know that if I seem like I use the G word excessively, it's not that I don't think there are more tactful ways of affirming one's sexual identity, but because I don't think there's a more tactful way for me to affirm my sexual identity.

(And don't forget to come to the party, which has been changed to next Saturday.)


Tolkien Boy said...

This is a long post. You talk about being gay a lot. Sheesh. Get over yourself.

Actually, strangely enough I was thinking the same thing about "Naked" by David Sedaris today as I was driving to school...he tends to succeed because he presents things from a human perspective, not from a "gay man's" perspective.

I think that we as Mormon writers would be wise to follow that example.

skyeJ said...

I love my gay brother-in-law. I enjoy being around you because there isn't a cloud of shame and hostility about the realities of your life. It's hard to be a happy, non-bitter, non-defensive person when everyone treats you as though you SHOULD behave as if you are ashamed of your life and choices. You are an example to me and the way I chose to respond to the world.

Anonymous said...

Tolkien boy makes a good point regarding 'a human perspective'. At the same time, I like your long post and the point you're trying to make - I think not just for yourself, but for a lot of other people: No one should have to feel that they always have to be guarded in what they say, as though they might otherwise give away a shocking secret about who they really are. On the other hand, as you say, the answer to that shouldn't require going to an extreme.

Hopefully, the more that people like yourself 'educate' society with this viewpoint, the more relaxed gay people can be about the comments they make. When that happens, maybe they won't feel as much of a need to seek affirmation of their 'gayness', because that acceptance will be more of a given. Then you won't have to write 'long blogs' to get the idea across to them. :) In the meantime, thank you - we enjoy you sharing your perspective, since we don't all have the opportunity to experience the world as you do.

B.G. Christensen said...

TB--I think your mom talks about being gay a lot.


Anon--Thanks to you too. Just in case it's not clear to people who don't know him, I'm pretty sure TB meant that first paragraph ironically. He would never seriously tell me to get over myself because he recognizes that I am much too important to get over. :)

TK said...

And that's what keeps us all reading - not your importance but your sense of humor! :)

Cricket said...

I want to comment on this, but can't get my thoughts together just now.... I'll be back.

Freelancer said...

He's a Great writer, a Great husband, a Great father, a Gratious host, and has a Gregarious sense of humor. Oh, and he's (whispered) Gay. "Not that there's anything wrong with that..."

I think you've struck a cord with me on this one because I can certainly relate and I agree. And that's all I have to say.

Freelancer, you know the (whispered) Bisexual. LOL

Th. said...


In church yesterday, the sister who was speaking admitted that she came to America illegally as a child. I think that might be worse than being gay to your average conservative which, of course, most Mormons are. I thought it was awesome.

But I'm not going to talk about my opinions on America's consistently miopic immigrations policies. Instead, let me just say that you gay people need to stop crossing over from Gayopolis and taking all our jobs.

ambrosia ananas said...

Great post. You make a good point. (And TB, I agree--I think that perspective shift would help LDS writers immensely. A la Orson Scott Card, perhaps.)

And Master Fob, I'm *so* jealous that you got to see David Sedaris's show. I've passed many a happy hour at work listening to his stuff on the radio.

JB said...

I think it's important to be able to talk about your life and any aspect of it without people making a big deal of it. I'm glad you're not ashamed to talk about it on your blog. I've only had two or three gay friends before and I didn't even know they were gay until shortly after we stopped hanging out, so it's interesting to hear your viewpoints on the subject. :)

You have a way of looking at being gay that I haven't heard much and I'm fascinated by it. For example, instead of giving up on the Church for being Wrong, you're trying it out their way, but not because you think you're bad. Or at least, that was the impression I got from "Getting Out." I think you have a healthy way of looking at things. And you and Foxy J seem happy together. You seem like a great pair.

Anonymous said...

I have defend myself as a single Mormon woman who is not getting married any time soon. When you don't follow the cultural norms people feel it incumbent upon themselves to point it out to you.

I choose to think that it is their narrow minded loss. I like to think of it like Arby's "Different is good."

I can't believe you changed the party without telling me. Ouch. Marchioness

Tolkien Boy said...

I just realized you stole my title.

I am feeling very self-important now. *I* got quoted on Master Fob's blog...


And of course I was being ironic. What's this "pretty sure" business?

And my mom doesn't talk about being gay. At all.

B.G. Christensen said...

Ah, yes, I should have given you credit, TB. A great title, now immortalized by me. And let me rephrase what I said earlier:

TB meant that first paragraph ironically. He never says anything seriously, and if you take anything he says seriously, he scowls at you and says, "Do you even know me?" I'm not sure whether the scowl applies to people who actually don't know him.

And Marchioness, the question is not whether or not I gave you your very own special notice of the change other than on my blog where I announced the change to everyone else, but whether or not you are coming. Are you?

Tolkien Boy said...

I am censured.

I lower my head in shame.


B.G. Christensen said...


Wait. You aren't serious, are you?

Cricket said...

Okay, I'm back. I'm still foggy in the head but I want to try comment anyway. For some reason I feel a strong need to comment as this post has apparently struck a chord.

... because to do so, I think, would be disrespectful of my wife

1) I hope that straight men see this and realize it too. Just because they are attracted to women and talk about women, doesn't make it less disrespectful to your wife to go on and on about someone else.

2)Mentioning it is another story. You can state the facts without being disrespectful by rubbing it in her face. (even behind her back)

Which means that, if I choose to talk about the part of my identity that has to do with my attraction to men, I can say, "I am gay." And that's it

I disagree. It goes back to what what I said above. You can talk about it without being disrespectful.

Maybe by choosing to marry a woman I've given up that right

So did you also give up the right to talk about your Katie Holmes dream? or the right to say, "Jim's girlfriend is a real looker"? Nope. ya didn't.

Society is playing catch-up from the dark ages of homophobia and we are the pioneers! You, FoxyJ, Freelancer, I and all the other Mixed Orientation couples out there have a responsibility to not not hide in the proverbial closet.

You are Gay. gay, gay, gay. say it loud... say it proud!

PS: I hope you told your Accusor that they talk about being stright alot.

TK said...

Thank you, Mandi, especially for that first point! But I would like to add some further thoughts to what you said thereafter.

I have a friend who worked for years as a sex abuse investigator. She told me about a training she went to, wherein they posed the question, WHAT IS THE BIGGEST SEX ORGAN? The answer: THE BRAIN. Think about it. The body doesn’t do anything without getting the message first, from the brain.

In light of that, mentioning or discussing with your spouse your attraction to another person may help you to resolve it and get it off your mind. On the other hand, there may be a point beyond which dwelling on the thought will be counter-productive, and make it more likely to be a thought that will culminate in an action that you may regret. Life is short - there won’t be time for everything. Put your thoughts and efforts into the relationships that are most important.

Don't be ashamed of who you are [i.e.: sexual orientation], but don't let making a statement to society rob you of becoming who you want to be [i.e.: character].

Anonymous said...

You know, in my opinion the problem is being looked at wrong. I don't happen to think it is appropriate to casually mention in conversation that you were dreaming about kissing someone other than your spouse no matter what gender. Maybe I'm old-fashioned, but I stick with the idea that the only kisses you should remember are the ones of your spouse. (Of course, I think things are different if you are not married. But that's not your case.) Mentioning "my wife" or "my husband" also does not indicate your sexuality necessarily either. My two best friends are married, one is bi the other completely gay. They are in a lesbian marriage, but the first was in a hetero marriage before. You are assuming it's a zero sum thing here. Marriage means committment and fidelity. I would consider it more than bad taste to comment on an asthetically pleasing man whil married to my husband. When I was single, again, that would be different. No committments or promises had been made then. But I don't think that anyone married (or in a committed relationship) should be making gay or straight sexual comments about anyone but their spouse. So there's my two cents, for what it's worth. It's just a habit I've seen more people get in to and I just don't see why other's should be "let in" on a person's sexual fantasies -- especially if the fantasies have a tinge of infidelity.

Cicada said...

Better late than never... but I know you'll get this because it goes to your email. I went to see the Santaland Diaries with my family over the break. My parents bought the tickets because they know that we, the children, are big David Sedaris fans. This summer Brother 3 and I were talking about his books and Brother 3 pretty much said the same thing that you said---he appreciates Sedaris's way of presenting his homosexuality. He doesn't focus on his sexual orientation. He doesn't rely on his sexual orientation to generate all his humor. Instead, it is a simple fact of life and he treats it as such. One of my favorite essays is called "The End of an Affair" or something. I think it's in Dress Your Family in Cuorduroy and Denim which I lent to a friend who skipped town this morning. It talks simply about his relationship with Hugh, and he never has to say, "my gay relationship" or "Hugh, my partner." You just know from reading it.

Similarly, if you see The Family Stone, I love the way that homosexuality is treated in that movie. Again, there's no need for anyone in the movie to say outright, "This is my brother and his gay husband. They're gay." Their relationship doesn't need introduction or classification. They just are.

And I also agree with TB's comment about Mormon writers. I love writing personal essays, and I never write them to a Mormon audience. So it's good for me to keep in mind that I don't have to overtly say, "I'm Mormon! I'm Mormon!" in everything I write, even if it deals a little with my religion.

So those are my thoughts.

But I have more. On the dreams about people who are not your spouse: I agree with Anonymous who says that no matter your sexual orientation, you shouldn't be talking about who you're dreaming about if it would cause disrespect to your spouse.

On the other hand, if you dream like me, then you could talk about it without disrespect. I dream about kissing or making out with (or sometimes even having sex with) people who I would never have these relations with in real life. I've dreamed about kissing women. I've dreamed about kissing men. Usually, the result is that I wake up laughing about it and I tell everyone, because whatever was happening in my dream was absurd. If I were married, I could see myself waking up and saying to my husband, "Ugh. I had a dream last night that I was kissing Brad Pitt. I hate Brad Pitt! And by the by, you are a much better kisser." (Inevitably, any action I get in my dreams is unfulfilling and gross.) I could wake up in the morning and say, "Ack! Oh the insanity! I had a dream last night that I kissed my Relief Society President!" And then both of us can laugh about it and nudge each other in Church when we see her walk by. I guess the fact is that for me, physical relationships that I have in dreams never reflect reality, and therefore I think they're harmless, funny, and shareable.