Why I Want To Talk About Gay Sex

Consider the following lines from two different poems:

The mattress sails like a ship
To the floor of your one room apartment
Settling with the soft thud
Of cold plastic on cheap linoleum
While the friction of warm flesh and sweaty bodies
Rests gently on top.

In this poem, we don’t know the subject or the subject’s lover, but we can guess what they have been doing – the “friction of warm flesh and sweaty bodies” points an incriminatingly suggestive finger toward doing the dirty.

The second poem is different. It is explicitly about a relationship between two men, and it opens:

I kissed your hip
While you talked on the phone
To your mother.

Certainly, it’s erotic. But are these two men having sex? This seems somewhat doubtful; after all, who can have sex and talk on the phone to their mom at the same time?

I am bringing up these lines not to talk about them, necessarily, but to talk about the reactions they provoke. Because when I presented them at a poetry reading in South Carolina, one poem went unnoticed while the other made an audience member feel “uncomfortable” because it made her think about “homosexual sex.” In this person’s own words, “[Y]our poetry was on my mind when I got home and I wanted to say a few things. Homosexual sex makes me uncomfortable and my mind does not want to go there because of it.” It was the second poem, the poem that wasn’t even about having sex, that made this audience member so uncomfortable.

This reaction speaks volumes to me about perceptions of sexuality in America. For one thing, gender is ambiguous but sex is explicit in the first poem; why is it, then, that heterosexuality presumed? And when heterosexuality is presumed, why does the sex go unnoticed? Why is gay sex – even when it’s not happening — considered exceptional? Why does gay sex necessitate an audience’s commentary, as if it needs validation or opinion?

As a culture, we are inundated with information about sex. We are made to believe that sex sells when female bodies are displayed semi-clothed in magazines, when straight couples fornicate on TV, or when music lyrics applaud a man for hooking up with a woman. But when same-sex couples participate in the same behavior, it is called abnormal or discomforting and is censored.

I wrote the poems at the beginning of this essay during a time in my life when I felt like I was never given the time of day to talk about same-sex desire, a desire that I felt was compelling and important and defining for me as an individual. Even though I couldn’t speak about the man I loved because doing so would mean him risking his friends, family, job security, and physical health, I could write about it. In a weird way, poetry helped me participate in the joy my straight friends felt when they announced their relationships to friends, family, and strangers.

So when I was criticized for making someone feel “uncomfortable” by challenging the silence that dictated my relationship, I realized just how necessary it is to write about same-sex relationships and gay sex. To write these relationships into normality. To make people confront their discomfort and question why we hold such a double standard about sexuality.

Leo Bersani famously proclaimed, “To want sex with another man is not exactly a credential for political radicalism.” It is very true that gay sex does not necessitate gay politics; indeed, most of the gay people I know are entirely unconcerned with politics. But it is also true that gay sex does not exclude gay politics – that it might afford an opportunity for politics. This is precisely why I am interested in writing about gay sex: Because it creates an opportunity to change the norms that dictate how we imagine sexuality, and because it deserves to be articulated in a way that doesn’t require comment – just like straight sex doesn’t illicit comment in our culture.

I should not have to live in a world where I need to defend my decision to go home to or sleep with or go out with or simply fuck whomever I please. And so I don’t intend this to be a defense of gay sex. Rather, I want to close with a challenge to those who are uncomfortable thinking about two male bodies pressing against each other in the middle of the night. I want to offer a statement to the person who cringes at the thought that a woman would rather return home to make love to her female lover than to go out to dinner with a male suitor. I want to say, simply:

We’re fucking here — and we’re fucking. TC mark

image – QThomas Bower

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