Five nights a week, in three Valley towns, groups of men sit down together and do something men aren't "supposed" to do: talk honestly about their lives. These are the Men's Resource Center's drop-in support groups--places where men can come as often or as seldom as they like, to be with other men and share their feelings, thoughts, experiences, hopes and fears. One of these is specifically for gay, bisexual, and questioning men and provides a safe, friendly space for men who identify as such to explore the particular issues they face in a world that still presents significant challenges for those who go against the supposed norm.
Our other four groups--three "open" groups and one for men who have experienced childhood abuse or neglect--often see gay and straight men together and, as a (straight) facilitator of open groups, I find these interactions especially meaningful. I have had the privilege to be present on two occasions over the years when a man who was questioning his sexual identity came out to the group after attending for some time and sharing his struggle. The trust embodied in those men's speaking their truth, to a group of men they knew only through these weekly conversations, moved me deeply.
Those were particularly memorable moments of gay/straight dialogue, but what I have since come to appreciate is the regularity, the normality of these discussions. Virtually all the groups I facilitate include straight and gay men engaging on the full range of subjects--family relationships, partners, loneliness, depression, work, life choices, and, yes, sex. The remarkable thing about these meetings is that they are unremarkable. Gay and straight men sit and talk about relationship issues together and it doesn't matter that one man is talking about a woman partner and another about a man. They hear each other's stories and listen to each other's questions with appreciation and understanding. And all go home enriched from the evening's encounter.
There is still a place, even a necessity for "identity politics," but thankfully there are also places where we transcend those politics and recognize our common humanity.