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(Update: Blogger hasn't fixed its problem with the "adult warning". Will go back to posting at my WordPress blog)

Monday, October 31, 2011

Thought Experiment

Let's suppose you're a straight man (just for argument's sake, since I'm assuming I have no straight male readers, though I know I have many straight female readers.)

Now, you haven't had sex (even the kind you bestow upon yourself) for a while.  A close male friend is with you.  He's good-looking, easy-going and fond of you, and you like him a lot too.  You've had a few beers together.  He also hasn't had sex for weeks.  Assume also (for the sake of the argument) that there are no Christian-Fascists, no constant churchly drip of homophobic poison, and society really, really doesn't give a toss whether you're straight or gay.  You and he pull each other's wires, have a bit of a cuddle and a kiss.  It's fun; the release of oxytocin binds you a little closer together; as you lie next to him afterwards, you admire the line of his jaw, the swell of his pecs, the muscles of his thighs thickening into gold; you congratulate yourself on having him as a friend.

Right, so far, so good -- a story which is a staple of Nifty wish-fulfillment.  But, does this encounter make you or him gay?  Even if you repeat it?  Or does it just make you friends with benefits, enjoying what the French delightfully call an amitié amoureuse? Both of you are essentially straight.  Does the fact that you have, and enjoy, sex with with each other make you gay?  Are you bisexual?  What kind of bisexual?

OK, what about those famed circle jerks?  I haven't experienced one myself, but then I missed out on all that adolescent male bonding stuff.  Are the guys who strip off their kit and wank themselves in front of each other gay?  Bi?  Straight with a gay edge?

Let's invert the scenario.  You're a 100% gay bloke, so you thought.  You see what you assume is a beaut bloke (as I did on the train once).  His hair is longish but cut boyishly.  He's wearing a checked man's shirt with the sleeves rolled up, loose worn blue jeans, and rather cool hiking boots.  You enjoy a fantasy with him and you and then suddenly realise he is in fact a she.  Does (s)he suddenly become less desirable, now you know there's no cock between her legs?  Why?

Or take Dil in The Crying Game, a transvestite with whom a straight man falls in love thinking he is a woman, who vomits when he discovers that Dil is not a woman, yet remains in love with him, and has sex with him.  Or the bloke described by the Nick Archer in The End of Gay who goes to bars in drag, picks up straight men and when it's clear they're attracted, tells them he's a transvestite and invites them home with him. Most accept; some even bottom for him.

Or two straight best friends, who love each other and have sex together yet remain primarily attracted to women?  Or the attraction so many men feel for other androgynous men?  The "straight" blokes who have sex with men, and admit they enjoy it, and are happy to continue as long as you don't tell their friends.

I could go on.  What all this suggests is that in the right circumstances with the right person, straights are capable of enjoying sex with (and loving) a man, and gays are as capable of enjoying sex with (and loving) a woman.  It doesn't mean that the straights aren't straight, or the gays gay.  It certainly doesn't mean that the Christian-Fascists are right and that there is no such thing as "gay".  That would be like saying that just because you can have different shades of grey, black doesn't exist.  But look at it another way.  Perhaps it really means that almost everybody is potentially bisexual: in the right place, at the right time, with the right person.  The popular perception of a bisexual is someone who is attracted to both genders equally.  This is plainly wrong.  There are many bisexualities, in all the flavours I've talked about above, and in others too.

When I was wrestling with my sexuality, I conducted a similar thought experiment.  I said to myself, what if I found this really sexy man, and took him home and when we got down to naked skin discovered that he wasn't a man?  Would I stop making love to him (her) or would I go right ahead?  I concluded that if I were randy enough I would go ahead.  I then asked myself what the difference would be if I found a really beautiful woman, and took her home, only to find a cock neatly concealed under her dress.  What was I really?  Gay or straight?  Or bi?  What?  I realised then that it was silly to turn away from someone just because they weren't a man.  And I stopped automatically assuming that women weren't sexy.

Don't get me wrong.  I myself am mostly attracted to men, and mostly for emotional rather than sexual reasons.  But I also love my wife and find her intensely erotic.  Am I a closeted gay married man?  A bisexual?  A straight in denial?  Is it just, as the ex-gay movement persists in maintaining, that I don't have enough straight, manly hugs from straight manly men?  (I'm open to offers, all you straight, manly men out there.)  Am I in fact looking, in a relationship with a man, for friendship? No, as it happens, you ex-gay fanatics out there: just because my primary connection to other men is emotional doesn't also mean I don't find some of them sexy and fuckable.  There's something very erotic about a chin with stubble; the narrow hips of a man; even his smell.  In the end what is it we're attracted to?  How much of attraction is mystery and layers and inner and outer perceptions?  Labels -- so misleading, so useful.

What is, I think, unarguable, something we can all agree on:  we are programmed to love.  Even our own gender.  And it doesn't necessarily make us gay or bi or even confused.  It just makes us human.

[There have been some insightful and illuminating comments, so have a look at them too]


Patrick Young said...

Astute as ever, Nik! I identify Kinsey 4, married 31 years (my second, her third, she knew before the vows), and am out as both/and for 15 years. The point is to love with authenticity, period. Who or how is petty details of logistics in my world. Good in ya for a valid expression of the possibility of the future freedom from past demonization and stigma. Just love one another!!

Patrick Young said...

Hope the prior comment went through....

Hunter said...

Sigmund Freud described human sexuality as "polymorphously perverse" -- meaning, I suspect, that the reality did not fit in with his strongly partriarchal Judaeo-Christian preconceptions. Kinsey, who focused his research on the actual experiences of his subjects, found that most men had engaged in homosexual activity at some point in their lives -- and enough came back for more that the dichotomy of "straight/gay" just didn't fit reality.

I tend to take "gay" as a cultural identity, although in common parlance it's shorthand for "men who have sex with men." I suspect that cultural conditioning has a much stronger effect on whether one identifies as "straight" than we realize -- and I also suspect that the anti-gay right has a point in claiming that exposure to open, well-adjusted gays will "turn" young people -- but as usual, they have it backwards: exposure to those evil gays just leads kids to understand that it's not so cut and dried as the professional gay-bashers want everyone to believe.

In my own experience, I dated girls in high school and into college, not because I was particularly attracted to them, but because one had a girlfriend, unless one was a complete loser -- she didn't have to be beautiful or popular, she just had to be a girl. That was the social context, and it provided a fairly strict set of expectations.

I think that as "gay" becomes more and more demystified, as the stigma of same-sex attraction disappears, and as people -- in the States, at least -- become more open and relaxed about sexuality in general, the whole thing is going to become moot.

And speaking of attitudes toward sex in general, I was reminded of this post I did some while ago on the difference between attitudes toward teenage sex in Europe and America. I suspect there's some carryover in the area of same-sex attraction.

Nikolaos said...

From Errol, a member of my groups.

Sexuality is all tied up with love. The differences between men and women arise from how well these two forces are integrated in a relationship. Ideally, you would have the yin of sex wrap around the yang of love and vice versa and they'd be more or less equal.

But it seems that generally, women are more attuned to romantic love. I said 'generally' because there are guys who are more attuned to love too. Some men are just as attuned to love as women and many others are all along the spectrum from hardly attuned to love to just as attuned to love as women. While love is preeminent in women, women are all along the love/sex spectrum as well. Some women are just as sex oriented as your average man, while many others fall all along the spectrum from 'as sex attuned as a man' to 'totally tuned into love'.

I think it's obvious that the folks who have sexual hang-ups are those men
and women who are located at either pole or close to either pole. It's not right to dwell too much on 'love' in a relationship, because it would tend to exclude the physical world and become an 'imaginary' thing. You need sex to keep a lover's feet on the ground. It's necessary to keep pure love grounded to reality and sex is what does that. Sex can be a physical manifestation of love in this respect.

It's not optimal to dwell totally on sex in a relationship either. That excludes the magic of love. That makes a relationship into just another physical need of the body, like moving one's bowels.

I think that the way we grow our sexuality to be more true and fulfilling is to move ourselves more from the polar love or sex based relationship to an integrated love/sex relation, where a yin-yang feedback loop can develop and love desire can feed sexual desire and vice versa.

Personally, I cannot find the spiritual closeness with a man that I want. Likewise, the thought of sex with a man is much more stimulating for me than the thought of sex with a woman. I must realize that if I were to get total sexual fulfillment with a man, it is unlikely that there would be much love in the relationship and I would be dissatisfied. Likewise, any man who could totally satisfy my need for love would be unlikely to be sexual enough for me.

I do not think that I am rationalizing my position if I say that I currently find myself where I can be happiest; where I belong. I am a man who is attracted to the spiritual loving side of women, but towards the physical sexuality of men. I am somewhere on a number-line that denotes my physical and sexual needs. My wife is too. Our relationship has worked well for 23 years. The way that this relationship can improve is for both of us to strive towards a mutually acceptable location on the line between love and sex. This requires change and acceptance on both our parts, to move towards each other. This involves changing ourselves for each other; making a gift of those parts of us which must be jettisoned because they impede us getting closer. That's the work of building a relationship.

Sometimes I do not think it is a matter of being homo or hetero sexual. It is a matter of choosing the partner who can satisfy at least the minimum of our sexual and love needs and then being committed to improving that match by changing to provide more of what the partner needs either sexually or spiritually lovingly. This must be done mutually. Effort on one side which is not matched by effort on the other side is doomed to failure of the relationship.

For now I think this is right. Total satisfaction in either sex or love is
unattainable. Human beings will always want more of both. But the magic happens when we surrender this desire to the greater desire of becoming closer to our mate. And that closeness is what everyone desires in their heart of hearts.