Brian McNaught: My Favorite Teachers About Gay Relationships, Sex, and Gay Pride
In an attempt to protect my privacy, an Internet site asked me to name my favorite teacher. Apparently, my secret answer would block others from access to my account. The first name that came to my mind was that of my Eighth Grade nun, who taught me to listen to opera, be aware of current events, memorize poems, and follow the Stock Market.
But since plugging in my response to the site’s question, I’ve given a lot of thought to all of my teachers, including those who taught me to add numbers, endorse a check, be aware of the feelings of others, and enjoy sex. The names of those who taught me how to swim, dance, write, speak before an audience, quit drinking, find my spiritual path, know truth, and love myself won’t mean anything to anyone other than to the people who were my mentors. But the process of remembering the significant people in the formation of our skills, insights, and self-perceptions is a worthy endeavor for everyone.
Thinking about the individuals who most impacted the creation of Brian McNaught as he approaches 65 is enabling me to give them recognition in my own mind, thank them with positive thoughts, and, just as importantly, understand and appreciate that my name might appear on the lists of other people as a favorite teacher of theirs. Every living person is on someone’s list, even if the designation of “teacher” is about how not to think, or how not to behave. One of my teachers was a person who couldn’t be satisfied with his fame. He died frustrated at the lack of acclamation. Humility and gratitude are important lessons to learn.
Accidental or unintentional influence on a person’s life is nice if the influence was good, but we have a responsibility to teach others. I’m not talking about proselytizing by annoying people with home visits, or using bullhorns on the street to warn of the perils of sin. I’m talking about being aware of how our behavior impacts others, and proactively stepping forward to offer people the benefit of our experiences. There’s nothing wrong with saying, “If you ever decide to quit smoking, I can tell you what worked for me.”
I hope that the influence I’ve had on the lives of others has been positive. I’ve been receiving a lot of anonymous hate mail recently from someone who is very angry at me for not promoting impersonal sex. He feels I’ve co-opted the sexual revolution by writing and speaking about my lifelong relationship with Ray. Perhaps I’m on his list of teachers whose life taught him to live quite differently. (Personally, I have no objection to anonymous sex, as long as it’s safe. It’s like fast food. Not quite memorable but it satisfies a hunger.)
My favorite teachers about gay male relationships, sex, and gay pride were Drs. David McWhirter and Drew Mattison. They wrote the book, The Male Couple. It outlines the stages that couples generally go through in their relationships. But knowing and spending time with David and Drew impacted me far more than their written words. They were Californians in the fields of psychiatry/psychology, which might explain why their attitudes toward the importance, or lack thereof, of sex in a relationship was far more progressive than Ray’s and mine. But their affirmation of their maleness and homosexuality provided really fine role models that enabled me to question, challenge, and overcome my internalized heterosexism. I wouldn’t trade my relationship with Ray for the one they had with each other, but I gladly shed my self-consciousness of being a minority person who needed to make the majority person comfortable enough to accept me.
Some of my other favorite teachers, like David and Drew, are dead. Many of them didn’t live in my lifetime, such as Jesus, Buddha, and Lao-Tzu who lived over two thousand years ago. But, amazingly, some life lessons will always be the same. Dance steps change. The means of communicating changes. Standards of good cooking can change. But the lesson that we create our own suffering, and our own happiness, never changes. Nor do the components of love, the essence of orgasm, or the truth of our own “divinity.”
The Latin my father taught me to memorize to become an altar boy is no longer useful to me, but his example of generosity will always be relevant to my life.
The lessons my mother taught me on how to dial a telephone, or keep my cowlicks down with a bar of soap, aren’t as useful to me today as the examples she gave me of decency and kindness. I hum and sing during the day, as my mother always did, but more importantly, I hope to be as thoughtful as she taught me to be.
The dance steps and the swimming strokes my sister Kathy taught me are still very relevant, and have given me a great deal of pleasure in my life, but her eagerness and willingness to have fun is her primary gift to me.
My spouse Ray taught me the difference between stocks and bonds, (I think), and a variety of other useful skills, but he is a favorite teacher for making real to me the meaning of unconditional love.
I don’t regret meeting the people who taught me how to smoke cigarettes, get drunk, or make grass brownies, but I’m more likely to give the Internet the names of the people who taught me to exercise, to meditate, and to self-pleasure without guilt.
My favorite teachers include those who put a face on the issues dealt with by people with disabilities, people of color, women, bisexuals, transsexuals and cross dressers, Jews, atheists, and others with less privilege than I have in my life. I’m particularly grateful to the teachers who enabled me to see every living thing as completely connected to me. We share the same essence. Everything that divides us is superficial and transitory.
The lessons that I hope younger people learn from all of us is to love themselves completely and unconditionally. They are perfect just the way they are. They have no need to win our acceptance. Their life goal should be awareness of the moments in which they live. Every experience is good if something is learned from it, and no harm is done to others.
Though I’m a bit shaken up by the need to go on Medicare, and being called “sir” by younger people, I know that I have many more years of lessons to learn. I hope to approach every person I meet as a teacher whose name may jump to the head of my list of “favorites.”
Brian McNaught was named “the godfather of gay diversity training” by The New York Times. He works with corporate executives globally, is the author of six books, and is featured in seven educational DVDs. He and his spouse Ray Struble divide their year between Ft. Lauderdale and Provincetown. Visit Brian-McNaught.com for more information.