By Amy Alkon
Q: I’m a 35-year-old masculine gay man. I’ve had relationships with (masculine) gay men, but I’m often attracted to masculine straight men. I’m not looking to “turn” them, and I’m ready for a relationship, so I’m concerned that I’m so frequently attracted to men who won’t be interested in me. What is this about? Do I need therapy?—Worried Gay Guy
A: Like you, I happen to like men who look like their hobbies are chopping down trees and going to war with foreign powers.
I am not attracted to femmy men in body glitter with My Little Pony haircuts. Luckily for me, the sort of people I am attracted to did not require me to come out to my parents (“Mom and Dad … I-I-I’m straight”), nor are my preferences considered reason for suspicion that I might be a self-loathing heterosexual.
As for you, because of the ugly views and behaviors toward gays, sure, it’s possible that your being attracted to straight men is some sort of internalized version of those camps for “praying away the gay.” But if you were really so self-loathing and in denial about being gay, wouldn’t you just be sneaking glances at all the manly men on your way to marrying a woman and buying a house with a lot of closet space?
Your being a manly man who’s into boyfriends who wield power tools not intended for hairstyling might be explained by research on “assortative mating.” This basically means “like mates with like”—reflecting how we seem motivated to choose mates who are similar to us on various levels, from age, to looks, to race to personality. In the gay world, psychologist J. Michael Bailey’s research finds that masculine gay men tend to prefer masculine partners.
Increased similarity between partners is associated with happier, longer-lasting relationships. This makes sense, considering that more similarity means more compatibility—from shared beliefs to shared interests and activities. So, it’s good news that you’re eyeing the manlier men, even if many are ultimately “for display purposes only.”
Of course, it is possible that you’re telling yourself you want a relationship but picking people totally unavailable for one. If that isn’t the case, why worry that your ideal relationship is basically a nature preserve for chest hair and testosterone? Just accept that it might take a little more effort to find a boyfriend for whom “contouring” is not skillful makeup application but helping you get the back of your head with the weedwhacker before your welding group arrives.
Q: I went through a crazy party girl period in my 20s. My boyfriend recently asked me how many men I’d slept with before him. I told him, and he freaked out at the number—despite his having his own wild past. Now I wish I hadn’t been honest. What should I have said instead?—Glum
A: It’s usually best to keep mum if the number of men is something like, “I’m not exactly sure because the census takers keep fainting from exhaustion while they’re tallying up my total.”
There is a sexual double standard, though it doesn’t come from men wanting to keep women’s sex drives in park (which wouldn’t exactly serve their interest). What’s telling, however, are sex differences in jealousy—specifically, jealousy over infidelity. Evolutionary psychologist David Buss finds that men across cultures are most distressed by sexual infidelity—the sex acts themselves. Though women aren’t exactly, “Yeah, whatevs” about their partner’s doing the nudie tootie with another woman, women are substantially more distressed by his being emotionally gaga about someone else. (A woman’s first question is inevitably, “But do you luvvvv her?!”)
These differences in freakouts dovetail with men’s and women’s differing evolutionary concerns. Women evolved to worry that their partner would divert his investment of time, energy and resources in her and her children to a rival. Men, however, have a different worry. Because a man can never really be sure whether a child is his (“paternity uncertainty”), any sex act his partner has with another man could lead to his spending decades feeding and caring for some other dude’s genetic offspring.
The thing is, having a crazy party girl period doesn’t mean that you’re unethical. It’s possible that pointing that out to your boyfriend might help. If, in the future, another boyfriend asks for your sexual tally, be generally honest—you were a bit of a party girl—but avoid giving any specific number that suggests that this involved much of the Democratic Party (and a few straggling Greens).