Up until the 1970s, the term "homosexuality" was still on record as a mental illness. And though homosexuality has moved well beyond the closet, though it has been embraced by the media–"Will and Grace," "Queer Eye For the Straight Guy," "The L Word," "Queer as Folk," even the HBO hit, "The Sopranos," which has its own unlikely gay character - though men are marrying men and women are having children with other women, the question still remains: why do gay people continue to get such a bad rap?
Perhaps it's because many gay men live up to the negative stereotypes propagated in the media. Take the popular show, "Will and Grace." Jack, Will's best friend, is campy, funny and typically gay: he's affected and flaming, someone who'd rather sleep with a guy first and get his name later. In opposition, Will is Jack's "straight" man. A successful lawyer, Will is steadfast and honest, considerate, kind and basically nice. Jack has personality; Will has brains. Jack is fun; Will is heady. Jack is a child, Will an adult. But Will is more well rounded and possesses a basic morality that makes him a far more desirable catch than Jack. Far from frivolous or idiotic (except, sometimes, with the guys he chooses), Will is an upstanding guy, who just happens to sleep with other guys. A little stodgy perhaps, Will also comes off as someone who understands how to treat others.
If our parents did their jobs well, they inculcated in us an acute sense of right and wrong. We learned the Golden Rule; we developed a moral compass. But men are men and gay or straight, we must take each man on his own terms. Which brings me to Mark, a good of friend of mine, who, having lived in New York for the last fifteen years, tells me that from what he's seen, a lot of gay men need to reevaluate their own moral compasses.
"The real problem," he says, "is this: a culture based only on sex and desire, on image, on the size of pecs and biceps and dicks, will never grow so far. If the gay community wants to be taken seriously, then it's got to change its value system and reclaim some virtue, like honor and loyalty, qualities I always associated with men."
A successful painter, Mark recently spent a month in upstate New York at an artist retreat. Right before he left, he went on a date with Carlos. The two went to a museum and spent the afternoon together. At the end of the date, clearly attracted to each other, they kissed and parted ways. The two spoke often and, during his last weekend away, Mark invited Carlos up.
Carlos arrived on a rainy Saturday and Mark met him at the train station. They went to lunch in town, then drove back to the retreat, where they immediately fell into bed. The sex was good, Mark told me, and even though he wasn't completely sure there was anything deeper connecting them, Mark thought he'd met someone he might actually like to see again. On Sunday, Carlos got out of bed, showered and went to use a communal computer in the other room, saying that he needed to check his email and do a little work, which Mark thought strange. But okay. While Carlos did his work, Mark went to play Scrabble with another painter in the main house.
When I called Mark that evening to find out how things with Carols went, he told me about returning to the cottage, where the two were staying, and finding Carlos still at the computer. "Which would've been fine," he said, "except that he wasn't working or checking email. He was on a sex site." A sex site?
Needless to say, Mark was more than angry and, on a long walk, he confronted Carlos, who at first denied he'd been on the site, then sheepishly told Mark that he was just "checking email."
What confused Mark–and I have to say, it confused me as well - was why Carlos bothered coming to see him in the first place. If it were only for sex, wouldn't it have made more sense just to stay in New York and troll for it there? Why spend two hours on a train?
"Do you know why gay people get such a bad rap?" Mark said. "Because of guys like Carlos. Just because you're a man and you're gay, does it really give you the right to behave badly? I swear, the stories I could tell."
I'm sure Mark has his fair share of horror stories, but then, so do we all, don't we? Gay or straight, some men will go out of their way to sabotage a good thing, while others simply make innocent mistakes. Carlos's mistake was far from innocent; he knew what he was doing. And that makes him about as attractive as Jack and just as sad.