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Mark Travis Rivera Headshot

On Loving Men Beyond the Erection

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My sexuality is not about sex.

Regardless of what the media, the church, or politicians say, my sexuality is not defined by my sexual behaviors or by the size of my penis. I am attracted to men; I like men; my desire for other men doesn't stem from an erection but from the intimacy I have with men that I can't have with women.

For the other men reading this who enjoy loving other men, you probably can relate to the experience of coming to grips with the attraction you felt for the same gender. I was 12 the first time I kissed another boy; I was 14 when I came to the realization that these feelings I felt toward other boys were not accidental or experimental.

Our society has been saturated with the idea that sex sells. Patriarchy has conditioned us to view women simply as bodies and gay men as defective members of manhood. For a long time I struggled to separate the act of sex from my sexuality. I thought being gay means being a top or a bottom and being fearful of vaginas.

It was only when I began my activism work that I realized that being gay means so much more to me than just whom I sleep with or what body part a man has. For me, being gay means daring to be revolutionary by loving another man no matter what society thinks or says about it.

One day I met a man who turned my world upside down and helped me redefine what my sexuality means to me. This guy, whom I will refer to as "James," was attractive: He had this way with words, and a smile that took my breath away. James happens to be transgender; he was assigned "female" at birth.

The first time I met James, I was walking down a hallway when he passed by me, and I instantly turned around and introduced myself. He smiled, and in that moment my mind was blown. James had me captivated. He did not have to worry about disclosure with me, because prior to meeting him in person, I had already heard about his work as a trans advocate. The attraction was overwhelming, and I found myself conflicted, with thoughts like, "How could I be attracted to him? What does this mean about my gayness?"

Over a period of several months, I would fall for James. I remember our first kiss; it took place under the bright lights of an abandoned downtown Brooklyn in the middle of the night. Few people were around, and I felt like I was in a movie. I remember when James surprised me and flew out to Miami. We spent two nights jamming to Beyoncé, watching movies, and cuddling. I knew that my ability to love a man was not restricted to his erection, that my ability to love men was not determined by genitalia, and I discovered this in part because of James.

As for me, intimacy isn't found in a penis but in the way his hands melt into mine. The way he stares into my brown eyes and lets me know that he is looking into my soul and isn't afraid of my darkness. The way he assures me that I am enough. It's the swagger in his walk, the way he talks. Intimacy, for me, is beyond penetration: It is the ability to sleep beside one another, to touch, to hold and affirm without having to penetrate. For me intimacy is being able to cry in front of him, wearing no makeup and having my hair messy.

I am calling on all my gay, bisexual, and queer cisgender men to start talking about our attraction and love for all men -- including men who are of the trans experience, because our ability to love and to be loved runs deeper than the superficiality that often surrounds our interaction with other men.