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26 relationship possibilities for gay men
To all my gay compatriots living in the closet, I urge you to come out and join us. Gay life is awesome. It is not without hardships, but I can resolutely say that being gay is the greatest gift I have been given.
Why? Because of relationships. I could live without circuit fashion and occasional bitchiness and insane body standards, but I could not imagine my life without the friends, boyfriends, and lovers who have taken care of me, shown me love, and fucked me senseless.
I was tasked with writing a slideshow detailing all the different relationships gay men can have. Just to be clear, this slideshow is not exclusively catered to white, able-bodied, cisgender gay men. Trans men are men. End of story. And some trans men are gay. Some — like the ones I have hooked up with — are extremely sexy. Our community could benefit from a stronger spirit of inclusivity and unity, especially when so many opinions, both inside and outside our demographic, rage as to what the future of gay life looks like.
Gay men come in all sizes, shapes, skin colors, and ethnic backgrounds, and you could have any of these relationships with all of them. Browse these 26 different relationships gay men can have while keeping an open mind and heart, and remember that love (and lust) is waiting for when you least expect it.
a word of warning from writer alexander cheves
My name is Alexander Cheves, and I am known by friends in the kink and leather community as Beastly. I am a sex-positive writer and blogger. The views in this slideshow do not reflect those of The Advocate and are based solely on my own experiences. As with everything I write, the intent of this piece is to break down the stigmas surrounding the sex lives of gay men.
Those who are sensitive regarding frank discussions about sex are invited to click elsewhere, but consider this: If you are outraged by content that addresses sex openly and honestly, I invite you to examine this outrage and ask yourself whether it should instead be directed at those who oppress us by policing our sexuality.
For all others, enjoy the slideshow. And feel free to leave your own suggestions for sex and dating topics in the comments.
Hungry for more? Follow me on Twitter @BadAlexCheves and visit my blog, The Beastly Ex-Boyfriend.
When you were little, the guy you fell in love might have been a boy on TV or a comic book hero. Before we start real-life relationships, we fantasize about them, usually with the characters of childhood. Until recently, these fantasies required some imagination. We had to replace Spider-Man’s Mary Jane with a ginger boy, replace “her” with “him” in every love song, and imagine what the movie ending would be like if the cartoon boy dog fell in love with another boy dog.
All around us, entertainers seemed to go out of their way to make sure we knew that the characters we loved were straight. Dogs don’t wear giant pink bows or mascara or have absurdly long eyelashes — but damn it, the love interest of every male cartoon dog did.
Queer kids today enjoy greater LGBT representation, but they are still forced to understand their relationships as things that the majority of media, advertising, and industry do not cater to. This is why those early fantasies were so important. They gave us ideals and fantasies to work with before we discovered who we are.
Years before my first boyfriend, I fell in love with the Beast from Disney’s 1991 animated classic Beauty and the Beast. When I was very little, an actor in a furry suit at Disney World put his massive clawed hand on my head — this picture is still on my parents’ refrigerator. In it, I am gasping and looking up at him in awe. I still remember how it felt, the velvet padding of his glove on my head, his fur and horns, and trembling with something more than wonder.
“DL” means “down low” — in the closet, “discreet.” These relationships typically come after “imaginary,” and for many guys, this describes the relationships we have in high school.
High school is a horrible time that few people remember fondly. You’re a child suddenly given adult responsibilities and forced to make life decisions and be ambitious at a time when you don’t even really know what kind of sex you like to have.
DL relationships may involve illicit kisses behind the bleachers and secret trysts with a guy from the next county over. I believe most of them — no matter when they happen in life — inevitably end in heartbreak.
The closet is a dark place that few adult gay men need to endure in 2016, but high school is different. Some high school kids have unfriendly home situations and may not be in a financial or emotional place to come out, which means they are forced to have relationships in secret — or not at all.
You’re in college. You are just beginning to explore yourself. Perhaps you are in a new city or away from your parents for the first time. You can be anyone, so why not be yourself?
College is when many gay men start to come out and explore their sexual needs. The relationships that happen at this time have a low survival rate, but they are more important than those dead-end DL things tried before.
College relationships start the lifelong process of teaching you valuable lessons on how to date and communicate — lessons that every relationship will teach you until the day you die. You are almost certainly going to fuck up. You might cheat on him with some random dude at a drunken house party or ignore him under the crushing weight of your studies. When you do, you will beat yourself up harder than you need to. College is a good time to make mistakes and get your heart broken. How else will you learn?
And why the low survival rate? College is a transitory time. You change rapidly from one year to the next in your 20s, and you will probably move somewhere after you finish your undergrad. Relationships during those sleepless four (and likely more) years are invariably strained over summer breaks, spring break tomfoolery, workloads, and late hours of stress. Some couples last past graduation day, but most end long before the tossing of the caps.
As we grow, we mimic what we see, and what most guys see growing up are monogamous relationships. Most TV shows and movies feature straight, monogamous pairings, and for most of us, the majority of straight relationships around us at various times in our lives at least appear monogamous. So it stands to reason that many gay guys’ first relationships are attempts at monogamy.
Monogamy is a hot-button topic in the gay community. The subject is bound to divide a room full of gay men into two groups — those who practice it, and those who consider themselves nonmonogamous. I personally do not know one successful long-term gay couple who are sexually monogamous, although I am sure they are out there somewhere, toiling away with quiet conservatism at a heteronormative ideal that may work beautifully for them but does not work so well for many others — myself included.
A monogamous relationship is one in which two (or more) gay men are sexually exclusive to each other, with no plans to be otherwise. Sex with or romantic feelings for someone other than your boyfriend/partner would be called “cheating” and could possibly end the relationship.
As longtime outsiders from the world of heteronormativity, gay men have a history of redefining relationships to fit our sexual needs. The result is a community that celebrates a plethora of different relationship structures, most of them falling on the “nonmonogamous” spectrum.
Nonmonogamy is whatever you make it. Some gay couples only play together and occasionally go home with a third (threesomes are great fun). Some guys make certain allowances for certain occasions: They can play with others outside the relationship when they travel or when they go to party weekends like Folsom or IML. Others have relationships with other guys within certain contexts. I know several long-term gay couples who have “pups” or “boys” or “daddies” — a guy outside the primary relationship who plays with one (or both) of them whenever he comes to town.
Some gay couples are completely open, meaning they can do whatever they want, whenever they want, with whomever they want, and usually without needing to tell each other. In my limited experience, these relationships are less common than the various partially open nonmonogamous setups, simply because they feel threatening to many guys — even to devotedly nonmonogamous ones like me.
I’m a slut who wants freedoms as well as flowers. I want to have anonymous sex with guys in changing rooms and dark alleys, but I also want to share dishwashing duty with a man I care about and cuddle with him at night. I want certain sex acts and certain experiences to be special and exclusive to us, and I generally want to know who he is fucking — if only because I love watching.
My ideal relationship would fall somewhere in the wide range of “nonmonogamy,” but would not be “open.” I made these two terms different categories because I understand them as slightly different labels.
Fuck buddy relationships
For gay men, there is typically a blurry line between friends and lovers. A no-strings-attached fuck bud is one of the best relationships in the world.
Sex is a very enjoyable pastime. We enjoy bar crawls and nature hikes and DIY projects with friends — so why not enjoy sex?
No run-through of gay relationships would be complete without married relationships, which after a long battle are now an option for same-sex couples across all 50 states.
Married relationships are no different from any other on this list. They may be monogamous or nonmonogamous, kinky or vanilla, fulfilling or toxic. The long-deserved right to marry was so heavily fought for because of the extensive partner benefits given to legally married couples, and because the exclusion of a whole group of people wishing to justify and celebrate their relationships in a way that different-sex partners have been able to do for hundreds of years was plainly and simply wrong.
While certificates on paper have never been needed to legitimize relationships between gay men, “marriage” and its institution hold hefty cultural weight. That basic wrongness — the injustice of our exclusion, which all too frequently resulted in tragedies like life partners being denied hospital visitation and barred from funeral arrangements — was the fire beneath the fight for marriage equality.
Even this humble writer — the boy who would never grow up or settle down — was almost down on one knee with a ring. Even though I eventually sent the ring back, the whole experience taught me how beautiful and important that tradition and institution is. There is no richer feeling than being an out gay man, being in love, and wanting to share it with the world the same way my sister can, the same way my parents did. That is our victory.
Married (in the closet) relationships
Many gay men over a certain age were married or may still be married to women because that was their only option when they were young.
In larger cities and urban areas, this has been less of a reality for gay men for much of the last half century. Today, the visibility of gay life has extended even to remote country towns across the South like the one I grew up in. Which means that when gay men today get married to women and have children, they are at fault. They are living dishonest lives and hurting others at a time when images of out gay life are merely a click away.
But I forgive men over a certain age — gay men who knew nothing of the Gay Liberation Front in New York or the West Coast leather scene, who got into straight marriages before the internet made the boundaries between gay men quite small.
A list of gay relationships would be remiss without mentioning the women many gay men have left and the families in-the-closet gay men have broken. It would be wrong not to mention all the wives who stayed with their gay husbands and made allowances for their husbands’ “friends.”
It would also be wrong to completely chide DL gay men of the past, many of whom lived their entire lives in the closet — a suffering worse than any I can imagine. A lifetime in the closet is no longer necessary for anyone living in the Americas or Europe in 2016. If you live in a homophobic hamlet in Italy, get yourself a one-way ticket to Rome.
Toxic and abusive relationships
Author Mark Mansons’s article “Six Toxic Relationship Habits Most People Think Are Normal” is a must-read.
Beyond all my sex fantasies and commitment issues, I am an old-school romantic. I want a relationship, and I want to make things work. But as Manson says, most of us are not taught how to have healthy relationships. In fact, many of the common things we do in relationships — and see others doing in relationships — are the very practices that turn our relationships toxic and unhealthy.
In my dating life, I maintain a few rules that are nonnegotiable, one of them being that if a guy ever lays a hand on me — a shove, a slap, anything — I must leave their immediate vicinity as soon as possible and never speak to them again. I rarely say that everyone should do as I do, but I do think everyone should practice this rule.
Affairs are something we must talk about delicately. They are intrinsically part of the discussion in monogamous relationships and have their place in nonmonogamous ones too.
If you’re in a nonmonogamous relationship and your guy is fine with you playing with your pup on Sundays — or if you guys regularly invite Jeffrey over to fist you — then these are your parameters. So if you decide to play with someone other than these two men, someone who hasn’t been approved of by your partner, you’re cheating.
If you are in a completely open relationship, cheating requires a closer definition. Sexually, there may not be such a thing as cheating in an open relationship, but there can be romantic infidelity. If you are in an open relationship and you start developing feelings for someone beyond your primary partner, you need to tell him as soon as possible.
It is easy to shame cheaters and cheating in general. The word and concept brim with dishonesty and hurt. I was a repeat cheater until I accepted the fact that monogamy was not for me and began looking for alternatives. I believe honesty is the most important part of a healthy relationship, followed closely by good communication. Dishonesty destroys trust, and relationships cannot exist without trust. Do not be dishonest. Don’t cheat.
I could create an entire slideshow on dom/sub relationships — and probably will someday — but for the sake of conciseness, a dom/sub relationship is a kink relationship in which someone is sexually submissive and the other person is sexually dominant.
Some men’s primary relationship is dom/sub, although I generally advise against this. I cannot have a dom/sub setup with my partner, because my sex role is not my entirety as a person. It is a head space I enjoy but not something I can live in. That being said, some guys have great and very healthy dom/sub setups with their boyfriends and partners. As long as communication is happening and emotional and mental needs are being met, I encourage open-mindedness about relationships and believe everyone should do what they enjoy.
Most daddy/son relationships are inherently dom/sub, but there is usually a protective and mentoring element to them. Most daddy/son pairings I know involve sex, with the daddy usually being the dominant/top and the son being the submissive/bottom, but this is not always the case. The only consistency among them is some age difference, with the daddy usually some years older than the son. Daddies are typically well-established and quite frequently have long-term partners of their own.
Unlike other sub/dom pairings like master/slave or sir/boy, daddies take a more nurturing and mentoring role with their boys. Their relationships are usually very sweet and can last for many, many years.
On a historical timeline, these relationships probably predate kink relationships and leather families. For most of our history, gay life has been difficult at best, meaning there have always been relationships in which older gay men help out younger gay men — financially, socially, sexually, and with genuine care and concern.
I have had a sir and an alpha pup, but I have never had a daddy, although I am very open to the idea (Hi, Drew Sebastian!). But many older gay men have helped me out at various points in my life, financially and otherwise, because they can and because they care. Some of these men are my closest friends.
A kink relationship is nearly always a sub/dom relationship. “Kink relationship” is the generic, umbrella term for dozens of different relationship dynamics: puppy and handler, master and slave, boy and sir, sadist and pain pig, domme/dominatrix and boy toy, etc.
Some people enjoy their kink relationship as their primary relationship — my last boyfriend was also my handler — but often they exist in addition to a primary partnership.
For instance, my former sir lasted through two boyfriends and several flings. He was always there for me, giving me advice, and helping me when things got tough. We played regularly, and the guys I dated understood that these sessions were things I needed and had no intention of giving up. I would leave my boyfriend for a few hours to go get tied up on a sawhorse and paddled until my butt was red.
Puppy packs/leather families
Pack relationships do not have to be between human pups (guys into puppy play), but this is the most common form of pack relationship I know. A puppy pack usually involves several guys/pups who share a handler (the dominant partner in a puppy scene) who usually have close (sometimes sexual) relationships with each other.
Let me illustrate: Two “beta pups” (sexually submissive pups) may share a handler or even an alpha pup (sexually dominant pup). This would make them brother pups. Now let me really throw you for a loop: That same alpha pup may himself have a handler or another alpha pup, who may or may not have relationships with his pup’s pups.
Confusing? Wait till I throw daddies and sirs into the mix. Leather families get so complex that one might argue that there is little difference between a leather family and the collective body of kinky people you play with. And that’s the point.
There is a communal bond in the leather and kink community that comes with being part of a subculture that celebrates “alternative sexual lifestyles” — many of which still astonishingly incur heavy stigmas. These stigmas are held by people who see kink and fetish play as abusive, dangerous, sordid, and dark. Every time I come close to believing that kink has broken into the mainstream and is no longer threatening to anyone, someone on Twitter reliably reminds me — usually with a series of shocked, angry tweets — that some people still believe kinksters (kinky people) are depraved, dangerous people.
Leather families and puppy packs exist because many nonmonogamous kinksters like myself are not satisfied with one person but prefer to have a “family” of people who share interests, sexual and otherwise, and celebrate each other’s desires without shame or embarrassment.
In his excellent article in the Bay Area Reporter — “All in the Family” — Race Bannon writes about how many people in the sizable San Francisco leather community see the entire body of international kinksters as a giant leather family.
Serodiscordant relationships are another topic that could easily fill several slideshows. But first, a basic definition: A serodiscordant relationship is one in which one partner is HIV-positive and the other is HIV-negative. My last relationship was serodiscordant — my ex-boyfriend was HIV-negative.
With PrEP, antiretroviral treatment, and undetectable viral loads, serodiscordant relationships hardly warrant the distinction. But it is important that we distinguish them, because their existence fights HIV stigma. One’s HIV status, whatever it is, has no bearing whatsoever on whether or not someone is a good boyfriend.
Intercultural or cross-cultural relationships happen when two people from different countries or cultural backgrounds date. My last relationship was cross-cultural: he was from Caracas, Venezuela, and I grew up in the Bible Belt — Georgia, USA.
I never visited Caracas, so all I know of his culture is what I experienced with him — his language, the arepas he made, and how he interacted with his family when they visited. He, on the other hand, was in the South for college, so he got a fair sampling of saccharine sweetness, overdone vowels, butter, racism, and all the cultural accoutrements that make Georgia what it is.
Cross-cultural competency is important, and sadly an area that our European counterparts have a significant advantage in over us. One of my college loves from Bruges, Belgium, has strong cultural competence when dating guys from Italy, England, Asia, the Middle East, and India — because he travels widely and Europe is a melting pot. Here in the United States, we are still debating whether or not Spanish should be taught in schools.
All this being said, cross-cultural relationships do not have to cross national borders. West Coast guys sometimes date East Coast guys, a Republican in Dallas may fall in love with a sex therapist in San Francisco, and once I tried to date a guy from Berwick, Maine. I could not read his sarcasm at all and he didn’t know what “bless your heart” meant, but the sex was great.
Mixed race relationships
I have heard it said that race is synonymous with culture, but culture is not always synonymous with race. For example, black and Latino people may have cultural differences that are built on racial lines and backgrounds (black culture, Latin culture), but one can have a culture — New York City club kid culture, Southern culture, leather culture, coffee culture — that is not built on racial backgrounds, and that people of all races may participate in and identify with.
This is why I am defining cross-cultural relationships and mixed-race relationships as two different categories — because race and culture are not always synonymous, and because we need to talk about race.
Beyond the sex, my favorite part about being a kinkster is the fact that the kink and fetish community is, in my experience, a body of people that is more likely to frown on racism and sexism than any other demographic. It is a community that celebrates differences — sexual and otherwise. I have always been proud of its inclusivity and body-positivity, even when the mainstream gay culture (the homonormative, as some might call it) is rent bitterly with racism and body shame.
I grew up in the South, where racism is still very much alive. When I came out and identified broadly with gay men, I was shocked to find that gay men all over the country, in places far beyond the South, practiced a racism that was just as ugly as the garbage I grew up hearing from Southern church ladies and small-town rednecks: “No Asians, No Blacks” written on their Grindr profiles.
The Unitarian Universalist Church is one of the most LGBT-friendly organizations in the United States and is a great option for interfaith gay couples — two guys who practice different religious beliefs.
One of my college boyfriends was Methodist. I do not believe in anything — not one single, puny god from the Greek canon escapes my faithlessness — so every Sunday we went to church at the local UU. He practiced his faith there — a beautiful, savage thing that made him kneel and weep and raise his hands and do all sorts of things that made me feel shallow by comparison — while I got free cookies at the reception following the service.
The Unitarian Universalist Church is not the only institution that interfaith same-sex couples may attend. There are many generic worship centers and houses of prayer in the world. How interfaith couples reconcile their core differences in belief is a different story, and something I can offer no help with — I don’t even believe in an absolute right and wrong. My ethical relativism is great for philosophical discussion but is better left unmentioned when talking about relationships.
Platonic relationships are loving and romantic relationships that exist completely without sex. Some couples choose to not have sex. Others lose sexual attraction to each other but continue to stay together.
I know at least two successful long-term gay couples who are completely platonic. Both couples have sexual relationships with other guys on the side, and both couples consider themselves “life partners” — men who love sharing a home and a bed but do not have sex.
There’s something about this idea that makes me go weak at the knees. I don’t know what that kind of love is like, but I imagine it’s pretty mind-blowing. Sex is such a big part of my life, so I cannot imagine having an intimate and committed relationship with a man who I do not fuck. Platonic relationships prove that sex is just one feature of a relationship — one that is not needed to make it last.
These are the second most important relationships you have in life — the guys who pick you up when you’re drunk on the side of the road, who get you out of your self-flagellating depression after a breakup by taking you to get tacos, and who pretend they’re your boyfriend when a stalker is eyeing you by the bathroom.
We are gay men, which means we tend to sleep with our friends. Sometimes our friends become our lovers and — even better — sometimes our lovers become our friends. There is a beautiful fluidity to the friendships that you will have with your fellow homos. These friendships have been some of the greatest honors of my life, as I hope they are for all gay men.
Our friendships are obviously not restricted to our fellow gays. Let’s raise a glass for all the people, regardless of their orientation or gender identity, who are there for us year in and year out, who survive through our breakups and bear with us when we’re in love and, if they’re good friends, call us out on our idiocy. Gay men should be familiar with the term “chosen family.” When our biological families reject us, our chosen family — our friends and lovers — become the people who see us through life. We would not make it without them.
The relationship you have with yourself
Not to be hokey or sound like a motivational poster from a clinic or dental office, but the most important relationship you have in life is with yourself.
Here’s a story. I honestly didn’t get RuPaul’s Drag Race until about two seasons ago. I hadn’t watched it from the beginning and I honestly did not understand its appeal. OK, I thought, It’s a bunch of drag queens competing for a top spot. Lots of drama. Got it.
But then I started watching it during a time when I was feeling pretty down on myself. I was going through one of my rounds of depression. At the end of every episode, RuPaul tells the queens, “If you can’t love yourself, how in the hell are you gonna love somebody else? Can I get an amen?”
Then on one particularly blue night after a weekly episode, RuPaul said that closing line for the umpteenth time, and I was like, “Holy fuck.” That was it. That is drag — an art form that is done solely for self-empowerment, a proverbial “fuck you” to the world. And that is life.
Our first job as people and as gay men is to love ourselves, even when it’s hard. For me, that is the difference between mental health and depression, and between healthy relationships and unhealthy ones. Time after time, through every relationship, RuPaul’s truth gets proved to me: You must love yourself first. The minute you stop or he stops, the relationship goes downhill.
It is easy to love yourself when you feel strong and capable — when you’re enjoying how you look or floating on cloud nine. But it makes a difference when you’re crying on the floor of the bathroom or sobbing in the street, beating yourself up for leaving him or wondering if anyone will ever love you back. That’s when loving yourself must become an active priority. If you can’t do that, how in the hell can you be ready for love when a good guy comes along?