Our Relationship: The Inside Story of Gay Male Couples

Since same-sex marriage was legalised in 2014, the days of stigma and shame in gay male society have been replaced with those of liberation and tolerance. Emerging is a gay male world free from heteronormativity, self-loathing and internalised homophobia. To find out more about this new world of freedom I met five gay male couples living across the UK to ask about the inside story of their relationships.

Adam and Jeremy, Brighton

Adam and Jeremy have been together for ten years and have been married since they converted their civil partnership to a marriage last year. Living in a small flat in Brighton, most of their free time away from their office jobs is spent watching movies and playing video games.

“We have an active sex life too,” Adam confesses as he sips his fennel tea. “We don’t take drugs or drink alcohol so we can really experience sex to the fullest.” I ask if they have varied roles in the bedroom, or if they have fallen into strict top and bottom roles as many couples do.

“Oh, we don’t do anal!” says Jeremy with clear shock in his voice. “It’s not that we don’t enjoy it,” he clarifies as I lean forward, “it’s just that we’re not those kind of people.”

“Anal sex is fine for people without commitments,” adds Adam. “I tried it three times at uni.”

“Oh yes, you were a real slut,” laughs Jeremy as he picks up another of his homemade fondant fancies. “But I think we’ve both decided just to be more respectable now. We might even want to have children some day so we don’t want to fall into any habits that might affect their impressionable minds.”

“The adoption agency doesn’t view anal sex households too favourably” Adam explains. “So we try to stick to oral with a condom.”

I ask how they keep their sex lives interesting. Adam blushes, but Jeremy seems a little more willing to open up. “It was our anniversary last week,” he says, “and we tried frottage.” I try to press him further, but he tells me quite plainly: “That sort of skin-on-skin fetish isn’t really for us.”

Steve and Pete, Nottingham

I’m chatting to Steve over a protein shake as he waits for his boyfriend Pete – or his “brofriend” as he refers to him – to finish his workout. “I usually finish first,” he tells me “but I do a more intense session. Pete does more reps.” I ask about cardio. “Nah,” Steve responds, “cardio’s for chicks and poofters.”

Steve first met Pete via a popular gay dating app whilst looking for a ‘gym buddy’, though he admits he did not know what Pete looked like until they met in person. “Most of the guys worth meeting don’t show their faces,” he explains. “The ones who do are usually flaming queens and if I was looking to hook up with a chick I wouldn’t be on this app.”

I ask Steve – who doesn’t refer to himself as gay – if people ever think his statements are homophobic. “Nah mate,” he tells me, “it’s just how it is. I’m masc and I’m looking for masc.”

Steve straightens up, pushing out his muscular chest as Pete, a 5′ 11″ block of muscle and veins emerges from the gym. The two men bump fists as Pete approaches and asks “what’s up”, although he’s neither expecting nor receiving a response.

Pete tells me I’m lucky to have the chance to chat to them today – “We usually chill out in the locker room after a workout,” he says. “Yeah, we normally chill,” adds Steve. I enquire about the nature of their chill out sessions; Pete tells me about ‘brojobs’ – how he refers to oral sex. “Steve’s my bro,” he explains. “Most guys want a wife or something, but I’m looking for men who are men.”

“I’m a bottom,” he goes on, “but it’s all about muscle control. I’m masc so I’m not interested in sissy boys. Men should be men.”

“Yeah, cheers bro,” says Steve, with a nod before he downs the rest of his protein shake.

Mark and Richard, York

Mark and Richard from York are currently planning their wedding. They tell me they decided against a civil partnership, choosing to wait until same-sex marriage was legalised before forming their union. “We’re the same as straight people,” Mark tells me, “so why would we choose anything different?”

Richard nods as he turns the pages of the catalogue in front of him. “I have to pick a suit for the wedding, but they’re all pretty much the same” he says. “I reckon I’ll just let Mark decide.”

“What are men like?” Mark chuckles, standing up and clearing away the coffee cups. I ask if he wants any help. “No,” he says, “I’m going to be a housewife so I may as well act like one!”

“I’m the man of the house,” Richard tells me. “I wear the trousers.”

I join Mark in the kitchen and ask about the dynamics of their relationship. “It’s hard being the woman,” he says “but Richard does help around the house. Any time anything needs fixing he sees to it.”

I ask Mark if he really sees himself as a woman. He tells me it’s more of a mindset than a gender. “Every relationship needs a man and a woman. Just because we’re both men doesn’t mean that one of us isn’t the woman.”

Chris and Johnny, London

I meet Chris and Johnny at a vegetarian restaurant in central London. They arrive together; Chris is wearing black skinny jeans, a tee shirt with a slogan, black Converse sneakers and black-rimmed glasses, while Johnny wears a tee shirt with a print of a video game character, dark blue skinny jeans, grey Converse sneakers and brown-rimmed, circular spectacles. “I don’t need glasses to see,” Johnny says. “I just like the look”.

We’re sitting at a table outside, and after ordering starters – Chris and Johnny both order the butternut tart – they each take out their packet of Marlboro Lights and absentmindedly offer the other a cigarette.

“It’s how we met,” laughs Chris, running his fingers through his hair. “We were in a club before the smoking ban; I was out of cigarettes but I saw Johnny and figured he looked like someone who smoked Marlboro Lights.” It turns out that that was the case.

I ask how long they have been together. “Nine years.” Johnny tells me as he brushes his hair to the side with his fingers. “We moved in together five years ago. We had to get rid of so much stuff though because we basically had two of everything.”

We’re interrupted by the sound of Coldplay’s Speed of Sound. Chris and Johnny both take out their rose gold iPhone 6’s – Johnny answers his while Chris just chuckles. “Yeah, we have the same ringtone,” he tells me. “We didn’t even realise at first but I guess our tastes just align!”

While he has his phone out Chris takes the opportunity to show me some photos of himself and Johnny. I notice they have less facial hair in the photos from last year than the neatly groomed stubble they are sporting today. “Yes, we like to change things up a bit,” he explains. “It gets dull if we keep things the same all the time.”

Dan and Justin, Durham

Dan and Justin (not their real names) have lived together in their two-bedroom flat in Durham for just over a year. I’m meeting them at the flat, and after I’ve been waiting several minutes, Dan answers the door. “Oh thank god!” he exclaims.

He takes me through to their living room, shouting “don’t worry about unmaking the beds!” as we walk down the hall.

I’m confused, but Justin joins us after a minute or so and explains. “It’s in case my mum comes round,” he tells me. “She doesn’t know about us, so we make it look like both beds have been slept in.”

I’m shown around their rather large flat, including both bedrooms. They share a bed, but I ask which bedroom they pretend belongs to which of them. “It depends whose mum is round,” Dan says, and they both laugh nervously.

The flat feels strangely un-lived in – there are no signs of personality anywhere. No photos of the occupants, not even art or posters on the walls. I notice separate CD and DVD collections. “We really have to make it look like we’re just flatmates,” Justin says. “We even have separate cupboards in the kitchen.”

I ask if they think their families have any suspicions that they are a couple. “I don’t know” is Justin’s response. Dan says “I hope not. They’d probably be cool with it, but I just don’t want to tell them.”


John Avocado mainly tweets at @SuperCroup, often posts photos on Instagram and occasionally shoves posts on this here blog.

Enough already with #loveislove

A lot of same-sex marriage advocates really like the hashtag #loveislove. I don’t. It’s harmful.

Today deputy leader of the opposition, Tanya Plibersek, tweeted this in support of same-sex marriage in Australia:

It irritated me quite intensely. Partly because that’s not what same-sex marriage (or marriage equality, call it what you will) is; and partly because of the harmful message it sends.

Amending the law to allow same-sex couples to marry is simply a question of giving same-sex couples equal access to a legal institution. Nothing more, and nothing less. Amending the law is not about recognizing love: weddings (well, most) do that; the legal institution of marriage does not. We are not asking that the government recognizes the love involved in many of our relationships, or that the government supports the love involved in many of our relationships, we are simply asking that the government provides us with equal access to the legal institution for formalizing our relationships.

I feel like I am repeating myself too much, but it irks me that something so simple seems to be so widely misunderstood.

Facts aside, #loveislove seems like pretty good rhetoric to convince people to support same-sex marriage. And oh, how harmful that rhetoric is.

#loveislove says that we should be given equal access to a legal institution because we deserve it. Not that all legal institutions should be equally available to all, but that equal rights are for those who deserve them.

#loveislove invites people to base their willingness to allow us equal access to a legal institution on their opinion of the validity of of our relationships. It invites them to judge that our love isn’t real love in their eyes and deny us equal rights based on that.

#loveislove sets conditions on our equal access to a legal institution. It says our marriages should be based on love – when the law does not (the law says they must be genuine, for life, and exclusive – all of which I disagree with, but that’s another matter).

Worst of all #loveislove erases the queerness of our relationships. #loveislove demands our relationships be based on a heteronormative model of two people who love each other forming a monogamous life-long relationship, when a very large number of queer relationships are just not like that. #loveislove sets up gatekeepers of equal access to a legal institution, and gives the respectable gays the keys, keeping the scandalous queers out. It sets whatever exists of the queer community up against itself, and can only ever make our demands for equal access to a legal institution weaker.

So can we kill off #loveislove? Can we give up asking for permission? Can we demand equal access to a legal institution based simply on the fact that we are people, and without placing conditions on ourselves?

I hope so.

Conflicts on same-sex marriage

I just found this in my drafts on my Google Drive from August 2014. I probably meant it to be the bones of a piece with sentences and paragraphs and everything, but looks like I could never be bothered to actually write it. (I think the original question was on Q&A). Here it is in its unedited form.

Note the question used “gay people”, so I used the same in the response. I’d normally use “queer people”. See an earlier post for my thoughts on the term for marriage that includes queer people that I refer to here as “gay marriage”.

Why do so many gay people want to be assimilated into the heteronormative-archaic-patriarchal construct that is marriage?

 

  • We don’t
    • Rich vocal minority with means and funding to campaign loudly on this issue make it seem like more gay people see this as a major issue than actually do.
    • Well-meaning straight people with influence see this as an easy cause to get behind.
    • Actual major issues affecting gay people are where the less-vocal majority of gay people actually want to see change:
      • Homelessness, particularly for young gay people
      • Employment
      • Education
      • Access to relevant health services – including sexual and mental health, and especially aged care.
      • Societal, rather than legal change
      • Protection of our culture/subcultures
      • Not being called a poofter on national television or being told by boss to move to New Zealand
    • Underground gay culture is still strong – most gay people really do reject heteronormativity.
  • We do, but we shouldn’t
    • Marriage is a form of social control – government regulating our relationships
    • Gay marriage means more discrimination; not less
      • Immigration (ref UK Home Office guidelines)
      • Treatment of trans people
      • Treatment of poly people
      • Adoption rights
      • Increased stigma to unmarried people – including unmarried couples (of all orientations), single parents
      • Creation of a ‘gold standard’
    • Gay marriage is an attempt to stifle our liberation – by regulating our relationships, our oppressors make us less free; not more free.
    • Marriage is promoted as a right, but in reality it is a civic duty – our responsibility to ensure our relationships follow the approved format
    • Gay marriage creates a public register of gay people that can be used against us by those who would harm us.
    • The whole fucking system is bollocks
  • We do, and we should
    • The law shouldn’t discriminate
      • BUT it still does, indirectly.
      • BUT just because it doesn’t discriminate against us doesn’t mean it doesn’t discriminate against anyone.
    • Family is universal – our desire to form family units that fit within our wider culture is not assimilation – it’s an expression of our relationships being a valid and important part of society
    • Our relationships are normal, not subcultural, and society should recognise that
    • We actually just want the legal rights afforded by marriage, and we reject the archaic patriarchal nature of traditional marriage
    • We can’t completely eliminate societal discrimination if we don’t eliminate legal discrimination
      • Gay marriage, while not perfect, is a definite step in the right direction.
    • We shouldn’t ignore the inequality of discriminatory marriage laws just because there are also worse issues affecting gay people
    • We like the idea of having a wedding and all the cultural tradition that comes with it
    • It’s also just, at it’s most basic element, a certificate and official recognition that two (or more) people  love each other.
    • Some of us want to get married, and that should be reason enough

Versions of gay marriage I have knowledge of and oppose

    • The UK version. Oh god so awful.
      • Spousal veto in particular
      • Really heavily gender-defining
    • The (thankfully overturned) Canberra version (even fucking worse than the UK)
      • Set us apart as different
      • Completely excluded trans and genderless people
  • Versions of marriage including gay people I could support:
    • Any marriage that didn’t exclude any consenting adult. At all. Under any circumstance.
    • None, really. The whole system is fucked

Marriage Terminology

Since this debate on marriage and same-sex couples isn’t going away any time soon, I expect in the coming year or so I’ll be writing a fair bit about it. There isn’t a particular term I stick with when talking about it, which I understand can be confusing. But here are my thoughts on some of the more common terms used when discussing this matter.

I should mention that I don’t think any of them is ideal, which is perhaps why I chop and change, and switch about when writing. Sometimes I deliberately use one or another, but really they’re all pretty crap.

Marriage equality / equal marriage

I’ll start with the “big” one, and the one which seems to have been adopted as the “right” one. I hate it. I hate hate hate it. Not that I’m opposed to equality, of course (although I should say here that since I learned about the concept of liberation I’ve been forever giving equality activists massive side-eye), but because mostly proponents of changes to marriage legislation don’t actually advocate equality; rather just an extension of privilege.

Many view forms of marriage that include same-sex couples, but exclude trans people as unproblematic. That’s not equality. Many advocate restricting marriage to gender-binary people, and that’s not equality either. Almost all are happy restricting marriage to monogamous couples. Again, not equality. Most completely reject the notion that marriage itself is an institution based on inequality, both within a marriage, and as part of a society that affords privileges to married people that are not afforded to unmarried people. Maybe that’s a good thing, maybe that’s how we’ve decided to run our society. Maybe it’s the only administrative solution to society circa 2015. All of that may be true, but it’s not equality.

I hardly use the term marriage equality (except in tags!), and it infuriates me when people use it blindly as though equality is something that can be achieved very easily with these sort of band-aid solutions, ignoring all the inequality and injustice that is ignored or even caused by marriage and extending marriage.

Equality is not brought about just by saying the word.

Gay marriage

Gay marriage is so problematic, but it’s the one I tend to use most, and perhaps for that reason. It’s a term that doesn’t pretend to be inclusive, or equal, or fully descriptive. That said, I don’t really like the way it aligns itself so neatly with the very real idea that gay marriage activism is almost exclusively in the realm of middle-class gay white cis men.

The term is becoming ever less acceptable, and I think (hope!) that reflects a growing realization that not all (and in fact most) people who are not heterosexual are not gay. A marriage between two bisexual women, for instance, would not accurately be described as a “gay marriage”. Neither would a marriage between, say, a heterosexual trans man (whose legally registered gender was inaccurate) and a cis woman, even though current marriage legislation excludes them.

The term excludes so many people, but it knows it does. Perhaps I shouldn’t use it, but I do – not because I think it’s in any way adequate, but because in a group of terms that are all inadequate, this one is the most inadequate.

Same-sex marriage

Same-sex marriage is a term that feels so clinical to me and I don’t really like it. Perhaps it’s the most accurate, but similar to what I mentioned above, it relies heavily on cis, binary norms. It’s exclusionary, but selectively so. Many relationships that are excluded from marriage now, but would be included in any proposed changes to the Marriage Act are not “same sex” relationships. And more so than gay marriage this is a term that people use to sneakily exclude people – and as usual it’s the people who most need inclusivity.

Marriage. Just marriage.

One day, perhaps, we’ll have marriage that includes everyone, and a society where unmarried people are not discriminated against. One day we will be able to talk about marriage, and not have to specify that we’re not just talking about marriage between cishet two-people couples. One day there won’t be a distinction between man-woman marriages and other types of marriage. Unfortunately today is not that day. Where inequality exists, we have to be able to name it, but while inequality exists we can’t just say marriage without a qualifier and be understood.

Language is wholly inadequate when discussing inequality, and especially when trying to reconcile the way people actually live with an institution associated with tradition, bigotry and administration. I can’t think of any term that is adequate for talking about extending marriage to all relationships that doesn’t exclude people or lie about its intentions in some way.

The Thought of a Plebiscite is Truly Scary

As I say at the start of most of these posts, I’m not really a huge advocate of gay marriage, but on balance, I slightly support it. I have written previously about the reasons, and this post is not an argument for or against marriage, rather some musings on the process.

I think it should be fairly clear to everybody that same-sex marriage in Australia is an inevitability. There is no “if”; it’s all about “when”. With large parts of Europe (including most recently Ireland), most of North America, South Africa, Israel and New Zealand all recognizing same-sex marriage, it is inconceivable that Australia will not see it sometime in the near future, despite resistance.

What is now happening is fairly tedious discussion of the process of bringing this about, with the main options being a parliamentary vote and a public vote. And the prospect of a public vote is frightening and offensive.

Frightening because we will be subjected to months of a hurtful and damaging campaign against same-sex marriage. We won’t, of course, hear from queer people for whom marriage represents further oppression and control; rather we’ll hear homophobes attacking our lives, our families and our right to exist. We see this already when there isn’t a vote looming; we will see it tenfold if any plebiscite goes ahead. And these campaigns won’t just be upsetting to us; they won’t just be hugely damaging to our mental health; they’ll rile up homophobes and recruit undecideds, risking our physical safety. We can avoid this and weshould avoid this, but it seems to be government policy that we be subjected to this.

Offensive because we’re being told that we require consent from mainstream society to live our lives how we choose, and to express ourselves the way we choose. Because we’re being told that an administrative change to three words in a piece of legislation is a major upheaval of society, and that we’re to blame. Because our very dignity is deemed suitable to be decided on by the largely disinterested electorate.

Federal MPs will have an opportunity to end this, to protect us from the harm we face by this ongoing campaign – even if they disagree. Will they put our health, our safety, and our dignity before their own careers? Our fight will never end until we win – even if parliament says no; even if the public says no – so I beg them: end this swiftly. End this now.

Another reason I’m on the YES side

I’m in the process of writing something a bit longer on gay marriage/same-sex-marriage (or what you will). I’m not really an advocate of marriage at all (gay or otherwise), but I was just reminded of something which highlights a reason I support amending the Marriage Act to include same-sex couples: a quick story I’d like to share.

About a week before the last federal election in 2013 I was in the break room at work having lunch, and generally minding my own business. A colleage was also there having lunch with her manager (the manager is no longer with us). She said told him she was unsure of how to vote, and if he had any advice. Her dilemma was partly based on a conflict between her support for certain LNP policies and her support for same-sex marriage.

The manager’s (pretty blunt) response was that she should vote Liberal, saying that “if gays want to get married, they can go to New Zealand”.

Like I say, I’m not a huge advocate of gay marriage, but I don’t ever want to have to overhear anything like that again. There are lots of reasons I’m on the “yes” side, and not wanting to be told to fuck off to NZ is one of them.

Today I like marriage, but not the Bill

Followers will probably know I’m not necessarily the biggest advocate of marriage there is. I’m generally deeply suspicious of the institution, and what it aims to achieve; more often than otherwise I write about same-sex marriage as the opposite of LGB liberation. Followers, however, may also know that I often experience changes of mind, and my opinions on any particular subject can change at the drop of a hat.

As it turns out, today is one of those days. I’m feeling good about marriage, and have it down, with all its drawbacks, as a fairly positive thing. I would say this is the result of having listened to people who are married (in various configurations), as well as people who have less favorable views on marriage.

I also feel that I may sometimes be a downer on people’s individual marriages, and for that I am deeply sorry. For all my mind changes I am consistent in my belief that we shouldn’t judge other people’s relationships or tell them how to live their lives, and to my friends who are married, I do agree with you that you made a genuine choice to enter into your marriages freely; you have not been duped or coerced into a harmful situation. And I also say congratulations.

My friends Adrian and Charlie got married at the weekend (in the UK), and I think it is wonderful. (I also admit that in 2008 I spent many months pursuing Charlie romantically – to no avail, of course – so I did have an “it should have been me” moment.) There’s is a marriage that they have planned for many years, it is based simply on love and commitment, and they wanted to have the nation to which they belong recognize, celebrate and share in that commitment.

Jason and Adam are another couple of friends of mine who are married in the UK. They had a civil partnership, and they chose to convert it into a marriage. No additional rights, no additional duties, but they just wanted to use the word ‘married’, and be correct in every sense. I still cannot get over how completely in love these two guys are. And I know Adam in particular loves being married, and gains a great deal of value in being married.

I have friends who are married primarily for immigration reasons. They are in relationships for love, but although they don’t necessarily believe in marriage, they married for (for want of a better word) convenience. Could they divorce following the grant of a permanent visa? Of course! Will they? I doubt it.

I speak about how marriage excludes polyamorous people, but I have friends who are poly and married. And for no other reason than that they wanted to marry. (And as an aside one particular wedding I was invited to was without a doubt one of the best and most fun days of my life, and it was wonderful to share in the celebration of love, commitment and the formal formation of a family.)

I also recognize that we do live in the society that we actually live in, and marriage is a crucial part of that. One of the major components of our society is the family – and in particular the nuclear family – and that, traditionally is based on marriage. Much though I stand for liberation, and smashing the oppressive nature of society, I’m not so foolish as to think that in a generation, or in my lifetime even, we can tear away one of the traditional building blocks of our society. And marriage is indeed one of those. It is how we form families, join families and recognize families. Of course there are other types of family, but many, many of our families really are based on marriage. And destroying marriage would mean destroying some of the most wonderful families we see in our society.

I should also mention the many protections marriage offers. (And of course, I believe these protections should be offered to all families and relationships without the need for marriage but, again, we live in the world that we live in, so let’s celebrate the protection. For now at least.) Marriage protects us when relationships break down, it protects us from being shut out of our own lives, and it protects us from being completely removed from our own families. Marriage protects us from any oversights we may otherwise make in the total formation of a family – boxes we may otherwise have forgotten to tick giving our spouses permission to make decisions on our behalf when we are incapacitated, or giving our spouses the opportunity to receive the support we wish them to receive when we are gone. Marriage makes that automatic.

So today I am feeling good about marriage, and feeling good about the prospect of people in same-sex (or anything other than man/woman) relationships being able to enter into a marriage which is recognized and celebrated by the state.

What I am not impressed by, however, is what I have seen today and what I will see on June 18th. Political parties, and individual politicians using our relationships for their own political gain. Today Labor introduced a bill into the House of Representatives in the hope of bringing about same-sex marriage in Australia. It sounds like a good thing, but this bill was penned by two or three people maybe, acting alone following Ireland’s referendum on the same subject. It’s a snap response, and the type of response that Labor is using to show that They Are Doing Something. Sadly what they have not done is entered into any detailed consultation with the LGB community, asked us what we want, and responded according to that. Their response has been political gameplay, to try to push the government into a corner. Many of us feel that Labor is doing thisfor us rather than with us, and we are rightly offended.

Same-sex marriage is inevitable, but it needs to come from us, from the LGB community. There needs to be a process of consultation, of discussion and of listening to all ideas before we proceed – to make sure that we get it right. Not just nearly right, but completely right. For instance, are we happy that ministers or religion can exempt themselves from marrying us? Is that a concession that we are willing to make? Labor seems to think it is, but has anyone asked us?

As Tanya Plibersek likes to say, it is time, and really it’s long overdue. But that doesn’t mean we should rush this. It doesn’t mean we should get this done as soon a possible. We should be aiming to get this right. Tony Abbott was close when he said Parliament should own this. But I’d go further than that – we, the LGB community, should own this. We should start it, finish it, and be completely involved along the way, with politicians acting on our advice and instruction, not acting on their beliefs of what our best interests are.

Today I support marriage, but not any form of marriage that is offered. Only the form of marriage that is right.

Names of friends changed, but they probably know who they are. LGB not LGBT or any other acronym because I’m not in a position to speak about how this may affect trans or other LGBTQIA+ people, not because I want to exclude anyone. Labor because they have introduced this bill today, but later this month these thoughts will also apply to the Greens and later this year the Liberal Democrats.)