One of my favourite lines from Seinfeld is when Elaine yells on a crowded subway, “I hate men but I’m not a lesbian.” I identify with that sentiment so much because I’m of at least two minds about how I feel about my own chronic singleness.
Is it a conscious choice on my part, or have I thrown in the towel? And if I have just given up, is that really such a bad thing?
In his entertaining and informative book, “Gay and Single… Forever?: 10 Things Every Gay Guy Looking for Love (and Not Finding It) Needs to Know,” Steven Bereznai, attempts to dispel the misconceptions about being gay and partnerless.
“Whether or not you’re single because you feel it’s a choice, it’s not something to feel ashamed of, that you’ve failed somehow in life, or that there’s something wrong with you,” says Bereznai on the phone from his home in Toronto. “Those are all things people tend to put on single people and that we put on ourselves.”
A former copywriter for the CBC and the current editor of Toronto’s fab magazine, Bereznai describes himself as a queer “with equity,” meaning he has education, a good job, looks, and his own condo. Yet even with all those prerequisites for coupledom he’s still unhitched.
“There were times in my life when I tried to figure out what was wrong with me,” he says. “I thought I wasn’t in shape enough, funny enough, or interesting enough. I didn’t have the right job, or the right clothes. I really did go through that list, but little by little I kind of addressed those various areas of my life. At a certain point, I noticed that people who weren’t well-dressed were in relationships, people who were in crappy jobs were in relationships, so I kind of eliminated those as reasons.”
Bereznai does not endorse singlehood as a life choice so much as he’s hoping to de-stigmatize it. He is quick to point out that the question mark at the end of the title of his book is meant to imply hope.
“You have to understand that I was someone who was really invested in that relationship fantasy,” he says. “I was constantly grasping for this thing that was out of my reach and it created a sense of desperation. When you’re living with that kind of desperation it tends to take away from the joy of life.”
In his book, he makes a convincing argument that a conspiracy to stigmatize single people after World War II caused a hysterical rush to tie the knot. He blames that mad dash to the altar for the gay marriage debate that rages today.
For good or bad, many in the gay movement have used coupleness to either make gays seem more palatable to the mainstream or as a way to curb the spread of HIV. In either case, the message is that it’s okay to be gay as long as you’re gay with just one person.
Bereznai’s research unearthed articles I remember reading as a teen, as well as a fascinating study of gay single men by psychologist Andrew Hostetler. Hostetler specializes in the effects of self-determination in life, constraints on individual choice, and gender and sexual development in adulthood. He found seven recurring narratives describing the emotional history of single gay men. Anyone who has ever spent an extended amount of time sitting in a gay bar will have heard one, if not all of these narratives.
Gay and Single… Forever? is anecdotal but by no means indulgent. Bereznai is at his most candid when describing his experiences with barebacking. Frankly, it is one of the most honest discussions on the topic I have ever read.
“I was nervous about discussing it,” says Bereznai. He does not endorse unprotected sex, but he does describe in detail the difficulties he has getting penetrated if his partner is wearing a condom.
“There’s a lot of performance pressure and you want to be able to perform,” says Bereznai. He has since learned how to work around it.
Something the book does well is to emphasize that being single does not necessarily mean being alone.
“Between tricks and lovers and exes and friends and fuck buddies and bar friends and bar friends’ tricks and tricks’ bar friends and gal pals and companions ‘in the life,’ queers have an astonishing range of intimacies,” he writes.
He points out that although these relationships can be as intense as having a boyfriend, they aren’t recognized or celebrated the way romantic relationships are.
Gay and Single… Forever? is, in a way, a companion for those of us still searching.
From now on whenever some asks me why I’m still single, I can honestly say, “It’s a conspiracy.”