True intimacy isn’t only sexual

I walked through the crowd at DC’s Capital Pride on June 8 as groups were lining up to set off on the Pride parade. Walking down a crowded side street, I saw one of the loveliest men in town, a straight ally. He greeted me warmly, hugged me, and kissed me on the cheek. I thought happily, how times have changed!

Despite the risk we now face of legal setbacks from a right-wing Supreme Court, the greater social and cultural acceptance LGBTQ people have won is largely beyond the reach of politicians and judges. Changed expectations are hard to erase.

Generational change is not the same everywhere. Cities attract people who take diversity more in stride. Urban/rural divides open us to wedge politics. We have more work to do to help people see that differences are not a threat.

Something I have experienced more frequently in recent years is straight men who enjoy the company of gay men, and even flirt with them. They are not interested sexually, but neither are they threatened in any way. I find it refreshing.

I have had straight neighbors like that. He is the kind of person who lights up any room he is in. Normally in the morning he darted down the back stairs but if I was leaving for work at the same time, he rode down the elevator with me, because he found me amusing. Once he said he had a sore shoulder from a sports injury, and I said I gave a very soothing massage. He laughed in a way that melted me into the floor, but that was as far as it went. One winter evening he and his girlfriend joined me on our building’s roof to observe a lunar eclipse.

After he moved to Virginia to live with his girlfriend, I encountered them at the annual high heel race on 17th Street in Washington the week before Halloween, which draws large and diverse crowds.

There is a prominent Washingtonian with whom I feel a close friendship, as distinct from a professional one. He is straight and happily married, but then I myself am in a committed relationship. The public figure and I have a lot in common on policy matters, but we are also simpatico on a personal level. As time passes, I increasingly meet him more as a friend and confidante than an advocate.

Every conversation with an attractive, friendly person doesn’t involve thoughts of sexual conquest. The mix of affection and desire varies from case to case. Respect that grows with understanding increases the comfort level, as does a sense of humor.

I have a dear friend with whom I lost touch decades ago when he moved to another city. We reconnected a few years back via LinkedIn. He and I were very close in our late 20s. We felt a natural connection. There was love between us, but I also desired him, which he could not reciprocate. Our mutual bond proved stronger than our differences.

Once over lunch he told me that his fiancée did not want children, though he very much did. After joking that he might as well marry me in that case, I told him he needed to find a woman who wanted children. Which he did. It is good to be in touch again. His auburn hair has gone white, but our feelings remain.

As the social space grows in which we can navigate our differences, safety increases. In private encounters we don’t think of an entire community looking over our shoulders; yet to some extent, each of us carries an invisible crowd with us.

With certain close straight friends, it almost feels as if we had a torrid sexual affair and then became friends.

The 1930 song “Georgia On My Mind,” by Hoagy Carmichael and Stuart Gorell, has these lines:

“Other arms reach out to me,

Other eyes smile tenderly,

Still in peaceful dreams I see

The road leads back to you.”

Those lyrics come to mind as I think of my partner overseas. Loneliness can make fools of us. But having given my heart to someone, I am less beset by the restlessness that preoccupied me in my youth. Thinking of the man who has proven his love for me in countless moments of grace, I realize I am already home. How blessed I am when a sweet straight friend, with a chaste kiss, shows he gets that.

Richard J. Rosendall is a writer and activist at