Posted May 24, 2011 by in RIGHT ON

Why being gay is more than just who you have sex with

by Petit Fours

I don’t know if MostCake readers would think this or say it – but even if not – you’ve probably heard it. Something along the lines of: “being gay doesn’t define me – it’s just who I have sex with.”

I’ve heard it quite a few times. I kind of understand it. But though I could never quite put my finger on why, something about it always sounded a bit wrong to me.

is it *just* about sex?

Not just because I’m really out and gay and love gay culture and talk about it all the time. Leaving personality, music taste, jobs and personal interests aside, being gay – to me – has always been about more than sex. So I sat down to think about why I feel that statement isn’t right, and talked to one of my very articulate gayboy friends Ish. I’ve got two little anecdotes for why I think so. One of them is his, one of them is mine.

Ish is much better acquainted with politics and law than I am and just made the point that rights accrue to people with a social identity. Politically, it’s important that gay is an identity and a culture, not just an occasional (or frequent) sex act.
If you’re just somebody doing something – fingering another woman, sucking some other guy’s cock – there’s little protection in law for you. If you belong to a social group that has a culture, then you have an identity – then you have a voice, and you have rights. Then you can expect the law to protect if you get fired or attacked. In Britain we benefit from a wealthy liberal democracy – gay people have been organised for decades, we do have a voice and we do have some rights.

Focussing simply on the sex that gay people have can actually be a mark of homophobia. Repressive governments in Africa which actively persecute and discriminate against gay people will use the “it’s just about sex” argument. In rhetoric and laws they’ll focus heavily on the sex that gay people have (usually gay men – usually really intense things to do with anal sex).
It is less acceptable to persecute a minority culture than to persecute people for doing things.

Reducing gay life to just gay sex doesn’t help.

Being gay or defining as gay is not an aggressive or separatist act – not at all. It’s not anti-straight – any more than your friend being Asian makes it difficult for you to be white. Those shades of identity all co-exist fine and even enrich each other. C’mon – we like diversity right.

My own rationale for why I get involved with the gay movement is that though I’m fine, living in London, roaming around holding hands, working in a sympathetic industry – it is important to stick up for other people who are less fine. A few people have drawn parallels between the move for gay civil rights now and the movement for black civil rights in the sixties under Martin Luther King. Maybe it’s grandiose –  but I like that parallel. I bet there were black Americans in 1959 who thought – hey whatever, I’m alright, I’ve got enough money, I don’t get hassle when I walk down the street, I can do what I want to do – let’s leave it there.

Some of those people probably didn’t bother with the Civil Rights movement becasue they thought they were just stirring up trouble. Looking back, though, wouldn’t you be ashamed that you didn’t stand for something you believed in? Lots of white people marched with the civil rights movement, lots of straight people support gay rights and gay pride.

If you’re not a flag-waver, don’t wave flags, don’t wear rainbows if you don’t want to: but do let yourself be gay. And do allow it to be more than sex.

This all leads into the murky waters of what gay identity and culture is and what it should be. Well I could rattle off ten films and books and eight behavioural stereotypes, but if you don’t like what’s out there already – make some new stuff. Make new gay culture. Do what you do and if you do it as a gay person and let it be counted – hey, that’s amazing. It gives the rest of us more choice and a much richer culture to define ourselves in.

There’s an obvious parallel in the arguments surrounding what it means to be British – it encompasses a lot of crap as well as good stuff. But you just have to delve in, find the people and the traits that you are proud to be identified with and identify yourself as that.

Lecture over.