Wednesday, 6 January 2010

Confirmed Bachelors

Oh dear. The sexual revolution. So much is known (or, at any rate, believed) by so many. One hundred years ago, a Catholic woman like me would never have speculated, as so many of us do, when contemplating a handsome, unmarried man, "Is he gay?"

I always write on this subject with a good deal of trepidation, not experiencing myself what in Courage they call "Same Sex Attraction" (SSA). I had an agonizing crush on a female camp counsellor when I was a very young teenager, and that was it. I'm not even sure that "counts," for it wasn't at all sexual--just incredibly emotional (and, I hasten to add, one-sided).

Meanwhile, I have never been mistaken for (or accused of being) a lesbian, except perhaps by the hopeful women who made passes now and then. So, really, I am not the best person to write about either "being gay" or being mistaken for "gay". However, I'm a person who writes about Singles, and there are both many chaste gay Singles and many chaste Singles who are suspected of "being gay." Their existence and experience deserves (careful, discreet) acknowledgement.

One of my male friends never visits a set of his elderly relatives without bringing a female friend. He calls it the "I'm not Gay Tour." When he told me, I was surprised. I mean, this is a man who has dozens of female friends. He's very popular. He really just hasn't met the right girl yet. It never occured to me that anyone might label him because of it.

One of my priest friends sometimes preaches at a special healing Mass for people who have HIV/Aids. The majority of those who attend are gay men. I remember one homily in which my friend commiserated with these men on feeling rejected by some Catholics for being gay and for being rejected by some gays for being Catholic. And from the pages of the "alternate press", I have gathered that Catholics and other Christians with Same Sex Attraction who are determined to live lives of chaste celibacy face no little derision from militant anti-Christian gays.

Meanwhile, life is still precarious for men and women who are, or who are perceived as, homosexual. It's harder to slip under the radar in societies so obsessed with sex and sexuality. And it's hard to diverge from 21th century social and gender expectations without people making comments.

Even people of the past can't escape our post-Freudian obsession with erotic desire. When I was doing my English Literature M.A., some woman in Jane Austen studies was arguing that Jane had an incestuous lesbian relationship with her sister Cassandra. How utterly ahistorical and ridiculous. But "outing" literary figures was a common past-time in the Nineties. In the university book shop, I came across a volume of poetry compiling the work of homosexual writers: it included St. John of the Cross. Give me strength!

I do not feel competent at all to talk about what it is like to be Catholic with Same Sex Attraction, so I'll just link here to (-> Courage). But as for Catholic Single men who aren't gay but fear that women will think they are, I will suggest that they not worry too much about that.

As a group, we women are terrified of rejection by the men we like. We live in a world of mixed messages: six thousand years of civilisation has told us that actively pursuing men makes us slutty or a joke. (Think of poor [->Big Ethel] in Archie Comics.) But fifty years of second-wave feminism has told us that pursuing men is what cool, liberated women do. So we do attempt it, but before we risk making complete asses of ourselves, we do risk assessments on the men we like. We ask ourselves, "Is he married? Does he have a girlfriend? Is he discerning a call to the priesthood? Is he gay? Is he a commitmentphobe?" We can spend days, even weeks or months, trying to figure these things out as subtlely as possible.

The "Is he gay?" question is, then, a compliment. After a certain age, we wonder why a good-looking, funny, personable, intelligent man has been allowed to remain Single. Why, o why, has he not been snapped up? Because we live in a post-Freudian society, the explanation we are handed as most obvious, is that the attractive man is gay. But we hope he isn't.

As for everyone else (concerned old aunties who watch day-time television, et alia), it would be nice if they just minded their own business, and indeed, many people do. Not everyone is wondering if the guy in the next cubicle is gay or not. But if the question ever arises as to why a man isn't married, a man could just tell his truth. This truth might be "My wife died." It might be, "I'm divorced." It might be, "I like living alone. I like my space to be my space." It might be, "I'm definitely in the market for the future Mrs. Know anyone?" It might be, "I met the perfect woman, but she was looking for the perfect man."

Is this anyone else's business? NO. It is not. But it's your truth to share if you wish. If you think sharing would help you, then go ahead and share. For all you know, your nosy questioner is thinking you might be the perfect match for the nice new girl in the office. And maybe you are.

No comments: