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)