(404) 874-8536 johnballew@gmail.com

Intimacy and Masculinity

Have you ever wondered what difference being gay makes in your relationships — other than the fact that you choose other men, I mean? Are gay men and gay relationships different from straight men and straight relationships?

Unless Mom or Dad looked into your crib and said, “Oh, look! We’ve got a gay child!” you were probably raised with the assumption that you were going to be a straight guy when you grew up. Generalizing about sex roles is dangerous, but in general men are taught to focus on doing things, taking action and being smart rather than on learning the language of emotions.

Think about the way heterosexual men are portrayed on television. Men in old TV shows were often wise, quiet, sweater-and-a-pipe guys (Father Knows Best, Leave it to Beaver, Cosby Show, Brady Bunch). Maybe in reaction to all that, Homer Simpson is more the model now: bumbling and fundamentally clueless, but still not very aware of his emotions.

The traditional heterosexual view of the world — inherited to some extent by gay folks as well — has usually held it that men are bread winners, women are nurturers. Men change the oil in the car; women keep relationships well oiled.

While anti-gay religious demagogues have often suggested that gay folk are a threat to the way society is ordered, the reality is that gay male behavior is very much like that of other men. The difference in relationships is often that straight men need to learn something of an emotional language if they are to relate to women, while gay men may not have anyone insisting that they sit down and talk about their feelings.

It would be unfair to suggest that men have no language for talking about their deepest feelings with one another. Just the same, how many men find it easy to cry in front of another man, even a close friend? How many men are comfortable talking about feeling down or blue or hurt, or about feelings of love and closeness, or about loneliness and isolation?

Without these sorts of verbal and nonverbal emotional communications, relationships can stay at a relatively one-dimensional level. Intimacy requires us to be capable of feeling vulnerable. Many of us learned early on that feeling vulnerable around other males can be dangerous. Intimacy also requires us to feel safe with one another. If the way that we’ve learned to pal around with other men is through the use of sarcasm and ironic, we are likely to find that in intimate conversation words have sharp edges that can cut.

How comfortable are you in conversations about intimacy and emotion — as opposed to talk about making plans or taking action? Do you feel at a disadvantage and have a strong urge to pull back or disappear? Do you find that when you try to talk about feelings your boyfriend or partner withdraws or tries to change the subject?

First, understand that this sort of anxiety doesn’t mean you or your partner have some character defect. Feeling inadequate or ashamed won’t help you get what you want. Be aware that if you are like many men, learning to identify and talk about intimacy-related issues is a skill that may not have been emphasized when you were growing up. Fortunately, it’s always possible to learn new skills.

About John

I have been  licensed by the State of Georgia as a professional counselor for more than 25 years.  My areas of specialty are relationships, intimacy, sexuality, anxiety and depression.  My passion is helping people build happier lives and stronger relationships. 

I know it isn’t always easy to talk about problems.  My approach to counseling is nonjudgmental and compassionate.  If you have questions, I welcome the opportunity to talk with you about working together.

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Whether you've worked with a therapist before or are exploring counseling for the first time, you probably have questions.  It is important to have the information you need to make a good decision when selecting a therapist.  I welcome your questions -- about your specific situation, about me or about my approach to therapy. Making things better can start with an email, or you can call me at (404) 874-8536.