During the 10-plus years I spent in the homosexual lifestyle, twice I became the “other man” in the midst of a so-called gay marriage. At the time, since same-sex marriage was not recognized in the United States, both couples were “married” in private ceremonies by an obliging minister; one of the couples was in their late 40s and the other in their 50s. For the most part, both had arrived in San Francisco from other parts of the country during the initial flurry of the gay-rights movement in the 1970s. In those days, from what they all told me, each took a very active part in the hedonism and promiscuity that eventually gave birth to the AIDS epidemic; in fact, one of the men lost his former lover to the disease, and then later married his current husband. Personal histories were twisted and associations always rather complicated. Sometimes they would “play” together, sometimes separately. Occasionally, jealousy would enter the scene.
More often, a pervasive air of depression and anxiety encompassed everything and everyone. Strangely, in these relationships, typically, with the participants living inside the beautifully restored Victorians surrounding the Castro, I internally hoped for a few moments of peaceful domesticity; surprisingly – I found them as dysfunctional as the rest of us who were younger and still partying in the discos, bathhouses, and sex clubs. Gay marriage hadn’t changed anyone – it merely gave a little solace to the oversexed and the weary.
Generally, as is the case, more so after the sexual revolution, gay men enter the lifestyle while in their late teens or early 20s. At that age, there are plenty of opportunities to express oneself and to experiment. This newfound power can be heady at first; for instance, you were once the kid who no one wanted on their team, or the boy with the overly critical and unloving father, or the scared child that someone betrayed and abused. Suddenly, you are with people who have largely gone through the same thing, though almost never admitting it. Instead, everyone plays out the trauma of their youth in a bizarre ceremony of reenactment as a form of healing.
Now, you can dance into the throng, feel their warm bodies next to you, and imagine that you are finally part of the group. Older men, who want you to call them daddy, ask you out, and that moment of shame and embarrassment from your childhood doesn’t seem strange or horrifying anymore, because you can live it over again and draw pleasure from it under what you think are your own terms. In my 20s, this scenario played out over and over again. Yet things always got riskier, but I believed it was worth taking a chance in order to find love – only, while I watched as more and more of my friends died, from AIDS, drugs, and suicide, many of those around me – guys entering their 40s and 50s – began to check-out of the scene. Like me, the dangerous recklessness of being young and gay began to lose some of its allure, but perhaps a new kind of happiness awaited in a mature form of homosexual monogamy.
On the periphery of the all-male gay milieu, in the pre-gay-marriage age of the 1990s, were small enclaves of middle-aged men who had lived through the perversity of their youth and survived to become a little more deliberate, but also increasingly alienated from the rampant sexuality at the core of gay being. Part of this self-imposed exile was a direct result of the gay obsession with youth and a muscular sort of vitality. Some pushed against this – and remade themselves, through the use of hormone treatments and endless workouts, into hyper-masculine daddies, with a few former twinks making porn comebacks as older tops. Many stayed away, choosing to couple up with men in their own age and social groups.
AIDS had claimed many friends and lovers and this brought about a fear that channeled into a sort of forced stab at monogamy, but there was a constant pervasive unease that soured everything.
At different stages in my life as a gay man, I was the interloper in a gay relationship (marriage). For the most part, I was brought in acrimoniously to “play” with one or both because the initial fervor and fear that brought about the relationship was steadily sliding into conjugal apathy and sexual boredom. I was the other man. In the first instance, parameters and psycho-sexual borders were clearly defined from the beginning; although I was being accepted as an erotic participant in the relationship, neither men would become emotionally involved with me. At that time, being as young as I was, that was enough for me: just being around two seemingly well-adjusted gay men, who were apparently unscathed after outlasting the extreme hedonism of the now mythic 1970s, offered a respite from the constant one-night-stands and meaningless, but exciting, encounters in the bathhouses. Perhaps it also represented something that was then indefinable – that through all the endless sex, I was looking for just one person to love. Only, this corrupted version of marital fidelity was all I encountered; and, for a moment, it seemed real.
The second time was when I was much older, quickly getting burned-out, and nearing the age where I could no longer physically or mentally keep up with the rapid-fire pace of modern homosexuality. While in my mid-20s, I was initially shocked to find myself being passed over in favor of younger guys, by the same men who used to appreciate me. It seemed not that long ago when I had been the young and impressionable one seeking out the more worldly and experienced. It made me feel prematurely old, next to the fresh crop of new recruits, but it also brought about a numbing sense of failure: the happiness I did not find as a nubile apprentice, under the tutelage of the gay elders, I would now have to uncover on my own. I couldn’t do it, so I turned to even older men. This next couple, then in their 50s, was a pair of former libertines. Like everyone else who had successfully missed the indiscriminate cutting sickle of AIDS, they found some security in becoming serious roommates with benefits. When I met them their sex life was safe but routine. I was brought in to change all of that.
Although I observed a genuine affection between them, it was akin to the instant comradery which indelibly links all horror survivors. For, this was the characteristic that I witnessed in every same-sex couple: a bond of suffering enkindled by their shared memories of a childhood gone wrong – failed parents, tales of bullied boys, and lonely nights spent crying out for love – a marriage forged through the experience of coming out, finding an introductory pride and hope in the gay lifestyle and then seeing it dashed by the reality of collective gay self-centeredness and its propensity toward meaningless sex. They flee it, and, by doing so, reveal its inherent dysfunction. But that instability is only miniaturized and refined when it’s focused inside a relationship. Things quickly become either sputtering or combustible. Because the complementarity between the opposite poles of male and female is nonexistent, the clash of testosterone agitates and antagonizes. The seemingly blissful harmony wanes, and the initial heat between the partners fizzle; they become codependent, but hungry for a sense of completeness that never materialized out of their bonding. Like the larger gay male world – it becomes sick; sex is the common denominator, as its fascist rule over those who accept and submit to its dominance are powerless against the prickly need to douse the unquenchable fire of a love unrealized – a perfect man yet unfound.
As the other man, I instinctively sensed this unease – a disquieting armistice that always seethed with sexual frustration. For it was a brotherhood born of anxiety and apprehension; a realization that the gay world continually spins out of control, incessantly chopping up every batch of newcomers. Therefore, the recent obsession with gay marriage is not a step toward a version of heterosexual monogamy transplanted into the heads of gay men, but a withdrawal toward safety and an unconscious awareness that so far nothing (decriminalization, sexual liberation, and acceptance) has worked. I saw this in both the couples from my past, as there was also a palpable pride that gloried in their ability to seemingly overcome the gay sex-crazed stereotype – becoming more politically based as the 1990s wore on. But it masked the truth of the situation: that these pacts were formed as a desperate response to the reality of gay depravity and the forcible expulsion of certain homosexual men deemed too old or no longer desirable, the tendency for these men to huddle into protective circles, the transitory nature of the strained monogamy in these relationships and the rapid reencroachment of the gay sexual mindset, the opening up of gay couplings, and the steadfast bluster about gay men who have “been together for years” despite their mutual history of continued sexual adventurism. In the end, it’s all make-believe – a last-ditch effort to save a way of life that is intrinsically unstable.