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Labels, Identities, Communities, Agendas


From the moment of my birth, during the September of 1967, people tacitly presumed that I would mature into a heterosexual male. I am certain that I had no understanding of the term or practice we call "homosexuality" for the first several years of my life. I was baptized a Catholic, and earnestly believed what I was taught in Sunday school.

During 1978 my family lived in Wichita, Kansas. I remember my mother explaining to me, as she drove to her polling place, that she was voting in favor of a gay rights ordinance. That is my first memory on the topic, and I had no idea then that I would someday identify myself as "gay".

The first time I ever masturbated successfully I was flipping through a Playboy magazine from my father's collection.

I had "girlfriends" during elementary school, high school, and even during my first year at Duke University.

However, as my body matured, I found myself more attracted to male bodies than to female bodies. Much more attracted. The relationships I had with women were missing something essential -- I did not fantasize about having sex with them, and I did not have sex with them. The first person I had sex with was a male, a fella one grade behind me in high school. Not only did I have sex with him, I fell in love with him, love more intense than any I'd ever had.

Before I labeled myself as "gay" I was more interested in having sexual/romantic relationships with men than with women. Much more interested. For me this was completely natural and unforced. I was not recruited, assaulted, or patterned in any way, I simply followed my innate desires.

The labels came later.

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During my second year at Duke I decided that I was gay. I did so analytically -- I looked at how much more attracted I was toward men, and realized that I'd be completely happy were I never to have sex with a female. I wanted to have a boyfriend. I decided that finding a boyfriend would be easier if I "came out" and told people that I was gay and started hanging out with other gay fellas, wherever they might be.

I claimed the gay label and made it part of my identity, then I went in search of a gay community for friendship, support, and romance.

I found a gay community on campus, the Duke Gay Lesbian Association. That wasn't so difficult ... although coming out to my friends and family had its rough spots.

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Soon after finding a gay community I was educated about the community's list of political demands. Gays and lesbians wanted equal rights. They wanted protection from discrimination in employment, housing, and benefits. They wanted the right to serve openly in the military. They wanted the right to marry and have children. They wanted protection from discrimination in matters of child custody and visitation.

I also became more aware of discrimination. I'd been raised in a progressive household and had never been taught that homosexuality was bad. I never believed that homosexuality was bad. But I quickly learned that lots of people think homosexuality is sinful, evil, or disgusting. Some people "tolerated" homosexuals, while still believing that homosexuals should not be allowed to teach, preach, live in their neighborhoods, or "flaunt" their sexuality. I learned that some people have unreasoning, emotional hatreds towards gays and lesbians ... hatreds that lead to violence and murder.

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To me, this is all way more complicated than it ought to be.

Why can't our society just let people love and live with whomever they please? Why can't two or more people of any gender create their own voluntary families and be treated equally under the law?

To me, this is labeling run amok. I have particular interests, I look for people with compatible interests, I decide to spend time with them, we ask that we be treated on the basis of merit and equal rights. If my interest were to play soccer, nobody would care. It wouldn't matter if I labeled myself a "soccer player", whether I identified with the "soccer community", or had any idea what a "soccer agenda" might entail.

There is something special about sexuality.

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Humans are mammals. Mammals reproduce sexually. If a mammal doesn't have sex, it doesn't reproduce, and its genes die with the host. Powerful biological forces drive us to have sex :o) Sex with the opposite gender, that is.

Why do some of us feel powerful biological forces driving us to have sex with the same gender? I don't know. Perhaps it is a mutation. Humans have learned how to separate the reproductive goal of sex from the pleasure goal of sex. We can do this by ourselves, via masturbation. We can do this with one or more partners as long as the sperms and eggs are blocked from union. And we can do this with people of the same gender -- with no possibility of reproduction.

I don't know why humans are the lucky ones, able to separate reproduction from pleasure. Some think that this separation is sinful. There's a fun label for ya: "sinful". Let's divide human behavior into two mutually exclusive sets: sinful & nonsinful. Who decides? How? Sigh.

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It isn't only the gay community that has an agenda. Every community that shares a moral vision of how life ought to be lived has an agenda. Some agendas are authoritarian -- thou shalt and thou shalt not! Other agendas are permissive -- thou can, if thou'd like!

Heh. I wonder if I'd be such a "liberal" guy if I'd been born straight.


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