How do you know you’re straight?

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Last week, the US Supreme Court decided in favor of marriage equality for Gays and Lesbians. This issue has been thought provoking to me in a number of ways, so perhaps I’ll write several posts on the overall topic. The thought that sticks out to me the most is “How do I know I’m straight/no gay?” Many opponents to marriage equality try to argue that homosexuality is a lifestyle choice; that one can be “born again hetero”. This post shares some of my life experiences that have led to my opinion that this is a BS argument.

When I think of my own exposure to the idea of homosexuality, there are three people in my life who have shaped my opinion more than others. The first of these is a guy in my fraternity pledge class at MIT. I’ll call him TD, but anyone familiar the members of that era will know who I’m talking about.

In the early days of knowing him, TD was pretty brash. He said all kinds of crazy and perhaps even offensive stuff. Borderline racist, and not so borderline homophobic 1. As pledges during our freshman year, 2 we didn’t have any say on which rooms we’d live in, 3 and TD and I shared a space for a while. We didn’t get along particularly well. We didn’t fight, but it wasn’t pleasant either.

Sometime during sophomore year (maybe junior) TD announced to the house that he’s gay, first by having a brother from a different house spend the night and then bringing it up in a chapter meeting. The house seemed split 50/50 between acceptance/non-acceptance 4. The house had communal showers on each floor. I remember thinking of myself as progressive by telling TD in the shower, when we happened to be in there, that his personal life is his own.

After the dust settled, TD was a different person. More relaxed, more aware, happy, fun. As seniors, we were roommates again, this time by choice, and we had great rapport. I wouldn’t want anyone to continue such a conflicted life. There was one conversation from that time that really sticks with me. TD had gone on dates with two different guys and stopped by the house with each. I got to meet his dates and chat a bit. Some days later, I asked TD, “so you gonna go out with X or Y again?” We talked a bit about the dates. One guy was too forward, the other is nice they’ll probably see each other again. What really struck me is that I could have had exactly the same conversation about women. Just change the pronouns.

What I learned from TD, is that being gay is not a lifestyle choice. He was a different person after coming out. Furhermore, unless you want to fantasize about your friends’ partners, who your friends date doesn’t have any negative impact on you.  TD has been with the same man for a bunch of years now. TD was active in the fight for marriage equality, but I’m not sure they want to marry.

The second person who shaped my views on homosexuality was also in my fraternity. I’ll be a bit more vague on his identity and the reasons why will be obvious in a bit. I’ll refer to him as Bob (since I can’t think of any others from my fraternity with that name)

Bob was really fun. Everyone liked him. He dated women. One night we were returning from a night of partying at another fraternity 5 when he mentions that he’s bisexual.  I didn’t think much of it. A couple days later, Bob and I are chatting and the topic comes up again. He tells me he’d got a crush on someone else in the house and he’s not sure how to approach it. We chat about that a bit when I make a side comment, “I’m assuming, in this conversation, that you’re not talking about me”. A couple minutes later, he confesses that I am, indeed, the object of his crush. hmmm. Now what do I say? I’d never before had a guy tell me he was into me.

Many of us may think we know how we’d respond in such a situation, but until you’re actually faced with it, you don’t really know. I indicated that I wasn’t interested, but over the coming weeks, he persisted. He was fairly specific and explicit, assuring me there’d be no obligations. These were the kind of advances, that many guys would not turn down if they were coming from a woman.

It made me think.

In college, I wasn’t really very lucky with the ladies. Like anyone else, a bit of intimacy or human connection would have been really welcome. I seriously considered it. College is supposed to be about exploration and finding oneself. Trying new things. I thought, “why not? I’m an open minded guy”. The problem was Bob doesn’t have the softness that I find appealing in women. Bob has body hair. 6 Bob doesn’t have boobies. Had Bob been more effeminate, I probably would have taken him up on his offers. This was also what solidified in me my confidence about my own orientation.

You don’t really know who you are until you find yourself on the edge of some sort of cliff. I am thankful to Bob. Like TD, Bob has also been with the same man for many years. I imagine they will marry if they haven’t already.

The third person who has deeply shaped my perspective on homosexuality is a woman I dated while living in Israel. I’ll refer to her as MF. MF and I met on a trip with Intel’s mountain biking club about two or three weeks after my arrival in the country. She’d largely grown up in Connecticut so she was a welcome familiar personality. I gave her a ride home from that trip and we agreed I’d give her a lift in future weeks 7. MF and I quickly realized we got along really well and I soon considered her to be my girlfriend. I met her parents and regularly had Friday dinners with them at their house 8. I got along really well with her parents. Her mom loved me. Not long into our relationship, MF asked me if I’d ever been with a guy. I replied no. She pushed a bit more, “you’ve really never been with a guy?”. I recounted to her my experience with Bob and thought it was odd that she was so persistent about the topic. She then told me that she had been with women in the past and told me of previous girlfriends. I was fine with that. Lots of women have made connections with other women. She tells me “so I’ve dated women and I figured that’s the path I’m on until I met you.”

You can’t change who you are, but I didn’t really understand that at the time. I really liked MF. 9. We agreed that we’d give it a shot and see how it goes but I’d need to be patient. Several months of frustration ensued. If not for this obstacle, I would have married her. We got along really well. We had great chemistry. I fit into her family really well. We enjoyed the same activities.

Being a compelling partner is not enough to convert someone. You’re gay/lesbian, straight, or something in between, but there’s no changing it. Soon after we broke up, MF started dating a woman with whom she still shares a life today. MF has carried four children that they are raising together. 10

I am thankful to TD, Bob and MF for the ways in which they’ve touched my life. I am happy for them that they’ve come to terms with who they are. I am happy to see that society is placing less pressure on folks to be someone they’re not. Marriage equality in all 50 states is another step in that direction. It’s not a lifestyle choice.

 

I have thoughts on other aspects on this topic that I’ll likely write about.


  1. A common thing for Mac users to do back then was to redefine system sounds. One of the guys in the house replaced the error sound (for example trying to type when a modal dialog was waiting for ok) with a sound clip of TD saying, “what do you think? I’m some kind of faggot?”

  2. this was in an era when MIT fraternity rush happened two or three days after new freshmen show up on campus. Pledges immediately moved into the house. MIT doesn’t do this anymore and I’m not aware of any other school having such a system. I think it worked well because you could rush without predetermined biases for or against the reputations of each house.

  3. During the first semester, we were each required to rotate between three different rooms, thereby being exposed to more many older brothers

  4. One of the brothers went so far as to say he could no longer use the chapter room to spend the night with his girlfriend. It’d been tainted. The same guy is somewhat religious and I found it humorous that he was using that room to screw the woman he wasn’t married to. In his defense, they did marry and are still together today.

  5. another thing that’s different about MIT (even today?) is that most fraternity parties are open to any MIT student, even members of another house. I believe most other schools (all?) have it such that you only go to parties thrown by your own house.

  6. I’ll note that my dad once referred to me as looking like a wolf 🙂

  7. In Israel, cars were quite expensive to own. Most people that did have cars, got them as a work benefit. Because of this, I got to know Haifa really well. Better than any other city I’ve lived in

  8. In Israel, Friday dinners is something everyone does, every week. I should do a post just on that.

  9. in the years since I’ve returned to the US, I’ve visited Israel for work a bunch of times. In those visits I probably spent more time with her than my other Israeli friends combined. I also spent most of my first sabbatical with her on a month and a half trip to Kenya

  10. One of my trips to Israel was when she was pregnant with her first son. I’d never touched a pregnant belly before. A couple years later, I visited shortly after the birth of her twins. Sometime during that trip she took a picture of me holding one of them. At the time, I had a thought that made me really sad “this child should have been mine”

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