Flippin' Out


Someone recently asked me whether, if I could, I would "flip" to straight at some point. My immediate response was to lament all the straight guys whom I've wished would "flip" to bent at some point and who, as yet, haven't.

When I reconsidered the query, my second response was to think, "Yes, but only if I could still fancy Jake Gyllenhaal and Keanu Reeves." Certainly, giving up those desperate little fantasies would leave large holes in my otherwise well-rounded life. (Unfortunately, as far as I know, neither has flipped yet, unless required to do so professionally.)

But beyond my flippancy, I realised there was something insidious about the enquiry, prompted by others' declarations that they were happy to be gay while young, but at some point they would like to turn straight, settle down and have a family.

In which year are we living? What kind of subconscious, conservative, heterosexist paradigm are we perpetuating? After fighting all these years for equal rights, does being gay only boil down to the act of sex? Is everything else reserved for the hallowed realm of heterosexuality?

I've always quipped that I am a political gay man, meaning that, in the same way as some women consciously choose to stop considering men as potential partners, I made a choice to seek intimacy with men over women for a reason other than my attraction to them. That reason was power. I have always sensed acutely the inherent power difference between the sexes. I find it, at best, uncomfortable and, at worst, abhorrent. Don't get me wrong—I neither abhor nor have difficulty with women—to the contrary. But I do cringe at the way in which women and men tend towards either submission or dominance in their relationships with each other, particularly when intimate, because of their particular gender conditioning.

In my more analytical moments I contemplate the influences in my life that may have contributed to what some may dismiss as over sensitivity to this gender-based power struggle. Certainly, growing up, my mother was a dominant figure in my family. She wore the pants, called the shots and milked the cows. Well, maybe I made up the part about the cows. But Mum was the boss and it was to her that we all, including Dad, looked for direction.

Then there were the endless female physiotherapists (physio-the-rapists), the bellows of whom I still hear in my darkest moments, commanding me to walk with my heels flat on the floor, to keep my head up and not to sit in the wrong position. I remember developing deceitful habits from a very young age, learning quickly how to shift surreptitiously from sitting, butt between my heels (the most stable position ever), to a demure form of side saddle, in record time; and slowing from a tiptoed totter to a flat-footed shuffle as I mastered, fairly accurately, the ability to sense one of them approaching. Still now I pleasantly surprise myself with my uncanny knack of slowing guiltily to the speed limit just as a traffic police car rounds the corner. But nothing has changed—every once in a while I have always been busted.

My teachers were, in the main, women too, particularly until I reached intermediate school (our version of junior high here in New Zealand). I had one male teacher before I turned eleven and I remember having such a crush on him. He was blond, tall and very handsome, as I remember, and younger than most male teachers. Best of all he smiled and laughed a lot, and when he smiled at me, my young, unconscious heart would leap.

My friends were mainly girls, for the practical reason that I couldn't participate in the primary pursuit of boys—sport—though I imagine, on reflection, that impairment was less a reason than a damn good excuse to hang around gossiping in a way that our socialization discouraged boys from doing.

So the major adult characters in my world being strong women, my peers being female, and male adults not featuring in any significant regard make for a classic argument in favour of nurture over nature, at least. And I have often surmised that perhaps my very estrogen-dominant upbringing left me respecting women too much to sleep with them! But I'll never forget how my only sexual experience with a woman when I was seventeen woke me to the subtle dynamic I alluded to earlier. After we'd had sex she changed somehow, suddenly rendering herself my inferior, and I remember feeling extremely unnerved and even slightly repulsed by it. In comparison, I remember rejoicing in the parity of being I experienced a year or two later when I made love to a man for the first time, which seemed like real lovemaking at last.

I like the power balance that same-sex intimacy offers. Sure, there are other influences that impact on the dynamics of our interpersonal relationships, including differences in race, social status, age, function, etc. But in my mind there is something fundamental about gender. Strip us back and we are united in our deep-seated identity with it, in all its glorious and increasingly inter-, trans-, and pan-sexual diversity.

To be a man with another man is the reason that I cherish being gay. Physical attraction is only one aspect. I also enjoy the emotional and intellectual congruity I experience with certain men, the similar humour, the reflection of self and the realisation that we have a spiritual purpose to challenge the rituals of society by creating lives and families beyond heterosexual convention.

So, all things considered, would I flip? No. Not even if you paid me, Keanu.

2006 Philip Patson



Many thanks to all who have emailed me about this column. It's great to get your feedback and hear your stories. Please continue to visit me at www.diversityworks.co.nz and email me at philip@diversityworks.co.nz


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BENT: A Journal of CripGay Voices/May 2006