I must have been born straight. For as long as I can remember, I have been attracted to the opposite sex. I can’t explain why this is. It is visceral, a part of me. I could no more convince myself to stop being straight than I could will my lungs into gills.
Still, many people these days think being straight is unnatural.
Gay friends have tried to “help” me with my “problem.” And I know they mean well. Sometimes they quote the words of holy people who have said that heterosexuality is wrong. “Man was made for man and woman for woman,” they recite from books written thousands of years ago, calling it a perennial truth. But back then, all men were treated like property, and people lived brutal, tribal lives. We select and interpret constantly from the past. I’d like to think that what’s everlasting, even spiritual, is based more on love than condemnation.
People sometimes insinuate that my two dads were unsuitable role models, not gay enough to be “real” men. Or they suspect some woman must have come along and “corrupted” me in my youth. Some people think being straight is a club you can be “recruited” into (and therefore leave). It is not just about sex, or shock value. I am not rebelling against anything or anyone. I am trying, in fact, to be most fully who I already am.
“You desire to know the art of living, my friend? It is contained in one phrase: make use of suffering.”
I have Kit Stolz to thank for turning me on to Vera Pavlova. I devoured her first collection in English, aptly titled If There is Something to Desire. Keen, startling, and erotic — poems of such love and longing have not made as deep an impression on me as since I first discovered Pablo Neruda. And it occurred to me: I have been attending the erotic in poetry with shyness and apprehension. For example, although I love and support the Artists’ Union Gallery, each year when their erotic poetry fundraiser reading rolls around, there is always some good reason I cannot attend.
Toward the end of my study in the Pacific MFA program, the poet Marvin Bell suggested in one of his lectures that instead of writing so many elegies to the dead, we might do well to write more love poems to the living. It occurred to me in that moment that I could be rightly accused of giving too much attention to Thanatos, at the expense of Eros. My recent reading of Vera Pavlova only added evidence to the prosecution. In fact, she might be speaking directly to me when she writes, in poem 15, in her characteristically direct manner:
Do you know what you lacked?
That dose of contempt without which
you cannot flip a woman on her back
to make her flounder like a turtle,
to make the heartless fool realize:
she cannot flip back on her own.
Here is what I discovered myself thinking over breakfast — about success in the arts, and how it relates to loving the creative process:
- The secret to success is longevity
- The secret to longevity is consistency
- The secret to consistency is discipline
- The secret to discipline is love
The best man at my wedding was, and is, gay. We met several years before I met my wife. We were both fresh out of college, finding our way in relationships. We would take turns, over espresso drinks, listening to one another’s hopeless crushes, dating mishaps, and heartbreaks. With each new relationship we learned a little more about what we each wanted in a partner, and encouraged each other that we would, one day, find The One — his patient, kind, domestic-minded guy; my smart, quirky, artistic girl. For both of us, finding a partner who wanted kids was important.
As soon as Val and I got married, we started referring to ourselves as a family. After the death of our infant son, my understanding of what marriage and family means changed dramatically. The commitment we made in our wedding ceremony — to love one another unconditionally, as best we can — was held to the fire. Grieving our hopes and dreams as parents tested the definition of “family” as a unit of support. Certainly, we were stronger together than apart — but some days we found ourselves both simply unable to give any more. It was in these times that the greater family — including relatives and friends — buoyed us up. Our commitment to love each other, and to support each other in learning and growing in the midst of adversity, became a new, refined definition of what it means to be married, and to be a family.