What men do…
I was on my third date with Glenn when I made some comment about something in the news being particularly disturbing for gay guys like us.
“Hey, man, I’m not gay,” Glenn said, with a grin and a chuckle.
I was dumbstruck for a moment. This was our third date, and me being (at the time) a very recently out guy, and it being the nineties, we had had sex with each other more than once by this point. His night job was bouncer at a gay bar, where he was a well-known flirt. (That wasn’t where we met, btw; he had seen me sitting in a coffee shop reading a book, and had chatted me up in part because he didn’t recognize me as a regular from the bar and he had a thing for “brainy shy guys.”)
Then I realized what he must have meant, and I said something like, “Oh, sorry! I didn’t realize you were bi. Sorry for jumping to conclusions.”
All signs of a sense of humor left his face. “I’m not bi, either,” he growled. “I’m straight.”
I apologized, and then asked him to explain, since we had had sex several times, and there isn’t any part of my hairy body that anyone in their right mind would describe as feminine. I did not add that he had a rather large number of stereotypical gay mannerisms and speech patterns, so no stranger who met him would have described him as straight-acting.
He explained. There was one certain sex act he didn’t do, because only gay guys did that. He did all sorts of things with men, including a few acts whose crude names are common insults thrown at non-gender-conforming men. But this one thing he did not do. So even though he had sex with men, specifically had sex with gay men, he wasn’t gay.
That was another part of his self-definition: he didn’t have sex with men that fit his description of “straight,” he only had sex with men who met his definition of gay. Not obviously effeminate men (in fact, having met a couple of exs, and being friends with a guy who he dated after me, I know he had a particular thing for hairy chested guys with beards), but men who did the thing he wouldn’t do.
I tried to circle back to the bisexual topic, and he dismissed that because he didn’t like having sex with women. He had dated a few girls in high school, and had had sex with two of them on an on-going basis. But he hadn’t enjoyed it. He did it, he said, because it was expected. He tried, when things started getting serious, to convince them he was a good Christian boy who didn’t want to pressure them, because of course being good girls they wanted to wait. But they didn’t want to wait, and he was afraid they might start rumors that he was gay, so he had sex with them.
He knew he wouldn’t enjoy it—just as he hadn’t really enjoyed dating the girls—because he’d been having sex with other guys his age as early as junior high.
“So, you don’t like dating or having sex with women, the only people you’ve had sex with or dated since high school have been men—a lot of men—and the only people you enjoy having sex with are men,” I summed up, “But you’re not gay?”
“No, I’m not, obviously,” he replied, “I’m a man. I do what men do.”
“So what you’re saying is,” I replied slowly, “that I’m not a man?”
The conversation just went downhill from there. Need I mention that it was also our last date?
I was reminded of this conversation by the comments a couple weeks ago by a particularly slimy television preacher in which he told a woman whose husband was cheating that it was her fault. “Men wander,” he said, “that’s what men do.” And then he told her it was her job to make the home and herself so appealing that her husband would rather not wander.
“What men do” is used as an excuse for everything from denying husbands equal child custody in divorce proceedings to excusing infidelities, verbal bullying, and violence. Its inverse, “things men don’t do” is the rationalization for bullying boys and young men who fail to act manly enough, as well as bashing gays or suspected gays of all ages.
It’s crazy, and it’s wrong.
It’s not that men wander—people wander. You can quote studies that say men report more sexual partners than women, and that more men admit to infidelity on confidential surveys than women. But you’re ignoring more recent studies, where respondents were hooked up to what they were told were lie detectors, which show that there is almost no gap at all between the number of men and women who admit to cheating on a spouse or significant other. The numbers of partners reported are more equal, as well.
Monogamy isn’t natural, that’s just a fact. That doesn’t mean that people can’t strive for it and achieve it, it just means that it’s hard work. Perhaps if more people understood that, instead of believing the myth that if you really love someone you will never be tempted to wander, a lot of relationships would be healthier and happier.
Some extremely masculine men date, have sex with, and fall in love with men. Some not terribly masculine men date, have sex with, and fall in love with women.
One of the men with the most masculine personality I ever knew is someone I met when he was a woman, a few years before identifying as transgender and entering into transition.
A straight friend I’ve known for more than twenty years exhibits a lot of stereotypical conservative masculine personality traits—but he’s not afraid to sit with his five-year-old daughter and play with her dolls when she asks. And he’ll tell strangers when he takes said daughter to My Little Pony conferences that it’s for her, but that only explains the third day of last summer’s convention, not the two days before while he was there by himself.
What men do… is whatever a man does. If it would be wrong when someone other than a man does it, then it’s just as wrong when it’s a man doing it. And, if it is all right when a man does it, than there’s nothing wrong when anyone doing it.
Because we’re all people.