I’ll never forget the first time I felt that gold band on my bare knee. I watched it glide up my leg without thinking how to stop it. It’s the band designated to hold together eternal ends and family ties; the band of love and the Bible; the band of forever and ever. Or until it’s time to unzip your Old Navy khakis. And then forever again when it’s all over in fifteen minutes.
I want to pretend that I was eighteen when I undressed what must have been my first committed man, though I was probably younger. I know there have been several since. There have been guys with wives, or with girlfriends. Guys who liked a little adventure on the side, who bored easily with pussy. Bisexuals. Try-sexuals. Confused. Almost always entirely sober. Older. Always older than me. After all, I was barely a teenager when I started flirting with men through dial-up connections, or phoning chat lines on three-way calls with friends for fun. (Hug me if you remember The Gay Café.)
The gay/straight alliance has always run deeper than what you’re used to seeing those words mean. The tradition isn’t honoured — and three hail Marys if it were ever celebrated — but it’s like a twisted right of passage: gay men sleeping with their unavailable, attached “straight” male counterparts, whether they know it or not. I’m not saying this is the sort of thing that most gay men actively seek out. (Okay, sometimes it is.) Mostly, I’ve ended up in these situations by accident, through omissions.
The practice of bedding straight boys isn’t some frat fantasy — it’s a fact of life. And when I say boys, I mean men who work in delicate interactions to lead so-called “double lives” on the “down low.” Those men whose lives are constricted by circumstance, often with an insatiable appetite for something they can’t explain, control or accept. Cruise to your heart’s content and you’ll find them: on Craigslist, or in chat rooms, or in the stall next to you at the Cumberland Centre on their lunch break. Waiting. Watching. On the hunt.
“Fano” is what he told me to call him. He picked me up in a desolate carpool lot that had become my designated waiting area, a place where I knew, with exact certainty, that no acquaintance would see me getting into his black SUV. Fano’s wife was out of town and he’d persuaded me enough on Gay.com chat to meet him. Why? I can’t remember much beyond I was horny and he was available. I was simply doing what I always did: meeting up with guys. And I suppose he was doing the same thing. Nothing about it felt any different than it did with other men I’d met, attached or otherwise. What felt better was that he couldn’t possibly want anything more from me than I was willing to give him; Fano could never exist in my ‘real’ world, or in visions mapped out by my favourite pop songs. He was the emotionless journey, and, pleasantly, there was nothing precious about it.
And then we ended up in his driveway. I hated this part. How could I get inside sight unseen, past the watchful gaze and loose lips of neighbours? If morality existed as a place to go for a stamp of approval on such societal indecencies, then neighbours would most certainly be its clerks. I was never invisible.
Going inside an offending man’s house was both a rarity and yet always utterly torturous, akin to the worst trip on your favourite drug. I had crossed over into another world, his world. I saw what his other half lived like. The pictures and the children’s toys. The soccer schedule on the fridge. You shouldn’t look, but you can’t help yourself. It was like being in a museum of the modern family, or at least the most elaborate closet I’d ever seen: fragmented and Febreze-scented, a picture of heteronormativity.
It usually plays out this way: you’re bored, or sad, or horny, looking for a man with a plan and a place to bone where the cops won’t tap on the window and catch you with a mouthful of dick. The peripheral facts become just that. Eventually, if you’re young and gay and digitally inclined and sexually active, you’re readily confronted with this state of affairs. You’re readily confronted with this cruel joke (or hidden pleasure) of gay life that married guys will yearn for you like a pregnancy craving, and that you will, inevitably, find yourself only so willing to be devoured.
Married men treat you like they’ve got nothing to lose — rather, they don’t care if they lose you as long as you keep your mouth shut. Like you’re just another XTube search, a rewritable character in an empty, contorted — albeit sometimes hot — fantasy. The distance these men create between their identities and your life is often what keeps you coming back or wanting more. Distance, as anyone who’s ever loved knows, is the most addictive thing between two people. Distance lends itself well to emotional voids; it fills them with desire. It also fosters desperation. It’s a breeding ground for manipulation between two lovers that want nothing more than to be close. Eventually, it leaves both of you numb to an affair’s implications as practice makes perfect.
It isn’t such a pretty picture.
“You have the wrong boy…”
Fano called. When I picked up the phone, it took only one syllable to know his wife was on the other end. My stomach sank and I kicked the bedroom door closed. I didn’t hang up, but I also said nothing.
“Hello?” Silent pause.
“Hello? Who is this?” Silence.
“Hello?” She became angry. I hung up.
Immediately, she called back. My voicemail, I thought. It says my name. My voicemail. I answered the call and placed the phone face down on the pillow, gently as if I were to not disturb the beast. I knew what she looked like. I remember looking at her picture on the nightstand as I gave her husband a handjob.I wasn’t terrified then — she was just an image, like a heavier Angelina Jolie in US Weekly. You could tell she’d had a few kids, and that she was well-kept but under-appreciated. I recognized that void in her eyes.
It went like this for several minutes until I finally let a call roll to voicemail. In my inbox, pieces began to form a person.
“Hi, 416-414-2620, this is 416-929-8546,” she began, speaking in some sort of binary code to keep us both imaginary and as impersonal as possible. “Your number showed up on my husband’s phone bill and I just want to know who you are and why you’re calling him. Please give me a call back so we can discuss this.”
It was over for me. I could feel it. I imagined she would track my number and find my house. That she would knock on the door and my parents would answer. That they would know what I had done.
But none of that happened. The calls kept coming for several days, until I finally decided to give the poor woman some peace of mind. I picked up.
“Hello? Why do you keep calling and leaving me voicemails?” I answered, pretending to sound annoyed to mask my sadness and repentance.
“Do you know my husband?”
“Why are you on his bill?”
“Ask Bell Canada? I dunno.”
She kept asking me questions, and I kept playing dumb until she hung up in defeat.
I feel for you
This is no cautionary tale, or at least it shouldn’t feel like one. I’ve followed my moral compass on this topic in every direction. It took me nowhere. Morality is a construct of rules and expectations by which we collectively, unofficially agree to abide by — or subjectively punish each other with. Sexuality, for its tastes, tends at the forefront of such punishment.
But what does a child know about morality? I knew more about guilt. I knew about fooling around with boys in a “deadliest sin” context rather than forming an intricate understanding of my own innate need for sexual satisfaction. Morality, I thought, is for the God-fearing, the enslaved. I’m not saying that I’m proud. Maybe I’m saying I didn’t know any better. I wasn’t interested in doing the right thing — I wasn’t the one breaking the rules. I also wasn’t naÃ¯ve. I’ve found that most men feel if there’s a lack of physical harm, there’s a lack of personal responsibility.
I used to think it wasn’t my job to ensure a man was kept on his leash. I soon learned — through relationships with men of my own, open inclinations — about the “other side” of the game. About respect and love. I still don’t care much for the “sanctity of marriage,” but I want to do to others what I would have them do to me.
I try not to play with attached men anymore — if I can avoid it. Of course many of them will continue to lie, but I’ve learned how to walk away. When I got my own apartment, I made it a point to control situations. I prefer not to be in a position where I have to step over a Tickle Me Elmo to get some.
So who is worse: the tempted or the tempter? Welcome to the New Morality.
The straight spectrum
I know there are men who may never stop “cheating” or be able to reconcile their feelings. An old friend-turned-brief fuck is expecting his first child at the end of this year. I remember once, in bed, he told me that he didn’t anticipate ever giving up men completely, even if it meant being on the down low. I’m not sure how he feels now. I haven’t asked. But I know he’s engaged to marry his baby mama.
Another man picked me up at a bar. While I left him with nothing more than a slow dance, he came over for tea the next day. “I’m bisexual,” he proclaimed. “And I’m married. I came out to my wife last year.” He flashed a rainbow-coloured wristband to prove his pride. He wasn’t hiding anything. He wasn’t getting a divorce. His marriage was, he told me, “business as usual.” I used to wonder about women like his wife: were they pathetic for not packing up and getting the fuck out? Did she lack self-respect, or was she self-preserving? Marriage is, after all, the biggest business there is, and arrangements are made as such. Now I’m not so sure. Still, I will always hate the truth that remains: when married men sleep with gay men, it’s labeled a “perversion;” when they sleep with women, it’s a “momentary indiscretion.”
What about the natures of our institutions, or even the definitions of our sexual orientations? The “hetero-flexible” designation has never had a stronger case for itself. I often look at these married men, and wonder about the pressures they face to fit into their own lives. I wonder more about their belief — or is it delusion? — that “playing straight” is easier than being gay. I know several gay men who would say the complete opposite. I know several gay men who used to be married to women, too. It’s not so uncommon.
And what about the Brokeback wives? This chick will help you cope with a gay husband’s coming out. OkCupid will also help you decide if your husband needs to come out. But, listen, this shit is going to happen with or without your approval, whether gays willingly participate or not. It’s never been easier to explore one’s sexual inclinations. I found this other website advertised on a gay porn portal, tempting married men to finally explore the physical. I know someone who goes to Gay Fathers of Toronto, a support group “helping men on their journeys” that’s been around since 1978.
Even Ashley Madison, famed heterosexual infidelity facilitator, knows how to navigate the depths of “down low:”
“AM on the DL caters to men who are married but need something more in their lives. Men seeking other men for casual, no strings attached fun can find each other for chat, flirting, and more. Not looking to change their home situation, these intelligent, discreet men know what they want and where to get it. Find your ‘friends’ on AM on the DL today.”
She’s so clever about it, so normalizing. Could this be the new straight sex?
I never saw Fano again.