By: Paul S. Cilwa Viewed: 2/20/2020
Posted: 9/15/2010
Topics/Keywords: #GayHistory #Humor Page Views: 1872
In which I answer the most common questions I'm asked when straight people learn I'm gay.

Once upon a time, when a gay guy came out of the closet, he could expect to be met with scorn or derision from his former friends. So I'm told. That was not my experience, and from what I understand, unless one is Mormon or Southern Baptist it doesn't much happen at all these days. Instead, we are greeted with a barrage of questions, much as one might be if he revealed himself to be an alien (or a Log Cabin Republican, which is much the same thing). So, in the interest of satisfying the curiosity of those too timid to ask, I am going to address the most Frequently Asked Questions of gay men.

Why do you guys have to tell us you're gay? We don't tell you we're straight.

Straight Pride Parade

Yes, you do. You mentioned the movie you took your girlfriend to, or that your wife is expecting a baby (congratulations!). You have a picture of your favorite lady on your desk, and you wear a wedding ring. Every time you share almost any aspect of your life you advertise your sexual orientation. All we want is the same freedom you enjoy: To be ourselves.

Granted, we could do it more subtly. I could let you think I was straight (and you would), and then casually mention that my husband and I were going camping next weekend, at which point the odds are good you would spill coffee all over your suit. Is that really what you want?

Doesn't the Bible say being gay is a sin?

Selling your daughter into slavery.

Maybe. It uses the word "abomination", however, which isn't a synonym for "sin". Besides, it also says eating shrimp and wearing polyester-cotton blends are abominations, orders you to stone your wife if she commits adultery, and allows you to sell your daughter into slavery. When you get a good price for your daughter come back and we'll talk.

Which of you is the "wife"?

This question comes from the depths of the 1950s and before, when "husband" meant a certain set of jobs (taking out the garbage, fixing the car) and "wife" meant a different set (doing the laundry, cooking). In a gay relationship, the jobs are distributed according to who can best perform them and who enjoys them most (or detests them least). Lots of straight couples also dare to divvy up the work in novel ways, possibly because gay couples led the way.

That's not what I meant.

Kama Sutra

Ah…you meant sex. You meant, who's on top? But you know, straight couples have also found there's no point in adhering to rigid formulas first promulgated by missionaries in Africa (where they were laughed at until they infected the natives with deadly European diseases).

Many gay couples do naturally adopt a pattern where one is "top" and the other is "bottom". But part of the fun of being gay is that these positions are fluid and can be mixed up every now and then for variety. And many more gay guys never ascribe to the whole top/bottom dichotomy and adopt other positions seldom seen outside an advanced yoga class.

How did the word "gay" come to mean "homosexual"? When I was a kid it meant "happy."

When you were a kid, you were told the word meant "happy." But in the 1930s Cary Grant used it in a movie as code for homosexual.

An 18th Century "dandy".

Gay came to English from the Old French gai in the 12th century, originally meaning "joyful" and "carefree" as well as "bright and showy".

In 1637 the word was used in print, disapprovingly, to refer to sexual immorality. However, consider how it got there. People seen by prudes as sexually immoral generally do not think of themselves that way. They think of themselves as not caring for the religious mores adhered to by the religionists…that is, "carefree". And in the case of both gay guys and "loose women", there is an association with dressing more brightly, in a more showy manner, than, say, the Puritans with their starched white bibs and black outfits. Undoubtedly, the sexually adventurous of the 17th century were calling themselves "gay" long before the Puritans tried to turn the word into an insult.

Gertrude Stein's Miss Furr & Miss Skeene (1922) is possibly the first traceable published use of "gay" to refer to a homosexual relationship.

They were …gay, they learned little things that are things in being gay, … they were quite regularly gay.

By the 1950s, adults well knew the meaning of the word "gay" as an antonym to "straight" but they didn't tell you that, any more than they told you the other meaning of the word "pussy". So this usage is hardly new. By 1963, this new sense of the word gay was known well enough to be used by Albert Ellis in his book The Intelligent Woman's Guide to Man-Hunting.

The first known appearance of "homosexual" in print is found in an 1869 German pamphlet by the Austrian-born novelist Karl-Maria Kertbeny, published anonymously, arguing against a Prussian anti-sodomy law. Thus the sexual connotations of "gay" long predate the coinage of "homosexual".

Most gay people do not prefer the use of "homosexual" to describe us because it sounds so clinical and, indeed, like an illness—which the word was coined to describe, and which the orientation was considered to be until 1973, when homosexuality was removed from the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual (DSM) used by doctors and psychiatrists.

On the other hand, no one seems to mind the word "homosexual" to be used as an adjective to describe the relationship between two members of the same sex, or sexual acts shared by them.

As with all minorities, the terms we use to describe ourselves evolve. Currently, homosexual guys prefer to be called "gay" and women, "lesbian". But some lesbians describe themselves as "gay". I've also heard "queer", which used to be an insult. (I still don't like it.) And "faggot" is still an insult when spoken by a straight person, though one gay man can use it to describe another without hurt.

When did you decide to be gay?

Some kids are just born gay.

About the same age you were when you "decided" to be straight.

Oh, you never made that choice? Well, neither did I. I was fantasizing about the boys in my class being naked as early as second grade. That's also when I realized I hated competitive sports. (I must note that probably as many gay guys love competitive sports as hate them.) In fifth grade, I was insisting on wearing orange corduroy pants despite being made fun of for that by everyone including my mother, who had nevertheless inexplicably bought them.

Now, having said that, I will say that I'm glad I am gay. Whatever combination of traits, genes and experiences that have made me who I am, I am grateful for. I like who I am. And if a treatment was developed to turn gay men into straight men, I wouldn't want it…any more, I suspect, that you, my straight friend, would submit to a treatment that would turn you gay.

Do gay guys "sword" fight? If I was gay I would totally sword fight.

Ha! There's one I never thought of. But next time, I totally will! Straight friend, there's hope for you yet!