Really, we need to examine what relationships actually are. We’ve grown in a world where people date, get engaged, marry and then start a family together, which has been the case for thousands of years, evolving from humanity’s need to reproduce and protect their young. Like any species, our primary base instinct is to repopulate our planet. But modernity has challenged this; like all other aspects of human life, nothing is definite anymore. A person can do what they want, eat what they want, talk about anything, learn whatever they choose and, potentially, their future is entirely in their own hands. And so too can anyone have a relationship with whomever they choose, gender, class, race, caste aside. But does that mean that these relationships should ascribe to what we have been brought up to define as a “relationship”? I would argue not.
A relationship, and I’m referring to a romantic relationship here, is the coming together of two individuals, who have feelings of love toward one another and make the commitment to pursue and maintain this love. This is the only common ground that unites all relationships. Without love there can be no relationship – everything else comes as an added extra, determined and decided upon by its participants. Fidelity, honesty, trust and sex are all elements that would be described by most to be the essential and inherent parts of every relationship, but are these elements absolute? Of course not. For many, open relationships can work; for some, honesty may not always be the best policy. Different relationships function in wholly different ways because, believe it or not, we are all different people and thus with the coming together of two unique individuals, so too will the resulting relationship be unique too.
Gay men however, can be quite different (generalising again, I know). There seems to be a common reluctance amongst gay men to settle down, to commit or to entertain the idea of being in a relationship. Though single gay men are frequently casting their nets wide (Grindr and similar social networking apps have made this net all the wider too), you ask many of them what exactly they’re looking for and very few would say a relationship. To be actively looking for a relationship is seemingly ‘uncool’, and even when a connection is made, the idea of calling each other ‘boyfriends’ seems like pie in the sky. I would argue that if you’re ‘seeing someone’ consistently for several weeks, whether or not you decide to label it so, you are by society’s conventions, boyfriends. But it is these conventions that are the problem. Is homosexuality actually so opposed to convention that its rules no longer even apply?
There are many people who can’t get their head around the idea of two people of the same gender in a relationship. The concept is baffling to them because they are so used to their view on normality that any challenge of that is alien, confusing and unsettling. Similarly, there are many people who could not fathom the idea of being in an open relationship with their significant other. The majority of people see sex as something exclusive, to be shared solely with their partner and everything outside of this becomes an issue of trust. There is no doubt that the emotions involved with and the actual impact of sex, both internal and external from a relationship, is a fundamental tenet of any relationship. Boundaries defined by both individuals together decide what is acceptable or not; for some this is absolute fidelity, while for others, sex can be with whomever they want, as long as love itself remains exclusive. And while both of these forms of relationships occur with both straight and gay people, why is the incidence of the latter far more common with gay men than with anyone else?
Society at large may struggle to understand this concept, but the gay community is in a position to set its own rules, while history has been littered with laws and rules governing sexual ethics for straight people; infidelity was a crime punishable by death, divorce was a taboo, illegitimate children were condemned as bastards from conception. Homosexuality has emerged as a legitimate lifestyle choice after these laws have been broken down; the land from which these relationships have sprung is now completely empty, you can do with it as you please. And so many gay relationships challenge this idea of normality. Society can easily now accept James and John over the road, who live in their perfect semi with manicured lawns and two glistening sportscars, but how does it feel about Steve and Simon, who frequently have “friends” over, who don’t leave until the wee small hours? Well it may not occur to them exactly what’s going on, which for Steve and Simon is probably a good thing, because people’s fear of the unfamiliar is so strong that it might not be possible for them to understand. So for now, though Steve and Simon’s gay friends probably know exactly what they’ve been up to, their straight friends will just be told they watched a DVD and baked a cake. So while many gay people ascribe to and act upon the idea of ‘normality’ that stems from their upbringing, there are many who fundamentally challenge the foundations of this. It doesn’t mean that gay relationships are necessarily different from straight people’s, it just means that their definition of ‘relationship’ itself can be much broader.