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NY Magazine: married men on the down low

And we’re not talking about black men. David Amsden’s lengthy, interesting piece in New York Magazine, “Married Man Seeks Same for Discreet Play” discusses the open closet, where men with families are pursuing same-sex desires with abandon because the Internet has made it easier to be on the down low. These men want a detection-proof double life that allows them to maintain public heterosexual privilege while they get their rocks off.

Subject line: “MM looking for other MM for side romance.” Text: Are you tired of playing games? I am. I’m looking for other married men who have always wanted to be with another man. Looking for someone in the same situation that can keep their home life at home but still have a separate life with me.

Mind you, these are not self-loathing closet cases or fundies; we’re talking about men who really want to have their cake and eat it too.  Amsden on one man he met:

No, he was not raised in a religious or bigoted household. No, he does not think being attracted to men is “wrong.” No, it’s not that simple. This much he will allow: “This is not the life I was meant to live. I don’t know what that life is, what it looks like, but I know it’s not this. But I don’t think most people are living the life they think they were meant to live, so I don’t feel that bad.”

…I found about 1,000 married, closeted New Yorkers online — certainly a fraction of the true population since most men in the closet don’t identify themselves as such, even online.) Say you want to meet someone between the ages of 35 and 50, preferably dark-haired, for half an hour in midtown, between the hours of one and two in the afternoon– a few clicks of the mouse and you’ll have numerous options. Or, as William puts it to me in an instant message: “Without Craigslist I would probably just be a normal married guy who occasionally flirted on the subway. LOL.”

More after the jump.What’s disturbing about the subject of this article, William, is the absolute disrespect that he has for his wife. He seems to have zero guilt about pursuing these same-sex liaisons while leaving her in the dark, rationalizing that because he practices safer sex he’s in the clear. Being honest about the situation with her would blow his world apart, he says, citing what happened to former NJ gov Jim McGreevey. Amsden IMs with him:

Me: How well do you think your wife knows you? Is she the person you’re closest with?
Him: She knows everything but this.
Me: Would you consider your keeping this a secret– from her and everyone– a selfish act?
Him: No. It doesn’t make their lives better to know. I know you don’t understand this but I don’t think the truth, in this instance, is really going to make anyone feel better. Honesty is not always such a great thing. Look at the McGreeveys.
Me: What does that mean?
Him: She’s not happy to know the truth.
Me: But the reason all of it happened in the first place is that he lied and was forced to come out.
Him: You are not going to convince me that the truth always sets you free.

This is the closet that to me is the most frightening. While William isn’t judgmental about a person being gay or bi, it’s clear that his desire for all the social trappings and approval afforded to him via his relationship to his wife is something he must cling to. He is still part of the problem.  It’s clear he enjoys the danger of avoiding detection, regardless of the risk he places on his marital relationship.

Me: Is there less guilt now than there used to be?
Him: Not really, always the same. I rationalize a lot, I guess.
Me: What’s the rationalization?
Him: If I didn’t do this from time to time I would most likely go crazy. It’s like a release.
Me: Do you ever worry about your wife detecting something? That you smell different, for instance?
Him: Of course. I check for smells. I stay away from guys that use a lot of cologne.
Me: And what do you mean when you say you do things to make up for it?
Him: Extra time here and there. Surprise gifts.
Me: Have you ever thought it would be easier–in the long run–if you just allowed it to fall apart, and could then reconstruct things in a way that involved less secrecy and guilt?
Him: Sure, someday.

As long as he can keep his gay life clandestine, William’s tacitly saying same-sex relationships needs to remain underground and that our relationships should not be treated equally in open society. He reinforces the idea that same-sex attraction is all about the sex, making quickie dates and rendezvous. He has more than enough internalized homophobia still stored inside his confused mind.

During an early conversation, for instance, he mentioned going on a group vacation years ago, before he was married, and meeting a gay couple who ran a restaurant in the Berkshires. He found himself envying their life. “I remember when the group checked into the hotel, they made a point of asking for a single bed,” William explained. “I liked how confident they were, that they had this whole life, but that they weren’t really flamboyant about it. They didn’t feel the need to advertise it.” This “need to advertise it”– the stereotype of the out-and-proud gay man– seems to grate on William. Another time, he tells me that while he hopes some day to “live a gay life,” he will never “come out.” Meaning what exactly? “I won’t be marching in any parades,” he responds.

Read the rest of the article — what are your thoughts about these situations?

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Pam Spaulding

Pam Spaulding