When I first came out to myself as a gay man many years ago, I was completely clueless about the gay lifestyle. Like any culture, I quickly came to learn that the gay community has its own norms and practices that differed to lesser or greater degrees than what I'd experienced in the mainstream heterosexual world that we all grow up in and internalize.
Living in the suburbs of Chicago where few resources existed for learning about and meeting other gay folk, I established a friendship base in the Windy City itself, which houses a fairly large gay metropolis. It was here that my virginal journey into gay society began. So naïve I was in learning all the social nuances involved in this new land I was venturing into!
I amusingly recall one day walking through the gay ghetto with one of my friends, just chatting away about this and that, when all of a sudden in mid-sentence, his neck spun around in a double-take (very similar to Linda Blair in "The Exorcist") when a striking man in a tank-top walked past us. I found myself a little startled and taken aback by his behavior, which seemed so overt and untamed by my conventional standards with his eyes bugged out and tongue wagging. As I quickly came to learn, this commonplace ritual is called "cruising", an important social skill that all single gay men quickly learn to develop to snag themselves a potential date or casual sex partner for the night.
My continued immersion into the gay brotherhood brought an interesting tidbit to light about gay socialization; that is, this whole "gay gawking" phenomenon of sizing up with the eyes of one's attraction to another is not exclusive to the singles' scene. It's not unusual for gay couples to partake in this activity, either together or separate from one another. And that is the topic for this article, spurred by an interview I gave for journalist Diane Maples who was writing a piece for MSNBC.com on the practice of "ogling" that occurs and its impact on monogamous relationships. The following includes some of the content I offered during the interview for her story....
You know what I'm talking about! You see that hot guy coming towards you as you're walking down the sidewalk. Your eyes connect briefly, hold slightly, and then the gaze is diverted. He walks past you and you turn around ever so slightly to see if he looks back. And he does..bingo! Or maybe you and a friend are sitting at a restaurant having dinner and you find yourself mesmerized by the hunk at the table just opposite you; you can't help staring at him in awe until your friend kicks you under the table to snap you out of it before the restaurant runs out of napkins to soak up your drool.
Having the eyes pulled in the direction of a good-looking or intriguing person is a natural part of attraction and all its mysteries. "Gawking" isn't isolated only to gay men; it's also very rampant among our heterosexual counterparts as well. You see plenty of our straight gal pals smacking their boyfriends in disgust when their eyes wander to the exotic woman that walks into the room. It's a normal human response, though does tend to be more of a "man thing" (gay or straight), as we men tend to be more visually stimulated in our erotic orientation.
So this is all well and good if you're single and available, but what happens if you're already in a relationship with someone and you become gripped with this magnetic draw? Is it ok for a gay man in a committed partnership to appreciate the beauty of a good-looking man who's not his own lover? Are there varying degrees of "gawking" that are acceptable versus violations? Or is it completely taboo to even look at another specimen other than your husband? These are the ultimate questions...and in actuality, there is no necessarily right or wrong answer.
What it comes down to are values and conducting yourself in such a way that you remain in integrity with yourself and your relationship for what you believe to be the best option for you. To say what is right or wrong would be a value judgment, imposing one's beliefs on another without permission or consent. We have enough of that in our society! I believe it is up to each individual and each partner in a relationship to define their own values about this particular issue and behave accordingly to stay within the confines of health within their personal worlds.
It is also important to ensure our behavior doesn't violate the boundaries or rights of others; therefore, "gawking" behavior should also be kept under wraps and controlled so as not to embarrass, humiliate, or offend the receiver of our attentions. It truly is an issue of respect.
Gawking & the Gay Couple
While "to gawk or not to gawk" remains a personal dilemma and choice, I will offer some viewpoints about this phenomenon as it pertains to gay couples in committed relationships. These are personal and professional biases; it is always up to each partner to make their own decisions regarding the role this type of behavior plays in their relationship.
Though I'm generalizing here, I believe that "gawking" is probably less of an issue in gay relationships than straight unions for a number of reasons. Due to the male tendency toward the visual, there may be more acceptance and understanding among gay men to disregard the occasional "straying-of-the-eye" and not view it as a threat to the stability and commitment of their relationships.
Because of our marginalized status, gay relationships also tend to have a less defined structure and more flexibility of roles than the straight blueprint for how relationships are "supposed to be run", thereby making things looser and more relaxed. Additionally, an unfortunate drawback of gay culture is that looks and appearance are glamorized and emphasized as a prime value, therefore there tends to be more focus on what somebody looks like and this reinforces "gawking" tendencies. Just some theories!
Another important point to emphasize about "gawking" and committed relationships is that we're human! Therefore, noticing and acknowledging someone's good looks is a normal function of being alive...we're hard-wired that way and it's a chemical reaction. Also, just because a partner finds someone else attractive doesn't mean that he will or even create a temptation to cheat. Issues of respect and boundaries will need to be defined in each relationship around attraction, behavioral conduct, and involvements with others and is specific and unique to each couple's situation.
( Continued Tomorrow: Tips For Managing the Gawking Impulse In Your Relationship )
© Dr. Brian Rzepczynski, The Gay Love Coach
The suggestions and feedback offered in this column are but one perspective of multiple approaches to dealing with problems or challenges. Information provided in articles and advice columns should not be used as a substitute for coaching or therapy when these services are needed. None of this information should be your only source when making important life decisions. This information should not be used for diagnosing or treating a particular problem, nor should it take the place of a consultation with a trained professional. It is your responsibility to consult a professional prior to making any life decisions.
Dr. Brian Rzepczynski, contributing author to GAYTWOGETHER, is one of the leading love coaches for the gay community. As a licensed dating and relationship coach, Dr. Brian Rzepczynski, DHS, MSW has over 18 years experience as a psychotherapist and life coach specializing in helping GLBT individuals and couples develop and maintain successful and fulfilling intimate relationships. He holds a doctorate degree in human sexuality from the Institute for Advanced Study of Human Sexuality and a master’s degree in clinical social work from Western Michigan University. He also runs a successful private therapy practice, Personal Victory Counseling, Inc. http://thegaylovecoach.com