'My friend has been gay for 20 years and now wants to date women'

I'm friends with a man who has 20 years of gay experience and has suddenly told me he's ready try his luck with the ladies. What would you say to that man? He's almost always identified as gay, came out in high school and then experimented (with modest success) with women in college/grad school. Then he was a serial monogamist in his 20s. So I don't think it would be an experiment, more like a life change. He's in his 30s. I'm thinking midlife crisis?

—Confused

We've all heard the cliché: Men in their late 30s and 40s want sports cars, 20-year-old girlfriends, and a complete reversal of their established sexual orientation. But is there really any truth to this well-worn adage?

More to the point: Who cares? So your friend wants to take a ride on the bearded clam. What's the problem? Sexuality isn't a fixed point, but a continuum of lived experiences, and even then it's not a narrative that's limited to who we sleep with. Sexual behavior is different than sexual identity is different than sexual fantasy. Sometimes they overlap, but sometimes they don't. Think of all the lesbians who love gay male porn. Does that desire make them less lesbian? Think of that "New York Times" article about straight women showing signs of arousal to pretty much everything (including monkeys and trees) except naked men. Does that arousal make them less hetero?

Sex has many clumsy categories, and while some are helpful in terms of establishing communities and finding people to date, too often we use sexual terms as boundary-keeping devices or to police each other.

I think the real issue is that you're afraid if your friend starts dating women, he's going to stop wanting to watch "Real Housewives"with you. And that's just not true! Bravo has far too strong a grip on our culture, as evidenced by the R.E.M. song "Losing My Religion," which is based on Michael Stipe's brief loss of cable, I'm pretty sure. Your friend may be responding to societal or familial pressures to "straighten up and fly right," though after 20 years of being out, it seems unlikely that he would suddenly turn straight due to societal discomfort or too many episodes of "Seventh Heaven."

Phase or no, your friend needs your support. Give him a high five (or a highball) the next time you see him for being gutsy enough to be honest about his sexuality to you.

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