On Ms. Madison…(Ashley, that is…)

I guess the cat’s out of the bag now, eh? The headline-grabbing hack of Ashley Madison and subsequent disclosure of the 38 million users’ personal information has opened a door on a notion that many beyond these 38 million wished stayed shut–heterosexuals and heterosexual relationships are not perfect and that’s okay.

Before you lose it and start commenting, hear me out. First, let us consider something- while engaging in sex is a biological act, sexuality is a socially-constructed set of expected behaviors and ideals. As a gay man in my mid-30s, I got the messaging that heterosexuality is the desired relationship type. What I lacked was the all-encompassing messaging about how to be gay. I poured myself into learning more about the history of the culture and the embedded messages that come with critical analysis. With this, I came to believe a, well, common truth. For many gay men, we lived it up sexually! Embraced sexuality in all of its socially-constructed intricacies for our community: open relationships, group play, kink, bathhouses, adult bookstores, GPS-enabled real-time hookups. So what if the “heteros” didn’t like it? We were already being judged simply for being so what’s the big deal if we push the boundaries a bit?  And not just push them, but put it all out there as fierce, sexual boundary destroying warriors!

This of course came with backlash, both in and outside of the community. WE were what caused AIDS, WE were the ones that shouldn’t be the faces of the community, WE don’t deserve marriage. WE were the “funny uncles,” the perverts who cruised public bathrooms, the child molesters, the freaks.

This backlash takes its toll on people. It’s not surprising that there are significant substance abuse issues, homelessness, violence, fear, lower self-esteem and self-worth, higher suicidal ideology, etc. And this is what people who are values and action congruent deal with–those that actually put their stuff out there–significant judgment, shunning, and outright exclusion.

Now, back to Ms. Madison. While yes, I sat back in utter glee when it was published that Josh Duggar (face of hypocrisy for gays devaluing the sanctity of marriage), had been a Ashley Madison member, even paying the additional “affair guarantee” fee, I couldn’t help but feel triumphant. Not because people’s marriages might be ending, or that Josh Duggar would be exposed as a hypocrite, but because heterosexism (and the moral absolutism it is based upon) would be significantly chipped away at. Heterosexism is the belief in the inherent superiority of heterosexuals and heterosexual relationships–that everyone is or should be heterosexual and conduct themselves accordingly. It is a form of oppression in that it keeps those who are not heterosexual or choose not to live lives with this ideal in subordinated positions.

What does this hack reveal to others? Something that I’ve known for a long time–heterosexuals are not perfect and heteronormative relationships might not be the ideal. I actually feel really bad for heterosexuals at times. Why? Because if they are individuals who do not conform to heterosexism, they have a harder time finding allies and others like them to explore the boundaries. As a gay man, it’s already assumed that I’m outside the ideal, so I don’t feel the same pressures as non-heterosexist heterosexuals encounter. Swingers, kinksters, porn aficionados, non-monogamously identified persons…the list could go on and on…exist in the heterosexual community. What the hack reveals is that they might not be in the minority!

Who’s business is it if a person wants to engage in behaviors with another (or many others) in the privacy of their own homes or in an environment that caters to their tastes? Why is an emotionally-committed couple who choose to live in an open sexual relationship automatically viewed as less than? What does this have to do with your choices of relationship? Are you afraid that the relationship you’ve crafted for yourself also isn’t enough? You’re jealous of the bravery that it takes to live outside the norm? What would happen if, instead of signing up for a website that caters to having affairs, these individuals were simply honest with their partners, “Honey, I am as much in love with you today as the day we met; however, I want to try _______.” And, what if, just for a second, the partner didn’t automatically rush to judgment or become defensive. Rejected their social constructions. Simply listened, communicated with their partner, about needs and desires. Perhaps they agree to try the aforementioned behavior or situation, maybe it unleashes a whole new horizon of possibilities, deepens their relationship. Rejecting heterosexist ideals is not easy–but is it easier or harder than discovering that your partner was paying money to have an affair? Multiple affairs?

My deepest hope is that this hack causes reflection. What if the norm that I’ve wrapped myself up in isn’t actually beneficial? What if I’m not happy? What would need to happen in order for me to be happy? Crack open the door a little bit, you might just find that you like what’s behind it! And if not, there are plenty of doors to open. Keep going until you find the one(s) that work for you!

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