I was pleased to read a rather depressing article the other day. Pleased because I’d rather see an issue faced, than continue to be glossed over.
The article was “Together Alone” by Michael Hobbes, subtitled “the epidemic of gay loneliness”.
The modern movement to bring sexual minorities into the fold of wider human society and understanding probably began in the 19th century with sexologists like Magnus Hirschfeld (though it was prefigured in the arts, and famously in the poetry of Walt Whitman). In the mid-twentieth century it took on a more self-determined and militant form, leading to the “gay liberation” that we became familiar with.
Whether you saw yourself as part of the non-assimilationist “queer revolution”, or taking your place in the fullness of mainstream life and society, there seemed to be an assumption (with the politicisation of a basically humanitarian predicament) that whatever we truly dreamed of, we could have. That what stood in the way was social, legal and political constraints that could be changed.
It’s something of a heresy to think that maybe that actually isn’t true.
Coming back to Hobbes’ article:
For years I’ve noticed the divergence between my straight friends and my gay friends. While one half of my social circle has disappeared into relationships, kids and suburbs, the other has struggled through isolation and anxiety, hard drugs and risky sex.
None of this fits the narrative I have been told, the one I have told myself.
As he relates, we have made record progress in terms of legal and social acceptance, but:
“… even as we celebrate the scale and speed of this change, the rates of depression, loneliness and substance abuse in the gay community remain stuck in the same place they’ve been for decades. Gay people are now, depending on the study, between 2 and 10 times more likely than straight people to take their own lives. We’re twice as likely to have a major depressive episode. And just like the last epidemic we lived through, the trauma appears to be concentrated among men. ….. Despite all the talk of our “chosen families,” gay men have fewer close friends than straight people or gay women. In a survey of care-providers at HIV clinics, one respondent told researchers: ‘It’s not a question of them not knowing how to save their lives. It’s a question of them knowing if their lives are worth saving'”
Which is a very candid thing to say. Even where we have equal legal status, and legal marriage, things aren’t as good as you would hope.
“In the Netherlands, where gay marriage has been legal since 2001, gay men remain three times more likely to suffer from a mood disorder than straight men, and 10 times more likely to engage in “suicidal self-harm.” In Sweden, which has had civil unions since 1995 and full marriage since 2009, men married to men have triple the suicide rate of men married to women”
That may actually be an improvement on the suicide rates for unmarried gay men, and it’s still bad.
What I think it underlines though, is the false assumption that there is some kind of level playing field that is just distorted by bad laws, prejudice and injustice. To be sure, there have been plenty of unjust laws in the past, and our society remains bizarrely anti-sexual and moralistic, but as the laws have been remedied I think it becomes easier to see that there is more to being homosexual than just being like a straight person who wasn’t given the chance. That isn’t the fundamental reality of our situation, and it actually never has been. There is such a thing as Nature, and in some respects I think it is clear that we don’t have the same place as heterosexuals. Typically society, family etc helps a person find their place in Nature, more or less. With us it doesn’t, and neither does “gay culture”, and when you haven’t found your fundamental place in Nature, it takes its toll.
Of course I could still argue that society as it stands is in conflict with Nature, is suppressing a wider range of bisexualities, and is socially prohibiting polyamory, and I think those are factors in a different way of living being possible. But the fundamental question, the one that needs to be answered whether you live in a small village in the countryside, or the “gay village” of a large city, is what is our place in Nature, as men who love men? What are we for? What is our meaning? When well over 90% of men need a woman rather than a man. When we can’t give the man we love a child. When a ghetto really cannot be made a life. When an important component of fulfilment actually comes from our finding our place.
And just to be clear, I think marriage is tremendously positive for men who love men. It’s a really important thing to be able to have that anchor and commitment. But it’s not everything. We need more. Above all we need self-understanding.