Wednesday, November 10, 2010

An interesting...myth buster (long-ass post)

This article was published in Time magazine and managed to annoy me to a fairly large degree. It's by a gay man writing about how and why his relationship ended, and blaming the fact that he is gay, and the structure of gay relationships, as opposed to him taking any responsiblity for how or why his coupledom was removed.

The basic conclusion here is that there are a different set of rules for a relationship in which there are two men, as opposed to a man and a woman. He makes the point that without defined (possibly gender) roles, there is no future possible. Let's take a run through the article with some quotes and I'll show you why he's talking out of his rear end.

I went home with Michael the night we met, and figuratively speaking, I didn't leave again for those 7 1⁄2 years.

It's very important to include this statement to reinforce the fact that gays are all about sex and just bone all the time without giving credence to anything emotional. You know, like how black people steal and Afrikaners are all racists.It's an opening to immediately differentiate the writer from what the reader may be used to.

Things drifted for a while. There was some icky couples counseling ("Try a blindfold") and therapeutic spending on vacations, clothes, furniture. We were lost. The night Michael wouldn't stay up to watch The Office finale with me, I knew I had to move out. Yes, he was tired, but if he couldn't give me the length of a sitcom--Jim and Pam are going to kiss!--then we were really done.

The point is reinforced: you know that gays only care about interior decoration, fashion and showbusiness. Don't you? Same way Americans only care about war and French people stink of garlic. One again, it is the writer forcing upon the reader that he is GAY GAY GAY.

He then has a whole speel about how his life is better because he is now single and the sex is better (ja because that's not a vengeful thing to do, is it?), he went back to gym. Oh, and his evenings contained "moderate drug use" because in case you forgot, he is gay, and a nice cliched gay myth hasn't been in this paragraph yet. Ok, we've finally ascertained that this man is NOT straight and now the article can go on.

Finally I started reading the academic research on relationships, which is abundant and, surprisingly, often rigorous. I wondered whether Michael and I could have done more to save our union. What impact had our homosexuality had on the longevity, arc and dissolution of our relationship? Had we given up on each other because we were men or because we were gay? Or neither? Friends offered clich├ęs: Some people just aren't meant for each other. But our straight friends usually stayed married. Why not us?

Yeh that's it. Some straight people that he knows stayed together but him and his boyfriend broke up. Conclusive evidence in my book. This is also where he begins to ask whether he was personally responsible, or whether it was his gay handicap that prevented him from being together with someone else. Where did he start researching?
Dr. David Reuben's Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Sex. A good modern insight into contemporary sexuality as it was published 41 years ago. Yep, the writer consulted a book published in 1969. You know, back when homosexuality was thought of as a disease. Summed up, this twat's conclusion is that gays cannot have a proper relationship because they are always on the lookout for the next penis. This was in the era where STDs hadn't been discovered yet so excuse my scepticism when it comes to sexual expertise during the hippie era. All of a sardine, after quoting the book,the writer says:

I know now that the book was blithe and stupid, but I think many people, gay and straight, assume gay men are worse at maintaining relationships than straight people are. I needed experts, answers. I was also curious if I should be so upset about my breakup. As a society, we treat single people over 30 with condescension or pity, but maybe the problem was that I had hurtled into a serious relationship too young. I know that in my 20s I had wanted to impress my family and my heterosexual friends with my stability. Maybe I should have waited.

This is where he offers a real morsel of how he's starting to think it's a gay thing: his fwiendy-wiendies didn't think gays could be stable and THAT'S what drove him into a relationship too early. Peer pressure, can't you see? Not love or attraction or chemistry or anything that could apply to heterosexuals too (because they never ever rush into relationships in their 20s which they regret later on). Everyone who gets into relationships too early thinks "maybe I should have waited" but in his case it was because he was gay, not just a person who did something they regret... like everyone else.

Research on gay relationships is young. The first study to observe how gays and lesbians interact with their partners during conversations (monitoring facial expressions, vocal tones, emotional displays and physical reactions like changes in heart rate) wasn't published until 2003, even though such studies have long been a staple of hetero-couple research.

He then goes on to quote that very first study. Not anything that extended from it, but the very first one ever which compared 40 straight couples and 40 gay couples, the conclusion of which said that gays were bad at repairing things that went wrong in relationships and this is where homosexual relationship counsellors should focus.

The therapist Michael and I hired did not encourage us to repair. She didn't have to. Our relationship had become so etiolated and dull that we didn't even have proper fights. We carried an aura of passivity, and the therapist wanted to see passion.

He goes on to say that gay people get off on emotions and tension and straight people don't. So the problem was that this therapist treated them like straight people not that the relationship was already doomed by then. Or dull. Or just a normal relationsip that ended because the twosome grew apart.

For gays, it is apathy that murders relationships, not tension. Straight people more often prefer a lento placidity.

No margins are given here as results of this small study. How many of the 80 couples exhibited this? Was it 22 vs 23? 12 vs 36?

It just sounds like such a generalised statement lifted off a study I don't feel is big enough. Surely all relationships have their own ebb and flow?

Now we get into complete and utter bullshit:
No one is sure why gay men are worse at making up after fights, but I have a theory: it's less important for their sex lives. Probably because they don't have women to restrain their evolutionarily male sexual appetites, gay men are more likely than straight and lesbian couples to agree to nonmonogamy, which decreases the stakes for not repairing.

So, gays fight differently to straight people because to feel better they can just run out of the door and bang someone else. The assumption here that gay men do not give a flying toss about how their partner feels? The assumption that the relationship doesn't matter because we won't run out of people to shag? And on that note, straight people never go looking for others to bone? To say that gay men put so much emphasis on getting a leg over with no regard for emotions and feelings is condescending, incorrect, and a somewhat bitter statement.

Finally, I think gay and lesbian couples may prefer more heart-racing during conflict because of what happens to gays and lesbians as kids. Although the world is changing--more than 3,700 schools now have student clubs that welcome gays--many gay kids still grow up believing that what they want is disgusting. They repress for years, and when they finally do have relationships, they need them to carry sufficient drama into those emotional spaces that were empty for so long. Gays need their relationships to scorch.

By virtue of being gay in a straight world, it is possible that tension could result in later feelings toward and away from certain aspects of life, like relationships. I find it difficult to believe that this transcends the sexual preference barrier though. Surely kids (and adults, I suppose) who grow up under any kind of uncomfortable circmstance could have this kind of influence affect them? I find it difficult to believe that gay men may react differently in later life if they faced serious prejudice and consternation when they were younger. The same way a child with an abusive father may act differently to someone who didn't have that kind of characteristic in his or her life. I hardly believe this is exclusive to homosexuals as a group and is far more applicable on a specific personal basis.

Penutimate paragraph: Today Michael and I are friends. On Christmas Eve, we gathered a group, and I made an enthusiastic attempt at the traditional Italian seven-fishes feast. I'm in better shape now than I was in high school, which fits with psychologist Bella DePaulo's finding (in her fascinating 2006 book on single life, Singled Out) that the period around divorce is associated with improvements in health. Divorced men are also, not surprisingly, happier than men stuck in bad marriages.

Once again, not one thing he mentions here applies exclusively to gays. Once again, I think that the writer and Michael broke up becaue of normal relationship reasons and not because they were gay. The reactions to the break up from the writer are certainly bog-standard for people in general.

And yet if ours had been a straight marriage, I have little doubt we would still be together. We had financial security and supportive families. We almost certainly would have had children. This isn't regret--fighting my homosexuality would be like shouting against the rain. But while the researchers are certainly right that straight couples have something to learn from gay couples, I think the inverse is true as well.

Financial security and supportive families does not a happy marriage make. There are so many aspects to marriage and coupledom - finances and family being two of them - and they don't all have to go wrong for problems to develop. Loads of couples with fiscal security and familes that love them dearly break up. And it's not the pure fact of being gay that drove them to do it. There are a host of reasons that it could have been, and to tie it up in homosexuality is insulting, condescending, and, dare I say it, bitter.

But it's much easier to blame it on something like that, hey?


Fran said...

I remember reading the issue this was in and when I read it I thought it was a rather heterocentric view of relationships. I was surprised TIME published it because it seemed more like something that belonged in Cosmo.

I think by now people (especially TIME journalists) are supposed to know that you shouldn't generalise like that.

Simon said...

Heya Frannie,
Indeedly. The article almost says something about TIME, doesn't it? I was surprised to see it there too.

dorothy said...

oh my god this made me so mad - will post on my blog and link through - lovely piece si - well done.

Simon said...


Thanks so much hey! Much appreciated. And shot for your comments.