Max & Sean share their insights on all those pronouns and the age-old debates about being gay.
Our Community Now continues our interview series with Max and Sean as they candidly share their take on nature vs. nurture, pronouns, AIDS, and marriage.
OCN: Nature versus nurture?
Sean: All of those ongoing debates going on about sexuality and sexual identity—I don't know if it's biology, I don't know if it's social—would I choose to live into this life now? Yes, I would. Sometimes I worry that if we say we are born with it, it means that perhaps we wouldn't have chosen it if we had a choice.
If you had the choice to be gay or not, would you choose it?
Max: I would stay gay. When I was younger, I definitely thought with the oppression that I experienced I wouldn't choose to be gay. I was just thinking about this at Pride—I got to dance with my shirt off and be around all the people I love. It was a good time, and I feel lucky that I'm gay!
Is AIDS still a concern in the community?
Max: Yes. A whole generation of gay people died. It's really sad. It's still a threat. I have close friends who are HIV positive. It's something you can live with and manage with; it's not something you're going to die from as long as you have the money to buy the medicine. Life-saving drugs for the rich.
Sean: It almost felt like learning more about the HIV epidemic was a way of getting more in touch with the community and our shared history. Beyond our capability of comprehending just the cataclysmic loss of life of people, ideas, it's hard to comprehend. But the more I got into it, the more I felt grounded in my community—warts and all.
Max: I try to engage with the people who survived the AIDS epidemic, and either they were holed up and completely hid from society, or it's so traumatic that they don't really want to talk about it. That's really sad and that's really hard because I want to empathize, I want to hear about it.
Sean: I was on a kick where I watched And the Band Played On all these movies and documentaries. It felt like a really painful but necessary thing for me to do, to understand at what cost. It completely ravaged the gay communities and changed gay rights in the country as well.
Max: And with COVID, we're all talking about this pandemic that hasn't happened in 100 years, but that's completely discounting the AIDS crisis—hundreds of thousands of people are still dying from AIDS and we don't recognize that because it happens to marginalized people. We also don't have research and development for a vaccine. It's a virus—we could have a vaccine for it but because it's happening to marginalized people, it's not quite as funded. It is a little more complex than COVID, but there's not enough research and we could be vaccinated for it.
What's with all the different types of sexualities?
Max: It makes sense to me the people want all those markers because it makes them feel or have a way for other people to identify them so the other person can be accommodating to them. But yes, I mean, it's a lot; and no, I don't think people should be putting themselves in boxes that much.
Sean: Yeah, the funny thing is for me that people always joke about "the alphabet soup, like there are so many letters: LGBTQIA"— I love that. I never want people to be comfortable because it's always changing.
Max: It's not supposed to be comfortable.
Sean: I almost like that more because it means it's always an open-ended question. For me, that's an exciting part that I enjoy.
What do you think about the "A" being "Ally"?
Sean: I don't think the "A" in LGBTQI is "Ally." Allies are important—to any movement, to any identity—that's a given, but to say that your experience is the same, that you are a part of the community, in the same way, that's going a bit far. To me, "A" is "asexual." "Ally?" I don't know.
Another eye roll is "allyship." I don't like people claiming the term "ally." I would never claim the term "ally" for other groups. Again, it's this mastery thing, where's it's like: "I've got my badge I'm good to go."
Is it important to think about "allyship" as a verb? Sure—something you do. No one is an ally 100% of the time. We're working against the many years of socialization in our lives.
How long have you been together?
Max: Seven years a couple of weekends ago. We met at Pride.
How did you meet?
Max: I was out with our mutual friend. I was kind of sad and grumpy and feeling lonely and he didn't wanna entertain me, so he said he called his friend [Sean] who just broke up with someone and was having a really bad day.
Sean: It was late like 10 p.m., I didn't have the energy to go out but I did end up going out and we met up at a club. I have to admit, I immediately wrote Max off; I saw his beach blonde hair and I thought he's not my type, but we did kind of have snarky humor that we shared that evening and then the following night we happen to connect.
Max: I went to the bar knowing he was going to be there.
Sean: I didn't know this at the time—I thought it was a coincidence.
Max: I instantly liked Sean. We really hit it off. I loved our conversation.
Sean: Then, that second night, we really realized this seems to be an attraction here. I can remember we were standing against the wall of the dance floor and our hands were down and one of us gingerly touched the other person's finger and then we were kind of holding hands—it was electricity!
Being with Max has always felt so familiar; almost like a homecoming, being with him and like a comfort that goes really deep. With Max, this is the person I want to be with, the person I feel at ease with. Ever since we moved in together, it still just feels like a slumber party every night.
Do you think you'll get married?
Sean: Max was the first person where I was like, "Wow, I would have no qualms marrying this person!" It's like my commitment issues just fizzled away. But I also felt like where I am now that I don't need marriage to validate what I feel for Max and what we have together ... When it comes to marriage, I would embrace that but also don't feel the need to put any timeline on it or even push it in any way.
Max: He's the only person I've felt inclined to marry. And some days, I tell him that I do want to get married, but that sentiment passes very quickly. We're fully committed.
Is it a big deal that you can legally be married?
Max: Not for me, personally. But for the community at large, definitely. I feel like it's a big deal to a lot of people. It's a big deal for people to feel equal or not less than the rest of society, to have the privilege to be married.
Sean: This is where I always struggle ...
Max: It's such a straight thing to do!
Sean: This is where I say that I identify as "queer" politically. My hope for LGBTQ rights isn't necessarily to be the same as straight people, but rather my hope is, as queer folk, we can challenge what counts as normal and how that might exclude people in our society at large. The person who kisses you in the hospital when you get sick should really be any person you care about at the time, not necessarily the person you're married to or related to. The way we can kind of trouble the notion of why marriage is kind of elevated and codified in a way that other relationships aren't.
My hope is that we might be able to make space for more and different ways of being. Monogamy feels right to me; I understand that polyamory feels right to others, so how can we continue to expand and rethink this stuff? Especially with the trouble of making marriage the endpoint, it can't be the endpoint.
I think this is when "queer" begins to challenge some of those things like membership into institutions like marriage, even the military. Is that all we can do? Our best hope is for assimilation? Or can we hope for something different? And perhaps that is a perspective we have to add to the conversation and to society.
**The conversation just gotten started. Make sure to follow the rest of the article series, "Queer Pride: An Interview ..." only on Our Community Now.
Do you embrace "queer" or do you identify differently? Have you identified yourself as an "ally"? Share your thoughts in the comments.