White (Wedding) Party
Written by Dan Tyler
A recent study by the Center for Research on Gender and Sexuality at San Francisco State University confirmed what many suspected, although it was never before officially quantified: Many gay men in committed relationships not only like to play around but also approve of their partners doing the same. Researcher Colleen Hoff, in comments that were widely circulated and commented on in the media, concluded this was not only widespread but even healthy: We tend to negotiate ground rules and open relationships as a way to build trust and longevity.
Such thinking extends to same-sex marriage, now legal in several nations, throughout New England and in Iowa (as well as being recognized as legally binding in a few other jurisdictions, such as New York State). At bottom, marriage, whether same- or other-sexed, is two people who have committed their lives together in a mutually supportive relationship. But that doesn’t necessarily always mean mutually exclusive.
Such an open attitude extends to at least some of the committed couples that have chosen to continue to attend Circuit parties. Just as partnered men have been going dancing for years, recently legally married couples are also traveling to cities to carouse. Yes, they’ve got that “piece of paper from the City Hall keeping us tied and true,” in Joni Mitchell’s memorable phrasing. But it doesn’t mean that they are doomed to spending their nights knitting in front of Golden Girls reruns. If anything, the same promises of a great Circuit weekend are at least as attractive to committed couples. They can enjoy a break from reality, surrounded by hot men.
With all that in mind, I sought out couples officially married — or at least partnered in a long-term relationship — to pose the question: “What effect (if any) has the Circuit had on your relationship?”
Look But Don’t Touch (Or Do!)
Marco and Mike from Houston know another couple that doesn’t go to Circuit parties because “they think it’s all about extramarital sex and drugs. They question why we go to those parties,” Marco told me. He and Mike have spent some time hashing out these issues and agree that they can go to parties without feeling the need to pick up anyone. They have come to believe that bringing a third party into the wedding bed would cheapen the union of two people committed to each other. “Besides,” Marco added, “sex with a long-time partner can offer dimensions of exploration not advisable with anyone else. Mike and I agree the physical intimate bonding between two people, gay or straight, who love each other, should remain intimate and special between the two for it to have meaning and lasting depth.”
That doesn’t mean there haven’t been some lively discussions of the issue, but “at the end of it all, we agree: my body is his, and his is mine,” Marco said. “I can honestly say after 10 years of fun, notwithstanding all those pretty boys I like to admire now and then, there is no man I’d rather share my body with than him.”
Peter and Robert from Montreal recently celebrated their 12th anniversary. But their attitude is 180 degrees from Marco and Mike. “One day we’ll be six feet under, and we want to make damn sure we’ve tried everything at the buffet before our time is up,” Peter said. “I look forward to the treats appearing tomorrow. And if what I ate makes me puking sick, it doesn’t mean I will never have an appetite again and won’t be back at the buffet.” Parties provide an array of treats from which to choose.
David and his partner Steve, from Palm Springs, also fall more closely into the couples typified by the San Francisco study. “As gay men in American society, we have had to re-arrange what straights consider normal and moral,” David said. “To be gay is to accept that you are different in ways many people find objectionable. I decided marriage did not have to be monogamous, nor could I find a reason for monogamy. Stephen held more traditional views but over time has learned to expand beyond what he was taught or originally believed. Our relationship has evolved over the years to include solo play, threesomes and foursomes.”
Another study, privately funded by two men from Oakland, Calif., buttressed the notion that gay couples are navigating their own unique form of marriage. Blake Spears’ and Lanz Lowens’ study (http://www.thecouplesstudy.com) included 86 couples. The age skewed older than the San Francisco study, so there weren’t many Circuit boys, but some couples still liked to go clubbing. Although calling monogamy “a viable option” for gay couples, they concluded that “when partners find enough common ground in their inclinations and perspectives toward non-monogamy, sanctioned outside sex is a sustainable and satisfying possibility.” Sex outside marriage allows men to “follow their nature,” they said, “meet differing needs, and seek variety without jeopardizing their relationship.” The couples did not equate marriage with monogamy.
The Circuit — Good for Marriage, Except When It’s Not
As for the Circuit, Phillip from Dallas jokes that “gay marriage may actually increase participation! It’s practically a honeymoon getaway already.” The Circuit, he said, is merely an extension of the kind of life they have at home. “If the couple uses the Circuit as a vacation experience, then I don’t think marriage would affect it one way or another.”
Several couples do just that and remain active on the Circuit as their own Club Med. Since Xavier and Jeff live in San Francisco, they cannot get married (as of this writing), but they consider themselves very much in a committed relationship — and still love to go to parties. Nearly seven years ago, Steve Weinstein, the editor of noiZe, interviewed a New York couple that had gotten married in Toronto. They spent their honeymoon at Montreal’s Black & Blue, where they picked up a third as a mutual wedding gift. The couple has stayed happily married — and just as happily attending parties and meeting other men for mutual play.
“If a couple chooses to step out in their normal day-to-day lives, then their extracurricular entertainment may or may not be affected by a so-called ‘legal’ marriage,” Phillip notes. “It’s not unlike straight married couples who enjoy swinging, right?” The Circuit is what each couple makes of it. For some, it means bonding with friends; for others, it’s a sexual adventure. “If they step out when they go to local clubs, then they’ll do it at a Circuit party,” Phillip noted.
On the negative side, it should be noted that some relationships couldn’t stand the strain of being open, bringing in a third or participating in group sex. Larry and Mark had partnered in Phoenix for several years, but they broke up because there was too much outside activity. Similarly, Mark and Marcus from Toronto were no longer a couple after seven years together. Others cite reasons similar to the ones single men might give for cutting back on Circuit events or giving them up altogether: aging, issues with drug use, expenses, work obligations, health or other lifestyle changes.
Ultimately, married couples are approaching the Circuit the same way they are negotiating all of the other facets of their lives. Some will play; others will look; and still others will not even go that far. As gay marriage becomes more and more accepted and a part of the social landscape, the Circuit will be seeing more men with rings on their fingers. But that doesn’t mean their eyes might not be wandering.
This article about gay married couples creating their own form of gay marriage where they allow their partners to have sexual with relations outside of their marriage is disgusting. This is exactly why there is no much disloyalty and dishonesty in gay relationships cause everyone cheats on each other. I am openly gay, and very good looking, but have not havd a boyfriend in over 3 years cause I do not trust anyone. This is NOT a good thing, the only reason it is so popular is being most men are promiscuous. And further more, once legislatures and congressmen and republicans and churches hear about this form of “marriage,” this is going to be their KEY reason for opposing gay marriage! It is unfortunate that most gay men cannot stay committed to ONE person in their life, and have to invite others to play. It is pathetic, disrespectful, and just plain gross!
By Andrew Bunker on 02-18-2011
I find that this is even more true in major cities such as NYC, LA, SF, and Miami. Its like there is something much better around the corner or even at the gym. I have had the opportunity to have a long term relationship for over 3 years, yet when it came to discussing opeining it, the entire relationship fell through within a month. I cant handle it and it opens up so many negative doors.
By BP on 02-19-2011
I appreciate your comments, but please note that Dan was acting as a reporter. He was reporting what others say they did. To say, “YOU should all be ashamed of yourselves” is a bit disingenuous. “We” are only acting as journalists here. It’s like saying to a reporter for the New York Times that he should be ashamed because he’s reporting on, say, troops in Bahrain firing on innocent protesters.
Blaming a journalist for reporting what the subjects of a story say or do is “killing the messenger.” Dan — and, by extension, noiZe — makes no judgement on couples’ behavior; he only reported the situation as relayed to him by his first-hand sources.
Editor-in-Chief, noiZe magazine
By Steve Weinstein on 02-21-2011