Falling in Love with Straight Guys
by Mark Spano
By virtue of his gaze, he has all hills, by virtue of his position, he has all valleys.
—Fernando Pessoa from The Book of Disquiet
Sartre described a “poetic act” in his biography of Genet as “the systematic pursuit of the impossible.” Falling in love with a straight guy was for me a poetic act.
More than once as a young man I have fallen in love with another young man who was straight, who I knew to be straight. Then and since, I have heard the explanations of choosing what you cannot have as a manner of masochism, a form of self-sabotage. Both of the straight men for whom I fell very hard were handsome, athletic and quiet. It is easy, so continues the “self-sabotage” explanation to choose a silent man onto whom one may project a great deal until some moment of reckoning.
But, since those two fatal attractions, I have fallen in love with two men who have loved me back. Both, like the two untouchables, were handsome, athletic and quiet. The untouchables were part of my crowd. I simply wanted what my classmates and buddies had, the ability to choose among my friends for a date, for a boyfriend. Such a desire does not seem so unusual now.
My friends from school existed in one sphere and same-sex partnering existed in quite another. I could have a pretty good time with my school pals, but I was dateless when they were not. I was young and attractive and could get laid easily enough, but that was in a completely separate world, a gay world. Young men among my friends with whom I fell in love had touched me with their kindnesses, sincerity, good looks and intelligence. I quite naively wanted to touch back.
When I look back on the pain of those situations—the pains caused me, the pain I certainly caused others—it was due to my naïve notion that the world should have accommodated my desire to love and be loved in the open air of my own life. My straight buddies exercised that desire with the young women in our crowd. I had the same expectation for myself. I wanted to choose from the young men of my ilk. They were, as Proust has written, “worthy” of me.
But, was I “worthy” of them? It seemed not. It seemed the love I wanted could not come about in the environment of my young life. Sex could happen, but it happened elsewhere in my downtown street life. Sex might even have happened in the world of my school and friends, but it would be secret and forbidden.
I wanted a boyfriend not a quickie in a public john. As I look back it seems quite an ordinary and somewhat dull desire, but a desire at that time I could not manifest publicly in my life. This fact was a great source of shame. I felt I should not love the young men from my school. I felt I should not love any young man. I believed I was somehow wrong or corrupt in doing so. It made school life painful and confusing. I knew what I wanted; though, I was never certain what I was allowed to have. I was certain that the situation in which I lived could not be right.
During my college years of the late sixties and early seventies, gays and straights began to experiment with mixing socially. I wanted this to happen. It was the only kind of living which made sense to me. I encouraged these kinds of social events. Such change was not always easy, though, mostly very rewarding.
These events happen so casually now that at dinner one evening a straight friend once asked me if my partner Nicholas and I had filed a joint tax return. Everyone at the table had a good laugh because for a just a moment my friend had forgotten that Nicholas and I were not legally married.
Mark Spano is a writer and filmmaker living in rural Orange County, North Carolina. His recent novel Midland Club has had a very positive critical reception and has won two awards. This spring, Mark's recent documentary Sicily: Land of Love and Strife will go into limited theatrical release in the U.S. and Canada. The two stories featured by Mark in The Long Island Literary Journal are a part of a larger work, entitled Killing the Moon.