I really want to talk about the accompanying photos. But first, the piece itself.
I’m happy for all the gay couples that get married in their 20s. It surprises me that gay couples would do this so young, because I think people in general get married at a later age than they used to, and this seems to go against the trend. But as gay people come out younger and younger than they used to, their life stages might start to parallel those of their straight peers. If straight couples can get married in their 20s, gay couples should be able to do it, too.
But I envied several of the couples mentioned in the piece. It made me feel old, and it brought up all my old feelings of regret about not coming out until I was 24. Now that I’m 34, age 24 doesn’t seem quite as old as it used to, but I still regret that I never had a college boyfriend (at least not while I was in college — I did date a college freshman for two months during my final year of law school). Those were crucial years that I wasted, and I’ll never get them back, no matter how hard I’ve tried to make up for it.
Lewis, who is in his early 30s and came out at 23, captures it well:
There was a reason, of course, why so many gay men my age and older seemed intent on living a protracted adolescence: We had been cheated of our actual adolescence. While most of our heterosexual peers had experienced, in their teens, socialization around courtship, dating and sexuality, many of us had grown up closeted and fearful, “our most precious and tender feelings rarely validated or reflected back to us by our families and communities,” as Alan Downs, the author of “The Velvet Rage: Overcoming the Pain of Growing Up Gay in a Straight Man’s World,” puts it. When we managed to express our sexuality, the experience often came booby-trapped with secrecy, manipulation or debilitating shame.
No wonder, then, that in our 20s so many of us moved to big-city gay neighborhoods and aggressively went about trying to make up for lost time. And no wonder that some of us — myself included — occasionally went overboard.
“The expectation for many years was that if you did any dating in your 20s, they were essentially ‘practice relationships’ where you did what heterosexual kids get to do in junior high, high school and college,” says Jeffrey Chernin, a Los Angeles psychotherapist and the author of “Get Closer: A Gay Men’s Guide to Intimacy and Relationships.” “But for many gay men, your 20s were about meeting a lot of different people, going out to bars with your friends and having a lot of sex. That has long been considered a rite of passage in the gay community.”
I don’t know what I miss more: that I didn’t get to have all that casual sex earlier or that I didn’t get to have a relationship earlier. I’m envious of these people who have gotten their shit together so young.
Then again, getting married doesn’t necessarily mean you’ve gotten your shit together. And I wonder how many of these young gay marriages will end in divorce? Some will, some won’t. Sometimes straight people get married too young and it winds up being a mistake; that’s bound to be true for gay couples as well. Lewis does, in fact, profile two 26-year-old men who have each been through a same-sex divorce.
So it was an interesting article.
But those photos.
The photos were the first thing I noticed about the piece, of course — including the magazine cover. The photos are fun and campy, even if ironic faux-1950s style has become overdone. But what really struck me was that they were all photos of white guys. And that bothered me.
Lewis does address this, briefly:
To find out [what these marriages are like], I spent time over the next few months with a handful of young married and engaged gay couples — including Joshua and Benjamin. All were college-educated and white. (A 2008 study of gay and lesbian couples in Vermont, California and Massachusetts — three states that offer some form of legal recognition for gay couples — found that “couples who choose to legalize their same-sex relationships . . . are overwhelmingly European American.”)
Should he have sought out some non-white or mixed-race couples in the name of diversity? Or is diversity irrelevant because the article is about the people who most exemplify the phenomenon of same-sex married couples, and those people happen to be “overwhelmingly” white? I can’t answer that without knowing how many people “overwhelmingly” means or how much of an effort Lewis made to find non-white people. I’d be curious to know what some non-white gay men think about this aspect of the piece.
The photos also bother me because they play into the stereotype that all gay men are affluent and privileged and don’t really need the economic benefits that marriage would bring or the job protections that an employment nondiscrimination law would bring. They also play into the stereotype that we’re all fabulous curiosities instead of real people who don’t have equal rights.
Regardless of the benefits of marriage, I just don’t like being stereotyped. Matt and I are both white and make an okay combined living for New York City. But I’m still paying off my student loans and my savings aren’t nearly as high as they should be. We don’t have oodles of fabulous friends. We’ve never thrown a dinner party. Neither of us really knows how to cook. We both dress pretty plainly. We don’t accessorize. We don’t fly off on fabulous vacations.
Gay people are not all supercool. Enough already.
Another thing I don’t like about the photos: they really seem to paint an unrealistic portrait of marital bliss. Haven’t we learned anything from the 1950’s, when insecure housewives desperately tried to create the perfect roast and keep an immaculate home? Are those photos going to turn me into poor Laura Brown, Julianne Moore’s character in The Hours? Am I going to collapse into a heap of tears after I try to bake a cake and it comes out a lumpy mess?
It’s bad enough that we have to look like HX cover models. Now we have to learn to cook, too?
Still, I’d rather be tyrannized by some idealized vision of same-sex married life than not have the right at all.
I guess that’s what it comes down to.
Give us our rights; we’ll figure out the rest.