The Soul Beneath the Skin

According to the commonly-accepted “wisdom,” the major difference between straight and gay men is what they do in bed. Deceased gay rights activist Harry Hay averred that, in reality, it is the only similarity between them. David Nimmons, former president of New York’s Lesbian and Gay Community Center and founder of the gay-centered project Manifest Love, has accepted Hay’s provocative statement as a point of departure. He utilizes many studies and copious interviews to examine the unique nature of “average” gay men in The Soul Beneath the Skin: The Unseen Hearts and Habits of Gay Men.

For instance, in what he refers to as the “Peaceable Kingdom,” Nimmons quotes convincing statistics (many from police authorities) that gay men are essentially pacifists. In crowd situations they tend to be much less violent and confrontational than their straight counterparts, even in the highly hormone-charged bar scene. And whereas there have been countless incidents of gay-bashing, it is exceedingly rare that gay men attack non- homosexuals because of their sexual orientation. Even the ways in which they have fun essentially differ from the often super-competitiveness found in groups of straight men.

Gay men are often considered self-absorbed and even narcissistic, but in reality many have formed virtual communities of caring, especially in response to the devastating AIDS epidemic. They frequently find a substitute family in groups of friends who provide nurturing. In general, they find it much easier than do straight men to express non-sexual intimacy with those outside their immediate family circle, and there are many different patterns of intimacy in the gay world. This also extends to the ability of gay men to have deep friendships with straight women, something straight men often find problematic.

In making his case for these and other differences between the gay and non-gay worlds, Nimmons gives credence to the possibility that there is a biological cause for this. He also freely acknowledges that many of the negative stereotypes are sometimes true. This is a balanced, well thought-out, and ultimately convincing study.