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to Section One | to Arts & Entertainment
posted Friday, September 21, 2012 - Volume 40 Issue 38
Ask Michael: What does Gay really mean?
Section One
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Ask Michael: What does Gay really mean?

Going beyond 'sexual orientation' to embrace a deeper truth

by Michael Raitt - SGN Contributing Writer

Do you remember 'Uncle Frank' and his good friend/roommate, 'Uncle Bill'? Or 'Aunt Sue' and her friend, 'Aunt Barbara'? They lived together for years and it was tacitly understood that their relationship went beyond that of a simple friendship, but the precise nature of that partnership was never openly talked about and was only superficially acknowledged. Most of us can recall a situation in our family or neighborhood that resembled this.

Now these relationships are being talked about and they are being framed in the context of what they are really about - love! I hear politicians talking about 'being accepted for whom you love' and I see TV ads where parents are talking about loving their children and accepting their child's partner - the person their child loves - into their family. People are talking about the right to marriage - not for monetary gain or to push a political agenda for the sake of pushing an agenda. Rather, because of love.

For years, the terms 'Gay,' 'Lesbian,' and 'homosexual' have had double meanings. One meaning was that two women or two men were in a relationship together. However, the more powerful meaning, and the bigger focus that was applied, was around the act of sex, and the popular terms used were (and still are, I might add) 'sexuality' and 'sexual orientation.' Being Gay was reduced to describing who we were having sex with. We've had it backwards this whole time!

Historically, I understand why it was backwards. The social constraints were so punitive in years past that, although many men and women longed for loving relationships with someone of the same gender, they absolutely couldn't risk it. The most feasible option left, in those times, was to go and seek a quick sexual connection.

A NEW PARADIGM
However, times are changing. Individuals, families, friends, and communities are recognizing that being Lesbian or Gay is about being in a romantic, loving relationship. People are seeing that their Lesbian and Gay sons, daughters, parents, friends, bosses, neighbors, politicians, and celebrities are pursuing loving relationships.

Being Gay or Lesbian is an emotional orientation! We should be stating that explicitly and correcting people by saying exactly that - 'Gay is not a sexual orientation, it is an emotional orientation,' and 'I am Lesbian/Gay because of who I love and not who I have sex with.' We should be making it clear that love is the emotion that drives relationships, and we do that by using accurate terminology. I am Gay because of my ability to have a romantic, emotional connection with another man. 'Emotional orientation' more truthfully explains the experience of being Lesbian or Gay. This whole push for marriage equality is about the emotional relationship between two adults - not who they have sex with!

It is no longer acceptable, either for us or for the people who know us and love us, to allow the designation of Lesbian or Gay to reduce us to an act of sex. This is why I strongly disagree with the terminology of 'sexual orientation.' Sexual orientation almost entirely negates what it really means to be Lesbian or Gay. Those of us who are Lesbian or Gay should no longer be referring to our 'sexuality.' This minimizes who we are and perpetuates the focus on an act of sex rather than on the emotional bond that love brings. 'Sexuality' and 'sexual orientation' describe the simplest of observable human behaviors. It is impossible for those two terms to capture the real nature and complexity of emotion and relationship dynamics that are a part of being Lesbian or Gay.

IT'S ABOUT LOVE
Love is very complex. We know little about it. We know it is a very strong drive and we know there are different kinds of love. Familial love is different than the love one has for, say, a favorite sports team. There is love of country, food, and gardening. Some love to paint or they love their job. People love their friends and their cars. Yet there is another love that is quite different from all of these. It is romantic love!

The majority of us have experienced romantic love. It is a sensation unlike almost anything else. It is exciting and scary. It creates bonds that can transcend physical time and life. We build families around it. I don't know of anyone who can tell us with certainty exactly how it happens but it does. What I can tell you is that romantic love is the force that makes us Lesbian or Gay. Every single Lesbian woman and Gay man who reads this can relate. They know it is true to the core of their being.

We are talking about love. We are fighting for love. Acknowledging our capacity to love makes us feel good. Being in love makes us healthier and happier. Love forms bonds and families and families create strong communities and a thriving country. Love is one of the most basic, yet extraordinarily powerful emotions that most humans seek to experience. We are hard-wired to love. Let us actively and accurately portray what being Lesbian or Gay really is - an emotional orientation!

Michael Raitt, M.A., L.M.H.C., is a therapist and a contributing writer to SGN, where his column appears bi-monthly. If you would like to comment on this column, ask a question you'd like him to write about, or suggest another topic of interest, please contact him at askingmichael@comcast.net.

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