A surprising study, a popular sex writer, and a daring hypothesis.
A recent study published in Psychosomatic Medicine suggests that gay men who are out of the closet have consistently lower stress levels, as measured by stress hormones in the body, than heterosexual men. This is one of those wonderful studies where scientists get to say “contrary to our expectations”, the phrase that often denotes the discovery of useful new information. It does, however, leave the scientists groping for an explanation for this interesting new data.
Veteran sex advice columnist Dan Savage has an explanation he believes fits the facts well:
So long as you’re into dudes and out about it, no one wonders if you might be secretly straight. A guy who comes out as queer is consequently free to do pretty much whatever and whoever he wants. He can be as butch or femme as he wants to be. Are you interested in stereotypically gay things like fashion, art, and musicals? Go for it, cocksucker. Are you interested in stereotypically straight things like football, baseball, and basketball? Go for it, cocksucker. You’re free.
Straight guys aren’t nearly as free—sexually speaking, I mean. Yes, yes: Straight guys run the world, the bastards, but when it comes to sexual identity, straight guys are pretty screwed. And this is because male straightness is defined by two negatives: To be a straight guy means (1) not being a girl and (2) not being a fag.
I don’t know any gay guys who worry that people don’t think they’re gay. But I get letters every day from straight guys who are not only worried that people might not think they’re straight, they themselves are worried that they’re not straight.
This is an interesting theory. It seems like a rather thin and performative notion to explain such a consistent finding, but it’s got a certain evocative quality. After all, one of the key differences between male heterosexuality and homosexuality is that the former is perceived as fragile.
The old joke that everyone laughs at and takes completely seriously: “You can fuck all the girls you want, but you suck one dick and you’re gay forever.” Everyone’s heard it, everyone knows it. And as Mr. Savage points out, it does not work in reverse. Once you’ve sucked that one dick, nothing else you do matters.
Think about what a blissfully liberating, stress-relieving phrase that is: nothing else you do matters. Imagine if you could apply that phrase to one aspect of your life or another. Work, family, money, love, sex, whatever causes you stress. Imagine if you knew, for a fact, that with regard to that issue, nothing you did from now on would matter any more. Would that reduce your blood cortisol levels to a statistically significant degree?
I’m not saying Mr. Savage’s theory is entirely correct. It’s an unsupported hypothesis that may ring emotionally true, but I’d like to see some more hard data before we start trying to rest weight on it. I think, though, that it’s a good place to start looking.
What do you think? Is Savage just looking for an explanation that suits his own worldview? Do you worry about the security of your sexuality? Do you think the original study might be flawed?