Monday, August 24, 2009

"They Don't Like The Confusion"

Hey everyone! It has been an incredibly long time, hasn't it? It feels that way, at least. I've been very busy with lots of RA training (yes, they do put us through way more than I think is necessary), moving the little Freshmen in (can you believe that I was one of those three years ago?), and getting back to class. I have a lot of tough courses this year but I'm going to try to blog at the beginning of each week if I can. I have a lot on my mind these days.

I recently came across this interview with Stephen Daldry, acclaimed director of such films as The Hours and The Reader. Daldry has an interesting life story and perspective (frankly, any moderately creative person does, which is why I'm a fan of reading biographies). Although previously in relationships with men, he has been married to a woman -- his best friend and fellow artist Lucy Sexton -- for the past eight years, and also has children with her. The interviewer asked about this situation and this following exchange occurred:

How long have you and Lucy been married? I ask.

"About eight years," he says.

Because you decided you wanted kids?

"Yeah," he says, and pauses only slightly before adding, "Well, you know, I mean: I'm gay."

There is no hedging with Daldry. He recently explained that yes, he does have sex with his wife, but if anyone asks, he always says he's gay because it's easier and people prefer it. "They don't like the confusion," he shrugs.

How does his wife feel about being married to a gay man? I ask.

"You'd have to ask her," he says. "But do you know what I honestly think? I think one of the great things about our marriage is, we're never going to get a divorce, and we don't have to worry about infidelity. To marry your best friend is one of the great gifts of life, and to have kids with your best friend is fantastic."

I found that to be a very unique and refreshing take on sexual identity and practice. There were some parallels, I found, with the stories of ex-gay individuals. Granted, the context is entirely different. As far as I know, Daldry never sought chastity to conform to a religious faith and sexual ethic, nor is he setting up his heterosexual marriage as an ideal that all people should shoot for -- as many ex-gays tend to do towards gay Christians (celibate or active). At the same time who -- after many years -- eventually fell in love and married a woman.

Of course, many people would just call Daldry bisexual, even though he labels himself as "gay." Just as many people would call me "gay" even though I have no intention to ever have sex with a man (and, to be fair, I really have no problem with the term "gay" being used to describe me). I've found that there is often quite a distinction between how sexuality is clinically defined and how it is defined by individuals. Yes, I think there are true homosexuals and true heterosexuals -- people who are attracted to the same sex and the opposite sex, respectively. I also believe there are true bisexuals -- people who are attracted to both sexes. But I've found that when one adds the factors of behavior and identity, then things become very complex. A person like Daldry might clinically be considered bisexual, but leads a heterosexual lifestyle, and identifies as gay.

The question, then, is are we okay with this? I'll admit I'm often very particular about labels. If I had my way, everyone would use the literal, clinical labels to describe their sexuality, and if they had any quirks (like celibacy) they could it explain it on their own afterward. I certainly think that those labels are something that shouldn't be shied away from. Identify as heterosexual or ex-gay all you want for religious reasons, but let's say you were going to take part in a clinical study that mapped the brainwaves of gay, straight, and bisexual men. I would expect you to describe yourself by the actual literal form of your attractions, not just what you think they should be. Otherwise, you'd mess up the study. That's just how I roll, at least. However, some people simply would protest to my insistence, and Stephen Daldry shows that they aren't just "confused ex-gays."

In fact, it's becoming more and more acceptable, it seems, to identify has something other than your clinical attractions. Even among my most liberal professors, some of whom are gay and lesbian themselves, LGBT students are referred to as "those who identify as _____." This implies that actual attractions or behaviors are less important than identity, and an individual's self-identification is most important. And some, like writer Camille Paglia, hate to identify at all. But this sort of postmodern approach to identity or definition is likely to only be found among academics. Most people would look at Stephen Daldry and say he's a bisexual who is currently married to a woman, while they would look at me and call me a celibate gay man.

Perhaps it is mainly the clinical bisexuals who get to play around with identity so much. Most heterosexuals wouldn't think of calling themselves anything else, nor would most homosexuals (unless they felt their faith required them to pick a new word regardless of whether or not their attractions changed one iota). This can make things rather confusing when it comes to expectations of change in the ex-gay world. If a person like Daldry can fall in love with a woman later in life simply due to sexual fluidity (and with no religious motivation), then is it really proper for married ex-gays who have experienced orientation change to credit God? Could it be possible that they were simply clinical bisexuals (whether they called themselves that or not)? This isn't meant to doubt the experiences of those who have experienced sexual fluidity at all. At the same time, it would stand to reason that it would be slightly irritating if a guy was preaching the benefits of orientation change to a 6 on the Kinsey Scale when the real cause of his "change" was bisexuality, not something that reveals anything about his spiritual state.

I'm sure this post rambled a bit, but I suppose that's what happens when one thinks about the complexities of human sexuality.

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