Is Our Understanding of Sexual Orientation Changing?

In 1999 I had the privilege of performing in Larry Kramer's Just Say No, a comedic farce, with Alexandra Billings. But before we'd even met, we were asked to show up to a photo shoot with photographer Greg Gorman for The Advocate. "No big deal," I thought. But then I was told that this might be a cover shoot. "Why?" I thought. "It is just a little play in Chicago."

As I was getting ready -- hair, makeup, costume -- and being pushed here and pulled there, everyone kept asking, "Have you met Alexandra?"

"No," I said. "I haven't had the time."

They just smiled. Having heard how outrageous Larry could be at times, I was getting suspicious, thinking, "Is he putting me together with some butch lesbian?" Sorry, I don't mean to offend anyone here, but you know how the mind works, and often overtime!

I finally met Alexandra, a beautiful young woman, in the makeup chair. "Hi," I said. "I'm Greg Louganis. You must be Alexandra."

"Yes, I am," she said. "Pleased to meet you."

Now I got it: The Nancy Reagan character was being played by Alexandra, and I was playing her son Junior! OK, now it was making sense.

Larry, Alexandra and I spoke openly about our HIV treatments, experimental and otherwise. This was when protease inhibitors were being introduced and tested. I was a tester at the time, and even though it was a double-blind test, I knew I was on the drug, thanks to horrendous explosive diarrhea that always came 15 to 20 minutes after ingesting it -- that is, if I didn't throw it up first! Each time I took the drug, I'd need two hours of doing nothing but resting just to recover before I could do anything else. Larry was in disbelief when I explained my regimen. He wanted to know how I did it. I told him that I would just make sure to take my meds three hours before my call time, whether that meant rehearsal or a live performance, so that I'd be sure I could go on.

Alexandra was such a delightful person, and so complex! She is a transgender woman, so of course Larry and I asked her countless questions, being relatively unfamiliar with transgender issues. We learned that she had been with men before her transition, and that she was now married to a woman. "OK, what?" I thought. "She transitioned from male to female to be a lesbian?" Well, as she explained, it was more complicated than that. She now felt that she had the body she was meant to have, and she loved her wife.

That was mind-expanding experience number one. Years later I went with my friend Louis Van Amstel to a LaBlast retreat in Cabo San Lucas. (In case you're wondering, it was a "blast"!) Louis had a 20-something instructor there who was very clearly attending the retreat with a man. No big deal, right? We thought nothing of it. But when we went back the next year, this same trainer showed up with a hot woman, and they were clearly together. Of course, questions arose. "I'm confused," I confessed to him. "Are you straight, or are you gay?"

"I don't like to label myself and pigeonhole myself into any box," he told me. "I am me. I am attracted to what I am attracted to."

I found that response very interesting. After that I began examining my own behavior a bit more closely. We are indeed so quick to attach labels to ourselves. I began thinking about friends -- straight and gay, male and female -- whom I had held, comforted, and slept next to. In some of those cases, there might have been an unexpected attraction, but those interactions were never anything more than comforting a friend through a difficult time, or just letting them know that someone cared, with no sex involved. But people always seem to love to jump to that conclusion!

Now, having met more young people, I'm seeing sexual orientation as far more fluid than I once thought, and often not about sex at all. Indeed, when I hold my husband, the end goal is not always climax but comfort, adoration, reassurance, and so much more.

Even within the LGBT community, we are forced into categories: You are an "L," a "G," a "B," a "T," or a "Q" (which means "questioning" in some circles, "queer" in others). Have you thought about what our community might be like if we took down those divisions and began appreciating the beauty of every individual's personal expression, whatever that may be? How much more of a community we could become!

As a humble gay man, I want to thank all the women, straight and lesbian alike, who came forward when many of us gay men were dying of AIDS. You were the ones who held our hands and told us stories. You are our underappreciated heroes. In the years since, we've gotten commemorative quilts, plaques, and remembrances, and you've gotten nothing. And we can't forget all those mothers who lost children too soon.

With love and gratitude, we can bring the world a little closer together. To love and be loved is a birthright! Don't ever think you don't deserve that right.

Greg Louganis