Transcendental Bloviation

Politics, Space, Japan

Thursday, April 20, 2006

"Coming Out" as "Straight" (don't everybody gasp at once, please)

I used to tell people I was bisexual but now I'm straight. Straight. Got that? I'll take your questions now. Operators are waiting. Don't be shy.

Was that a shocked silence? (More likely the usual: I'm just talking to myself here.)

Historical background: for years now, I've been answering any direct inquiries about my sexual orientation by saying, "I'm bisexual." The responses were all over the map. Baffled, embarrassed silence. Clueless questions. Barely-concealed snears of disgust. Lips puckered into a muttered "oh", under lidded eyes. Wincing skepticism (mostly from gay men.) Wishful thinking from some, irrespective of batting preference: "Maybe you're just confused about your sexuality." ("Oh yeah? Or maybe you're confused about my sexuality.")

The reactions got old. Fast. Hanging out with identified bisexuals helped a little. Then I moved to Tokyo, where such questions were seldom asked. It became an issue only when a new relationship started, and there were few enough of those.

Now I'm in Seattle. Getting a life again. The gay life? No. Not sexually, anyway. But I like gay men, lesbians, bisexuals, the transgendered, as much as anyone else, and maybe more. And they are curious about me, naturally, so sexual identity is an issue again.

I've decided: from now on, whenever it comes up, I'll tell people "I used to say I was bisexual, now I just say I'm straight." If they want an explanation, they'll get something like the rest of this blog entry. If they don't, we can go on to talk about sports, cars, work, politics, men, women, music, art, computers, relationships -- all the usual topics about which I know next to nothing.

This announcement has nothing to do with my desires, except my desire to be honest. It has everything to do with other people's feelings. Is that codependent of me? Honestly, I don't care. I have my reasons. I'll get into them.

But first, my desires: Yes, I'm still attracted to some men. I still sometimes fantasize about men. More pragmatically, when it comes to what might make me happy: I haven't ruled out finding a nice guy (preferably already with kids) and settling down, though I think that's unlikely even if I were in hunting for such a man. Just statistically, I'm more likely to end up with a woman matching the description. For now, though, fantasizing about being a father is about as idle a mental activity as fantaszing about having a boyfriend again. It's not gonna happen, not soon at any rate.

So why am I doing this? Why "come out" as "straight"? For me, it's a question of ethics, not morals.

When I was "experimenting with" (really, manifesting) my sexual "orientation", meeting men who liked to have sex with men, having fun with them, sometimes have sex with them, delighting that it was possible, relieved that I had more options, there was still something that seemed not quite right. I was sexually attracted, but not that attracted. I liked the sex, but not that much. I had romantic feelings, but they seemed directed at what was feminine about these guys. I left them for boring old garden-variety reasons for any breakup, but also because they were men, and men didn't quite do it for me. I broke hearts in part because of that final reason. It wasn't fair, it wasn't right, they deserved better than me on several counts, but in particular they deserved a man who was really into men. Not necessarily a man who was solidly gay. Just a guy who was more into guys.

I don't regret having had sex with men, and sometimes I get a little nostalgic about it. I recommend it to any man who's simply curious. I recommend it especially if you're curious but also creeped out by the prospect of trying. I was. The closer I got, the creepier it seemed. Then I did it. My skin promptly stopped crawling. I won't pretend it was the most graceful of breakthroughs, but it was surprisingly nice from the start. And it got better. But only so much better.

Were there benefits besides getting laid a few more times in life? Yes, I think so.

Having sex with men helped me shed my last few vestiges of homophobia. I stoppped caring whether people thought I was gay (though I still bristle when people think I must be gay, rather than bi, or possibly a slightly effeminate straight who has sloppily let his paintbrush slip over the paint-by-the-numbers lines here and there.)

Another good thing: I can more easily take a come-on from a man as a compliment, if it's done in a nice way. To notice more people finding me attractive, to find myself welcoming much of that attraction ... the only thing wrong with it is having it go to your head, letting it delude you into thinking you're some demi-god of pansexuality. Of course, sometimes the overtures are persistent and unwelcome. But that only renews my still-developing understanding of what women have to go through when they are being sexually harassed. (Not to speak of sexually-harassed gay/bi men, but let's not get distracted.) In short, I lost nothing but a certain kind of virginity, and I gained a lot.

Still, if you're like I was -- a homosexually inexperienced man, somewhat attracted to men, but ultimately just not that into them, and basically monogamous, please please please: be totally honest about that, with whomever you're doing your little personal behavioral-science experiment. He may go head over heels for you. That's not something you can control. But if he is, always tell him, "Don't believe I'll be here for you tomorrow. The sexual part is interesting, I don't know where it's going, but never forget I'm doing this for me, not you. I like you, but maybe I can only love you as a friend, not as a lover or a partner. Keep your options open. Don't let me break your heart. Don't cling. Keep a grip on yourself. Then I'm more likely to help you find someone you should really be with."

It's only right. For me, anyway. That's all I'm saying. If you're basically not monogamous, and bisexual, and clear about that with all your partners, indulge yourself as much as you want, without hurting yourself or others. And definitely call yourself bisexual, whether you're monogamous or not, because there still aren't enough people who could, and who are actually saying so. But I can't anymore. Being straight is something I have a choice about, unlike those who are solidly gay or straight. And it's a choice I'm making.

Well, that's it. Anticlimactic? Sorry. I'm being straight with you. I'm straight, not heartbreak bait, get over it, Mary. But above all, let's be friends.

Friday, April 14, 2006

Kudryavka's Wake

48 years ago, on April 14th, a satellite holding the lifeless body of the first sentient creature sent into orbit reentered the Earth's atmosphere.

We celebrate the courage of human astronauts, but those astronauts were and are braving calculated odds. Kudryavka ("Little Curly", which wasn't very easy to pronounce, so they went with the generic "Laika" for media promotion value) didn't even know where she was going, and it's likely she died in part from the stresses of being sent -- alone, hungry, bewildered, and trapped -- into a place no sane dog would go unless following a beloved master or mistress.

Kudryavka's sputnik was arguably the first real "biosatellite", but the craft was not a credit to that otherwise excellent and underappreciated concept. Sputnik 2 was thrown together almost overnight, to celebrate an anniversary of the October Revolution with a new space "first". It was felt that simply launching another electronic satellite would not be symbolic
enough. So what about a dog?

Adequate life support was effectively impossible, however, and there was no way to get Kudryavka back down alive anyway. Exactly when Kudryavka died is uncertain-- some time within the first 7 hours of flight seems to be the final coroner's report, after decades of silence or confusion. Perhaps a compassionate flight technician poisoned her before sealing her up, to reduce the number of hours of terror and misery she might otherwise have had to endure. Overheating was the likely cause of death. Relatively little biometric data was collected, most of it of no real use, except insofar as it proved that an animate creature of some size could survive at least a few hours of weightlessness.

As recounted in a documentary I saw at the Museum of Flight on Yuri's night here in Seattle, a thousand letters arrived in response to the announcement of Kudryavka's launch, letters in which people expressed a desire to be sent into orbit themselves, even if there was no safe way to come back -- or no way to come back at all. The one reason for people to go into space that makes any real sense (i.e., that they simply want to go, as the ultimate expression of the human desire for flight and release) was ironically affirmed by Kudryavka's forced adventure. It is a strange (and in a way, wonderful) statement about us as a species that there would probably have been no shortage of human volunteers to go knowingly to a certain death in orbit, instead of Kudryavka, had there been a spaceworthy capsule large enough for a human being at that point. Unlike Kudryavka, any selected volunteer would have gone down in history knowing that they would be in the history books, and would have appeared in those books under their own name. Poor Kudryavka, had she been reachable by radio from orbit, would probably not have responded to hearing "Laika" except as another human sound. It's hard to avoid the conclusion that Kudryavka, a stray mutt, died lonelier, more frightened, hungrier, and ultimately, just as nameless, as the day she was picked up off the streets of Moscow.

As a rule, I don't drink much. Tonight, however, I think I'll buy some vodka, and drink a toast to Kudryavka. Maybe I'll go out to some place where people dance; maybe I'll dance a little myself; and while dancing, I may try to make myself believe that, in her terror and bewilderment and loneliness, Kurdryakva might nevertheless have experienced a brief moment of joy and wonder in feeling weightless. I have no doubt that dogs can feel joy and wonder. I also have no doubt -- a legacy of my climbing days, I suppose -- that both joy and wonder are possible even in very miserable and frightening personal circumstances.

If and when I go out this Friday night, I'll try to invite some people, and if they come along, I will tell them I'm doing it in memory of Kudryavka. If they come along, it will be a true space party -- a wake, but still a real party. Will the moon be out? Perhaps we'll bay drunkenly at the moon, half-hoping to hear an echo from space, the voice of the spirit of a small dog who committed no worse sin than that of simply trusting some human beings with her life, trusting them as any good dog has been bred to do, oblivious to nationalism, technological ambition, political pressure, ideology, careerism. Maybe, if Seattle's skies clear up enough tonight, we'll be lucky and catch a glimpse of a falling star, and see something that looks like Kudryavka's coffin self-cremating in the upper atmosphere. And if we are very lucky, we will wake in the morning with not only a new respect for human intelligence and the wonders it can create, but also with a more wolflike wariness of the ever-present potential for that intelligence to be bent to purposes that are cruel, selfish, and deceptive. Any such wariness may feel like a personal burden, but it will also be a blessing in disguise. It's a wariness we owe to all sentient beings who might follow us wherever we go. We owe it to ourselves as well.

Kudryavka. Learn how to pronounce it. It was her name.