By Steve Strode, PQ Monthly
“Closets are For Clothes.” I remember buying a t-shirt printed thusly when I was about twenty years old. At the time I felt like it was a huge deal to wear it—even in progressive Wisconsin. Yes, left-coasters, Wisconsin has a progressive heritage (disregard current news cycles). Wherever there is a person in the closet, there is a person whose full, true self is diminished in some way. And there is a reason that the closet metaphor has worked so well. Home symbolizes our safe place, our refuge. I write this on the day that gay marriage becomes legal in Alabama, and it hits home how different life can be in the LGBT community depending upon which side of a state line we live.
On this third anniversary of PQ, I’m reflecting on its purpose—to write about what is, what should be, what we’ve done wrong and what we’ve done right. In these pages we’ve read regularly about the trials and tribulations of dudes dating in an app-based world. We report on various phobias, and create new terminology to help understand why many in a “Q-diaspora” are still marginalized or at-risk. This is really important stuff and the only way to effect positive change. But it’s nice to reflect on the good stuff too.
This month I’m not writing about the brick and mortar, or transactional side of real estate. But rather, I’m focusing on my subsection of the LGBT community—chiefly, gay men who have managed to stick together for decades or more. Not because we’re special in any way; rather, because there are both universal themes in maintaining committed relationships, combined with the ability to write ones own rules.
Through the power of Facebook, I reconnected with a colleague from many years ago named Tim Clausen. In addition to being a talented jazz pianist, he is a great interviewer—the kind of guy with a soft and soothing voice that would make anyone want to open up and share. For example, post-9/11, he conducted interviews with widows, then sent them the recordings to share with their young children once they were old enough to learn about their lost parent. It takes a special guy to come up with that idea. I was happy to learn that Tim just released a book entitled Love Together: Long Term Male Couples on Healthy Intimacy and Communication.
For the book he interviewed about a hundred couples from throughout the United States, and chose a couple dozen for print. Just entering the 19th year with my partner, I really wish I would have had something like this to read early on. Most of us didn’t have the benefit of same-gender parents to learn from, or a how-to manual on how gay coupledom works. From my perspective of how the world worked, you find someone—the one—and once you’ve decided you loved that someone, you settle down. While gay marriage was still illegal everywhere, the relationship was to resemble mom and pop’s.
One of the couples that Tim interviewed for the book were from Portland—Eric Marcoux and Eugene Woodworth, partnered for sixty years. Eugene has since passed, but I really enjoyed reading about their relationship and hearing Tim speak so fondly of them on a recent public radio show. They shared their stories of how they met, and techniques they used to stay together for so many years. Like any long-term relationship, there was the spark that brought them together. But it was a combination of ongoing communication, intentional routines, and impulsive bits of generosity that helped maintain the bonds for a lifetime. “Consistency and continuity keep our relationship growing. By consistency I mean we are constantly telling each other ‘I love you’ and constantly touching each other. For a relationship to last, make sure it’s based on love rather than lust. There’s nothing wrong with lust, but it may not last that long.” That’s a tough one to reconcile, since men are so visually oriented (want confirmation? Scroll through almost any gay guy’s web browser history).
Couples in the book also engage in frank discussions about monogamy versus open relationships. Years ago, I was told that couples who were open were looking to fill a void, to make up for a deficiency. It was just a last-gasp attempt before breaking up, rather than enhancing an already full life. Again, communication enables couples to write their own rules and decide what works. In the decade since moving to Portland, I’ve seen every type of gay relationship arrangement; some work, some fail. But we’re allowed to figure it out, perhaps with more freedom than our straight counterparts. And I know Tim’s words will provide insight and inspiration to many.
In the book, I read a quote from Eric Marcoux that I think could’ve been written by Jose, my partner. And if you know him, I know you agree he’d say that about me! “We’re quite different, and he really does irritate me a lot, but I’ve never loved anybody the way I love him.”
Steve Strode is a broker with Meadows Group Inc., Realtors in Portland. When he is not selling the American dream, he is probably wallowing on a muddy trail run somewhere in the PNW. He may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. For more info on the book visit: www.lovetogetherbook.com.