Is there really such a thing as “hetero-normative,” or does that exist solely in the minds of those conditioned to believe so? Where do you exist on the spectrum of human sexuality?
“You’re gay, right?”
I looked askance at my buddy. “What makes you say that?”
But already, dread filled my belly. This was a conversation I despised. Yet it happened at least once or twice a year, sometimes more, and the question typically came from those who hadn’t known me long. It’s a topic I’ve danced around for nearly forty years.
“Well, you did work in those gay clubs for all those years,” he said.
He was right. I had been a high-priced DJ in clubs around the world for more than two decades, and because dance music seems to have been made most popular and embraced fully by gay communities, those were the clubs I found myself in seven nights a week. Mostly working, but sometimes just hanging out. The gay community was my family. They had taken me in when I had nowhere else to go, and accepted me (for the most part) for who I thought myself to be.
The one thing that no one ever seemed to understand was that I had never been sexually attracted to men. It was always a purely emotional thing.
I came of age during the ‘60s and ‘70s, when segregation and desegregation were hot topics in my Detroit neighborhood; when something called “Women’s Lib” was a new thing. I once got into trouble in my middle school humanities class when I stated in my introverted way, “I don’t understand why women have to dress like men in order to gain the same rights.” This comment was the result of a photo of a woman in a man’s suit, traversing a roomful of men in suits, perhaps suggesting that she was man enough for any of them. Though the teacher understood what I’d said, the class hadn’t and I was verbally taken to task by the women in the room…at least until the teacher explained what I’d meant. I was suggesting: why must one group pretend or act like another group merely to be accepted? though perhaps not worded as well as I might have. I was so relieved when Sarah, the teacher, came to my rescue.
When gays began seeking rights and protections, I thought, Why is this even an issue? Shouldn’t everyone enjoy the same rights and treatment? It wasn’t the first time I’d thought that, by far. Ever since the 80s, when I began my career within the gay community, I wondered why it was so difficult for humans to accept one another for what we are. I didn’t then, and don’t now, subscribe to the social construct known as “gender normative.” There is no reason in the world to divide humans into groups by gender, culture, or socio-economic class. There should be no “my tribe, your tribe” mentality anymore. At the end of time, we will all still be human, no matter what label is forced onto us.
I didn’t realize then what a human rights proponent I would become.
“No, I’m not gay,” I responded, to my buddy’s apparent surprise, “Though I have no problem with people thinking that.” To the further confused look on his face, I explained to him that while I identified with gay men and women intellectually and emotionally, I didn’t participate in sexually intimate relationships with men. “I adore the companionship of men and women, but I don’t sexualize our connections.”
It’s a concept that so many find difficult to understand. My male acquaintance was one of those people. It appeared that he couldn’t fully understand something that lay outside of his label-centric world. He soon drifted away and I never heard from him again. Que sera, sera.
Sexual exploration is common among humans. While we’re traditionally conditioned to believe that heterosexuality is “normal,” we still have questions and needs that cannot always be met through conventional normality. Or hetero-normality, if you will. And while I have never been “closeted” about my desire for deeper connections with my male friends, societally my behavior has been considered “questionable.” Subversive, even. But my own exploration has never been sexual. It’s been about bonding with my male peers.
I was the terribly introverted kid. Sensitive to the world around me in the extreme – to the point where my parents had me first tested for Down’s Syndrome, and later, autism. Because of this sensitivity, I didn’t enjoy roughhousing with my brothers, nor participating in many of the rough-and-tumble activities they thrived on. I identified with the girls in my school much more than the boys, and so found that I was comfortable in groups of a gender different from my own, too young to understand the implications such choices would cause. This created a lot of problems in school and growing up. I often heard the word “sissy” mentioned in my presence. My grandfather referred to me as “she.” No one bothered to correct him. My brothers largely ignored me, and so I found solace with my eight sisters. I felt I understood them and they me. No matter how diligently I tried to “fit in” with other males, it wasn’t to be. At least not then.
In high school, my friends were all women. On our senior trip to Acapulco, Mexico, I found myself honorary male protector, to the point where none of them really cared that I was the only guy in the room, and I often slept surrounded by ten or twelve of my female classmates. They were completely comfortable undressing in front of me, and talking about things that only women seemed to share. I felt like I belonged. Really belonged. That was, until they began dating. Then my continued presence was a burden and weird. I became the proverbial fifth wheel.
As an adult, I encountered more effeminate men and masculine women, who, for the most part, didn’t seem bothered by their gender expression as much as others were, and because of this, I found comfort in their presence. Guys who called themselves “girls” and women who called themselves “guys.” It was confusing, but exciting and enlightening. Here was the dispensing of gender pretense that I had been looking for all my life. This was the door opening in the collective subconscious.
So I explored, learning that it had never been the idea of sex for me as much as it was the emotional closeness and intimacy. However, sex often seemed to be an expectation, and so I found myself on the fringes once more.
I have never viewed my desire for male companionship to be anything other than “normal” for me. I learned early on that society’s definition of “normal” didn’t, for the most part, apply to most of the people I knew. So I took ownership of my difference, flaunted it. It did make it difficult to have intimate relationships, but I made do. I remember once thinking that I wish I could be an old man sooner so the question of sex was taken out of the equation.
Here I am in middle age with a whole bunch more information and knowledge in my repertoire. In a conversation with another good friend recently, he said, “Oh my God, you’re emotionally gay!” He went on to explain it to me just as I have here. And he was right. I am much more emotionally comfortable with like-minded men, those who don’t feel a need to sexualize our friendship or aren’t threatened by my seemingly “non-normal” masculinity. The gay community understands this so much more readily than anyone others.
I understand now that I have always craved the companionship of other men, but many heterosexual men were too afraid of appearing homosexual to be able to engage on deeper levels. Men who express themselves with a strong, traditional masculinity want nothing to do with me. I am still considered too sensitive for their comfort, and so time and again go back to my gay brothers for friendship and companionship. Thankfully, the stigma of being gay in the 21st century is waning. Slowly…but it’s still progress.
However, in this unusual way, I have rejoined the brotherhood that I have been searching for since I was a kid. I found a way to achieve connection in a more socially acceptable workaround. I have since learned that I was not the first to discover this trait in my family. There have been several great uncles and cousins who also sought comradeship that didn’t teeter over into sexual contact. I have learned that “normal” is whatever we make it out to be, and not what society at large dictates it is. But I stopped allowing others to define me a long time ago.
I am my own, unique brand of “normal.” So today I proudly come out as an emotionally gay man. In my mind, this is what Plato referred to when he spoke of relationships that we have come to know as platonic. And I embrace it in every sense of the word.
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