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What I Learned From Gay Sex: Misogyny and Homophobia

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Alamy
Alamy

I am not quiet during sex. I communicate my desires and ask the same of my partners. I believe that this not only creates a safe sexual environment but makes for the most pleasurable experience for everyone. If I'm making sounds that aren't words, that more or less means I'm having a good time. People generally respond well to this type of nonverbal feedback; I've only had one person object to my use of nonverbal expression, and that was Peter.

Peter is a gay man I slept with once. I met him in a gay bar when I was living in New York, and I thought he was perfect. He worked with homeless queer youth. He had a dog. He was a little taller than average, and stocky, wearing jeans, a T-shirt and Puma high tops. He was bearded. He said things like "you're so unlike everyone your age" (he was 11 years older than I) and "I never go home with anyone the night I meet them." When he did come home with me and we were naked in my bed, he kissed my neck, and I moaned, high-pitched and breathy. He stopped, looked me in the eye and said, "Don't do that. It's faggy."

Now, this was several years ago, and I hadn't yet learned that people like Peter are to be either ignored, laughed at or taught, so I became a caricature of "not faggy": I grunted (no more moaning), I pretended that I wasn't hurt by what he said (feelings are for girls, as I recalled learning during childhood), and I tried to act as masculine as possible, because that is the opposite of faggy, the opposite of the femme gay man who gestures, speaks quickly in a high-pitched voice and says "darling." I became that silly thing because I wanted Peter to love me.

He stood me up on our next date, and I never heard from him again.

Eventually surpassing the typical "what did I do wrong?" stage of self-hatred, I asked myself, "What does it mean that Peter called me faggy for expressing pleasure?" And so I learned that people like Peter are part of a larger problem: pervasive misogyny.

Typically we say that "fag," "sissy," "nancy," "nelly" and "fairy" are homophobic words, and although they certainly are used to perpetuate homophobia, they are not homophobic in and of themselves; the usage of any of these words as slurs usually targets people with male-sexed bodies who do not act sufficiently masculine. They prize masculinity by demonizing femininity. This is probably rooted in some outdated, essentialist reading of gender where women are biologically the weaker, pathetic sex, but we know today that in addition to being totally offensive, gender essentialism is more or less bullshit, because women can vote and work and beat men into submission, and men can cook and clean and stay at home with the kids. But although it was relatively easy to deconstruct the misogyny in Peter's abuse, getting to the root of why a man, while lying naked with another man and kissing him, would call that man's expression of pleasure too gay is a more complicated subject. I would suggest that Peter calling me faggy is part of a larger queer cultural heritage.

Queer people live in a constant narrative of struggle; today we struggle for legally recognized marriage, and in 2003 we struggled for the right to have consensual sex, but 60 years ago queer role models fought for the right to exist in public or private. To gain those rights, they used an effective strategy called assimilation, which dictated that queer people look and act as much as possible like straight people. The Mattachine Society and the Daughters of Bilitis both did it intentionally in the '50s, and it was probably the most aggressive option to say "we are normal, just like you" at a time when police were encouraged to raid gay bars, arrest patrons and publish their names and faces in the newspaper the following day. However, "just like you" literally bleached queer people of color from the movement and rendered trans people invisible, because "just like you" referred to white men in power and their wives who had the sway to validate any queer identity legally. Assimilation was successful in that discrimination against LGBT people is now illegal in many forms, but it also created an "acceptable gay man," and he was white and masculine and certainly did not say "darling." It also created and validated a favorite excuse for anti-gay bigotry, "I'm fine with gay people as long as they don't flaunt it," because suddenly there were gay people who were not "normal." "Normal" gay men today ape that heterosexual excuse for bigotry by blaming "abnormal" gays for the the maltreatment of gays as a whole.

Peter is a "normal" gay man, so when my behavior started to drift outside "normal," he reprimanded me much in the same way that police officers, gym teachers or parents might have done in the '50s (and today, to be fair). And although the '50s were over 60 years ago, that attitude remains pervasive: Look at any on gay dating website or smartphone app and you'll see our twisted heritage as "preferences" based on a hierarchy of who can pass as a successful straight man: "Looking for masc, musc, no femmes, white only." Though the irony that none of us is straight does not escape me, I'd like to focus more on how regressive this is; we are literally contributing to our own oppression by upholding this bizarre heritage of misogyny created in the '50s.

So let's make life easier on all queer people and stop mimicking the worst parts of heterosexism. Who knows? We could even begin to support each other. How revolutionary.

A longer version of this blog post appeared in French in Congrats! Magazine.