Thursday, October 25, 2007

Does This Ring Make Me Look Straight?

Thanks to Tito over at Northern Lights for pointing out this fascinating article on MSN. It's about people who identify as gay or lesbian but have found themselves falling in love and in relationships with people of the opposite sex. While that is not exactly my situation--I was in the straight relationship before I completely accepted a gay identity--I relate to most of what the people in the article say.

For example:
[Says] Tricia Johnson, 31, from Philadelphia, "When I first went out publicly with my current boyfriend, I wanted to stand up and say, ‘This isn’t what it looks like! I’m not really straight!’ In my heart, I was starting to wonder who and what I actually was. I felt totally out at sea.”
Particularly after making a bigger deal of coming out than I was comfortable with while FoxyJ and I were separated, I find myself feeling very self-conscious of the wedding band on my finger lately. What will my friends think? Will they assume I've joined the ex-gay camp? Will they think I've become (or gone back to being) a repressed closet freak? Or will they think I just pretended to be gay in some insane attempt to get attention?
“I felt like a traitor,” says Daniel Wright, 32, from Los Angeles. “I thought, ‘I am going to lose my friends, and I’m going to lose my community.’ It was like coming out all over again.” And it may indeed be hard for your gay friends to accept your new relationship. Dr. Schecter says, “In general, the gay and lesbian community is a minority community. It fights hard to be treated equally. There is strength in numbers, and any potential loss of a member of the community is threatening.” There might also be a perception that a person who enters a heterosexual relationship has taken the “easy way out.”
When Foxy and I got back together, I was especially nervous about telling my gay friends. Despite my fears, though, I'm happy to say that every one of them responded with love and encouragement. My friends, regardless of their orientation or political values, are happy so long as I'm happy. Perhaps I'd do well to follow their example in the way I perceive myself.
Telling family members about your new relationship can have complications of its own, particularly if they were not accepting of your gay identity. Samantha Lewis, 37, from Providence, RI, says, “The religious members of my family were ecstatic. They never fully accepted me for who I was. It was just another slap in the face.”
I felt this too after announcing Foxy's and my reunification. I was wary of overly-zealous expressions of congratulations because, happy as I was to be back with my wife, I read the well-meaning felicitations of my more conservative family and friends as signs that they had been waiting on the edges of their seats for me to come to the light and realize I'd never be happy as a gay man. This turned what should have felt like feelings of victory into feelings of defeat. I can't honestly blame the family or friends who were sincerely happy for me, though--it's me who chooses to interpret everything as judgment, who sets up a false binary wherein one of us is the victor and the other defeated.
As a gay person in a relationship with someone of the opposite sex, you might struggle to find an appropriate label. Does this mean that you’re straight or bisexual? Can you be dismissed as a “hasbian” or “yestergay”? In the end, your identity is something that only you can define. Dr. Schecter says, “There are people who retain lesbian identity while in a committed relationship with a man. Others do not. Identity is shaped by individual meaning.” Your current situation also does not invalidate your past relationships or mean that you are or were “going through a phase.” Tricia Johnson says, “I struggled for so long with what to call myself. Eventually I thought why do I have to have a label? My experience is more complex than a single word.”
Labels? Me? Never. Say what you want to about the inadequacy of labels, but it's a natural human tendency to name things and to group together things that have shared qualities. It also happens to be a natural human tendency upon which my chosen career is based. What do you do, then, when there is no name, when all the available names seem to describe things that share some of your qualities, but not all of them? Either you reject the human tendency to label as futile and destructive, or you make a new label. I've opted for the latter approach. While transorientation may never catch on outside the realm of this blog, I maintain that it's a healthy step in my process of navigating largely uncharted territory, and I suspect that some of my fellow travelers described in this MSN article would benefit from a similar addition to their ideological lexicon.

At any rate, it's good, as always, to be reminded that FoxyJ and I are not alone in this.

7 comments:

Janci said...

This is a very interesting discussion.

This is a much less dramatic issue, but I remember when I made the decision to attend UC Santa Cruz after I graduated from college. Several of the local church members decided I was making a horrible decision when I decided not to go to BYU. I thought they were crazy. I liked Santa Cruz.

I decided to transfer to BYU the next year because it felt like the right thing to do. The decision was poisoned by all the people around me who were so glad I was "coming to my senses."

People make me so mad sometimes.

I say, call yourself what you want. Be who you are. Or figure out who you want to be and be that person. Or have no idea who you are or who you want to be but do the best you can anyway.

I'm going to stop now before I hurt myself.

Janci said...

Oh, and that was after I graduated from high school, not college. I wish I could edit my comment without deleting it entirely. Grr.

Samantha said...

I chose to call myself "Samantha". Sometimes I, and others, forget that is not a complete picture of who I really am. That really has nothing to do with your post, but I like to leave comments.

Chris said...

Ben,

I haven't commented much since you and FoxyJ got back together mostly because I just haven't known what to say. Honestly, there was a part of me that was a little sad -- sad because I felt some solidarity with you that seemed somehow weakened.

Which is absurd, of course. Our mutual support and friendship is not conditioned on how we chose to couple. When I get passed that relatively shallow sense of loss, I find that more than anything I want you and your family to be happy, however you chose to arrange your lives and make your commitments. Your honesty and openness about your life journey continue to be a source of inspiration to me.

Mr. Fob said...

Thanks, Chris. I appreciate it.

Thanks also to Janci and Sam for your comments.

Th. said...

.

I still love you both, and while I won't lie and say it wasn't easier for me to support you with her than away, the love-thing would not have changed no matter what.

Rebecca said...

Love is weird, and something about many splendors...