Let’s start this post with an unsolicited dialogue that happened only a couple of weeks ago on Facebook with a man who could tell by my profile that I’m married:
Guy: How r u
Me: Great! You?
Me: That's no good.
Guy: Eh it is ok but just makes me wanna ask people some not appropriate things
Guy: Must have lost ya
Me: I'm married, so inappropriate questions are best directed elsewhere.
Guy: Ahh okay too scared to answer i get it
Me: Nope. Just respect for my husband and our relationship.
If there’s anything about that interaction that surprises you, I wish I could say it’s out of the ordinary. It isn’t. Not by a long shot. Constantino and I regularly face these types of interactions, ranging from vague flirtation to shockingly direct advances. It’s mostly online, but it happens in person occasionally as well. These offenders are not only secular gays, but often members of our LGBTQ Christian community. It reveals the uncomfortable fact that many in the gay community have little reverence for the institution of marriage.
Why do so many gay men fail to respect the boundaries of marriage? This isn’t about us specifically. Constantino and I are not the gay Christian versions of...whoever’s the heartthrob du jour. Ryan Gosling? No, he was like five years ago. I don’t know. Ask People magazine. The point is, we are not singled out for this kind of treatment. These kinds of advances are so frequent among our groups of friends that it’s a near-daily experience that one of us texts a screenshot of an egregious interaction. Recently, Constantino was greeted with, “What’s up, stud?” by someone on Facebook (dude needs some help with his pickup lines) and we later discovered that the same man had asked another one of our married friends what his boundaries were. He’s married; his boundaries are that he’s off limits to you. Period. Full stop.
So what is the reason for this lack of common sense among gay men? One likely problem is that many of them have not had the practical experience of having to respect nuptial boundaries. Heterosexual marriages abound, and so straight men have had plenty of experience encountering married women and discovering how to interact with them appropriately. Straight men learn early on (the good ones, anyway) that married women are off the market, and with that shift in status comes a change in the way a straight man is allowed to interact with her. He can’t ask her out. He can’t ask her “inappropriate questions.” He can’t sext her, or even send her kissy-face emojis. Flirting with a married person is taboo in most cultures—in faith-based communities for sure, but even the broader secular culture frowns upon this indiscretion. Unless a straight man wants to be labeled a “creep,” there are rules to abide by.
But same-sex marriage is new to everyone, even those of us in the LGBTQ community. For most of history, dating was the highest level of commitment LGBTQ people could make. That meant that people were rarely deemed permanently “off the market.” Without marriage, there has been an ingrained mentality that anyone could be a possibility. Because of that, and perhaps in part because many gay men have thrown off heteronormative customs, there’s an excessive tolerance in the LGBTQ community for sexual or romantic advances. Gay men disregard boundaries because, really, there haven’t been many. The secular LGBTQ community has been more comfortable with the idea of “open” relationships, and that mentality seems to be seeping into the concept of marriage, even in the Christian community. That’s disturbing for those who wish to vow before God to take one person as their spouse, excluding all others—and for those of us who have already taken that vow.
LGBTQ people aren’t any more deviant than the heterosexual community; some of us simply haven’t learned proper behavior. Until now, we haven’t had to confront our desires as they relate to someone else’s marriage. There was never a danger of a gay man making a pass at a bride and, although we might have been attracted to the straight groom, fear and futility kept us from flirting with him. Now gay men find themselves in a world where they’re meeting married men whom they find attractive and, for the first time, a married man could potentially be attracted to them as well. It’s a whole new ball game.
As married people, we know we are responsible for setting boundaries in interacting with others. That is why Constantino and I are blunt in rejecting advances. But the responsibility is not ours alone: The wider community must also agree to respect our covenant. Gay men need to learn what straight men have known since marriage was a thing: You don't mess with another man's spouse (even if it's another man). Not only do we need to refrain from this kind of behavior, but we should speak out against it when we see it happen. If the LGBTQ community is to do justice to this gift of marriage, we must adhere to the social contract to which the heterosexual community has always abided. And save the “What’s up, stud?” for OKCupid.
David Khalaf is a fiction writer living in Portland.