If you could choose your sexuality…

Right, well, this post has been inspired by a comment left by Cellar_Door on my last one.  I’ve quoted the relevant section below:

Just curious, and tell me to fuck off if you like :0) But if sexuality was a choice, would you come over to the other side (as it were)? Or if you could go back, would you have been born straight?

This is actually a really difficult question to answer, which is why I decided not to just put a quick response in the comments.  I find it literally impossible to imagine what I would be like if I was straight.  I don’t know how it would affect anything, from the simplest to the most profound things.

For example, if I was straight, would I still like the Pet Shop Boys?  Would I still take the same pleasure in having chosen a nice colour scheme when I was decorating my flat?  Would I still have the same political attitudes if I hadn’t had the ‘outsider’ experience of being gay?  Would I still be an atheist if being gay hadn’t forced me to start thinking critically about what the bible actually says (a load of self-contradictory, bloodthirsty nonsense, for the most part) as opposed to what most people think it says (lets all be nice to each other)?  Being gay has had an impact on my life experiences in even the most basic, practical of ways.  I only came to live in [unspecified major British city] because my boyfriend at the time wanted to move back to his hometown, and I was up for the idea of living somewhere new, but now I’ve been here for about two-fifths of my life up to this point.  If I hadn’t had all those experiences, met all those different kinds of people, would I still be anything like the person I am now?

One of the things that always surprises me is how ready straight people are to consider this question as ‘just a bit of fun’.

Cellar_Door is clearly being light-hearted when she talks about being tempted to ‘switch’ because ‘men are a bloody hassle sometimes.’  An episode of Mock The Week I saw once featured a humorous discussion amongst a group of straight men as to whether or not Rafael Nadal could ‘turn’ them (which actually makes some sense to me – I’ve always thought Nadal has very ‘feminine’ features).  Jonathan Ross mildly embarrassed one of his guests once by telling him he’d looked so handsome in a film that ‘I almost turned.’

I don’t want to be completely po-faced about this – I know that in none of the examples I’ve just mentioned were people being serious – but it does seem to me that these kinds of jokes reveal that some straight people do seem to think that it would be possible for them to change their sexual orientation in isolation, i.e. that they would still be the same person in every respect except for the gender of the people they fancy.  It seems to me that it’s extremely unlikely that would be possible.  It also seems to me that it’s symptomatic of the way that most straight people, because they grow up with a sexual orientation that matches their families’ and friends’ expectations, and is constantly reflected back to them by almost the entirety of our culture, have never had to think about their sexuality, and what it means.

Anyway, this has all been a very long-winded way of saying that I wouldn’t change my orientation, because I don’t think it’s possible.  Not because I don’t think that sexuality is something that can be consciously altered (although I don’t think that it can be), but because if my sexuality was changed in so profound a way, I wouldn’t be ‘me’ anymore.  I think when she asks the question, Cellar_Door is imagining me making a choice between ‘Aethelread-as-he-is’ and ‘Aethelread-but-fancies-women,’ but as far as I’m concerned that’s a false choice, because if Aethelread (or rather the real-life person who hides behind the pseudonym) didn’t fancy guys, he (I) wouldn’t be Aethelread anymore.

Cellar_Door’s second question – if I had the chance, would I choose to travel back in time and be ‘re-born’ as straight – is a different proposition.  If I’d been born straight, I wouldn’t be me, exactly, but clearly I would still be someone.  So I guess the question here is would I choose to keep everything as it is, or, for the sake of being straight, would I choose to annihilate this version of myself and become some sort of alt-Aethelread instead?

It’s true to say that I’ve experienced some anti-gay prejudice in my time.  I’ve been on the receiving end of some fairly nasty verbal abuse quite a few times.  People have made attempts at beating me up because of my orientation a couple of times.  My mid-teen years were fairly lonely and isolated, and I guess I might have felt less of a ‘man apart’ if I was straight, although that’s by no means sure – there’s always been a lot more going on with me than can be explained purely in terms of my sexuality.  All the negative experiences I’ve had as a result of being gay are fairly minor, though, and certainly nothing like serious enough that I’d consider it worth abandoning myself in order to avoid them.  That’s particularly the case as I think there are definite benefits to being gay.  (I’m worried some of this next section may come across as though I’m being hostile to heterosexuality, or to straight people – that’s not my intention, I just want to set out honestly why, personally, I’m grateful for being gay.  I entirely understand if most straight people reading this disagree with me – to be honest, I more-or-less expect them to.)

I think straight people can struggle to avoid falling into dull domesticity in a way that gay people tend not to.  That’s not to say that it’s impossible for straight people to avoid it, but I think the weight of expectations (including self-imposed expectations) is such that straight people are far more likely than gay people to find themselves living a conventional life they never really planned for or expected.  As I’ve mentioned before, I have straight friends (in as much as a bloke who hardly ever leaves his flat can have friends at all), but if I’m honest I have fewer straight friends than gay ones, and my friendships with them tend to be shorter.  That’s not because of any hostility on my or their part, but just because after a while almost all straight people – even the most exciting and dynamic of them – end up falling into the 2.2 kids/ white picket fence lifestyle, and end up changing from the funny, happy, joyful people I first met into people who always seem to me to be dull, and unhappy, and trapped.

There’s a car advert that’s being shown a lot at the moment, for the Renault Laguna, I think.  The basic idea of the advert is to make the point that a lot of the things that the average young straight bloke promises to himself he’ll never do turn out to be exactly the things that he ends up doing.  It’s obvious that the makers of the advert want the viewer to think, ‘Ah, yes, my life has changed, so maybe my attitude to buying a Renault should change too,’ but that’s not what it made me think.  To my mind what the advert actually says is, ‘Well, the rest of your life’s already fucked, so you might as well buy a crappy car too.’  One of the scenes from the ‘past’ the advert concentrates on is a young man and woman kissing in an idyllic outdoor location, and the slogan at this point is ‘Remember when you swore you’d never love anyone else?’  A lot of straight people seem to see the shift from youthful idealism to adult conventionality as inevitable, but I think secretly most of them wish they were still kissing in the sunset instead of  driving their kids in a sensible car.

To me it seems that there’s something desperately sad in selling out a dream like that, and it’s one of the main reasons I’m glad that I’m gay.  Because the possibility of a wholly conventional life has always been closed to me, it’s less likely that I’ll end up slipping into a lifestyle I didn’t really choose, and don’t really want.  I certainly don’t think it’s inevitable all straight people will end up doing this, but I’ve watched a lot of my straight friends do it, and I can’t help but find it terribly sad.  What makes it worse is that I’m sure, deep down, the people who do it regret it too, but also think it’s something that they ‘have’ to do.

From my perspective as a poof, it also strikes me that a lot of straight people have what seems to me to be a really warped view of what’s ‘normal’ or reasonable in a relationship.  Some heterosexuals seem to see a state of open warfare as the normal way to behave in a relationship.  They seem to think it’s acceptable, even expected, to criticise their partners to anyone who’ll listen.  Some of them even do it in front of their partners.

Well, here’s the thing – to me, that isn’t normal.  To me, it’s a sign that the relationship has gone badly, badly wrong.  Being in a relationship with someone should make you happy.  If it doesn’t, there’s something wrong with the relationship.  If things have got so bad that you can only stand to stay in the relationship by slagging off your partner to everyone in earshot, then it’s probably too late to save things, and you should end the relationship now, before you both wind up even more hurt.

Heterosexuals, by and large, don’t seem to see it like that.  Often, they don’t end a relationship until things have got so bad they literally hate each other.  There’s a whole industry of solicitors and barristers and judges that has sprung up because so many straight people can’t end a relationship until they’re at the stage where they’d rather waste their money in a court case than have a quiet chat over a cup of coffee and say ‘Tell you what, let’s each keep the things we had before we met each other, and split the stuff we got while we were together 50-50.’

I’m not saying, of course, that gay people are immune to these kinds of problems, or that they’re inevitable for all straight people.  Give it a few years and I’m sure there will be court cases just as acrimonious about the dissolution of civil partnerships.  But I do think that these kinds of problems are more common among straight people than they are gay people.  With the exception of one guy I was involved with at college who neglected to tell me about his pregnant fiancée back at home, I’m on good terms with all my exes, to the extent that I would be genuinely pleased to see them if I suddenly bumped into them somewhere.  I don’t know anyone who’s straight who can say the same thing, but amongst my gay friends I’m not unique.

I don’t think there’s anything intrinsic about straight relationships that makes them more prone to breaking down in a messy way – to say that there was would mean I was as guilty of prejudice as homophobes are.  But I do think that straight people have absorbed the idea that a relationship is ‘supposed’ to be forever, and I think that means they impose a pressure on themselves to stay in relationships that are clearly doomed to fail, even if staying in those relationships is making them unhappy.  I think another factor is that there’s more of a stigma attached to being single if you’re straight – a mixture of short-term sexual relationships and long-term close friendships is a common enough pattern amongst gay men, but it seems to be less common amongst straight people.  Straight people seem to be ‘programmed’ to see a single sexual relationship as the defining relationship of their entire lives in a way that gay people tend not to, and that seems to mean that a lot of straight relationships end up being extended way beyond their natural shelf-life.  This is certainly another reason why I’m glad to be gay – I think it makes it easier for me to enjoy relationships for what they are rather than what I think they ought to be.  I’m glad I don’t have the (to me) warped world view some heterosexuals have, the one that sees endless, joyless bickering and fighting  as an acceptable, even an inevitable, part of a relationship.

So, there you have it, that’s the long version of my answer to the question of whether, if it was possible, I would choose to be straight.  And the short version?  Well, that would have been:

good god, no…  ;o)

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13 Responses to If you could choose your sexuality…

  1. Lareve says:

    Interesting. And I do agree with what you write in parts, though I’m not sure it applies to majority of heterosexual relationships, I would be a fool to say there are not a lot of people trapped as you describe. However, I guess it depends on which way you look at it, and what you see as important. I have a gay friend who has said to me on more than one occasion he finds a lot of gay men shallow and he wished they took relationships more serious like heterosexual men do, as he wants to find someone to settle down with. What you see as selling out and giving into to stereo-type I see as growing up and re-adjusting priorities.
    I totally agree with you not wanting to change your sexuality, to want change something so fundamental if you had the choice, to me would speak loudly that you have problems with who you are now. Just saying that thinks always look different depending the angle with view them at.

  2. cb says:

    Very insightful stufff – and I can relate to a lot of it. I used to spend a lot of times thinking about how things would have turned out if X or Y (insert major life event) hadn’t happened but in the end I realise that however distressing or painful, this is what makes me me. Our culture, our family, our background and our sexuality all feeds into the experiences and reactions that people have to us and how we respond to them.

  3. Mandy says:

    Hi Aethelread

    Great post. I would agree that I ( although not totally hetrosexual but more so than gay – as in I am bi but not proactivley so and not sure that makes any sense but I don’t care because that is how I see myself), struggle to end relationships.

    Not that I haven’t tried but, trying to be objective here, I think I am attracted to and attract people who are even more needy than I am. That is not to lay fault anywhere but with myself. I can actually end a relationship but the knock on effects can be even weirder than not. As in I get onslaughts of things I would rather not be dealing with. At some point…and if I choose to…I can end things but I need to be a damn sight more able to get by by myself than I am able at present.

    And I don’t mind being judged as weak because I am although I have certain stengths so don’t feel the need to beat myself up about being a pathetic specimin right now.

    What I am a bit surprised about is the comment that gays find it easier to end relationships. Perhaps that is not exactly how you put it but that is how I read it. Is that a general view? Or is it you, as the individual you are, who is able to put a stop to relationships when they are no longer happy places for you to be? I don’t know…so am interested in your view as you. And if you can end relationships, with relative ease, good for you. Is no bad place to be.

    For me things are maybe more complicated or more complicated than they should be. For sure I have a love hate relationship with the person I am with but when I love them in a positive way, rather than respond to their needyness, it really melts my heart and fills me with nice warm stuff. That most probably isn’t enough to make up for the bad stuff but I am not ‘catch of the year’ nor am I an island…just yet :>)

    and as much as I try to keep showing the compuslive carer in me the door, it shows no signs of moving out yet.

    Funny how a personal blog, with generalised views, has got such a personal response from me. Means you have touched something important. That is a good thing.

    I really get into your postings.

  4. I think this is an interesting post.

    I think you may be right on the heterosexual relationships front, although I wonder if what you describe about homosexual relationships is a specifically gay thing rather than homosexual thing, as I’m not sure it applies to lesbian relationships so much. I wonder if the inability to end relationships is just a female thing?

  5. aethelreadtheunread says:

    Thanks for the comments.

    Lareve – Thanks for your comment, and for being honest about where you disagre with me – i can absolutely see your point of view. :o) I know there are major problems with gay relationships, and i can empathise personally with what your gay friend says – i’ve been in that situation myself. The scene in particular can be incredibly shallow, and almost entirely about one-night stands and nothing else. I think there are lots of gay men – probably even a majority – who are looking for more serious relationships than they are able to find.

    In a way that’s kind-of my point, though: in the straight world it often seems to me as though a casual nightclub hook-up turns into a several week relationship, even though neither of the people in it is actually interested enough in the other for a relationship. In the gay world a similar kind of hook-up would be seen by both participants for what it actually is – a casual one-night thing. That can be very painful in terms of not finding what you were looking for, and that’s a definite downside to the typical ‘gay way’ of doing things. On the other hand, that initial dose of reality, though painful, avoids the long, slow-burning suffering that comes from over-investing in something that was never going to last anyway.

    For what it’s worth, when i was writing this post i hadn’t actually got as far as thinking about really short-term relationships. I was thinking more about medium-term relationships, and the way, it seems to me at least, that those can sometimes be over-extended among straight people. My longest relationship to date lasted for 8 years, and it wasn’t my choice when it came to an end. But after 8 years it had stopped working for my partner, and although it upset me bitterly, i agreed to call it a day so we could both move on. There’s no doubt that if i’d kicked up a fuss and argued and shouted i could have persuaded him to stay with me for longer, and i think that’s what most straight couples would have ended up doing. But i think to do that would have been a mistake, because all it would have meant is that both of us would have been unhappy. I’ve stayed very good friends with that ex – my last night out on the town was with him and his new boyfriend – and it’s that kind of thing that i think can sometimes be absent from the stereotypical ‘straight way’ of doing things.

    cb – thanks. I’m very much in agreement with the idea that we are all the product of our experiences, or at least the product of the interaction between our fundamental personalities and the things we experience.

    Mandy – when i was writing i was thinking more in general terms than about specific people in particular. I certainly don’t want you to think of anything i wrote as a personal criticism of you. All of us who have MH problems have to keep in mind that these have an effect across our entire lives, and that includes our personal lives. For what it’s worth, i don’t think you’re weak at all. In fact i see your attraction to people who need your help as a very positive quality of yours – it shows what a nurturing and giving person you are, irrespective of your illness.

    I also wasn’t meaning to write that on a personal level it’s neccesarily easier for gay people to end a relationship, although i agree that’s what it looks as though i was saying. As my story about my 8 year relationship in my reply to Lareve makes clear, it’s something that i personally find difficult sometimes, and i think that’s probably true for most gay men. But on a statistical level, it’s more common for gay relationships to be shorter-lasting than straight ones, on average. My personal feeling is that’s the case because when gay couples stay together for the longterm, they only do it because they really want to be together. I think that sometimes straight people can end up staying together even though they don’t really want to, for other reasons – for the sake of the kids, perhaps, or because they’ve been brought up to believe that they ought to stay together forever.

    But i say again – that’s a very general comment – i’m not talking specifically about my relationships, or your relationships, or anyone else’s in particular.

    intothesystem – i probably am guilty of saying ‘gay relationships’ when i should really be saying ‘male gay relationships’. Things are likely to be different for lesbians, i would think, although i thnk my wider statistical points still hold true. As far as i know, lesbians tend on average to have longer relationships than gay men, but shorter ones than heterosexual people. As for whether or not it’s a female thing – well, from my perspective it doesn’t look as though it is, but obviously that’s only my opinion, and i can’t really claim any special knowledge on the subject.

    In fact, that goes for everything i’ve said in this post and my subsequent comments. They’re are all only my personal opinions, and there’s no reason for anyone to assume that i actually know what the hell i’m talking about… ;o)

  6. cellar_door says:

    Hehe, good answer :0) I’m glad you are comfortable with your sexuality, and I don’t mean that in a patronising sense. I think I would agree and disagree about 50/50 with some of your opinions, but there is nothing in there I find particularly ‘offensive’ (wrong word but I can’t think of the right one!). A lot of it is certainly very true…

    Must say though, there seems something slightly arse-about-face in having a gay man talking about the pressure society puts on heterosexuals! ;0)

  7. Zoe says:

    This sure is meaty stuff! Where I stand is that I have a lot of sympathy with what Mandy says in her comment. I too (surprise!) find it hard to end relationships. I too believe that a lot of this is about my own neediness. Also she mentions the nice warm feelings you can get even with someone there are obvious problems with. What to do! We are all weak, flawed human beings. We don’t always act in our own best interests, or even know too clearly where those lie.

    Like Mandy I would definitely see myself as bisexual though (at the moment) non-practising! In the past I identified for a few years as lesbian. Part of that was political in nature (we’re talking the early eighties, Sussex University) and as we have already recognised, lesbianism tends to be a bit different in any case.

    Up to a point I think your point about people trapped and unhappy in relationships that have oulived their sell-by date is a fair one. I have always feared being trapped, having grown up with a rotten role model of a marriage in my Mum and Dad. So I find myself at 46 in a semi-detached relationship with someone I only really see at weekends as he has ‘other commitments’.

    I fully recognise that this is a situation I have chosen, perhaps largely out of the aforementioned fear of being trapped. A lot of the time I am even reasonably happy with the status quo, as it gives me, in some ways the best of both world.

    However, whether it’s the shadow of my mortality bearing down on my I don’t know but I understand more these days the common need for one committed relationship. To have someone special to whom you are also their number one. Whether it’s sanctioned by marriage or not is less important.

    In other words what I fled from in my youth I now find myself gravitating towards, despite myself.

    Anyway, thanks for a very thought-provoking post, Aethelread.

  8. aethelreadtheunread says:

    Thanks for the extra comments.

    cellar_door – i’m pleased you didn’t take offence (not that i expected you to, but i’m still pleased), and glad as well that you didn’t just reply with ‘But all i was expecting was a couple of light-hearted sentences!’ You’d have been well within your rights, i think. :o)

    TBH, i’m not surprised that you dsiagree with some of what i say – i think this is one of those things that looks different based on personal perspective, and so i don’t really think there’s a right and wrong answer. Well, anyway, i certainly don’t think you’re wrong, and i hope i’m not… It does seem a little strange to talk about social pressures on straight people (i wasn’t unaware of the irony when i was writing about it), but, from my perspective at least, it does seem as though it exists. :o)

    Zoe – I’ll say to you what i said to Mandy, just because i’ve got a little ‘paranoid’ that people are interpreting what i’ve written as though i was talking about them personally: I was only intending to write in very general terms, and i don’t want to question anyone’s individual choices or how they live their life. :o)

    Certainly i don’t think it’s ‘neediness’ to want to love and be loved – as far as i’m concerned, that’s what being human is all about! I also entirely understand the desire to ‘settle down’ – i think most people gay or straight want to do that. I certainly do. Where i think there may be a difference between gay and straight people is that gay people are, it seems to me, more likely to recognise when the relationship they actually have has fallen short of what they wish it was. But, who knows, i could be talking complete nonsense here! Let’s face it, it wouldn’t be the first time… ;o)

  9. Mandy says:

    Hi Aethelread

    I didn’t take anything your wrote personally. :>) It made me think and look at myself and that was no bad thing.

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  11. Zoe says:

    I would again echo what Mandy said. It’s good to think about these things.

  12. Jane Doe says:

    A wonderful post, I enjoyed it a lot. I will be back to your blog again. I’ve never thought about what it would be like had I been not been born bisexual, but it is an interesting thought.

    Have a wonderful day!

    Jane

  13. If I had a choice I would choose to have no sexuality. But that’s because I’m messed up and a loony ha ha. Actually I would choose to be bi.

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