Gay friendship is vitally important to our lives and happiness, and, as I will argue here, matters for the rest of humanity too.
At a gay student meeting I attended in London at the beginning of the 1980s, someone said, “As gay people, we cherish our friends”. ‘Cherish’ seemed a quaint word to some, raising a few sniggers, but as I look back it was spot on, for it means to love and care, to value highly, and to retain in the mind, embracing past, present and future in its scope
A new Mothership member recently messaged me cherishing the hope that we “can be friends”. But how do we make that a reality? Robert Louis Stevenson wrote, “A friend is a gift we give ourselves.” A gay friend is someone we allow into our lives, sensing his special qualities, and how our lives may be mutually enhanced by linking up in this way.
The gay student I mentioned at that long ago meeting also told me that by coming out I’d soon find myself with “hundreds of gay friends”, but he was confusing mere aquaintances with the real thing, which is harder to find or define.
One test of such friendship is that it endures over the years. I’ve had gay love affairs that ended, one lasting ten years, but we stayed friends, still allowing each other in. To experience the full flame of a gay sexual relationship is incomparable, but when it’s over there can still be that constant, unflickering light; you never know when you might need your friends, so it’s best not to let bitterness and animosity extinguish it.
It also helps to live close enough geographically to be able to meet up easily, and spend time together. A shared sense of history, of good times and struggles, is also important, and this may draw us towards people similar in age to ourselves. There is a curious sense of belonging together in the closest gay friendships that goes beyond the sense of a single lifetime, for which reason I find the thought of having known some guys intimately in a previous incarnation, quite congenial.
The celebrated poet Walt Whitman wrote passionately about gay friendship or “fervid comradeship” in Leaves of Grass, and along with fellow American gay writer and thinker Edward Carpenter, who expressed his belief in “Uranian love”, saw the unfolding of a new evolutionary current. Carpenter was saying that because of the experiences, suffering, creative gifts and abilities of gay people, through us love (or gay friendship) would become “the binding and directing force of society”, and from this we would emerge as “the natural leaders of mankind.”
I recently came across a true story in a book of readings for Lent. In the mid 1980s a young immigrant boy was murdered by three white youths on the Paris Metro - they had tried to force him to give up his seat, and he’d refused. His body was tossed from the train window. The story was headlined by the press, and soon people in the city started to wear lapel badges, which spread to other countries. The badges bore the red outline of an open hand against a white background, with an inscription beneath which read in translation: “Do not touch my friend.” Its message was: Just beware! I’m not going to let this happen, because this person (my friend) has the same rights as anybody else.
I see that spirit among the gay populace, and it’s needed now more than ever. In London’s east end, for instance, where a gay rights’ march has been cancelled in the face of a misinformation campaign, or anywhere else bigotry, violence and hostility pits its forces against us, we can at least show that our love is a stronger, liberating force, and say, do not touch my gay friend for he is the hope of a better world.
By John Hartley.
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