Why Straight Men Have Sex With Each Other
August 5, 2015 8:39 AM   Subscribe



 
re : why women who are fool around with women can still be seen as straight but men who fool around with men are automatically seen as gay - as dr. ward says, And what I argue in the book is that even that research is situated within some long-held beliefs about the fundamental difference between men and women that are not accurate from a feminist perspective.

yes yes yes! i've been saying for a while, and maybe i saw it here on the blue first?, the popular idea of women faking interest in women and men faking interest in woman, along with bierasure, it prioritizes the relationship to men as the arbitrator of true sexuality. if a woman likes men and women, she's straight, because man trumps woman. if a man likes men and women, he's gay, because man trumps woman.

i am super eager to read this book now. thanks for posting!
posted by nadawi at 8:49 AM on August 5, 2015 [64 favorites]


One theory: the word "gay" to a lot of people, has connotations that extend beyond sexuality. Just a theory.
posted by jonmc at 8:51 AM on August 5, 2015 [2 favorites]


That was really interesting, and challenging in a good way. Thanks for sharing!
posted by iminurmefi at 8:57 AM on August 5, 2015 [1 favorite]


I would call them bi, no? Bisexual people in denial? Or, as nadawi says - bierasure?
posted by symbioid at 8:57 AM on August 5, 2015 [2 favorites]


I'd resent referring to anyone's sexuality as "denial," because it presumes you're in a position to understand their sexuality better than they do.

When I was in high school I was intensely attracted to another boy (who was openly gay and had been hitting on me, hard). It took me really long time to figure out that I wasn't gay, even though my primary concern with being attracted to another boy was that the girl I had a huge crush on would tease me for it.

I've told that story in different contexts over the years, and the reactions have ranged from "well you weren't really attracted to him the same way" to "well, you weren't really attracted to her the same way."
posted by teponaztli at 8:59 AM on August 5, 2015 [19 favorites]


symbioid, I think the author would reject the premise of that statement:

I think it would be helpful to just start with greater awareness that homosexual desire is just part of the human condition.

Now if we take that as given, then the question is, Well, why do some people want it more than others, or why do some people organize their life around it, and other people don’t want anyone to even know that they do it? To me that’s a more interesting question than Are you born gay or straight? and so I think that the solution, honestly, is to stop being so obsessed with sociobiological arguments about sexual orientation, which I think are a trap, frankly, and instead ask the question, Given that so many humans have homosexual encounters, what is it that makes some people understand their homosexual encounters as culturally significant, and other people understand it as meaningless or circumstantial? I don’t think we have the answer to that question yet.

posted by showbiz_liz at 9:00 AM on August 5, 2015 [7 favorites]


teponaztli It wasn't high school, but I fell for a guy hard a couple years ago in a way I never fell for a woman before. So, man, I will give you all the sympathy in the world there.

***

I have to wonder how much of this is a function of "bisexuality doesn't exist, you have to choose," and how much of this is a function of "you can't be masculine and be attracted to men." Or, as nadawi pointed out a the top of the thread, men as the arbiter of sexuality.

Sexual attraction isn't a binary. Neither is gender for that matter.
posted by SansPoint at 9:04 AM on August 5, 2015 [5 favorites]


No one bats an eye when a young, beautiful woman marries a man who’s 40 years older than her but who’s very wealthy, and who we might expect is repulsive for her to have sex with, because we understand the circumstantial meaning of that relationship.

Wow, um, I am in a age gap relationship that might look "repulsive" to this author, but my spouse and I are in love and very happy. Sorry, a lot of this person's theories are bunk. Doesn't mean they all are, but they seem to be pretty crappy and prejudiced.
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 9:04 AM on August 5, 2015 [3 favorites]


I would call them bi, no? Bisexual people in denial? Or, as nadawi says - bierasure?

well, i do think that people get to define their own identity. you might consider them bi, but if they consider themselves straight i don't think that's wrong. i've known quite a few guys who would fit into some of what dr. ward is talking about. when i discuss it with them, it's not any sort of homophobia or denial on their part - if anything, it's not wanting to claim a label that they feel is more "serious" when they don't feel like they've had any of the coming out/hiding their sexuality/hard times/etc that they see other queer people going through. now, i'm a big tent sort of queer person and i think anyone who wants the labels should feel free to grab them, but i'm not going to tell people their self identity is wrong. i respect that it can be a fuzzy line for people.

as dr. ward says, what is it that makes some people understand their homosexual encounters as culturally significant, and other people understand it as meaningless or circumstantial? I don’t think we have the answer to that question yet.

(on preview, jinx showbiz_liz)
posted by nadawi at 9:05 AM on August 5, 2015 [3 favorites]


Well I guess this is my point. Sexuality and gender are fluid. By calling someone "straight" aren't you demanding they be labeled according a strict binary definition?

That said, I can understand if someone wants to label themselves straight, but how much of that is a function of their internal feeling and how much of that is due to socially constructed acceptability.

I identify as primarily straight with some mild queer tendencies. But I wouldn't just straight up call myself straight (except to, like, my parents or something). That "Men as arbiter" is certainly an interesting perspective I haven't heard before.
posted by symbioid at 9:06 AM on August 5, 2015 [1 favorite]


Because it's hot?
posted by Cookiebastard at 9:07 AM on August 5, 2015 [13 favorites]


Wow, um, I am in a age gap relationship that might look "repulsive" to this author, but my spouse and I are in love and very happy. Sorry, a lot of this person's theories are bunk.

The author doesn't say "I find this repulsive". She says, " and who we might expect is repulsive for her to have sex with" ie, society.
posted by MisantropicPainforest at 9:08 AM on August 5, 2015 [13 favorites]


The author doesn't say "I find this repulsive". She says, " and who we might expect is repulsive for her to have sex with" ie, society.

Which is stated from her vantage point. Sorry, inappropriate comment and comparison for this person to make.
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 9:09 AM on August 5, 2015 [2 favorites]


Do you really think that society doesn't make judgments against women who marry much older men with a lot of money?
posted by MisantropicPainforest at 9:12 AM on August 5, 2015 [16 favorites]


Here's the book on Amazon. And on WorldCat, where it doesn't seem to be in the acquisition lists of local public libraries.

It's funny to watch people rediscover the idea that sexuality is fluid. Kinsey did a great job framing this in his 1948 study, talking both about his sliding Kinsey scale and documenting in extensive detail largely heterosexual men who had, or used to have, sex of some sort with other men. If anything I feel gay rightsS sort of set back American men's understanding of their own sexuality. I mean as a gay man I wouldn't trade gay rights for anything, but the awareness of gay identity in popular culture has meant a lot of horny guys are a bit more uptight about getting their dick sucked. It's no longer something done just because you're horny, it might now Mean Something. (AIDS also played a role in this change.) I'm too old to understand it directly but my impression is the current young generation (ie: 16-25) is much more comfortable with fluid sexuality.

I also think it's useful to distinguish sexual orientation identity (gay / straight / bisexual / ...) with sexual behaviors. There's a lot of straight guys who have had sex with other men but would never dream of coupling up and settling down with anyone but a woman. I think it's perfectly reasonable to label these men "straight", even if they enjoy the occasional homosexual act. In my own language I reserve "bisexual" for a person who could imagine settling down with someone of either gender, but maybe my usage is idiosyncratic.

If I may inject a little Reddit/4chan vulgarity, I love the trope "it's not gay if the balls don't touch". A sort of self-mocking characterization of pornography, generally involving several men and at least one women, acknowledging the homoeroticism of it by creating some absurd litmus test about it "not being gay". Sometimes extended to porn that does not feature any women. No one says this seriously, it's a joking acknowledgement that people are just freaky. See also the BROJOB copypasta.
posted by Nelson at 9:14 AM on August 5, 2015 [22 favorites]


A sentiment from the interview worth quoting without context:

And yet despite lacking any pressing reason to do so, men are still manufacturing reasons to touch each other’s anuses.
posted by clockzero at 9:14 AM on August 5, 2015 [6 favorites]


So the author basically agrees with Dan Savage.
posted by Nevin at 9:15 AM on August 5, 2015


Nelson: In my own language I reserve "bisexual" for a person who could imagine settling down with someone of either gender, but maybe my usage is idiosyncratic.

I'd use "biromantic" to describe someone who would settle down with someone of either gender, and "bisexual" (which I identify) as someone who is sexually attracted to either gender. (I might be "biromantic" too, but I haven't had the chance to really find out, being in a hetero relationship for a number of years and only coming out to myself fairly recently.)

That split between -romantic and -sexual is something I learned about in via the asexual community, by the by. Romantic attraction and sexuality are tied in very heavily, but the asexual community, by nature, splits that up. I'm not ace, but knowing about that changes how I view things quite a bit.

That said, I think you're spot on with the rest of that post.
posted by SansPoint at 9:21 AM on August 5, 2015 [13 favorites]


In my own language I reserve "bisexual" for a person who could imagine settling down with someone of either gender, but maybe my usage is idiosyncratic.

The kids these days tend to separate sexual desire from romantic desire by talking about being bisexual and biromantic separately. It's actually a fairly useful distinction in certain contexts. Under that scheme, men who could only imagine settling down with women would be heteroromantic, no matter their sexuality.
posted by dialetheia at 9:21 AM on August 5, 2015 [4 favorites]


I identify as primarily straight with some mild queer tendencies. But I wouldn't just straight up call myself straight (except to, like, my parents or something).

i accept that as your self identification, just as i accept the self identification of my male friends who watch gay porn, or have kissed other men, or who have straight up had sex with other men, as straight. especially when there's so much cruddy gate keeping from all sides about who is "really" bi. hell, some women i have had sex with (and in one case what i'd call a relationship) call themselves straight. it used to frustrate and upset me because i felt like their self identity said something about the times we shared, but then i realized their identity isn't about me.


I also think it's useful to distinguish sexual orientation identity (gay / straight / bisexual / ...) with sexual behaviors. There's a lot of straight guys who have had sex with other men but would never dream of coupling up and settling down with anyone but a woman. I think it's perfectly reasonable to label these men "straight", even if they enjoy the occasional homosexual act. In my own language I reserve "bisexual" for a person who could imagine settling down with someone of either gender, but maybe my usage is idiosyncratic.

i have found this usage to be extremely common. i personally find it more useful to discuss it in a homoromantic/heteroromantic vs homosexual/heterosexual - where the first are about who you would form a lasting pair bonded relationship with and the second being what sort of sex stuff you like to do, but those terms are still gaining traction, i think.
posted by nadawi at 9:22 AM on August 5, 2015 [7 favorites]


clockzero: I'm wondering if that isn't a transcription error. Because penises are much more fun to touch than anuses, and could easily be misheard one for the other in a recorded interview.
posted by hippybear at 9:23 AM on August 5, 2015 [2 favorites]


heh i guess i should have previewed for my last bit there...
posted by nadawi at 9:23 AM on August 5, 2015


Because penises are much more fun to touch than anuses,
touch with another penis or with a hand? then it gets complicated
posted by MisantropicPainforest at 9:25 AM on August 5, 2015 [1 favorite]


touch with one of those 25c sticky hands you get in plastic pods from gumball machines.
posted by poffin boffin at 9:27 AM on August 5, 2015 [29 favorites]


to one of those 25c sticky penises you get in plastic pods from gumball machines.
posted by Greg Nog at 9:28 AM on August 5, 2015 [18 favorites]


I just wish I'd been able to read something like this when I was 16. From age 12 on, everyone, and I mean everyone, thought I was in denial about being gay. There was a pretty popular article that said, basically, if you've ever had a sexual encounter with another man you are in denial about being gay. I probably could have saved myself years of confusion and agony if someone had just said "that's not how the world has to work."
posted by teponaztli at 9:28 AM on August 5, 2015 [11 favorites]


do, in the end of the book, suggest that, if straight people want in on queer life, that’s about something more than homosexual sex. That’s about queer subculture, which is anchored to a long tradition of anti-normative political practices and anti-normative sex practices and appreciation for a much broader array of bodies and kinds of relationships and so forth, and so I think most straight people don’t actually want to be part of it. I think straight people who engage in homosexual sex, what makes them straight is precisely that they have no interest whatsoever in being part of queer subculture, and so in the last chapter I’m making the point that they could if they wanted to, but they don’t, and that’s part of how we know that this is homosexual sex being enacted in the service of heteronormativity.

I thought this was an excellent interview and will definitely look for the book, although I think that as nadawi points out, her explanation of "disgust" in heterosexual relationships gets totally derailed by the irrelevant and inappropriate older/younger example. She would have done much better to stick to the noncontroversial stuff about how "official" straight discourse emphasizes that women's bodies sort of oscillate between being intensely sexually desirable and intensely disgusting. Now, I tend to think that there's a lot more to the sex/disgust nexus - misogyny, for one thing, but also the way sex itself is constructed in modernity (transgression and taboo make sex into "Sex" - it's not just something reproductive that feels good but something Very Important and constitutative) - but it's certainly an important point. It has nothing to do with age, though, no matter whose standpoint you consult - lots of people have sex for money with age-appropriate partners, lots of people seek out younger partners for kind of gross and misogynist reasons and lots of people (especially but not exclusively queer people) have age-disparate sex specifically because they like age-disparate sex.

I mean the interview is just full of gems -

It's interesting, because if you look at this belief that women's sexuality is more receptive — it’s more fluid, it’s triggered by external stimuli, that women have the capacity to be sort of aroused by anything and everything — it really just reinforces what we want to believe about women, which is that women are always sexually available people.

With men, on the other hand, the idea that they have this hardwired heterosexual impulse to spread their seed and that that's relatively inflexible, also kind of reinforces the party line about heteronormativity and also frankly, patriarchy. So one selling point for me in the book was to think about, Why are we telling this really different story about women's sexuality?


Exactly!

I think that blaming gay rights for the "born this way" discourse is silly, though. If the "born this way" argument is the only one that was able to get traction in the courts, that was what people were going to use. I don't like it and never really have, but it's the result of straight prejudice and heteronormativity, not some kind of victims' fault thing.
posted by Frowner at 9:29 AM on August 5, 2015 [19 favorites]


I'm finding all this disorienting.
posted by srboisvert at 9:29 AM on August 5, 2015 [5 favorites]


@srboisvert: Revelation about sexuality or incredible pun?
posted by brecc at 9:32 AM on August 5, 2015 [1 favorite]


From both what you just said and reading your book, it sounds like you think that the "born this way" thing was partly a liberal overcorrection to conservative arguments — a politically expedient line that has some negative consequences of its own?
Precisely. I think that it’s an argument that is aimed at legitimacy and it’s been effective, it’s a legitimizing argument, but it’s also pretty transparent as a really heteronormative, I’d probably even say homophobic argument, because the logic is, Well, of course I was born gay — who would ever choose a life like this? No one would ever choose to be queer, so of course it must be something that I have no choice about, that I have no control over.


Well, maybe today it could be interpreted as more homophobic to make this argument, but when I came out as a militant queer in 1990 when men were dropping like flies from a disease nobody wanted to even notice, when I was being chased through parking lots by men with baseball bats, when I was having bottles thrown at me from moving vehicles as I exited a gay bar, when the pastor of the church I'd spent my entire life in told me I was no longer welcome, when literally a third of the friends I had stopped talking to me after I came out... and I was STILL insisting that I was gay even in that context...

Yeah, that was NOT an era when it was homophobic to insist that you had to have been born gay. Because WHO THE FUCK WOULD CHOOSE THAT???
posted by hippybear at 9:32 AM on August 5, 2015 [32 favorites]


although I think that as nadawi points out, her explanation of "disgust" in heterosexual relationships gets totally derailed by the irrelevant and inappropriate older/younger example.

credit where credit is due - that's roomsthreeseventeen who said that - but i agree that it was a weird point badly stated in an otherwise good interview.
posted by nadawi at 9:35 AM on August 5, 2015 [1 favorite]


It's a reproduction vs. recreation thing, I think.

The thing is, we have come to use the word "sexuality" to refer to things that really don't have much to do with the biological processes that word truly refers to (i.e. sperm + egg = reproduction). So "sexuality" has gotten all conflated with all the things our society says are required for that act to take place -- love, marriage, whathaveyou. But, like, what exactly is "sexual" about, say, analingus?

I think we as a society should maybe think about leaving "sexuality" in biology class and begin referring to the fun stuff you can do with your body and/or someone else's as "sensuality" or whatever. And, really, other than the fact that our society has been rigidly boy-girl for a really long time, why would it matter who you do it with?

All these terms, heterosexual-bisexual-homosexual-etc., were invented to refer to acts, not people -- not even desire. The misapplication of these terms is how we ended up with the night of the long knives and the lavender scare and all kinds of crazy bullshit like that. It's time to stop classifying people by what they do and admit that it doesn't matter.

Fun stuff is fun. This notion is independent of identity or preference or philia or lifestyle or whatever.
posted by Sys Rq at 9:45 AM on August 5, 2015 [3 favorites]


Also I like how she explains the whole "when we talk about straight men of color who have sex with men, we always talk about this in context of race but no one ever talks about white men as white because white is assumed to be normal and standard" bit.

Yeah, that was NOT an era when it was homophobic to insist that you had to have been born gay. Because WHO THE FUCK WOULD CHOOSE THAT???

For me the reason I've always disliked the "born this way" argument is that it seems to make things really difficult for anyone who is queer who has or had straight relationships - the social pressure to say that those relationships were fake or coerced, for instance. And it seems like it spills over into transphobia really easily, ie, "if I am really attracted to women and women only and women forever, it must be because of something simple, ie I am attracted to people who live as women who have vaginas...I would never be attracted to a trans man, a non-gendered person or a trans woman, ever, because that's weird and gay because their bodies are wrong for me, because the foundation of my attraction to someone is the fact that she has a vagina because I was born that way, and if I do find myself attracted to one of those people, it's because they are deceptive and evil, not because sexuality is fluid."

Not only do I think this is a terrible thing to tell yourself about your own sexuality, but it also papers over a lot of the sex and romantic relationships that people actually do have. I find it much more comforting to assume that someone can most of the time prefer one kind of sex with one kind of person but sometimes prefer that kind of sex with a different kind of person, etc.

"Born this way" also elides a lot of queer community stuff - you can't tell me that I am "born" to prefer sex with, e.g. extremely butch women who are virtually indistinguishable from men when fully dressed, or "born" to prefer sex with drag queens in drag, or "born" to be attracted to people who aren't strongly gender-marked, or "born" to prefer a daddy/boy type of relationship.

It seems to me a strategic choice that people made that was in fact controversial at the time, but it's definitely one of those "reform now or wait for a maybe-never revolution" choices.
posted by Frowner at 9:45 AM on August 5, 2015 [24 favorites]


Mostly I can't get over how much "Not Gay: Sex Between Straight White Men with New York Magazine" sounds like a Chuck Tingle title.
posted by ardgedee at 9:55 AM on August 5, 2015 [6 favorites]


Right? The title is perfect. I'm gonna gift this book to my homophobic male friends for years to come. Always with a wink when handing it over.
posted by bigendian at 9:59 AM on August 5, 2015 [1 favorite]


jonmc: One theory: the word "gay" to a lot of people, has connotations that extend beyond sexuality. Just a theory.

Oh yeah. The idea that everyone who has homosexual sex is gay, lesbian, or bi, ignoring things like situational homosexuality or cultural gender roles and status is relatively new and horribly ethnocentric when generalized beyond contemporary American culture. I've heard too many stories from non-American men talking about how the opportunistic or experimental handjob or blowjob is just a minor premarital or extramarital sin as long as you don't come out, get too kinky, or get too attached with it. "Gay" historically has been positioned opposite masculine conformity.

Which is the reality for millions of men around the world. Recreational homosexuality is a reality of human sexuality globally just as much as soliciting prostitution. And failing to recognize that puts millions of men at risk.

Sys Req: I think that stops being the case starting with the Victorians and the rise of "invert" theory. Bisexuality was applied to us out of a theory that we were psychosexual hermaphrodites. But I generally agree that immutability (which is different from "born this way") has never provided insulation from bigotry.
posted by CBrachyrhynchos at 10:12 AM on August 5, 2015 [3 favorites]


Apropos of something:
I don't want you to be impressed, Henry — I want you to understand. This is not sophistry, and this is not hypocrisy. This is reality. I have sex with men; but, unlike nearly every other man of which this is true, I bring the guy I'm screwing to Washington, and President Reagan smiles at us and shakes his hand. Because what I am is defined entirely by who I am. Roy Cohn is not a homosexual. Roy Cohn is a heterosexual man who fucks around with guys
posted by graymouser at 10:18 AM on August 5, 2015 [2 favorites]


Yeah, that was NOT an era when it was homophobic to insist that you had to have been born gay. Because WHO THE FUCK WOULD CHOOSE THAT???

As a gay man in 1990, I did find the "born this way" claim to be homophobic. The Metropolitan Community Church had a campaign around that time with a slogan something like "God made me gay" and it used to really piss me off.

I'm not claiming that the argument was necessarily motivated by internalized homophobia, and I can easily understand your experience of it as quite the opposite, hippybear, but I want to offer a data point on the other side.
posted by layceepee at 10:25 AM on August 5, 2015 [3 favorites]




Central to my self-definition as bi* is the experience of harmful levels of cognitive dissonance due to erasure and passing. While that experience is shared by millions of gay, lesbian, and bi people, many msm and wsw do not.

* used with full awareness that this is a contested term.
posted by CBrachyrhynchos at 10:54 AM on August 5, 2015 [2 favorites]


Well I guess this is my point. Sexuality and gender are fluid. By calling someone "straight" aren't you demanding they be labeled according a strict binary definition?

Well, there are people who prefer only one gender or the other. Sexuality can be fluid, but preference sometimes can be best measured on a continuum - where you have the people who are actively icked out by sex with their own gender on one end, and you have the people who are actively icked out by sex with the opposite gender on the other end, and in the dead-center you have the people who are all, "Hell, I dig 'em both equally". And there is a loooot of degrees of shading in between - you have the people who are "mostly straight but I tried a same-sex thing once and it didn't totally gross me out, but I realized as a result that I do prefer a partner of the opposite sex", and you have the people who are "I prefer the same sex but if someone of the opposite sex presents in an alternative way I could go for them too", and you have the people who are "I'm generally straight, but if I get really horny and the opportunity presents itself with someone of the same sex why not".

I don't think that people who say that they're "straight" are making a conscious declaration that that is true 100% of the time with no exceptions ever ever ever.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 11:33 AM on August 5, 2015 [6 favorites]


You take readers on sort of a 20th-century American tour of heterosexual dabbling in homosexual behavior, and there was never a lack of evidence that such dabbling took place. You write about homosexual activity within biker gangs, for example — one Hell’s Angel, enthusiastically describing having gay sex for cash, memorably told Hunter S. Thompson, “Shit, man, the day they call me queer is when I let one of these faggos suck on me for less than a tenner.”

I really don't see that the examples she's picking are doing a great job of supporting her arguments, which are fairly awful and offensive to begin with. She's eliding an awful lot of fundamental differences, and I don't think it's actually legitimate to just point and say "welp obviously it's because patriarchy, how these people perceive themselves, their sexuality and their activities doesn't matter".

Gay-for-pay that's limited strictly to receiving oral sex just flat out is not the same as most straight women's experimentation with bisexuality. I have my issues with some of the way straight-identified women relate to and treat queer women they have sex with and I am certainly not alone in that, but very many of them do actually view what they do as a form of sex and lots of them do seem to be genuinely attracted to women on some level, even if it's just sort of as props. For those who aren't, well, half the reason there's some mistrust of straight-identified women or bisexual women in relationships with men amongst queer women is that there's really no particular interest or eroticism amongst most queer women for essentially being used to service someone who is not actually into you, but it's also not the only or even the main dynamic in straight woman/queer woman sex, either.

Contrarywise, that "servicing" is a privilege that an awful lot of men who have sex with men will flat out pay for, and that many straight guys seem to have no problem actually getting off on. Then with the examples about hazing, she even says herself that the frat boys and sailors aren't processing it sexually. She's trying to make some apples to oranges comparisons here, just for the sake of handwaving the differences away as "lol patriarchy" and "lol social construct", which is just bad scholarship.

If you can get a straight man to talk to you about why he is having sex with men, it’s very likely that he’s going to draw from a small set of acceptable narratives about why straight men do things like that, and I think that’s a really common one, you know, the narrative of constraint —Well, I’d rather be having sex with a woman, but there are no women available, or, Women are too complicated — this kind of thing. But I don’t buy that.

That’s not to say that I think those straight men know the real reason — I think often they don’t know. I guess we don’t have language that circulates in mainstream culture that would help straight men make sense of or explain their sexual encounters with other men, whereas straight women, when they have sexual encounters with other women, have an array of socially acceptable narratives that they can draw on.“


Barf and a fucking half. Reverse the genders and the professed sexualities involved and everyone on MeFi would be screaming for his (her) head for questioning the experiences and self-identification of queer women. It's not progressive and okay to do so just because it's a woman talking about straight men. How about we just take people at their fucking word for how they identify and see their own sexuality? "You don't really know what you want, or who you are, or what the sex you're having actually means for you and your identity, and I know better than you" is wrong and repugnant, period, full stop, and just because it's happening in an academic context is not even remotely an excuse, that makes it worse.

Not only do I think this is a terrible thing to tell yourself about your own sexuality

Frowner, consider yourself frowned at very hard.
posted by The Master and Margarita Mix at 11:59 AM on August 5, 2015 [4 favorites]


A somewhat contrary opinion from a gay man who is having a lot of feelings about this article: my emotional reaction is that parts of this formulation seem to efface or ignore the painful reality of the closet, which includes but does not always include "bro-jobs," and I think that's really dangerous and hurtful, at least to me and some friends I've discussed this article with. The number of purportedly or retroactively "straight" men who have engaged honest, openly gay men I know (and myself, let's be real where my feelings are coming from) in very emotionally laden and desirous liaisons, extended flirtations, emotional affairs, even relationships, only to have their paramour or fledgling partner reverse back into claims of purest heterosexuality and gaslight their partner in a way that is frankly dishonest to the experience is just... absolutely heartbreaking. (And the number of times said "straight" men later reignited the pursuit without being honest to themselves or others about it, returning to the scene of desire that for whatever sad reason they can't see highlighted in front of them... whoof.) In my experience, many (though by no means all) of these men are men who could "pass" under heterosexuality; they're less often the type of men who get [a range of encouraged out to dragged out] of the closet at an earlier age for appearances, personalities, or affectations that inscribe you with a gay identity whether or not you have any desire structure consonant with the term. They have it both easy and hard; to get out of the closet is an act of self-affirmation, rather than something closer to a likely or inevitable process one can increasingly go through in this era in the West. But a lot can get in the way of that self-affirmation and discovery, and admitting to a set of desires that can still feel so vulnerable and so hard (nevermind all the normal problems people face with intimacy regardless). The closet does not merely exist externally as a function of the rights affirmed to gay people within a society; it is also an internal, additional hiding place for issues with intimacy, safety, and vulnerability, and a way of negating one's own desires and experiences with the label "heterosexual."

I get the want to fight against a "one drop" rule regarding sexual orientation. On the other hand, it's the openly "gay" men who are sometimes left with the most emotional labor of dealing with these encounters, wondering, again over and above the normal messiness of human relations, "What the fuck just happened? Why am I not worth being truthful to? Why is my own identity being erased or re-hidden? How can you say this didn't happen?" ... Because the human encounter outside of the obvious Craigslist ad or "bro-to-bro" is not always marked with honesty, because people are people.

I might be reacting to something beyond the article, but I also bristle against (my impression of) an idea that not participating in a relatively specific brand of "queerness" makes you, purely otherwise "straight" or heterosexual, even if you are having gay sex, desire gay sex, think about gay sex, want a singular, consuming type of emotional-romantic intimacy from someone. I get that "gay" or "bisexual" or anything are in large parcel self-identity, I've read Lacour, the Greeks weren't homosexual, bonobos give affiliative blowjobs, et cetera. But, in day-to-day life in modern America, non-heterosexual orientations and desires are still in many places subterranean, and for the certain strides that are being made in people feeling comfortable in interrogating themselves and coming out and expressing what they want, this doesn't always happen. I want my "gay" tent to be as large as possible; I want the environment to be as inclusive as possible for people to find themselves however they can. The not-quite-the-author's-point-but-somehow-in-my-mind-neighboring notion that apportioning off of a substantial desire as something that does not have to "taint" you as being a marginalized identity is incredibly frustrating. It's really hard for me to think of people being afraid of being labeled "bisexual" or of being able to admit "yeah, I mostly love women, but I loved a man once, who knows," as anything other than really. Really. Homophobic.

At the same time that I hear many of the other points being brought up in this thread, and my emotions surrounding my experiences are as a cis gay white male, and I do not wish to trample over the parts of this article that encompass experiences discordant from my own.

I find myself really agreeing with this reformulation from the Alternet article posted above:
"So, to Ward's Not Gay point, I think straight men can engage in homosexual sex and still be deemed socially acceptably straight, if and only if they too come out -- as straight. Rather than simply accepting their unmarked, default straight identity, they should have to interrogate, work through, accept and ultimately present their sexuality back out to the world.

Everyone should go through this process of self-identification. Think about what you prefer. Why do you prefer it? Are you OK with that? If the answer is yes, keep going. Keep questioning it. Keep rethinking what it is that you like and how it changes. And if and when you're ready to tell the world, do it, unabashed and unashamed.

I honestly believe that if everyone did this, the world would be a more understanding place."


Amen.
posted by The Sock Puppet Sentience Movement at 12:00 PM on August 5, 2015 [23 favorites]


How about we just take people at their fucking word for how they identify and see their own sexuality? "You don't really know what you want, or who you are, or what the sex you're having actually means for you and your identity, and I know better than you" is wrong and repugnant, period, full stop, and just because it's happening in an academic context is not even remotely an excuse, that makes it worse.

I don't think she's not taking people at their word? She identifies men as straight when those men wish to identify as straight. She does say that she thinks those straight men "often don't know" why they hook up with each other, but it hardly seems an act of dastardly malice to say some people don't know why they don't do things. I think you're reading a really over-the-top malevolence into her theses.
posted by Greg Nog at 12:11 PM on August 5, 2015 [12 favorites]


I don't think she's not taking people at their word? She identifies men as straight when those men wish to identify as straight. She does say that she thinks those straight men "often don't know" why they hook up with each other, but it hardly seems an act of dastardly malice to say some people don't know why they don't do things. I think you're reading a really over-the-top malevolence into her theses.

But she does know; they tell her, she just dismisses it out of hand. She admits, directly, in the bit I quoted, that she is dismissing it out of hand. She "doesn't buy it" and she uses the excuse that their narratives happen to be "socially acceptable", as if that can't ever be honest.

Yes, that is completely malevolent.
posted by The Master and Margarita Mix at 12:18 PM on August 5, 2015 [1 favorite]


I might be reacting to something beyond the article, but I also bristle against (my impression of) an idea that not participating in a relatively specific brand of "queerness" makes you, purely otherwise "straight" or heterosexual, even if you are having gay sex, desire gay sex, think about gay sex, want a singular, consuming type of emotional-romantic intimacy from someone.

It's totally anecdata, but several gay/bi male friends who have come out to me told me this exact thing - that until they came to terms with things, they thought they could really be queer regardless of having feelings for men just because they weren't "culturally" queer enough. I'm never quite sure how to respond to that idea, but it's definitely interesting to hear that this isn't that unusual of a belief.
posted by dialetheia at 12:23 PM on August 5, 2015 [4 favorites]


Master And Margarita Mix, you appear to be arguing that we should always believe what straight men say about their reasons for doing things? And never question whether ideology is acting on their senses of selves in ways that they're unaware of?
posted by Greg Nog at 12:25 PM on August 5, 2015 [3 favorites]


Thanks, TSPSM. One thing I keep thinking about in this conversation is the prominent role that stories about straight men having sex with each other (or with lucky gay dudes) plays in gay male pornography and erotic fiction. In other words, it's a big part of the gay erotic imagination.

Sure, some of that is simply the allure of the forbidden or at least difficult to attain. But I think a huge part of it is internalized homophobia, i.e., the idea that straight bros are more attractive and desirable than gay men, largely because gay men and gayness are seen as gross and wrong.

So, while I totally support straight-identified men sharing their stories of complexity and confusion and get the importance of distinguishing between behavior and identity, I think trying to have this conversation without discussing the massive and ongoing impact of homophobia on so many aspects of people's lives is shortsighted and harmful. I'm not saying that every straight guy who gives his buddy a bro-job is actually secretly gay or that thoughtful people who have complex emotional histories are in denial, not at all. But it seems irresponsible not to discuss the pretty strong resemblance between "not gay" and "no homo" and to fail to address or at the very least downplay the role of homophobia on everyone, on people with all identities and experiences and histories.
posted by overglow at 12:27 PM on August 5, 2015 [6 favorites]


It's really hard for me to think of people being afraid of being labeled "bisexual" or of being able to admit "yeah, I mostly love women, but I loved a man once, who knows," as anything other than really. Really. Homophobic.

one reason this happens i think is sort of what i was talking about up in the first comment - i've heard many people, gay and straight, say there's not such thing as bisexuality, especially in men. that if a man is bisexual than he's on his way to gay. this messaging really does damage to men who are heteroromantic, and even generally preferring heterosexuality, but who also every once in a while fantasize about, or act on, same sex attraction. like i've said in this thread, my queer umbrella is huge and wish everyone would get under it. i love it when people identify as queer. but i also recognize that some people won't identify as queer (or fluid in their sexuality) because of extremely harsh gate keeping. so i agree that it's homophobia (and biphobia) that drives this, but i don't think it's always the homo/biphobia of the individual, rather it can be a reaction to phobia in the wider culture.
posted by nadawi at 12:31 PM on August 5, 2015 [12 favorites]


In the 70s, when I was still mostly closeted, I had sex with women on a couple of occasions. My sense of self as a gay man would like to say that I did this because I was trying to conform to the dominant sexual orientation being forced on me by a homophobic society. But I think a more truthful account was that I was really horny, and sex with women was preferable to no sex at all. I don't think that makes me any less queer.

I don't have a problem imagining straight guys could have a similar experience, and it wouldn't make them any less straight.

But I also might be quite deluded about my reasons for having sex with women, which makes it easy for me to accept skepticism about a straight guy's self-identified motives for having sex with men.
posted by layceepee at 12:38 PM on August 5, 2015 [1 favorite]


Yeah, it's often the case straight male sexuality comes with a lot of power dynamics when it comes to casual and recreational sex. Lesbian and bi women I know report similar experiences with straight women as swingers.

But my point is that the straight guy who confessed to me that his first sexual experience happened at a boys boarding school probably isn't going to come out like Neil Tennant at some point in the future. Boarding-school guy probably won't have to since it was just a mildly embarrassing anecdote for him, a bit like that time he used the wrong bathroom product for lube. Not at all like getting plugged into a power socket and receiving color television for the first time. His experiment in men was absolutely nothing like my experiment in men. Ironically, my sexuality has been defined more by the men I loved but did not have sex with than my sexual partners.

Then again, maybe I was completely misreading the situation. We're no longer in contact.

Now that I think about it, my father said once "fraternity *something something* group sex *something something* that sort of thing happens in college." Given the other family skeletons we dragged out of the closet over the following 25 years, I have my doubts that he's hiding a smoking same-sex fantasy life or experiences homophobia and biphobia the same way I do.
posted by CBrachyrhynchos at 12:48 PM on August 5, 2015 [3 favorites]


I've also been uncomfortable with how the "born this way" approach to sexuality has become a rigid dogma in the past few years, so I'm glad to see that it's being challenged by other ideas. Or rather, that other ideas are being reintroduced into the conversation.

I'm not as impressed by the interview itself. I'm not sure that a woman can understand male-male attraction any more than I can understand the nuances of female-female. A lot it just felt off in all the small details, even if there was nothing major that I could identify and say this, this is what I disagree with.

Perhaps it's that she starts with the concept that anyone who has male-male sex is automatically viewed as gay. If she spent more time listening to gay men chat she'd have learned that we have a whole spectrum of terms. Gay-for-pay (straight guys who make money hustling or doing gay porn) & three-beer-queer (he's straight until he's drunk) both come to mind. I have friends who's coming out stories involve giving blow jobs to all the straight kids in the neighborhood, boy scout camp, or the seminary, and other acquaintances who will only hook up with "straight" (and not "straight-acting") men.

The popular culture might say that one man-on-man act makes you gay, but within gay male culture I think we do recognize that a lot of straight men stray.
posted by kanewai at 1:04 PM on August 5, 2015 [4 favorites]


But she does know; they tell her, she just dismisses it out of hand. She admits, directly, in the bit I quoted, that she is dismissing it out of hand. She "doesn't buy it" and she uses the excuse that their narratives happen to be "socially acceptable", as if that can't ever be honest.

Yes, that is completely malevolent.


So do you think that there is no such thing as social desirability bias and that all survey questions that asks sensitive questions get completly unbiased answers? No, and this is the corollary.
posted by MisantropicPainforest at 1:04 PM on August 5, 2015 [2 favorites]


If she spent more time listening to gay men chat she'd have learned that we have a whole spectrum of terms.

yes, I'm sure this sociologist talking about her research specialty hasn't heard of that before
posted by RogerB at 1:14 PM on August 5, 2015 [1 favorite]


Boarding-school guy probably won't have to since it was just a mildly embarrassing anecdote for him, a bit like that time he used the wrong bathroom product for lube.

What was the bathroom product? Please tell me it wasn't Nair
posted by Greg Nog at 1:14 PM on August 5, 2015 [1 favorite]


It's really hard for me to think of people being afraid of being labeled "bisexual" or of being able to admit "yeah, I mostly love women, but I loved a man once, who knows," as anything other than really. Really. Homophobic.

Even now, in this context, I feel weird talking about my own sexuality, because honestly, I just feel like people don't want to take it seriously. I feel like it gets used as a punchline. Not my sexuality, specifically, because I tend not to talk about it. But it's the little comments - the chuckles about the guy who made out with another guy once, the Facebook comments from gay friends about "all bi guys are just gay (4 people liked this)." I know where it's coming from, but it's not like I can ignore it.

I grew up with queer-identified people, and I didn't care about, you know, having jocks in high school think I was gay because I was in the school's "gay-straight alliance." But what killed me was the feeling that I couldn't open up to anyone because even queer-identified people wouldn't listen to what I was saying. My first girlfriend was openly bisexual, and when I began to suggest that I might be attracted to men she said, in effect, "well, these studies show that men who are attracted to men are more attracted to men than women, and that's why they're gay." So I kept my mouth shut. Why open yourself up to that? Why identify as queer, when you don't know if the queer people around you are just going to assume you're too scared to come out? It's not about a fear of being gay, because gay is bad, it's a fear that no one will listen to you.

I have a friend who has always dated women exclusively, but who openly self-identifies as bisexual. He was talking about going to pride, and how much he loved hearing people say "happy Pride!" to him, because that spoke to his sense of queer-identity. I'd love to be a part of that too, but I identify as straight because that feels more true to myself than saying I must be bisexual because of some experiences I had in my early 20s. I don't know what I'm supposed to do here.

I'm rambling and I can't articulate this very well because I haven't ever really been able to, and I feel like this is going to be lost in the larger conversation. And I really, really don't want it to sound like I think gay men are responsible for my problems. It's just that as long as we define the boundaries of other peoples' sexual identities for them, it's going to be a challenge for anyone who deviates from their given definition in whatever way. My sexuality has caused me a lot of pain in my life, and admitting it, or owning up to it, or whatever, even here, hasn't yet been as empowering as it's just been painful.

I appreciate what you said, nadawi. Like you said, the messaging hurts.
posted by teponaztli at 1:18 PM on August 5, 2015 [23 favorites]


I think it was some sort of shampoo.

"Born this way," annoys me as a person who was introduced to the Grand Synthesis my second semester of college and then everything about contemporary biology became even more beautiful. Diamond got some criticism (registration wall) last week for engaging in this discussion. But pointing out that developmental biology and psychology moved beyond nature vs. nurture to multi-layered models in the middle of the last century usually goes nowhere.

I suppose it's ok as a simplification or approximation. We still talk about hemispheric dominance and Meyers-Briggs after all. I still use the Kinsey Scale now and then.
posted by CBrachyrhynchos at 1:27 PM on August 5, 2015


If she spent more time listening to gay men chat she'd have learned that we have a whole spectrum of terms.

yes, I'm sure this sociologist talking about her research specialty hasn't heard of that before


And yet she gives no indication that she has listened. In fact, based upon the write-up on Amazon (which I hadn't read earlier), she has an active and open contempt for gay male culture. From the book: “I find both heterosexual and mainstream gay culture distasteful and often pitiable; that my partner and I are not ladies and we don’t want our relationship described as beautiful."

I've also googled "elephant walk" since my first post. I was in the Greek system, and had never heard this term (a hazing ritual "where new recruits are made to grab each other’s penises and stick fingers up their fellow members’ anuses."). And ... she doesn't like traditional gay culture but she fucking defends frat-boy sexual abuse???
posted by kanewai at 1:43 PM on August 5, 2015 [3 favorites]


In vaguely-related fictional terms, it's been interesting to watch the We're Not Gay We Just Love Each Other trope used in fanfic and romance fiction fall dramatically in popularity over time as bisexuality and nonbinary sexuality has grown more mainstream.
posted by nicebookrack at 1:47 PM on August 5, 2015 [1 favorite]


So, I am definitely speaking as someone who has been living in a hella queer bubble for a long time, but I also feel a bit squirmy about the pushing away of the word gay. I mean, I have a female friend who dates both boys and girls and who would probably describe herself as bi and queer and she happily makes jokes about how gay she is. And I see this kind of thing all the time--playful, affirmative uses of the word gay from people who are definitely not Kinsey 6's. It seems to me that more people saying they are kinda gay or sometimes gay or gay for certain people--along with more people talking about being bi and queer and heteroflexible--might help whittle away both rigid notions of orientation and homophobia at the same time.
posted by overglow at 2:01 PM on August 5, 2015 [1 favorite]


If she spent more time listening to gay men chat she'd have learned that we have a whole spectrum of terms. Gay-for-pay (straight guys who make money hustling or doing gay porn) & three-beer-queer (he's straight until he's drunk) both come to mind.

...are there terms that are less derogatory that would describe heteroromantic men who sometimes fantasize about or who have experimented with, same sex activities but consider themselves 95% heterosexual? again, i'm all for a huge umbrella of queer for everyone that isn't 100% rigidly straight, but i also get why some wouldn't want that self identity for a whole host of reasons, up to and including not wanting to be called something like three-beer-queer.
posted by nadawi at 2:12 PM on August 5, 2015 [7 favorites]


I got the feeling from reading an earlier article that this is an important subject but this might not be the best book to discuss it.
posted by CBrachyrhynchos at 2:14 PM on August 5, 2015 [1 favorite]


... are there terms that are less derogatory that would describe heteroromantic men who sometimes fantasize about or who have experimented with, same sex activities but consider themselves 95% heterosexual

I don't know. Those are definitely terms people would use when they're being gossipy, not when we're having serious conversations. And to clarify: they're not actually words I use! But I've heard them enough. I think I'd probably just consider hetero-normative guys "mostly straight" unless they actually identified as bi.

I'm with you in liking & using "queer" as an inclusive term.
posted by kanewai at 2:36 PM on August 5, 2015 [2 favorites]


It's the gossip that really stings, though.
posted by teponaztli at 2:38 PM on August 5, 2015 [4 favorites]


There is an alternative way to understand the "born this way" talk. It doesn't have to be, "I must have been born this way because who would choose being gay voluntarily?" It could be, "I was born this way, so I didn't choose to be this way, so I'm not responsible for being this way, so it's ok that I'm this way." This serves as a response to the Mike Huckabee-types who say that there's something not ok with being gay.
posted by persona au gratin at 2:47 PM on August 5, 2015 [1 favorite]


Possibly related, or not. Being “Feminine” Can Be a Double-Edged Sword for Bisexual Men by Eliel Cruz.
posted by CBrachyrhynchos at 3:09 PM on August 5, 2015 [1 favorite]


half the reason there's some mistrust of...bisexual women in relationships with men amongst queer women is that there's really no particular interest or eroticism amongst most queer women for essentially being used to service someone who is not actually into you...

I find this comment really hurtful, and coming for someone advocating that we should just take people at their word as to how they identify sexuality, I think it's a bit rich that you are essentially claiming that bisexual women in relationships with men are not REALLY queer or are not REALLY into women.
posted by likeatoaster at 3:24 PM on August 5, 2015 [9 favorites]


I think her point about frat-boy sexual abuse is at the heart of the issue. Sex can often be about sexuality. But it is also often about power and dominance and occasionally more benevolent reasons.

After the end of my last relationship, I've been grappling with my asexual tendencies. I've had plenty of sex. I've had plenty of good sex. It's not a bad experience. But it's also not something I want or seek out. It was never about being sexually attracted to someone. It was about being romantically attracted to someone, and acting in the expected societal ritual of intimacy.

I might continue to grow and my identity will change as I understand my motivations better. But this realization has helped me understand important parts of my past relationships, and better clarify what I might look for in a future relationship.

Homophobia clearly complicates this. It makes gay and bisexual men less likely to accept or advertise their sexuality or desires. But that doesn't mean that sexuality is the only driver of sexual acts.
posted by politikitty at 3:29 PM on August 5, 2015 [3 favorites]


One theory: the word "gay" to a lot of people, has connotations that extend beyond sexuality. Just a theory.

Some have commented that the phenomenon of gayness and homosexual orientation have been drifting apart, now that one can have same-sex relationships without embracing the culture that arose as a means of self-protection and mutual identification in less enlightened times. Perhaps at some point, the two will be completely orthogonal, with it being equally possible to be completely “straight” culturally and in a same-sex relationship and being completely “gay” culturally whilst heterosexual.
posted by acb at 3:40 PM on August 5, 2015 [4 favorites]


This drives me nuts:

"The thing is, we have come to use the word "sexuality" to refer to things that really don't have much to do with the biological processes that word truly refers to (i.e. sperm + egg = reproduction)."

In human beings, sex is not only about reproduction. It isn't even primarily about reproduction. How many children do you have? How many times have you had sex?

If you're anything like a typical adult human being, the answer to the second question is a much greater number than the first.

There are animals that use sex only for reproduction. Human beings aren't in that set. If sex were really all about reproduction, men wouldn't desire sex with non-fertile women or men and non-fertile woman wouldn't desire sex at all. Human beings primarily use sex for social purposes. This is obvious with the slightest amount of thought. But many have been brainwashed otherwise.
posted by jclarkin at 3:50 PM on August 5, 2015 [8 favorites]


I've been thinking about this issue a bit lately as I've been on a wild writing binge, largely as I'm trying to figure out how I can write about my lurid history as an adolescent libertine in a contemporary culture that has made all descriptions about youthful sexuality that don't follow a narrative of victimization absolutely radioactive.

Thing is, I had a friend, and my friend and I had deliriously excellent consensual sex for about ten years, off and on, and when we grew up and went our separate ways, he went off to college and became the kind of guy he is, while I slouched around the weird corners of life that I preferred and became the kind of guy I am. I'm fully queer in middle age, a gold star fag, despite my egalitarian aspirations to glimmers of bisexuality, and he's straight as a board.

People are so used to the old culture of dismissing in-betweens as mere dodges that they invariably roll eyes at the idea that the dude with whom I experimented wildly between the furnace and the ham radio is not in some sort of denial, but I knew him well, and still do, and we've had some pretty amazing recent conversations after reconnecting over the passage of twenty-five years.

We went out for lunch while he was in town for a convention of Viagra sales executives and over mediocre restaurant food, dug into the kind of places one presumably is meant not to explore in retrospect.

"You still with that guy, uh...what's his name?"

"Nah, I'm flying solo at the mo."

"Huh. I'm still married. Had a rough stretch, but we got around it and things are great." He laughed. "I probably owe you for that," he added.

"Why?"

"Told my wife a dude fucked me for seven years and it sorta...lit something."

I was suddenly intrigued. Turns out, a sort of dullness and familiarity had settled in on my friend and his marriage, and he'd found a hook and was lucky enough to have a partner who wasn't so committed to the post-liberation YOU-ARE-OR-YOU-AREN'T enforced dualism that's made being bi a endangered class instead of what it probably really is—the majority shade in a broad spectrum of human sexuality.

I asked a lot of questions. He had a few, but it looked to be my interview. I came away reinforced in the belief I'd held for quite a while that there are plenty of guys who would be perfectly happy to have sex with other dudes without necessarily having much interest in fully realized romantic relationships. I knew it, of course, largely from experience, because I'd fooled around with a...number of my classmates who would completely throw off modern statistics on percentiles of invested homosexuality. Hell—my own coming out was delayed almost entirely because I was slow enough as a introspective thinker that it hadn't occurred to me that boys don't all fool around with boys because most would we'd spent the late afternoon paging through crinkly Hustler magazines and black and white "marriage manuals" I stole out of the farmer's mailbox across the road from our house.

My friend had gone on to a successful life giving erections to the men of New England, though he shrugged off the notion of proper bisexuality as just not really that exciting.

"I mean, yeah, I had some dudes blow me on deployment in Iraq and Afghanistan, but there's not a lot to do out there, so it's more just something to do when you're tired of jerking off and you're bored of video games."

I laughed. It's such a different world. Better in some ways, less so in others, and it's going to be really interesting to see how things settle when our generation and our peculiar wartime sexuality lose currency as the standard model for things.

At our high school reunion, one which I attended as an interloper, given that I'd jumped schools and been expelled without graduating, I was lurking in the reception room at a local hotel in a suit I'd tailored myself, feeling like I was cutting a fine figure, when a woman locked eyes on me from a distance, then beelined her way to me.

"Well, well, Mister Wall. We meet at last."

"Uh, excuse me?"

"I believe you fucked my husband?"

I looked around the room in a gesture that was simultaneously comic and serious, and she watched me and then laughed a laugh lubricated by a few blender drinks as I caught sight of my friend over with his jock buddies from high school.

"For seven years, I believe."

"Oh. It would have been nine, but it took us a really long time to figure out Vaseline. We were working from Penthouse letters," I said, apologetically. We both laughed hard, and my friend heard us, rolled his eyes, and went back to his talk about sports and the way things were.

And the conversation was long, intimate as hell for someone I'd just met, and insightful. Human relationships are amazing and complicated and unexpected and just—it's good to live now instead of a hundred years ago, or even twenty. For all the neurotic excesses of this century, a shrugging acceptance of how we actually live is spreading.

And my friend? Straight as a board, and no, I'm not in denial.

Amidst a conversation, he summed it up neatly.

"You're not a sports guy."

"No. Hate sports."

"But you're a fucking loon for sliding rocks around an ice rink. I've read your Facebook in the winter."

"It's a curling sheet," I corrected. "And not all that well."

"So you're not a sports guy, but you have a gym bag with your weird shoes and your little broom and...I dunno, gloves or rock-shoving accessories or something?"

"Yep."

"It's like that, I think."

And right then, chatting with an old, dear, and surprisingly uncomplicated friend, I couldn't tell if I was a little horny or if I just really, really wanted to throw a rock across a sheet of ice in a huge shed on the outskirts of town, and…yeah.

It's like that, I think.
posted by sonascope at 3:53 PM on August 5, 2015 [71 favorites]


you appear to be arguing that we should always believe what straight men say about their reasons for doing things?

greg tell us the truth, what was the REAL reason you made your cat an outfit out of an old gym sock.
posted by poffin boffin at 3:57 PM on August 5, 2015 [6 favorites]


i usually dress them in capes, but sometimes, if capes aren't around, I'm costume-flexible
posted by Greg Nog at 4:14 PM on August 5, 2015 [5 favorites]




I've been on a wild writing binge

Keep going.
posted by MisantropicPainforest at 5:13 PM on August 5, 2015 [7 favorites]


Yes, sonascope, I would happily read over your writings about your lurid history and offer feedback. Seriously, feel free to memail me!
posted by overglow at 5:39 PM on August 5, 2015 [1 favorite]


I want to subscribe to your newsletter, sonascope!
posted by skye.dancer at 5:41 PM on August 5, 2015 [3 favorites]


Sometimes there is this weird disconnect caused by defining sexual (or romantic) orientation through sex (romantic) acts: the sexual partners you want to have, the sexual partners you actually have, and/or the sexual partners you actually have and...I dunno, particularly like or dislike, I guess? It's seen as fine to self-identify your sexual orientation, but if you haven't had sex there's this undertone of "You can identify as gay/straight until further notice, on the honor system, until you decide the gender(s) you hate having sex with!" Like you have to actively dislike sex with a gender to be genuinely heterosexual or gay enough.
posted by nicebookrack at 11:00 PM on August 5, 2015


The author states "straight men are only attracted to women’s bodies to the extent that they have been very carefully modified."

That is completely at odds with my experience and what I have observed in conversation with other cis-het male friends.


I agree with the mefites who see her as working at odds with her own stated intent. Sloppy.

Isn't there a difference between experimentation in youth and who one becomes later in adulthood?
posted by Cassford at 11:37 PM on August 5, 2015


Isn't there a difference between experimentation in youth and who one becomes later in adulthood?

I think this is a classic example of what Ward is talking about when she says If you can get a straight man to talk to you about why he is having sex with men, it’s very likely that he’s going to draw from a small set of acceptable narratives about why straight men do things like that. The "it's only a phase" narrative has been very popular as an explanation of homosexual behavior that doesn't include homosexual identity.

And I think that difference between acts and identity explains a lot of what is going on here. A description of acts is objective: people do things, or they do other things. How those things add up to create an identity is always subjective.

Consider two cases: a closeted man who has never had sex with another man, but has a deep desire to do so. He's had sex with women to counter suspicions that he might be gay. Another man who has once in a while taken advantage of opportunities presented to enjoy gay sex, but who when given the choice, will always prefer women as sexual and romantic partners.

Which one is gay? Which one is homosexual? Which one is bisexual? It seems to me any answer is going to be a matter of opinion rather than a matter of fact.
posted by layceepee at 7:06 AM on August 6, 2015 [3 favorites]


hear, hear, layceepee! it reminds me of this shitty bit of clickbait gate keeping. to follow the argument presented in that link to it's logical conclusion it seems like the author is suggesting that you can only be queer when someone else has entered into the frame - which sounds to me like assuming everyone is straight until they sexually touch another person...which, no.
posted by nadawi at 7:34 AM on August 6, 2015 [4 favorites]


If it weren't for horny dudes who would later turn out to be totally straight semi-ironically dry-humping me backstage in high school drama productions, I would have had basically no same-sex sexual outlets at all until college, soooo yeah, maybe an overshare, but thanks guys!
posted by en forme de poire at 8:04 AM on August 6, 2015 [8 favorites]


The author states "straight men are only attracted to women’s bodies to the extent that they have been very carefully modified."
That is completely at odds with my experience and what I have observed in conversation with other cis-het male friends.


I don't know, I can see a lot of strong arguments for this. Body hair modification is the biggest one (not just pubic grooming, but eyebrows, legs, armpits, mustaches, basically anywhere that hair grows besides a woman's head). I am sad to say that men who are super attracted to women who do literally no body hair modification are few and far between. Most men also say they don't like when women wear a lot of makeup, but they also think women are wearing "no makeup" when they're actually wearing very carefully applied "natural" makeup. Men do not have to modify their appearances to nearly the extent that women do to reach a baseline acceptable level of attractiveness.
posted by dialetheia at 9:08 AM on August 6, 2015 [6 favorites]


It's a total derail, but more men would find more women without makeup attractive if they were exposed to more women without makeup on a regular basis. It's a comparison bias that is shaping modern standards of beauty in this case.
posted by hippybear at 9:20 AM on August 6, 2015 [3 favorites]


Hell, I would (and do) argue for there being more axes than just "acts" and "identity." My particular flavor of bisexuality doesn't fit on any Kinsey scale I've ever seen. I often joke it needs some sort of three-dimensional representation with several axes and probably some glitter. There's not just "what acts do I do" but "what acts have I done in the past", "who am I attracted to at first sight", "who do I grow to become attracted to as I get to know them", "who do I mentally undress on the bus", "who do I imagine snuggling up with in a hammock on a beach", "who have I chosen to make a life with", why are many of my attractions to one sex strongest when they're presenting in certain ways typical of the other sex, what communities do I feel at home in? I don't have a single consistent set of answers to those questions that marks me neatly as "60% into men and 40% into women" or whatever. It isn't and never has been that simple for me, it's not even as simple as splitting into "romance" vs. "sexual behavior."

I wrap that all up as "queer" because I have never found a way of discussing and representing sexuality that matches up in any way with the way I experience it in my head. If you ask me and really want to know, I will sit down with you and spend ten minutes brain dumping about my sexual orientation but there's not a label or a number I can just give you that is actually true.

Maybe I'm some sort of super-weird outlier or maybe as a woman I just can't understand what queerness is like for men, but it's a lot more believable to me that we just as a society have not figured out a good way to talk about this really complicated stuff, for all the words we keep spending on it.
posted by Stacey at 9:37 AM on August 6, 2015 [7 favorites]


The Klein grid has more dimensions than string theory and bi people took one look at it and said "what about nonbinary gender?" (The current fashion for segregating binary and nonbinary sexuality feels like a personal betrayal at this point.)

Sciency biological determinism has largely pushed queer, feminist, and cultural views out of the frame. And I think that hurts the possibility of building new ways of being/doing men or not-men.
posted by CBrachyrhynchos at 11:45 AM on August 6, 2015 [2 favorites]


I keep falling back on what the professor of my super-boffo-awesome human sexuality class said during the first week or so: "There are some people that think if we'd all just relax about it, we'd be attracted to everybody."
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 11:53 AM on August 6, 2015


Well no, I don't think that if you free your mind your ass necessarily will follow. But my sexuality and gender is a dialogue involving many different things beyond my biology. It's also a work in progress, and my deepest objections to overemphasizing biology has always been that it forecloses any discussion how we might wish to create ourselves, how we build it, and what we need to build it.

And let me put it this way, my constructed sexuality finds Arnold Schwarzenegger's cinematic gender to be repulsive in a way that's a bit entertaining. I don't think my sexuality or his gender is entirely "natural" on that point.
posted by CBrachyrhynchos at 1:27 PM on August 6, 2015 [2 favorites]


Straight white dude seeks same: Race, power and the secret world of straight guy-on-guy action
"Dudes sitting around stroking, watching a game, drinking brews, jerking, swapping college stories, showing off..."
Excerpted from "Not Gay: Sex Between Straight White Men"
posted by andoatnp at 1:28 AM on August 10, 2015 [1 favorite]


I guess I am late to this discussion, but it seems like an exercise in missing the point and begging the question. In trying to "get to the bottom" of why straight-associating men would have gay sex, she presumes the answer to her own question and sets out to show how she's right even in the face of evidence that doesn't coincide with her theory.
posted by auggy at 2:22 PM on August 14, 2015 [1 favorite]


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