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How Gay Sex Led to Gay Liberation

05/15/2015 02:58 pm ET | Updated May 15, 2016

When he came out of the closet in college, Ian MacKinnon felt like he'd just been dropped off alone at a gay bar, left to find his own way all by himself. Coming out was just the first step to becoming whatever a gay man is. His next step: exploring homosexuality in full view of the public, on stage.

Ian was my guest this week on The Sewers of Paris, a podcast about entertainment that has changed the lives of gay men. These days, Ian's a performance activist in Los Angeles, using the stage to open minds with shows like "Gay Hist-Orgy," in which he travels through time to have sex with different gay historical figures. His hope: to reflect the personal experience of being gay by examining the historical experience of gays throughout the ages.

Gay liberation is a cornerstone of Ian's shows. The word "liberation" has always sounded a little too revolutionary for me to warmly embrace, though. After all, it has a sort of anarchistic edge, like I'm storming the gay bastille to release my inner queer political prisoner.

But really, liberation just means freedom. Living the life you want to live. Having permission to try new things, if you want. Or if you don't want, to not. No hiding. No shame. No costume, no show. Not locked in a closet. Not held captive by respectability, or handcuffed to debauchery.

I guess when you get down to it, the word "liberation" really does fit. We do all have an inner political prisoner. That little gay boy, raised as Ian said as though he's straight, up until the moment he comes out.

So in that respect, being gay is kind of revolutionary. It's a revolutionary state -- we're different, we're unexpected, we're special -- and eventually, with luck, it's a revolutionary act.

I want to recommend The Celluloid Closet, both the book and the film. Vito Russo, who co-founded GLAAD, spent years documenting the ways that LGBTs were depicted in popular culture. Even all these years later, it is an incredible work. Documentation, evidence that we exist. We've always existed. We're real, even in a medium that for decades had rules designed explicitly to erase us.

The Celluloid Closet addresses our revolutionary state. As for the revolutionary act: I would direct you to In Their Room, a documentary series that visits bedrooms around the world to conduct candid interviews with gay men about their lives, their relationships and what happens when they take off their clothes.

Director Travis Matthews has created a series of intimate, personal portraits, speaking openly and honestly about the one fundamental act that just about all of us have in common, but each of us does differently.

And that's exactly the kind of work that Ian MacKinnon hopes to bring to audiences of his own.