Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Until the Day You Die

This story is really very sad. The narrator, a helicopter pilot in Britain named Patrick Muirhead, thinks that he can stop being gay.

A minor incident in a barber’s shop last week has helped me to realise that I may no longer be gay. Not a fully fledged homo, anyway; perhaps not even a part-timer who helps the team out when it’s busy. It appears I may be going straight.

I was in Tenterden, the Kentish village where I was brought up and to which I have lately returned, working at a nearby aerodrome as a helicopter pilot. I was waiting my turn for a chatty Latvian to apply the hot towels and razor.

A handsome young dad entered with a small, fair-haired boy at his side. The man took a seat and hoisted the wide-eyed child proudly on to his knee. The first haircut, I speculated inwardly, as an unfamiliar fatherly glow and feeling of mild envy swept over me. I could not tear my attention away from the mirrored reflections.

From time to time, the dad leant forward as they waited and whispered close to his son’s ear, tenderly kissing his fair head. Touching stuff.

But then my eyes lowered and I became transfixed by the sight of the boy’s tiny pink fingers gripping his father’s huge, workman-like fist. And I almost wanted to burst into song.

I think my life changed at that moment.

That’s love, folks. Simple really. A proud dad, an adored little boy and a beautiful display of dependence and responsibility. It was the epiphany I had needed and I emerged with a dashing new haircut and a desire to procreate.

The first thing that struck me is that no matter how straight Mr. Muirhead thinks he may be, after reading his description of the “handsome young dad,” I thought I was reading something out of the a gay fiction collection, especially when he got down to the “huge, workman-like fist.” And then he wanted to burst into song? What number, “Ah, sweet mystery of life at last I’ve found you”? Yeah, that’s how a straight guy looks at another dude, man. Uh huh. Second, if you read the rest of the article, it’s clear that Mr. Muirhead’s problem isn’t just with the stereotypes that he perpetuates about other gay men and the gay culture that he dismisses, the privileged assumptions he makes — including the assumption that the handsome young dad was straight (gay men are fathers, too) — or that procreating is something only heterosexuals do. No, what’s tragic about this is that Mr. Muirhead feeds the beast of bigotry and ignorance by saying that you can stop being gay.

I don’t accept the premise that you are either 100% gay or 100% straight. Sexuality is very complex, so assigning it a binary quality — either you are or you aren’t — doesn’t work. But Mr. Muirhead doesn’t account for the fact that it’s possible to be somewhere in between, and he treats being gay as if it was an affliction; something to be cured. In his own quest to find himself, he gives credence to the charlatans and homophobes who sell the snake-oil of “Ex-Gay Therapy.” It’s as successful as alchemy, and tells the world that there is something wrong with being gay.

I really do feel sorry for this man. He is making all sorts of excuses about his feelings and admitting quite candidly to his complete lack of maturity about himself and the way he has lived for the last twenty years, including ten of them with another man as his partner. But no amount of excuses or rationalization or attempts to change the past will work. He can fall in love with a woman — it’s not only possible but very nice when it happens because if it’s true love, it’s not about sex — but he cannot flip a switch and suddenly become whatever image of heteronormality he thinks would be acceptable to society or himself. Trust me, I speak from experience. It doesn’t work.

When I read this story I was immediately reminded of this line from Mart Crowley’s 1968 play (and 1970 film) The Boys in the Band:

You’re a sad and pathetic man. You’re a homosexual and you don’t want to be, but there’s nothing you can do to change it. Not all the prayers to your god, not all the analysis you can buy in all the years you’ve got left to live. You may one day be able to know a heterosexual life if you want it desperately enough. If you pursue it with the fervor with which you annihilate. But you’ll always be homosexual as well. Always, Michael. Always. Until the day you die.

I don’t care if Patrick Muirhead does everything he can to “stop being gay,” and if he chooses to marry and have kids, I wish him and his family all the best. But most of all I hope he finds peace and acceptance with himself and does not spend the rest of his life trying to live up to someone else’s or some artificial social expectation. He will never accomplish it as long as he is not true to himself, whatever that is.

HT to Liss.