Most gay men know this: Sometimes a kiss is just a kiss.
The gossip queens have been atwitter this week at the news that CNN anchorman Anderson Cooper’s boyfriend, club owner Ben Maisani, was photographed making out with another guy in Central Park. This is the kind of (supposed) “betrayal” that tabloids drool over. “Poor Anderson!” they cry through crocodile tears, as they eagerly rehash the specifics of his very personal (supposed) humiliation in as much detail as they can.
Consider online blogger Perez Hilton. The man who made his name drawing crude pearl necklaces on photos of celebrities is now clutching his own pearls like a middle-aged housewife. “Of course he's upset!” wrote Hilton this week. “He was planning on MARRYING this guy! So AWFUL!” After more soap-opera hysterics, the blogger ends on a note of concerned support: “You're in our thoughts right now! Stay strong!” (Has anyone ever been comforted by the knowledge that Perez Hilton was thinking of him?)
In fact, of course, there’s nothing “of course” about this. The idea that Anderson must be upset that Maisani was locking lips with someone else assumes a lot about their situation. The truth is that many gay couples — happy, loving, committed gay couples — make their own rules when it comes to sexual exclusivity. Some men choose to be monogamous, but many others take a less limiting approach to sex. Some have open relationships, and discuss their adventures in detail; some adopt a “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy; some have occasional threeways to mix things up. And this is not true only of gays: A large number of straight couples have similar arrangements.
An unnamed source, Hilton says, told him that Cooper and Maisani do not have an open relationship. But Hilton couldn’t possibly take such claims at face value. My guess is that he's performing his drama for his readers — and for what he imagines to be the cause of gay rights. Now that Cooper is out of the closet, people demand that he be a role model; anything about him that deviates from the most conservative social mores is off-message. So if Cooper is getting married, then his marriage must conform to the most traditional ideas of what marriage means: jealous monogamy, children on the horizon, Cooper at the altar in his mother’s white dress.
But that isn’t and shouldn’t be what marriage equality is about. Wanting to have equal rights under the law — equal privileges, equal financial breaks, equal access, equal respect — does not necessarily mean wanting to imitate a traditional model of marriage that hasn’t worked for so many couples, gay or straight, in the past. (Just look at America’s rates of divorce.) Marriage is an evolving institution, and gay men are uniquely placed to challenge some of the platitudes that have wrapped it in hypocrisy for years. The sexual candor of gay culture has stripped us of a lot of knee-jerk notions. For many of us, the idea of your boyfriend or husband kissing someone else — or even having sex with someone else — is just not that big a deal. Human nature is what it is.
In other words: Maisani’s Central Park dalliance is a problem for Anderson Cooper’s public relations, but not necessarily for his private relationship. The CNN anchor is apparently vacationing in Croatia right now, where Hilton wants us to believe he is crying on the shoulder of his friend, the Bravo TV host Andy Cohen. We don’t know how Cooper feels about the kiss itself, and probably never will; he has never even mentioned Maisani in public, and this would be a bad time to start.
But my guess is that Cooper is angry with Maisani about that kiss — not because he feels betrayed, but because Maisani was careless enough to do it so openly, where a stalker from the Daily Mail could capture it on film. If you’re dating a media star who doesn’t like being in the press, then you need to make certain sacrifices. When you’re in the public eye, there's a lot to be said for keeping up appearances. Maisani’s kiss was sloppy. But in the end it was just a kiss.
So stay strong, Anderson! And stay strong, Ben! You’ll need that strength to protect you from celebrity-hunters whose intrusions pose a bigger threat to you than a sexy stranger’s lips ever could. For better or worse, when you’re as famous as Anderson Cooper, you’re at the mercy of any creep with a zoom lens — or a blog.
MICHAEL LUCAS is the creator of Lucas Entertainment, one of the largest studios producing all-male erotica. He lives in New York City. This article is the opinion of the writer and not The Advocate.