I wonder at times if we gay men deserve to get cheated on. Before you get all up in arms, let me tell you what happened to me. In May 2010, I was in the US, finishing up the last semester in my alma mater, and looking very much forward to flying back to Singapore to see my then-boyfriend again. Just one week before I was due to fly back, my ex decided to call it quits out of the blue, citing that he had no time for me beyond his new job and his family. Over MSN internet chat.
Naively, I believed my ex's reasoning. Despite seeing his pictures with his new beau on Facebook shortly after, I merely thought he found a replacement really quick. After all, I couldn't expect him to remain boyfriend-less for the rest of his life, could I? Only a year and a half later, 3000 km away in Taipei, did the light bulb in my head finally go off. A mutual friend told me that my ex had brought his beau to a dance club there, where the beau intimately addressed my ex as his lao gong ("hubby"). Something was wrong here. My ex didn't like such overtly sweet forms of address, so why would he allow it then? Thinking back about the suddenness of our break up, I realised – he must have gotten to know his new beau while I was away in the US. When I was about to fly back, he realised he could no longer play both sides towards his center, so he decided to ditch me in favour of the new guy.
"Pissed off" couldn't begin to describe how angry I was. No, I wasn't jealous of my ex's happiness. Neither was I so enamored that I couldn't let him go. I firmly believe that when love says it's time for it to go, nothing can make it stay. I was angry that after I helped dissuade him four or five times from taking his own life in his previous two years of despondent joblessness, he couldn't summon up enough courage to bid me a proper farewell. I was angry that I had to find out in such a roundabout way. Instead of telling me upfront and risking my wrath – would anyone not be angry under this circumstance – my cowardly ex took the easy way out. He knew he'd hurt me deeply by denying me closure, but he did it anyway so that he could avoid the pain of my censure. To this day, I still don't know the ‘real’ reason why we split.
I was so incensed, in fact, that I outed him that day on Facebook. Some of you would disagree with me for what I did. Perhaps you'd even condemn me. In fact, many of my friends had strongly disagreed with my action. One of them chided me for trying to ruin my ex, and lectured me on the importance of social reputation. Well, I don't know how he was raised, but my parents taught me that honesty and integrity are far more important than face. Once, I was even told that since I'm such a bitch anyway, I deserved to get dumped callously. Wow! Still others said that my ex's right to privacy outweighed what they saw as a serious violation borne out of a petty, personal need for vengeance.
But, in the words of the famous feminist activist Carol Hanisch, "the personal is political". In other words, I wonder if gay men's
tolerance implicit acceptance of cheating ultimately comes back and whacks us all in the head like some karmic boomerang. We know that cheating is morally wrong. I believe that the need and capacity to live in some kind of social group are biologically innate in all of us, as are the need and capacity for justice to maintain order in such communal living. Among married straight people, the betrayed party can – and often do – get back at the offender by filing for divorce, and suing for a substantially large portion of the shared property. It's limited, but it's still a deterrent.
But do gay men do anything about the cheaters in our midst? Very little, I'm afraid. In the end, my ex emerged scot-free, looking like an innocent victim in the face of his very angry ex-lover. I didn't know of anyone scolding him for his misbehaviour. Some of my friends even went on holidays with him and his new beau, despite knowing what a big jerk he is. Others must have seen the Facebook photos of him and his beau in the one and a half years it took me to realise what happened, but they were either as stupid and naive as I was (unlikely!), or they connected the dots but didn't bother to tell me about it. Why not? Perhaps, in witnessing my break up and its aftermath, a sense of gleeful schadenfreude took over. Why stop the enjoyable live drama? Everyone loves drama, no? More likely, they didn't want to bring trouble unto themselves. After all, they didn't get hurt, so why get involved in someone else's affairs? Not surprisingly, the most common piece of advice I received was to let it go and forget the whole thing.
Whatever the case may be, such neutrality hurts us all in the end. I'm certain that I'm not the only person who was cheated on, and could do little about it. Consequently, as a social grouping, we gay men become de-sensitised to the emotional hurt that cheaters bring. We also learn implicitly that we won't be censured for our misdeeds, that we can get away with it, nay, get rewarded for it, in fact. And so we continue to cheat, even though we know that it's wrong.
But here's the big question: if we can't dispense justice among ourselves, how can we expect justice from others? Are claims to innate human rights sufficient? Do we live in social vacuums where we can't be held accountable for our actions? Political solidarity comes out of us helping each other in everyday life. You help me reprimand my ex, I treat you more as a friend and go more willingly to your next photo exhibition / volunteer session at the old folks' home / pro-gay public event. You scratch my back, I'll scratch yours. So, when we can't even govern our own affairs, how can we demand that society stop discriminating against us, to allow us to marry and all that?
Chris Tan is a 30-something Singaporean gay man who lives and teaches in China.
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