Do straight men who enjoy fucking other men automatically have to be bisexual or gay and lying to themselves? That is what many, many gay men believe, based on their own experience, and it’s something that comes up in the comments on porn blogs like The Sword on an hourly basis.
I myself am guilty of assuming that the guys who seem to open up and enjoy getting fucked the most on Sean Cody must all be questioning their sexuality (ahem, Forrest). But as straight power-top Brodie recently described it, the site’s studio is full of “a bunch of straight guys coming to practice their fantasies. Their deepest darkest fantasies,” and labels like “straight” and “gay” are just “paperwork.”
A new book by Jane Ward, an associate professor of women’s studies at the University of California, Riverside, titled Not Gay: Sex Between Straight White Men, explores the very cultural dilemma we all seem to have around male sexuality, and the commonly held belief that women can lez out and it doesn’t mean anything because they’re naturally “more bisexual,” while men are much more strict about what they like and don’t like, unless they’re bisexual.
We hear it constantly from gay porn stars who claim that they’re simply “sexual,” they love having sex with dudes, and who, if we were to watch them in their personal lives, would end up in love with women, procreating with women, and having fully satisfying lives with female partners.
I think there’s been a lot of sexological and psychological research suggesting that men’s sexuality is more rigid than women’s and that women are inherently more sexually fluid. And what I argue in the book is that even that research is situated within some long-held beliefs about the fundamental difference between men and women that are not accurate from a feminist perspective. It’s interesting, because if you look at this belief that women’s sexuality is more receptive — it’s more fluid, it’s triggered by external stimuli, that women have the capacity to be sort of aroused by anything and everything — it really just reinforces what we want to believe about women, which is that women are always sexually available people.
With men, on the other hand, the idea that they have this hardwired heterosexual impulse to spread their seed and that that’s relatively inflexible, also kind of reinforces the party line about heteronormativity and also frankly, patriarchy. So one selling point for me in the book was to think about, Why are we telling this really different story about women’s sexuality?
I think a lot of people who read the blurb, but not the actual book, have been confused about why the book was focused on white men, and I made that choice very consciously. There’s been a lot of interest and commentary about sexual fluidity and heteroflexibility in the last ten, 15 years in the U.S. and it’s focused either on girls kissing girls for the pleasure of male spectators or it’s focused on black men and to a lesser extent Latino men on the “down low,” and all of those accounts have [been so] focused, in the case of women, on what’s going on with women and with femininity that it allows this sort of behavior. In the case of black and Latino men, the question is, What’s going on in these ethnic communities that facilitates these kind of sex practices?
But for white men, no one ever asks what’s going on in white culture or what it is about white masculinity that is making this kind of sex practice possible. But that’s really precisely the question we should be asking, because white men have engaged in — straight-identified white men have engaged in — intimate or sexual encounters with one another since the very invention of heterosexuality and homosexuality as medical terms in the late 19th-century, and yet very little attention has been paid to it.
I think it would be helpful to just start with greater awareness that homosexual desire is just part of the human condition.
Now if we take that as given, then the question is, Well, why do some people want it more than others, or why do some people organize their life around it, and other people don’t want anyone to even know that they do it? To me that’s a more interesting question than Are you born gay or straight? and so I think that the solution, honestly, is to stop being so obsessed with sociobiological arguments about sexual orientation, which I think are a trap, frankly, and instead ask the question, Given that so many humans have homosexual encounters, what is it that makes some people understand their homosexual encounters as culturally significant, and other people understand it as meaningless or circumstantial? I don’t think we have the answer to that question yet.
I do, in the end of the book, suggest that, if straight people want in on queer life, that’s about something more than homosexual sex. That’s about queer subculture, which is anchored to a long tradition of anti-normative political practices and anti-normative sex practices and appreciation for a much broader array of bodies and kinds of relationships and so forth, and so I think most straight people don’t actually want to be part of it. I think straight people who engage in homosexual sex, what makes them straight is precisely that they have no interest whatsoever in being part of queer subculture, and so in the last chapter I’m making the point that they could if they wanted to, but they don’t, and that’s part of how we know that this is homosexual sex being enacted in the service of heteronormativity.