It's not just an oxymoron anymore...

New Eric Marcus book explores the hidden world of queer relationships

By Jeff Walsh

I remember reading Eric Marcus' book The Male Couple Guide when I first came out of the closet back in the early 90s. Well, I remember the first chapter which, as I recall, was entitled "Finding a Man."

I never read anything past the first chapter of that book, because I had never "found a man." There seemed to be little point in continuing the relationship journey of the book if my own life was endlessly trapped in the wicked loop of the first 22 pages.

Fortunately, when I recently spoke with Eric Marcus, I got some reassurance, because his own life didn't follow the straightforward narrative which he wrote.

"From my experience, the advice I gave in the book was very good," he said. "Unfortunately, in my own life, I was unable to take a lot of it. I made a lot of the mistakes I talk about in that first book even after having written how to avoid them."

Marcus wrote that book at age 26, and went on to write some of the best books available for both queer youth and the entire community, such as Making History, which documents the gay and lesbian struggle for equal right by interviewing the people who actually fought on the front lines. He also wrote "Is it a choice? Answers to 300 of the Most Frequently Asked Questions about Gays and Lesbians" which provides blunt, informative answers to any questions you or your family may have (No, one of you doesn't have to be the wife.) After those books, he switched gears and wrote the autobiographies of Olympic diver Greg Louganis and ice skater Rudy Galindo, by interviewing them extensively and writing their stories in their words.

This month, Marcus' latest book, Together Forever: Gay & Lesbian Marriage, hits the stands (on May 18). Written in an easy, conversational tone, the book talks to 30 gay and lesbian couples who have been together an average of 20 years. The couples tell the stories of how they met, how they've lasted together and what secrets they've learned along the way. This book has the potential to change the way you view your potential for finding a lasting queer relationship for less than the cost of going clubbing for one night.

Oasis Editor Jeff Walsh recently spoke with Marcus about why he decided to write the book, and what he's learned as a result.

Why did you decide to pick this topic for your next book? Was it the gay marriage debate that's simmering throughout the nation?

No, actually, an editor came to me with an idea for a book on happy, long-term relationships. He knew The Male Couple's Guide and he had just read a book on happy, long-term heterosexual relationships. He thought it would be interesting to see a book about happy gay and lesbian couples, especially since he was not one and wanted to be one and know what it took. By commissioning the book, he got the information. And I was intrigued by the idea of going out and talking to happy couples. And these people were wonderful. There's nothing like going to the home of virtual strangers and getting to ask them any questions you can imagine.

In the introduction to the book, you mention the cynical comments you got from people when they heard you were going to interview happy queer couples. One joked it was going to be a pamphlet. Was that a shock to you?

I think I was a little surprised at how cynical people were. But I had a strong sense that people were so cynical because of the kinds of hurt they've experienced and their disappointments. And also a defensive measure, they've been hurt so much they don't want to assume it's possible.

How did these couples find one another?

A lot of these couples found partners at work, school, through friends. It was all the kinds of things you hear Dr. Ruth say, to put yourself in a position where you're likely to meet people. A lot of the women I talked to were in relationships when they met their current partners. And most were not looking, almost none were. Other people met in bars and clubs, more than I would have thought. But, it's a serendipitous kind of thing. What came across clearly is these people discovered what it takes to have a long-term relationship.

Are the problems of queer couples different than their heterosexual counterparts?

A lot of the problems the gay and lesbian couples had to deal with is where their lives intersected with the larger world. The issues they dealt with within the relationship were almost exactly the same as what heterosexuals do., But once you started dealing with family and the outside world, it's much more complicated, depending on where you live. Within the relationship, there were differences based on gender issues. IN heterosexual relationship, they can always fall back on their traditional roles in moments of weakness. But if you have two men or two women, you can't fall back on an assumed role. When you do, you can get yourself in trouble? Who's the man in the relationship when you have two women? That makes it more difficult, because if you have to find your own way, it's more challenging.

Where did the couples stand on the marriage debate?

Almost all of them have legal papers to protect themselves. A few of them have had commitment ceremonies. Almost none of the older couples had and they have no interest in having them. Virtually all said they would get married if it were possible too. Mainly for the legal benefits, because they couldn't feel more married than they already so. My experience with having had a commitment ceremony is that much more changed in terms of outside of my relationship and how people viewed us.

In my time with Oasis, it seems like when youth first come out, they want the whole monogamous, loving relationship and then the longer you talk with them, the more they seem to change, go into the community more and become more cynical.

The thing is that they don't get to meet stable couples. Gay and lesbian couples are like heterosexual couples in that, when they settle down, you're not going to find them hanging out at the clubs anymore. I didn't know many long-term couples prior to doing this book. And so many kids end up having expectations about relationships and not really knowing how to do it, which is true of heterosexual kids, too. Most kids don't have any idea what it takes to have a relationship, what you look for, what's required day to day and what to expect over time. And what this book offers is a realistic portrait of what's it's like to have a successful relationship and what to expect.

How do you think queer youth could find healthy relationships and what should they expect of a relationship?

Finding it... it's hard to set out to look for it. You can make yourself ready for such a thing, to be stable yourself in terms of sexuality and adolescence. You can't just go out and find someone, and there is no prince or princess in shining armor riding a white steed. No matter who you find, that person will be fundamentally different from you no matter how much alike you are. One of you will like the window open at night and one of you will want it closed. That was one of the shocking things to me, there wasn't one person who fit perfectly and if you think you're going to find that, forget it. It just doesn't exist. A lot of people start finding problems or start having less sex and they think it's over without knowing what the life of a relationship is like. From interviewing all these couples, I see what the roadmap is like. I'm four years into a relationship and I can see in terms of these people what it's like nine years down the road, 20 years down the road, 50 years down the road.

It seems like a lot of people have a need to find a mate as some sort of validation...

For a lot of gay and lesbian kids there is a need for someone stable to partner with. I know that's how I felt when I was 23 and met someone who I liked. We moved really fast, because that's what we both had been hungering for.

What lessons did you learn as a result of writing the book?

To be patient with difference. That was the subject over which there was more discussion than any other. Recognition of difference, accommodating the difference, coping with the fact that the person you're going to be with is never going to be like you. I like to sleep with the window open at night, and my partner doesn't. We've come to a middle ground on this, but neither of us is totally happy. I feel much more at ease about our sexual relationship after talking to these couples, knowing that it will change. I have a much better sense of what a sexual relationship is like in a long-term relationship. I now look at four or nine years as a baby relationship. It takes such a long time to establish these roots.

How has this book changed your life?

Each one of my books has changed my life in some way. This book changed it in the most personal way in terms of my own relationship. It made it much stronger and given me a different perspective on the whole gay marriage issue, which we will at some level in my lifetime. Then what? Heterosexuals have had the legal right for a long time and look what a mess they've made of it. Having the right to do it doesn't mean we'll be any better at it, so it's important to educate ourselves on what works. We don't have to invent this from scratch. There are people who have done this successfully, and this book can give people a good solid foundation.

Eric Marcus can be reached through his Web site at http://www.ericmarcus.com/
Oasis editor Jeff Walsh would love to hear your feedback at jeff@oasismag.com