Let’s talk about sex

Today is International Day Against Homophobia. Perfect opportunity for a Big Question – why do some people hate us gayers? Why does my natural drive to create home and family with somebody of the same sex, rile some folk so much that they deny me the right to formalise my relationship through marriage, openly claim that me teaching their children will be harmful, and suggest there is some secret, perverted agenda behind my desire to live a life without discrimination. At first glance, we’d have to assume it’s to do with the kind of sex we have; this is what sets us aside by title and ‘lifestyle’ from our heterosexual friends. So let’s talk about sex…

What consenting adults of either gender do with their bodies is none of my business, nor anyone else’s. I have no more than a human curiosity about other people’s sex lives, however, some homophobes mention gay sex with such frequency that one has to question their underlying fascination. I’m more interested in how we relate to one another, than what we do to get off. But to stay on sex for a moment (I know it’s tough, hang in there), many LGBT people lead unadventurous, boring or even asexual lives together; many heterosexuals do the opposite. Above and beyond the biological implications of body parts, sexual behaviour is NOT defined by your orientation – most would agree that within a loving, respectful and consenting environment, people are free to explore whatever they like.

Homophobia is hardly about sexual behaviour at all. It’s about gender. Allow me to demonstrate.

What seems to offend homophobes most is that LGBT people are stepping outside of our gender roles; with our sexual activity, but mostly by our social behaviour. And there is directly proportional discrimination in response to the level of gender subversion. In fact, there is an unconscious ranking system at play.  Arguably, a glamorous lesbian couple are far more likely to be accepted (in fact ‘encouraged’ in many male minds…) than a butch lesbian couple. Why? They are both homosexual and should therefore suffer the same castigation. Effeminate men are more likely to be abused in the street, effeminate black men even more so; yes, race plays a part in the gender game, as does class.

I have asked young people to explain to me why I am ok and my gay brothers are not…we are both breaking the rules they impose, why the different punishments? ‘It’s what they do Miss, it’s disgusting’. And we all know what they’re getting at here. We’re talking about defying the natural order in the worst possible way. It is (drum roll please)…man taking the role of woman (feel free to take a break here to flinch and gasp…).

We are only just breaking free of a longstanding patriarchy, ladies and gentlemen, and the shackles, whilst looser and allowing movement, still weigh us down in the form of gender constructs. Historically, men have ruled and women have been submissive. While things are far more equal now (although the gender pay gap and the gender distribution of world leaders is still woeful), you need only to listen to young children playing to know that all things ‘girl’ are less than all things ‘boy’.  Girls hardly ever insult each other with ‘you’re such a boy’, whereas being called a girl is only one step higher than being called gay in the minds of young men. Anything feminine is to be shunned vociferously; ‘boys will be boys’ becomes ‘boys MUST be boys’.

A woman who challenges her gender role by being a lesbian, particularly a butch lesbian, usurps the position of man and might expect some reverberations from those who struggle with this concept (corrective rape in South Africa is an extreme example of these reverberations). And a man who might have feminine traits, hobbies or god forbid, takes the ‘role of a woman’ sexually, is the lowest of the low and provokes such anger in ‘real men’ that he can expect to face violence. This may not resonate with some of you, but ask yourself why we have such different reactions to gay men and lesbians? Isn’t the same norm being offended?

So here are the rules for those who missed the pamphlet in the post:

1.  Lesbians are mostly ok in public (if you look a bit manly though, watch out, you’re running the risk of watering down an insecure male’s masculinity and must be held accountable)
2. Feminine lesbians are ok to hold hands in public
3. Feminine lesbians are more-than-ok sexually

4. Gay men who look like Gareth Thomas (muscular & virile) are ok in public
5. Gay men are not ok to hold hands in public (unless they’re as big as Gareth Thomas or are indulging their perversion in a gay ghetto like Soho)
6. Gay men are never ok sexually (except, boys, secretly in your heads where you are confused, ashamed and angry at your perfectly normal curiosity)

I would wager a month’s salary on the latter confusion being what led to 17 year old Adam Ayres and three of his friends luring a gay man via a chat room to a park where they smashed his skull in with a baseball bat (http://bit.ly/ktW7A9). His lawyer claimed he wasn’t homophobic, he’d just been ‘trying to assert his masculinity’. This would be laughable if it weren’t so serious. I don’t hold people down and paint their nails to assert my femininity. We are letting our young people down in a serious way by not challenging society’s rather sad and unintelligent obsession with gender. Let our boys, girls, men and women be people first. Let them explore their natural talents and creativity without repercussion. And most importantly let them love who, and how, they want.

Quick disclaimer: Most of this is not subject matter for our school visits as role models. This is for you; our ‘mature’ reader.

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  1. #1 by yiotam on May 17, 2011 - 4:35 pm

    well written well said… enough pussyfooting around >>> about time it’s told how it is!!

  2. #2 by Paul on May 17, 2011 - 8:58 pm

    What an amazing blog.

    I have always believed that homophobia is a social construct born from sexism and arguably misogyny. To quote the mother of all gay people, Madonna, in the song “What it feels like for a girl” she states that to for a man to look like a woman is degrading. Here lies an interesting idea. For women to “aspire” to be more like men, behave more like men, or even dress like men, then that’s OK. However, when men start dressing or acting like women, well thats just wrong, why would you do that to yourself? To lower yourself.

    The word CAMP some people believe is an acronym used in old police records which meant Confirmed As Male Prostitute, and today it is almost a dirty word. Not because of its history as a label or expression, but because for many gay men, to be camp is bad. Effeminate men are more likely to be labeled, bullied, stereotyped and perceived as gay and for many gay men, the idea of being in a relationship with an effeminate man is a big no no! Internalised homophobia, projection of self loathing or just preference? Its difficult to say for sure, but its interesting to see that the opposite label “straight acting” is bandied about and embraced amongst our community with pride.

    Straight acting to me has always meant that someone was acting, and surely not being yourself isn’t good for anyone. It’s also interesting that many “straight acting” gay men are also attracted to other “straight acting” gay men. Hmmm…. I wonder why “straight acting” gay men no longer express their preference as butch? Maybe, because to express desire in a partner who is butch makes them seem more feminine perhaps or even more gay.

    For me, this all really boils down to the fact that to be perceived to be gay is bad. We learn at a very young age that if you stand out as gay you will be victimised. To the victims, we learn that there is something wrong with us and to the gay people who are not perceived as gay, it teaches them that to be visible as gay is to be avoided at all costs or suffer the consequences. The result, low self esteem and a whole range of issues which can develop to compensate for feelings of no self worth.

    A hierarchy of hetro-normativity?

  3. #3 by steve macey on May 17, 2011 - 11:43 pm

    As much as you can criticse society for creating victims though we can blame ourselves. The whole process of “coming out” and “seeking acceptance” screams Victim. I much prefer “Gay affirmation day” its far more liberating and empowering and sure shuts up the gossip mongerers. That aside the average straight white males only exposure to an LGBT individual is the pathetic media that seeks to institutionalise homophobia. Can you recall the last time we had a big ole gay bear on television??? Gareth Thomas shook the media and the public to the core, they were not prepared.

    What I find weirdest of all about the LGBT Equality agenda is that we seek to celebrate our diversity and difference and then wonder why people don’t support us. But all those years ago dear old Maslow had it right with the bottom of his pyramid. Be it black, white, lesbian, disabled, Muslim or Jew we all want the same thing: love, respect, safety, *nd recognition. Celebrate diversity by all means but people are people and our emotions are the same regardless of who is in our bed.

    • #4 by diversityrolemodels on May 20, 2011 - 7:57 am

      Good point Steve, although I’m not sure we are playing at being victims; I use language such as ‘coming out’ because people understand it. I’m not hiding anywhere, I just have a characteristic that isn’t visible, so I may or may not point it out to people if appropriate. Each time I do mention my S/O to people I do find it affirming and empowering, although hopefully there is a time that it isn’t like that. There’s no need to feel pride or empowerment over being LGBT – although there are many reasons to feel proud or empowered over our reactions to societal homophobia.

      And don’t get me started on TV. There is the anomaly in the rules; people are generally quite happy to have camp men in that box in the corner of the room, but if they were their neighbours, no thank you. And see Management Pawn’s comment about lesbians on TV. Where are they? There are a few but they don’t get anywhere near the same coverage or interest as gay men. Likewise in sport, business, arts etc. We face different issues; I often think gay men face more aggressive homophobia while we face greater sexism.

  4. #5 by ManagementPawn on May 18, 2011 - 11:08 am

    But the media in the UK has a huge hand in this by not showing enough visible role models. Stonewall have done some excellent work in the past reviewing the telly and showing that LGBT are vastly under-represented on mainstream TV, especially outside of the soaps. IIRC, it was considerably less than 1% of all people shown.

    Ch4 are better than others these days (Shameless, Skins, etc), but the BBC’s entire ‘entertainment’ lesbian contingent appears to be Sue Perkins – minor deity though she is – on the TV and Sandi Toksvig on the radio. Why put Lip Service on BBC3? Have the courage of your convictions and put it on BBC2, at least.

    And Eastenders aside, we continue to get presented with the camper, cuddlier side of male homosexuality or storylines in the ‘victim of the week’ dramas like Casualty/L&O of men coming out and getting beaten up, murdered, etc.

    (Not ignoring Clare ‘n’ Alice or any of our lovely gay male newspeople like Paddy O’C, but news/sports doesn’t count.)

    PS I know I’m fighting a losing battle against a tide of popular usage, but gender and sex are not interchangeable terms! Gender refers to masculinity and femininity (and is used mostly correctly here in those terms). But the term relating to whether you are physically male or female is sex. So, a femme lesbian doesn’t challenge her gender role because she remains an arguably more submissive feminine partner, a girly girl.

    PPS Seeing as I’m already up on the horse of pedantry with the sword of self-righteousness in my hand, @Paul, the Confirmed as Male Prostitute thing is entirely apocryphal. See http://www.worldwidewords.org/qa/qa-cam1.htm for more likely derivations.

    • #6 by diversityrolemodels on May 20, 2011 - 8:04 am

      Are you still riding your horse? ;-). Thanks for comments on sex/gender – duly noted and I will try to pay attention in the future! Totally agree re lesbians in entertainment. There are hardly any although as you say, at least some of the mainstream soaps and popular kids shows are now portraying LGBT characters with less negative stereotypes than there used to be. Glee is totally camp, totally stereotypical and totally unrealistic but who cares, that’s what it’s meant to be and it has gay characters, it carries a strong message about diversity and kids watch it and absorb it.

      Lack of lesbian representation goes across the board – sport (which is ridiculous as sport is filled with lesbians!), business, theatre, arts etc. It is very frustrating and I suspect the result of a double whammy of sexism and homophobia.

      Anyway, it’s getting better so mustn’t complain. I’ve got a horse to ride!

  5. #7 by Staring Down The Brilliant Dream on May 19, 2011 - 1:54 pm

    Truly brilliant blog post!

    I would just like to add my thoughts to the discussion. I’m a feminine lesbian, I define as “Femme” and my CP is butch. My definition of femme is not girly straight acting lesbian, it is a fierce almost parody of femininity and the fact that my partner is so butch complements and I guess highlights that.

    Once upon a time, Butch/Femme couples were the norm in lesbian circles – one “playing the man” and one “playing the woman”. I’ve heard it said that this was a way of validating relationships in a tme when there were only strict gender norms and no way of expressing your sexuality outside of this model. Personally, I disagree – there will always be those women that blur gender lines, don’t fit and there always were trans folk.

    In straight society I pass as a straight woman. As such I need to come out again and again and again and again. I see the pass I get in society as a perceived straight woman, and I see all too often how when I come out, that pass is revoked. Conversations change, I become other, different. Easy fleeting relationships are different.

    Heterosexual men tend to change around me. It is the oddest thing, it’s like the flirting steps up a level. Whether it is because they think its safe because I’m a lesbian and won’t get them into trouble with their wives / girlfriends or because it’s a challenge I don’t know. Women generally go over the top and constantly refer to my sexuality and state how it “doesn’t bother them” and love is love and what does it matter. They’re a little too much. Like they’re ashamed of some assumption of lesbianism or their own internal homophobia. They have to prove they’re not biggots. Obviously I genralise wildly here, but it is a recurring theme.

    People genuinely are obsessed with our sex lives though. You read the questions flying accross their face. Sometimes voiced, sometimes not. They look at me and straight men especially have a certain image – the long fingernails etc… But then they meet C and it is as if their assumptions have simultaneuosly been flipped on their head, and confirmed. She’s butch, I’m femme. She’s the man, I’m the woman. There must be a cock, and it must be C who wears it. After all, that’s what normal sex is, it’s all about the phallus and every lesbian secretly wants it, right?

    So even in 2011 when people STILL think it’s ok to ask what we do in bed, the answer is always the same. “Drink hot chocolate and watch Newsnight mostly.”

    • #8 by diversityrolemodels on May 20, 2011 - 8:41 am

      This made me smile. You make some excellent points here and it is amazing that in this day and age, people are still consumed with gender roles. Who is the man? Ridiculous! There is certainly a shift in people’s behaviour once they ‘find out’; there is more curiosity and OTT acceptance, which by its very presence, suggests that there is an underlying lack of such. However, those reactions are light years better than they used to be when we were considered to be illegal! We’re getting there. Anyway, you bring all this on yourself if you still insist upon having long nails ;-).

  6. #9 by steve macey on May 20, 2011 - 8:25 am

    But that’s the very crux of the matter, we aren’t necessarily aware of our sub concious choice of language but the terminology we use dictates our position ie coming out is submissive outing someone is aggressive. Its the verbal equivelant of offering your palm upwards when shaking hands. Myers Briggs pretty much had personality traits down to a T and these traits can be challenged and changed. They apply as much to an individual as a collective. Sorry can ya tell my area of fascination its all about empowerment. Which is why I love what you do, can I suggest you google Mo Shapiro she is much more eloquent at expressing it than I, as is Ruth from Stonewall’s report on double glazed glass ceiling which pretty much backs up your second point. Phobia is all about safety from the unknown, I loved my straight mates reaction when I took him to the den of iniquity known as XXL seing all those manly men bopping away just threw him a curve ball, as it was an area of our own pigeon holing he hadn’t seen. Funny thing is getting back to your original point it threw me a curve ball too but mine was an overwhelming sense of relief of normality and a place where I actually belong as I had had no role models in the media to aspire to or relate to

  7. #10 by SquashedFrog on May 21, 2011 - 11:27 pm

    Just as an added thought, why is it assumed that only gay men enjoy ‘that’ sex act? Its less a gay thing, more a biological thing in as much as there’s a lot going on and access to many other bits and pieces that men find exciting regardless of orientation.
    Many straight men – those that have no desire or interest in so much as experimenting with other guys – do enjoy penetration although seem to not want to acknowledge it for fear of others branding them as gay.

  8. #11 by three credit scores on April 17, 2012 - 7:55 am

    I couldn’t resist commenting. Well written!

  9. #12 by here on May 29, 2012 - 8:08 pm

    I feel one of your current ads triggered my web browser to resize, you may well want to get that on your blacklist.

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