Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Who's the Woman?: A Look at Gender Roles in Same-Sex Relationships


One of my biggest pet-peeves is when someone, after finding out that I'm in a relationship with another man, asks me "who's the woman?" This is sometimes asked in a funny or sexually inappropriate way (as in who is the bottom and who is the top), but it is often asked in a more domestic and gender-binding way (as in who takes on the womanly household tasks and who does the manly things). Either way, this is a troublesome question.

Let me break this down for you. I am a man. My partner, Dustin, is also a man. We are both men. We both have penises. We have both been raised as men. We are not women. We do not have vaginas. Is that clear? See, gender and traditional gender roles are not issues in my relationship, and for that I am thankful.

When I started dating Dustin, we didn't sit down and have a talk about who would be the "woman," and when we moved in together, there were no expectations of the roles each would take. I do most of the cooking not because I am a woman, but because I like to cook. Dustin takes care of most of the car things, if it works out, because he knows I hate doing that. He doesn't really like car stuff either, but is willing to do it. Other tasks vary depending on availability and work schedules. We do argue from time to time about tasks, but it is never in the context of gender or expectations setup by society. And when it comes to the bedroom, no one is a woman, because again we are both men.

I know, most of the time, when people ask this question they don't mean it so literally, but what, then, do they mean? To me it is a perfect illustration of how narrow people's thinking can be. It seems there are heterosexual people, not all, that find it very challenging to understand how a relationship between two members of the same-sex can function. In many ways, I can't blame them. We are raised in a culture that constantly tells us how heterosexual relationships should look. You can find models on TV, in movies, in books, in magazines, in video games, etc. Close to 90% of our entertainment is based on this old joke of what men are like and what women are like. This is the basis for most sitcoms or romantic comedies. It is also the material that most standup comedians rely on to make people laugh. It is so ingrained in people that when presented with something different they still try to fit it into the hetero mold (that's going to hurt).

As a gay man, I am happy to be free of the shackles of this man vs. woman silliness. I honestly don't know how straight people deal with it. What I love about my relationship and about my life is this ability to explore the power of two men together. I don't place one kind of relationship over another (are you listening Christian right?), but I do know the bond that I have, being in a same-sex relationship, is a different bond than a heterosexual couple has. This is what fascinates me about homosexuality, and I think what has fascinated people for centuries. It might also be what terrifies people. Is there some deeper reason why some people are born gay? That is a topic for another post.

For me, this is at the heart of what I strive to explore within my poetry as a gay man. I'm extremely pulled in by the domestic life and inner-workings of a relationship between two men. There is a brotherhood there and a closeness that I'm still trying to get my mind around. It is through my own creative work that I have figured out things about my personal relationship and what I want from it. This is the power that poetry can have. I've also learned a great deal by reading other gay poets who explore this very topic.

I challenge all of us to ask better questions. When faced with the unfamiliar, don't ask how does this fit my mold, but rather learn about other molds. I love being a man and I love being gay. I can't imagine being anything else. Too many people (thanks to terrible TV) think all gay men want to be women. No, that's far, far from the truth. We love and respect women and we are willing to blur the gender expectations of society, but we really like our penises.

-Stephen (Man)

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