We Got It All Wrong about Gay Relationships

Couple in loveYou know the stereotypes—gay men aren’t interested in long-term, committed relationships. Or they can’t sustain them. It’s all about sex, the quickies, the one-night stands. Funny thing, though: ever since same-sex marriage became a civil rights issue, so many gay couples who have been together for decades have come forward. Another stereotype bites the dust! (Or should, anyway.) It seems that we’ve been looking at it the wrong way around.

Stereotypes are used to oppress. They are often a reaction to fear. Even the rare complimentary ones—“Those people are very smart!”—are offensive because, just like the negative ones, they make assumptions about large groups of individuals. Both positive and negative stereotypes create expectations and attitudes that affect people’s behavior toward the group in question. In the case of gay people, stereotypes about their relationships belittle their humanity and their morals (and thereby justify hate and deprivation of their basic rights). But in reality, it may be a “chicken or the egg” situation of sorts. That is, did the relationship styles create the stereotype or did the social condemnation cause the relationship style?

If one is not allowed to engage in gay relationships because of societal and legal prohibitions, what other recourse is there but to keep them hidden? And if they are hidden from public view, how can anyone know they exist? How easy it is then to proclaim that they do not exist! Then there are the great numbers of gay men who had to enter into an “acceptable” relationship—marriage to a woman—in order to maintain the illusion of heterosexuality. Society created a situation where this was barely a choice; anyone believed to be gay would have been subject to loss of employment, banishment from religious institutions, ostracization from family and friends, and violence. Sadly, in many places this is still true. The only chance these people had to express their true sexuality was in brief, clandestine encounters. We must ask: if gay had always been an accepted human variation, would those stereotypes have had the chance to form?

The flip side of this is that when you are gay and grow up hearing lies about your relationships all the time, you may start to buy into them at a subconscious level. It is therefore important for young gay people to really think about whom they are as individuals and what they want for themselves. Because for the first time, there are options. Gay is “out.” Gay people from all walks of life are speaking out about their sexual identity. There are new laws being passed, and acceptance is growing. In fact, for more and more of the public, gay is a nonissue. It is mainstream. But where there are options, one has to think about the choices.

Choice is freedom and that’s a great thing. But with choice comes the need for self-examination and responsibility. You can’t just be along for the ride. YOU are in the driver’s seat now. What do you want for yourself? Do you enjoy the single life? Is marriage what you’ve always dreamed of? Is it something you want, just not right now? How about parenthood? Do you understand that dating is a process of learning about one another? Do you know what you want out of a relationship and how to have a healthy one? These are all things you need to ask yourself, but may not have been able to realistically consider until recently.

In the past, other people labeled the relationships of the gay community based on prejudices and discrimination. The gay rights movement has, and continues to, open up doors so that each individual can decide what is meaningful and chart the course of his or her own life.

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  • Cole

    September 19th, 2014 at 10:06 AM

    You are right in that as a gay male I too grew up with all of the stereotypes about what gaymenwantedoutoft non of that really jibed with what I always wanted out of a relationship. Thankfully my parents had a great marriage for me to look to and that was what I wanted to emulate even though I knew that mine would be male/male instead of heterosexual. They were so open and understanding to who I really am that I never felt that kind of oppression and judgement from within my own family, and to battle society as a whole seems pointless. I try to live in a way that makes me happy and if no one esle likes the choices that I am making then those are poeple that I really don’t want or need in my life anyway.

  • Jane

    September 20th, 2014 at 11:56 AM

    This may not be what I choose for me, but at the same time, this is not really something that I think that homosexuals choose. I think that either you are or you aren’t, same as hetersexuals, and if that is the case then why all the judgement? They don’t judge me I suppose so what gives me the right to place how I feel about other people onto them?

  • Elaine S.

    September 22nd, 2014 at 3:48 AM

    I have so many friends who are gay, and when I look at their relationships versus many of the ones that I have been in myself I always think that they are the ones who have ot RIGHT instead of that they have it wrong.

    Don’t get me wrong, I am now in a loving relationship that is good for me, but look, we are all the same in that sometimes we have to take this path of picking the absolute worng people before we find the right one.

    I am sure that this is true in any relationship out there, gay or straight, and we should all be supportive of one another and hopeful that we can all find someone that we love, instead of going around and telling others why their relationship doe snot meet our code of conduct or whatever.

  • edna

    September 22nd, 2014 at 1:25 PM

    I am pretty sure that our own stereotypes and perceptions often get in the way of seeing what strong and magnificent relationships that many gays and lesbians can have. It is not different from what I have with my own husband, it just happens to be bewteen two men or two women. I happen to think that it is really none of my business,a dn if they are providing a nurturing relationship for one another and a supportive family for their kids, then really, who cares? If this is what I choose to worry about then it is clear to me (but obviously not to everyone) that I have my priorities sort of mixed up.

  • confused

    September 22nd, 2014 at 3:15 PM

    I don’t know how to come out to my family because i am so scared of what they will think about me and how they might cut me out of their lives if they know the truth about my relationship with my boyfriend. I don’t want to feel ashamed of what I feel for him because I love him and I think that the two of us could have real lasting potential but I also know how my family feels about people who are gay, and it’s not pretty. I am not sure that just because it is me that this would do anything to change their minds and I love them and don’t want to lose them. But I know that I am denying a big part of who I am by hiding this from them and that feels like such a lie that I am living right now. It kind of feels like it is now or never but I am so scared that I don’t know how to even form the words to tell them.

  • RJ

    September 23rd, 2014 at 11:14 AM

    uhuh I ain’t about hiding who I am to make someone else feel comfy. This is about me and the things that make me happy, and nothing ever got accomplished without a fight especially when we are talking about changing major minds here, so I guess I’m not going down without a fight.

  • Arnie

    September 25th, 2014 at 2:23 PM

    It is difficult being young and hearing all of these things that are said and you feel like they are not always true but then you still tend to internalize them and that then affects how you think about yourself in the future.

    It is easy to talk about discarding all of the negativity but sometimes all of the positve talk in the world won’t and can’t undo the years that you have spent hearing other things. You have to make a conscious effort to change your entire system of beliefs and that is a big job for just about anyone.

  • Susan J. Leviton, MA, LMFT

    September 25th, 2014 at 6:23 PM

    Regardless of whether it is true or not, what we grow up with is what we believe–at first. The teenage years, in which we struggle to find our own identity separate from our parents, is a time of listening to many “truths” and choosing which feels right to us. Of course, that implies that one has the opportunity to hear various opinions. When it comes to being gay, the views one heard, up until recently, were always negative and many still are.

    Yes, it is very difficult to cleanse oneself of this negativity, but it doesn’t have to be done alone. This is where therapy can be of great help. A good therapist will give you support, help you sort out your thoughts and feelings, and help you plan strategies for talking to family. For those who are struggling financially, there are many low-fee options. Remember, there is no prize for doing it all on your own.

  • rafe

    September 26th, 2014 at 2:07 PM

    I do hope that there are those (and I know that there are) who are one day able to be free of the meanness and hatred that they have grown up with and can discover love and compassion from all new people in their lievs who want nothing but the best for them. I know that it is hard to totally relearn what you think and even the values that you may have, but I think that a big part of this will be with finding the perfect person with whom you can spend the rest of your life. You shouldn’t have to worry about what other people think of the relationship, because they should not get to have a voice and have a say in who you love and want to be with.

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