'Good Gays' and Social Norms

JOSEPH AUGUSTYNIAK

September 28, 1993|By JOSEPH AUGUSTYNIAK

Although I appreciate and encourage her open-mindedness toward homosexuals. Allison Klein's article, ''Just One of My Closest Friends,'' (Opinion * Commentary, July 22) reveals a possible subtle prejudice that undermines her purported message of toleration. This prejudice, though certainly not blatant and probably not even consciously formed, is found with no small frequency among people who presumably wish to grant homosexuals complete legal and social parity.

My question is simply this: Do these people accept homosexuality in all its forms and manifestations as a legitimate alternative to monogamous heterosexuality, or do they approve only of homosexuality that mirrors (middle-class) heterosexual values? Is the homosexual community divided into ''good gays'' and ''bad gays,'' and do we grant full equality just to those homosexuals who ''obey themselves'' as measured by how well they integrate ''traditional family values'' into their life-style?

Like Ms. Klein, I too have a close friend (Jim) who is homosexual. Unlike Ms. Klein, I do not carry the impression that most homosexuals are just like me. An experience I had with Jim forced me to re-evaluate my thinking.

I met Jim in graduate school in Rochester, New York, when we were both working on doctoral degrees. He had come all the way from Eugene, Oregon, to get as far as possible from an intolerant family. He had been a theoretical mathematics major at the University of Oregon and was blessed with a mind that excelled at quantitative thinking. Jim did very well in the two logic courses required for all incoming graduate students. I did not, and it was logic that caused our paths to cross.

Jim tutored me and prodded and pushed me through such abstruse topics as ''deontic logic,'' ''modal logic'' and ''deviant logics'' (no . . . not logic for deviants!). He made these topics not only accessible, but interesting and exciting. Jim was so good at explaining logic, in fact, that he was appointed teaching assistant to the department's logic professor.

But Jim's interesting and creative mind could not deal with all the paperwork, tedium, politics and loneliness associated with a graduate program. He eventually dropped out and ended up earning a commercial truck driver's license. He drives the cross-country ''big rigs.''

Jim has always struck me as a ''straight'' homosexual -- not as one of those (Ms. Klein's words) ''flamboyant, effeminate individuals who constantly flaunt their homosexuality.'' On the contrary, Jim is very manly and has a macho, ''real man's'' career driving trucks. To casually meet and talk with Jim is to learn nothing about sexual orientation or his sexual behavior. Unfortunately, Jim's sexual behavior has gotten him in trouble; he has AIDS.

Last spring Jim took some time off from driving to visit me and to attend the homosexual march on Washington. I went along. The experience changed my perspective on Jim's sexuality and on homosexuality in general.

I had always been aware of Jim's promiscuity. His sex life and social life never resembled mine. Unlike Ms. Klein I cannot say that I am ''able to see that gay life-styles and and dating norms are very similar to heterosexual ones.'' Straight-acting and straight-looking Jim vehemently rejected, both in theory and practice, the middle-class heterosexual values that he left behind in Eugene. I accepted this part of Jim's personality. I rather enjoyed the way he thumbed his nose at those ''. . . straights.'' (Expletive deleted.) What I did not understand until the march in Washington was how incredibly socially repressed by the heterosexual world Jim felt, and what it feels like to be a minority in your sexual preference.

In Washington that day, Jim was surrounded by thousands and thousands and thousands of men and women who could not relate to being heterosexual. I saw parts of his personality come out that I did not recognize. It was confusing to me. Every time he introduced me to some of his friends I cringed and managed to very quickly work into the conversation the fact that I was most definitely not homosexual.

On the way home, I mentioned to Jim the fact that I was extremely upset by a great deal of the behavior I had seen that day. Jim turned to me and sternly said, ''Joe, you're not turning into a straight are you?!''

I realized at that moment that over the years of our friendship I had created this false image of Jim as being a basically straight man who happened to prefer homosexual intercourse, when I was in fact dealing with a very homosexual man who spent most of his time masquerading as a straight individual. He told me that the only reason he did not act out his more outrageous desires and fantasies was fear of social retribution.

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