Psychology and sex have a long history. Another early thinker in the field of human sexuality, the controversial Sigmund Freud, was concerned with human sexuality as an indicator of mental wellness. Although he based his understanding from an essentialist viewpoint, and saw homosexuality as just a deviation of inborn unfocused sexual libido, he acted with empathy when parents of gay children would write to him and express their concern over their children’s sexuality.
The field of Psychology writ large uses tools to help support and explain human conditions of the mind. The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) is a psychological guide that is widely used in the United States. as a way to diagnose and treat mental disorders. The manual has a long history of identifying seemingly normal practices in the 21st century as mental illnesses. In the 1950’s, the DSM identified homosexuality as a mental disorder. In addition to homosexuality being classified as a psychological disorder, older versions of the DSM have classified things like interracial relationships and gender dysphoria as a mental illness (all of which has been removed from the DSM), but it is still held as a resource for understanding and diagnosis. The 1960’s was an important time in the history of Psychology because open homosexuality became more visible, which allowed for more research regarding homosexuality, gender, and other topics.
In the 1960’s, Evelyn Hooker, an American Psychologist affiliated with UCLA, studied her homosexual neighbors, and by administering psychological tests (such as ink blot exams) discovered people who identified as homosexual were not mentally ill. In fact, Hooker noted that homosexual people do not have psychological differences from heterosexual people. Hooker’s studies on homosexuality were given credence, and as a result, in 1973, homosexuality was no longer listed as a mental illness in the DSM, unless it bothered the individual, and in 1980, homosexuality was removed from the DSM completely.
Homosexuality being removed from the DSM was an important step for the American Psychological Association, because it played a major role in eliminating the stigma of homosexuality on a national level. Although homosexuality is not considered to be a mental illness now, homophobic hate crimes continue worldwide, and it is important to note that inequities within LGBTQIA+ communities still exist, even in the 21st century.
I turned 23 in 1978, and had begun to accept that I am gay. I was close to graduating from an Art and Design College, and I lived in the charming ‘German Village’ district of Columbus, Ohio. Being gay in the late 70’s and being young meant that life was exciting! I met guys at bars, sometimes involving sex afterwards, but often, just to have friendships develop. Disco was big, and you could lose yourself in the music, or watch others from the side of the crowded rooms. There was no big ‘danger’ from sex, and that was liberating. And clubs could be old music halls turned into magical clubs, with personalities like Grace Jones lighting up the stage.
Work was fine, and friends were plenty. I was part of a gay bowling league with 20 teams of 4 men each. It wasn’t all about sex, it was about comradery, kidding with each other, and then perhaps an electric connection, who knew? In 1979, I moved to Houston, and the “volume” of life turned up loud. Bigger gay district, bigger clubs and leather bars, and more men to choose from. I met the man who became a sometimes lover the 3rd day I arrived in Houston. I think that set me up for a version of monogamy, at least the gay version, where you stayed with someone, broke up to go fool around with other guys, then got back together because you really loved the guy. That went on for a couple of years before I realized it wasn’t going anywhere. And then I got a job offer to move to Dallas. A raise, more design opportunities, and a new start, how could I resist? So life began again, and I was happy being single, new in town, and had settled into the Texas gay mentality. You wore a western hat, boots of course, and either a tight T or a leather vest. At least, that was the young gay version of cool at the time. And life was fun, full of work challenges. I met and kind of fell for Richard, a tall hot guy who managed one of the gay Western bars. It was easy to hang out, and the relationship had no strings attached. Then I met Rand and fell in love for real! I was about 28 and we were everything to each other. We bought a house on the south neighborhood of Dallas where other gay couples were setting up households. There were 4 other gay couples on the street we lived on, and it was easy to find domestic bliss. But this was 1986, and the storm of AIDS was happening. All at once the bliss of young love was tested and we began to lose friends. It was nothing short of horrific. The first guy I knew who got sick, then died, was the hot manager Richard. It was brutal to see him wither away. So Rand and I got tested, and we both tested positive. Our friendly gay neighbors and friends were all facing the same demon. We had weekly meetings to share any new information on how to stay safe, what sort of progress was developed to manage or cure the disease, and what we could do to help others.
And yet, despite all this desperation and misery, we were still able to enjoy life, have fun, and raise money for charity and relief efforts. We joined with others for the March on Washington, and got married in the group marriage ceremony. It wasn’t legal, but we had a marriage certificate, so it was real enough for us. By 1989, Dallas had changed. The economy had tanked, Rand, who was an artist, wasn’t finding much work. So I searched for a job and was offered one in San Francisco. It was the perfect move. San Francisco had the leading edge HIV/AIDS doctors, and we wanted to survive the devastation of our ‘brothers.’ And San Francisco, which I had visited in the thrill of the late 70’s, was still the gay Mecca. The famous Castro neighborhood still had impromptu parties that shut down the corner of 18th at Castro, and holidays were still elaborately celebrated. It was fun until it wasn’t. Rand started getting sick in 1991/92, and even though we fought the fight, I lost him in 1993. He was only 33, and that was crushing. Several months later, as I was wallowing in the loss, my downstairs neighbors invited me to join them for a weekend at the Russian River, about an hour north of San Francisco. We laughed, forgot the troubles of the moment, and once more, I found myself hopeful. I am, as you might have guessed, an eternal optimist. I met a guy there who changed my life again, J. J challenged me to a pinball game, and we chatted like we were old friends. He lived in the area, and invited me to come up some time. And that’s how I discovered the real joys of Northern California and the healing of the redwoods. We got closer, had mutual friends, and I fell again. But it wasn’t to be. J died two years later from complications from HIV/AIDS, and I was again left mourning what might have been.
About four months after J’s death, life changed again. I lived part-time in Occidental in the Redwoods, in a house I rented with J, and was in a tough roommate situation in SF. A friend who had an extra room in the Castro asked if I wanted to move to his place. He had a friend help me move in and wanted us to meet. I would never have guessed that day would change my life! T was the friend who helped me move, and we connected instantly; it was like lightning in a bottle. My friend who invited me to move in recognized the attraction, and gracefully exited so that we could grab each other. But, I was not ready for any relationship, and T had also lost a lover of 10 years to HIV/AIDS, and didn’t want anything serious. We resisted any relationship, but kept seeing each other. I’d be over at his place in the city, then he would come up to Occidental and we would get lost in the joys of new lust. We were comparable, fit together, and despite the drama of life, kept seeing each other. We both had AIDS but were ‘healthy,’ in that relative term that is now used for asymptomatic. A year passed, we were still very much in love, and decided to take the leap of a relationship again. Neither of us wanted the other to have to see the other suffer from what could happen, but why resist? Yes, there were lots of dramatic events, health crises for each of us, but the joy of living again, and the new medications that allowed us to see another day, another year, why give up on love?
So, now 26 years have come and gone. We, who never expected to see 40, or 50, are now close to 70 and going strong! Sex is still good, we are still actively enjoying each other, but with a sense of contentment. Our commitment to not sweating the little stuff keeps us grounded, and our private jokes that only the other one understands are still worth a giggle. It’s rather amazing to shift from passionate, uncontrollable sex to sensual, comfortable sex, and is actually really satisfying. I’d never have guessed that I could be content and still look to a future without cringing at the possible outcome. Life can all change in an instant, but isn’t that true for everyone anyway? I say, why not enjoy the ride.