There is an episode of Sex and the City in which Carrie breaks up with a guy because he’s bisexual. She doesn’t understand his sexual orientation and can’t deal with the pressure of competing with both men and women for his attention. Her paranoia drives the guy away, and it’s over. It’s a typical HBO 30-minute exploration of a hip social issue that actually doesn’t resolve anything for the characters or their loyal viewers.
When I watched this episode I was upset. I date people of all genders, and it caused major problems in one of my past relationships. It hit home to see Carrie Bradshaw, a hero to many people, young and old, shutting down what I considered a perfectly acceptable facet of my life. She and her girlfriends demand that people choose gay or straight and stick to their decision. I almost swore off SATC for the rest of my life.
But a few days later, a good friend of mine from high school who had always identified as gay, insisted he would never date a girl, and shuddered at his middle school experiences dating girls, told me he had a girlfriend. I was absolutely baffled. I knew him as gay. He had to be gay.
I asked him about his girlfriend, how they had met, and whether she was nice to him, like I would with any of my other friends who were in new relationships. Luckily I was hiding behind Facebook and my voice and face couldn’t give away how confused I was. I wanted so badly to ask him “Are you straight now?” a variety on the “Are you gay now?” that I always got when I dated a girl a few years ago. For some reason, the fact that he hadn’t given me notice of his changing sexual orientation made it really unsettling when that sexual orientation changed manifesting itself in a relationship.
I kept myself from asking rude questions about his sexuality—after all, it’s not really my business. The conversation ended and whenever I think about him now, I think about how he has a girlfriend. I continued re-watching SATC and along came the episodes in which Samantha dates a woman. She says to her friends, “I’m a lesbian now.” Again I found myself angry at the lack of sensitivity towards different sexual identities that the show was presenting. I mean, this episode was from the late 90s. The writers should have known better. Someone should have known better.
It was then that I realized I had done to my friend what HBO and Carrie and the girls did to their viewers. I had put restrictions on sexual fluidity, going against the nature of the concept itself, and put a good friend in a box in the process.
For a girl who has always viewed sexual orientation as a spectrum, I was looking pretty closed-minded. When did I turn into the kind of person who insists that everyone’s sexual orientation be strictly defined, and how do I be the kind of person who can accept a gay man dating a woman? Or more importantly, how can I stop thinking about others’ sexual orientations altogether, something I always tell other people to do?
The answer isn’t simple, and I don’t even have it now. Where I can start is with treating this friend and his relationship the way I treat everyone else–with support when he’s happy, and with care and compassion if something goes wrong. Because in the end, my role as a friend is not to judge and know everything about his sexual orientation, but just to be around if the person he’s dating (whatever gender they may identify as) hurts him. Though, for the record, the friend in question and his girlfriend are doing very well.