- I am not sure if this is an abridged version -
and I am not the author of this article - but I like a good deal of it - in that it seems to voice a lot of interesting inforomation and insight.
the Article: This article is about Gay relationships - in that sense it is
about the rites of passage -
in relationships and history.
feature - issue 287
The great modern enemy of friendship has turned out to be love. - Andrew Sullivan, Love Undetectable
We discovered we wanted different things,” says my friend, Canadian Leatherman 2004 Paul Ciantar, over lunch one day. He’s telling me about one of his exboyfriends. I listen to what is a common tale: “I still love him. I know he still loves me. He still buys me birthday presents. His partner of one-and-a-half years is a great guy, we get along fine. We’re adult enough that we realized that if we stuck it out for the house and stuff, we’d wind up hating each other and resenting one another, and we didn’t want that.”
I detect the pride in his voice that I often hear from exboyfriends who have “worked it out,” not by staying lovers, but by remaining friends, seeing it as a reflection of their ability to negotiate the rocky waters that separate a broken sexuo-romantic love relationship from a potentially great friendship.
For gay men, this is a critical rite of passage. Many of us inhabit an amorphous emotional world in which we continually encounter and have to socialize with exes, crushes, past tricks and a slew of guys who have hurt our feelings, or whose feelings we’ve hurt. Negotiating this terrain is no easy thing, and it is something that men with large gay social circles face as part of daily life.
A 1994 survey of 283 gays and lesbians found: “Fifty-seven percent of the men had been in love with their best friend in the past” and “48 percent were still at least somewhat in love with their best friend.” While romantic love is put on a pedestal, we fail to recognize that it is by navigating the turbulent waters of desire unreturned that many queer men arrive at the shores of emotional adulthood. They are greeted by friends with whom they might never have sex, or not anymore, or not within the context of the relationship they once envisioned.
Far more of us will experience this rite-without-ceremony (unless you count brunch) than will get married. For many of us, it’s also of far more use, as we wade through strange waters in which it’s unclear whether we may touch or not, if someone’s available or not, if we’re flirting or if we’re flirting, if we’re going to make love or fuck around or just hang out.
“We should say just a boyfriend, because the boyfriend doesn’t last as long as the friendship,” another friend tells me. When gay men say “just a friend,” they are trying to bring some clarity to the ambiguous nature of their relationships. But words affect thoughts, and this choice of language reinforces the programming that friendship is a lesser relationship than romantic love.
It wasn’t always so. Aristotle raved about friendships. Family and lovers were side notes in comparison. An entire bachelor culture thrived in urban environments in the late 19th and early 20th centuries as young unmarried men flocked to cities, away from their families, and found themselves largely partaking in the social company of other young men. According to George Chauncey’s Gay New York, “fairies” and “inverts” even had a place within this largely working-class subculture, not as men, not as women, but as a sort of intermediary sex, with much the same status and use as prostitutes (especially since the latter were often reluctant to perform fellatio, while fairies were not).
There were many factors that led to the demise of this scene, including, ironically, one that is widely credited for changing the face of modern gay culture forever. The mobilizations of World War II took millions of young people, including gays, away from their small towns and introduced them to city life, as well as to more sexually liberated attitudes in Europe, and put them in exclusively homosocial environments for the first time. The homo-oriented among them suddenly had access and exposure to others like themselves. When the war ended, many of them chose to remain in or relocate to major urban centres, living more openly and eschewing a double life.
But following the social and gender upheaval of the war, and the Depression that preceded it, there was a strong push to restore a form of hetero domestic tranquility. Deviants and subversives of all kinds were the enemy, including communists and “perverts.” Homos were targeted as sociopaths or psychopaths; even sporting unconventional clothing made one suspect. Non-sexual intimacies between men became stigmatized as a result of homo-paranoia.
“As long as friendship was something important, was socially accepted, nobody realized men had sex together,” writes Michel Foucault. “The disappearance of friendship as a social relation and the declaration of homosexuality as a social/political/medical problem are the same process.”
As homosexuality was pushed more and more into the public psyche, the more entrenched it became as a dangerous pathology, as the sign, along with communism, of inversion or perversion. Psychiatry began not only to probe men’s sexual activities, but to mark emotional attachments between individuals of the same sex as displaying an inclination towards homosexuality. Even signs of nonphysical intimacy became red flags of illness in need of treatment.
Perhaps, then, it is wholly appropriate that the upsurge in gay activism in the ’50s had unexpected (and now largely ignored) consequences that had little to do with sex or boyfriends, and everything to with the development of homo friendships. As queers gathered in the non-sexually charged arenas of people’s living rooms for the purpose of liberation, many were able to experience gay sociability, as opposed to park and tearoom hookups, for the first time.
“People were able to bloom and be themselves,” says a first-order member of the Mattachine Society in Making Trouble: Essays on Gay History, Politics, and the University by John D’Emilio. “It was something we didn’t know before. At last there was an opportunity to say what you wanted to say and feel accepted.”
By the 1970s, this social dimension had taken on a life own. Circles of friends became “families of choice” and sometimes men within the circle chose not to have sex with each other in order to avoid ruining the friendship. Martin Levine’s late-’70s research on gay clones describes the strength and central role of same-sex friendship cliques, which often took on responsibilities similar to those found in a nuclear family. The “mother” provided a shoulder to lean on and mediated social disputes within the group. Sometimes lacking lovers or best friends, the “mother” could take on the role of organizer for the clique. There were “big brothers” looking out for and indoctrinating the “twinkies” into dressing and talking the clone way. “Sisters” were good friends, and “best friends” acted like lovers, “except one did not have sex with them. The men were inseparable, and often described the feelings between them as love. Acquaintances treated them as a couple, and invited and seated them together at social events,” writes Levine in Gay Macho: The Life and Death of the Homosexual Clone. “The men did not have sex with each other but with tricks and dates. [These] friendships were remarkably stable. They typically lasted as long as the men remained romantically uninvolved.”
Boyfriendships could provoke bitter fights among best friends, even ending the friendship. “The emotional fallout accompanying these breakups was similar to that occurring when ‘lovers’ separated.” At the same time, the group accepted boyfriends only for the duration of the relationship.
While many of these dynamics remain part of North American queer culture, they persist in a diluted form. Several ’90s gay ad campaigns promoting, “Defend Our Family Values” were accompanied by pictures of couples with dogs or kids. Images of groups of friends were notably absent. Researcher Peter Nardi found that gay men generally did not refer to their friends using kin terminology, except sometimes the word “brother.” Nor did friends generally have the same expectations of each other that they might have of a lover or family member, such as putting them before work, or feeling comfortable asking them for help. The word “posse” has been adopted by some gay men, denoting a ganglike structure of young men joined in an adventure rather than a familial structure.
Maybe “just friends” has become a wholly appropriate and accurate expression. After all, with the legalization of same-sex marriage in Canada, some have said that gays have “arrived,” and that we are now equal. Unfortunately, this institution rests firmly atop a hierarchy of love that is based on inequality, one that puts marriage above all other relationships. I’m not about to organize a march or a parade for friendship: one of friendship’s strengths is that it doesn’t need hoopla or ceremonies or rings. But while gays in Canada can now fully participate in marriage – a straight rite of passage that is a symbol of adulthood (never mind the 40% divorce rate) – let’s not forget that this rite does not fully reflect the complexity of our lives. We must pause to recognize the more common queer rite of passage into emotional maturity, one that is deeply embedded in friendship, and romantic love lost.
These other intimacies are not to be sneered at. They can be tempestuous, heartbreaking, full of adventure and a balm to a wounded soul. They can tear into the scar tissue we’ve forgotten is there, or send us back into our armour. The tales of my friendships alone could fill novels. In this I am not unique.
I hope never to hear (or worse, to say) the phrase “just friends” ever again.
"...do not look outside yourself for the leader."
-wisdom of the hopi elders
"...the sign of a true leader is service..." - anonymous