Are there two kinds of love?
October 5, 2009 2:15 PM   Subscribe

Love filter. How is gay love different from straight love?

I've hung out with gay friends for decades and it always seemed to me that their relationships were pretty much like straight relationships, with the obvious caveat of the impact of societal mores.

And now it appears that I was completely wrong. Gore Vidal made this claim:

Has love been important to him? “Don’t make the error that schoolteacher idiots make by thinking that gay men’s relationships are like heterosexual ones. They’re not.” He “wouldn’t begin to comment” on how they are different.

Admittedly, this comes to me as a surprise - I thought in terms of "relationships", period, not gay or straight. Apparently I've been super naive.

I can see some difficulties here. A straight person has experiences of straight relationships. A gay person has experiences of gay relationships. How does anyone compare them without being at one time gay and at another straight?

Not wanting to be like a "schoolteacher idiot" I'd like to know: how is gay love so obviously different from straight love - it can't all be down to having to operate at the margins of society vs full acceptance?
posted by VikingSword to Human Relations (43 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
 
It's not.
posted by alon at 2:16 PM on October 5, 2009 [1 favorite]


Maybe it's not you that's wrong, but Gore Vidal.
posted by box at 2:16 PM on October 5, 2009 [23 favorites]


He made a claim and then refused to back it up. Why? Because he couldn't. Someone saying something doesn't mean it's correct, even if they are famous.

Take the words "gay" and "straight" out of the equation. Substitute "human". The only difference is that in some relationships, people have the same gender. People are people. They form relationships with other people. Simple.
posted by Solomon at 2:18 PM on October 5, 2009 [4 favorites]


Dude, Gore Vidal is basically a professional contrarian. Don't take what he says at face value. And even if he's being forthright, no one appointed him spokesman for all of homosexual humanity.
posted by mr_roboto at 2:19 PM on October 5, 2009 [4 favorites]


I may have come off as snarky/whatever, so I'll explain. First off, seconding what box said, and secondly, in Gore Vidal's comment, he talks about gay relationships, and you're talking about gay love. And while the stereotype of a gay (or lesbian) relationship is different from the stereotype of a hetero relationship, that's all it is - the stereotype. Every relationship is unique and different and it doesn't matter what sex the partners are.
posted by alon at 2:21 PM on October 5, 2009 [1 favorite]


No two instances of love are alike, no matter what bits you got.

And what Solomon said.
posted by futureisunwritten at 2:21 PM on October 5, 2009 [4 favorites]


Having experienced both "gay love", "straight love" and several shades in between, I can't really perceive any fundamental difference between. That said, I do think love between individual humans is generally unique and special snowflake-y and not particularly comparable to each other.

With regard to Gore Vidal, aged, brilliant and experienced does not necessarily mean "right".
posted by Cat Pie Hurts at 2:22 PM on October 5, 2009 [1 favorite]


Love is love.
posted by ericb at 2:23 PM on October 5, 2009 [2 favorites]


What about bisexual people? and pansexual? and polysexual? Gore Vidal is just using an outdated idea of sexuality and talking out his arse.
posted by Sova at 2:25 PM on October 5, 2009 [1 favorite]


I've been in love with both men and women, and I can't really tell you a discernible difference between the two. Have my relationships with men and women been different? Yes. But so have my relationships with men and other men and women and other women. It's more about people than it is about gender. I've never loved two people the same way, but there's not some automatic difference that happens depending on if we have the same gender identity or not.

*shrug*
posted by plaingurl at 2:26 PM on October 5, 2009 [1 favorite]


I've never been in "straight love" so I can't comment on that, but I will say that I've known lots of gay men who have open relationships. And lots of gay men who don't. I've known straight people who have open relationships, and those who don't. Likewise lesbian couples, bi couples, blah blah blah.

Vidal says a lot of interesting things on a lot of subjects, but he's not gospel on anything, just like the rest of us. I mean, were you really going to change your view of gay relationships based on what one guy said?
posted by rtha at 2:26 PM on October 5, 2009 [1 favorite]


Two different things here. The concepts of relationships and love can be very, very different. And yes, straight relationships can have different aspects than gay relationships.
But love? No. Love is love.
posted by meerkatty at 2:31 PM on October 5, 2009 [1 favorite]


Apparently I've been super naive.

I suspect that makes a bunch of us. Because the gay friends my wife and I have had all seem to love the same way we do.

But I'm of the mind that when someone makes a bold assertion like that, and then "Won't begin to comment" further on it. it's because they are talking shit for the sake of being heard.
posted by quin at 2:35 PM on October 5, 2009 [1 favorite]


Gore Vidal is overgeneralizing and taking a pointed stance in order to stir people up.

How does anyone compare them without being at one time gay and at another straight?

Many people see the idea of sex and love as a sort of spectrum thing with some people being strongly into same sex couplings and others being strongly into opposite sex couplings and most people being somewhere along the path in-between them. Many people, more than you might think, have been in sexual and/or loving relationships with people of various genders and there are a huge number of people who call themselves bisexual as a general rule [i.e. in neither camp, it can sometimes be a contentious topic but it doesn't have to be] and so can evaluate differing relationships wiht varying genders with some degree of... objectivity isnt the right word but you get the idea.

You've known your gay friends forever and have first hand observations of their lives and loves. Don't let one cranky commentator in an almost-tabloid make you doubt your own reality.
posted by jessamyn at 2:35 PM on October 5, 2009 [1 favorite]


Vidal is gaga nowadays if you ask me
posted by A189Nut at 2:36 PM on October 5, 2009


Relations to x-boyfriends can be more complex.

If you are a 100% hetero guy, you cannot not be attracted to your x-girlfriend's new boyfriend.

If you are gay, you could fall for your x-boyfriend's new boyfriend. And he for you. And make havoc like hell.
posted by flif at 2:36 PM on October 5, 2009 [1 favorite]


Best answer: Do you consider your friendships with women different from your friendships with men?

Some people will argue that same-sex relationships have a fundamental nature which just isn't the same as opposite-sex ones, but obviously it isn't something everyone agrees on. In fact, there is very little everyone agrees on, and I would not expect Gore Vidal to be promoting those things in any case.
posted by mdn at 2:43 PM on October 5, 2009


Best answer: Gore Vidal is a fine novelist and an entertaining public speaker, but he knows exactly jack and shit about human sexuality as a whole. What he has to say may well be true for him, and for some of his friends, but I question why you are taking his pronouncements at face value.

If you would like to read the works of some sociologists and psychologists and other people who know what they're talking about with this stuff, let me recommend Lesbian and Gay Psychology: New Perspectives edited by Coyle and Kitzinger, No Place Like Home: Relationships and Family Life among Lesbians and Gay Men by Christopher Carrington, Beyond the Closet by Steven Seidman (or his more comprehensive but now a bit dated 1996 book Queer Theory/Sociology), Sex and Sensibility by Arlene Stein, and pretty much anything by Jeffrey Weeks, Esther Rothblum, and Brett Beemyn. I am sure I am missing lots of stuff.
posted by Sidhedevil at 2:49 PM on October 5, 2009 [2 favorites]


Best answer: The love may be more or less the same, but the ways that two men or two women interact are drastically different than the way a man and a woman act, and I think that has a substantial effect on the way gay couples perceive their own love.

As much as any two people seem maddeningly foreign to each other at times, there is a powerful undercurrent of familiarity between two people of the same sex. You may seek out a partner who is a completely different physical or psychological type than you, but underneath all that you share something fundamental -- an experience, a physical language.

Think about the way men talk about women when no women are around. In my experience, that's the way gay men talk about each other, to each other.

Also, imagine being a young person discovering your own sexuality, and discovering that you are attracted to your own sex. Imagine the scenarios you must imagine, the secrets you must keep, the research you must do. That is an incredibly different experience than anything a straight teenager endures, and no matter how accepting our society grows, the fact that gays make up such a small minority of the herd means that there will always be a strangeness attached to it -- the discovery that you are a minority, at an age when most people are desperate to fit in. This is that marginalization factor you mentioned. Add it all together, and you've something that feels incredibly different, looks incredibly different, acts incredibly different -- is different. Not apples and oranges different, but certainly lemons and oranges.
posted by hermitosis at 2:52 PM on October 5, 2009 [15 favorites]


Gore Vidal doesn't even identify as gay.
posted by roger ackroyd at 2:54 PM on October 5, 2009 [1 favorite]


Response by poster: A couple of points. Regarding the difference between "love" and "relationships" - it is quite clear from the context that Vidal is referring to love; when he speaks of relationships, it's in answer to a direct question about the importance of love in his life.

I wasn't overreacting to a random comment from a random person. I have tremendous respect for Gore Vidal, but I do recognize that he can be something of a provocateur and frequently says things he may not entirely mean. However, my question was in reaction to my own experiences. Growing up, I absorbed the equality ethic very strongly, and was quite militant about equality between men and women, with the result that I somewhat oversimplified reality. One can acknowledge political equality without claiming that men and women are psychologically identical (my position as a teen). There is respectable research indicating that some psychological differences may exist, and I had to acknowledge that reality. When I read the Vidal quote, I suddenly had the thought: "there you go again, assuming things". Perhaps my ideas of gay/straight as "simply human relationships" are similarly unexamined. So, rather than impose my assumptions on a community, I thought that in face of a contrary claim from a respected source, I ought to ask rather than assume. Hence the question.
posted by VikingSword at 2:56 PM on October 5, 2009


Gore Vidal doesn't even identify as gay.

Yes, this is a good point. See here for instance. Though that was years ago, he's reiterated it since (on one of Bill Maher's shows, among other places).

But I think Gore Vidal is just acting out right now. The whole "America is headed for a dictatorship" stuff a while back just sounded like LOOK AT ME LOOK AT ME LOOK AT ME LOOK AT ME to me.
posted by Sidhedevil at 2:59 PM on October 5, 2009


Best answer: These days, it's not as "special" to be in a same-sex relationship, as it was in his time. Being "special" required different courtship rites, different social activities, different language. It could be that Vidal is right, or, rather, was right, once, to some degree. Relationships were once quite different, because for a long time they had to be, by social and legal decrees.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 2:59 PM on October 5, 2009 [1 favorite]


There is respectable research indicating that some psychological differences may exist

Not as much as you probably think.

and I had to acknowledge that reality.

The "reality" that "men and women are different, psychologically" or the reality that there are some studies that some people interpret to mean that? Because those are two different kinds of reality.

When I read the Vidal quote, I suddenly had the thought: "there you go again, assuming things". Perhaps my ideas of gay/straight as "simply human relationships" are similarly unexamined.

Well, gay and lesbian relationships, as a group, include both men and women, so even if there are differences in relationship styles between men and women, the group of same-sex relationships vs. the group of opposite-sex relationships is going to include both styles.
posted by Sidhedevil at 3:03 PM on October 5, 2009


The only difference I've ever felt between my gay relationships and my straight ones is that I never had to wonder if I was brave or safe enough to kiss my boyfriend in public. And that has nothing to do with the way I loved my girlfriend, so I'm chiming in with the rest of the respondents here who say there is no difference in the love.
posted by headspace at 3:03 PM on October 5, 2009


These days, it's not as "special" to be in a same-sex relationship, as it was in his time.

I don't think that "illegal" and "special" are particularly useful synonyms here.
posted by Sidhedevil at 3:04 PM on October 5, 2009


I personally think anything you see represented in gay couples as far as sex and relationships goes you can pretty much find its equivalent in in straight couples (and everything in between). It does seem to me (based merely on personal observation and therefore suspect) that there is generally more openness (though not universal) among gays towards less conventional models like open relationships, polyamory, viewing serial monogamy as being as natural and/or desirable as lifelong monogamy, and so forth, than exists among straight people. This could be my particular social set, of course. It does make sense to me that people whose relationships are subjected to social opprobrium by a significant portion of the population would be more open to questioning the social mores of relationships in general.

It appears to me that these attitudes are growing in the straight population as well (even though I don't personally want to participate in any of these "alternative" lifestyles, for example, I don't see anything wrong or unnatural about it, you know, different strokes etc.) and I think that the growing acceptance and self-assertion of the gay population is substantially responsible for these shifts.

That being said a clear majority of the gay people I know seem to be interested in exclusive, monogamous and long-term relationships.

I've read Gore Vidal pulling this "make provocative statement, refuse to elaborate on it" trick in interviews before.
posted by nanojath at 3:04 PM on October 5, 2009


When I read the interview originally, this is how I parsed it:
“Don’t make the error that schoolteacher idiots make by thinking that [Gore Vidal's] gay men's relationships are like [stereotypical] heterosexual ones. They’re not.”
Because he's Gore Vidal, part of his schtick is dropping qualifiers and making huge, sweeping generalizations. But if you mentally put the obvious qualifiers back in, it's really not an unreasonable—or even particularly controversial—claim. His gay relationships, for whatever reason, may not have been anything like stereotypical (as expressed in pop culture) guy-meets-girl hetero ones, but that doesn't really say anything about either group.

It says a lot about Vidal, perhaps, but can't be extended much beyond that.
posted by Kadin2048 at 3:16 PM on October 5, 2009 [1 favorite]


Yeah, that Vidal quote jarred and puzzled me, too... in retrospect, maybe a more precise reading of it would be, "Don't think that you, a mere interviewer, can fully understand me, Gore Vidal. You cannot."

I suspect it's his vanity and spite, more than his erudition and accumulated experience, that's doing the talking here.
posted by darth_tedious at 3:26 PM on October 5, 2009 [1 favorite]


Last week, I went to the doctor to get checked for swine flu. During the exam, I explained that I wasn't certain exactly when I'd gotten sick, because I'd met a guy that I thought I might really like around the same time, and might have confused the flu for falling in love.

It was obvious, as the conversation went on, that her mental narrative had skipped right over the difficult period of wondering if the guy is even into other guys. How many straight guys actually sit and wonder if a girl isn't a lesbian, before they go up to ask her out?
posted by No1UKnow at 3:34 PM on October 5, 2009


It's not. Love is love, period. If I were gay, I'd be so mad at him! Whatever, I'm mad at him regardless! Anti-gay people could go to town on a comment like that!
posted by Neekee at 3:38 PM on October 5, 2009


Bi-sexual woman here. No difference in feelings/emotions/whatever for me when in love with a female versus a male. As others have said there can be different dynamics in the actual relationships, but as you've specified that you're talking about love and not that sort of thing, I suppose my answer is no, there is no difference.
posted by Nattie at 3:52 PM on October 5, 2009


I think you're on the right track when you question your presumptions that gay relationships must be exactly like straight ones -- that the dominant, heteronormative conventions you grew up with surely must apply to all. But say, why not ask your gay friends what their take is, if you want to better understand them? For one thing, it sounds like you are assuming that most gay people have as little personal experience being in hetero relationships as most straight people have with being in same-sex relationships. Not so.
posted by Wordwoman at 4:07 PM on October 5, 2009


I don't think that "illegal" and "special" are particularly useful synonyms here.

I think that behavior called "illegal" and "social proscribed" and "generally frowned upon" and "sinful" all change how people relate to and behave with one another, particularly given how much more authoritarian and religious people were as a whole as recently as fifty years ago. I think the equivalence is useful, to the extent that it might help explain Vidal's point of view.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 4:31 PM on October 5, 2009


Best answer: Parsing a bit:

"Has love been important to him? “Don’t make the error that schoolteacher idiots make by thinking that gay men’s relationships are like heterosexual ones. They’re not.” He “wouldn’t begin to comment” on how they are different."

What is this "error"? We hear it isn't made by just any idiots - it's an error that "schoolteacher" idiots make - so what are schoolteachers in Vidalland - they're prim and proper (schoolmarms) --

And he's not talking about all gay relationships; he's talking about gay MEN'S relationships

So -- what is it about gay *men's* (not women's) relationships that a repressed schoolmarm would get wrong, and presume were like her own (straight, prissy) relationship?

and that would be assumed to be true of gay men's relationships by an elderly (so elderly that he's dead, actually) gay male?

Sexuality Fidelity. The assumption of sexual fidelity. That's the error.
posted by DMelanogaster at 5:38 PM on October 5, 2009 [1 favorite]


Response by poster: DMelanogaster, that was great. You may be on to something!

Thank you everyone who has responded so far. I do plan on asking my friends, but first I'd like some context and the power of numbers and different perspectives of the hive mind here are invaluable.
posted by VikingSword at 6:12 PM on October 5, 2009


There has been research on the difference between same-sex and opposite-sex relationships, done by Gottman. There are differences, speaking generally. There is other research out there as well, but his is very interesting.
posted by kathrineg at 6:40 PM on October 5, 2009


I think that it's probably wrong to say "gay vs. straight loves aren't different; they're the same!"

In fact, it seems silly to me to say that any loves are different or the same. Seriously, those who have loved more than one person in their lives can attempt this: how were those loves' characters different? How were they the same?

These questions are so startlingly complex in the case of just one person and their relationships that trying to answer them for all gay and straight people approaches the ludicrous. I agree with a part of what I take to be Gore Vidal's point; there were and are many silly and misguided ideas about sex that people have, many of which are centered around the ways they think all relationships are the same. But I don't hold to what I believe is his unspoken assumption, the assumption is that there is a sameness amongst gay relationships that is fundamentally different from a sameness that exists amongst all straight relationships. Those samenesses are an illusion; and I think everyone has experienced the fact that even for one person relationships differ vastly one from the other no matter what the gender of the participants.
posted by koeselitz at 6:49 PM on October 5, 2009


That is: I think he's wrong because he assumes that there's a contiguity and simplicity to straight and gay relationships that's just not really there.
posted by koeselitz at 6:50 PM on October 5, 2009


and that would be assumed to be true of gay men's relationships by an elderly (so elderly that he's dead, actually) gay male?

Gore Vidal might be a lot of things, but he's not dead yet.
posted by mr_roboto at 7:02 PM on October 5, 2009


If you are gay, you could fall for your x-boyfriend's new boyfriend. And he for you. And make havoc like hell.

That's true, as far as it goes - but there's nothing to stop a 100% het guy to fall for his girlfriend's sister or mother or any number of awkward complications. People manage to wreak havoc.
posted by Lesser Shrew at 7:23 PM on October 5, 2009


"Love," a wise friend once told me, "is for suckers."

I take that as the first and last word on the matter.
posted by bicyclefish at 10:31 PM on October 5, 2009


Everybody's weird and nobody experiences love the "same way." Obviously, major details are shared with some, and not with others, but there is just an assumption that because heterosexuality is the "normative" position, that there is a consistency in heterosexual relationships and the heterosexual experience. That, I've never found. I think the more straight people like myself acknowledge the real differences in the way we go through the experience of sexual love, the easier it is going to be for the heterosexual community as a whole to acknowledge that gays are entitled to the same respect and legal rights for their love relationships as heteros are.

Seriously, amongst my hetero friends I've seen polyamory, various states of partner abuse, you name it. I had a total stranger at a party the other week (a woman), totally insist that penis size was the most important thing ever and start talking about her partner's lack of size 5 seconds after I met her. (that's not an effective come-on, ladies). I know lesbian friends who are partnered, and rasing a child made the old-fashioned way with their gay best friend, who is a father in every way to the child. I have a gay friend who owns a condo with a woman he has lived with in various cities for the last 10 years, and who shares a Lucy and Desi two-bed bedroom with her. I have a very close gay friend who insists on total monogamy and breaks up with dudes who cheat on him. I've had other gay friends who are always playing the field.

The experience of human sexuality is so varied so as to make it ridiculous to speak of a "heterosexual" love and a "homosexual" love. People are just doing stuff. It makes it easy to think of things as being black and white, but that perspective can get in the way in a lot of situations.
posted by Ironmouth at 7:53 AM on October 6, 2009


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