is it *just* about sex?

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.


3 thoughts on “Why being gay is more than just who you have sex with”

  1. Is it not also, perhaps, discomfiting because being gay is (as situational homosexuality shows) less about the ability to perform a particular sex act, or to choose a particular gender for one’s sexual partners, but instead about whom one chooses to build a life with. Relationships are not just sex and shared rent but an interaction with a social matrix which either includes or rejects one. This has both political ramifications–as your friends noted–and a more pervasive everyday influence of deciding how one lives. The ease to which you are able to hold hands in the street isn’t all that easy if it is still viewed as a privilege but, on the flip side, you may be forced to spend years referring to your beloved as ‘they’ if you work in a homophobic environment; to say that has no effect on one’s life is deeply foolish.

    So yes, community, rights, and voice are critical to a gay life which can see past the end of its nose, but even if one cannot extrapolate from one’s own existence there are good reasons not to act as if one’s heart and one’s mortgage were unaffected by the whims of one’s genitals.

  2. Tricky stuff… I think you’re pointing out a general problem of identity politics, which is that banding together as a particular group and making your voice heard is necessary as long as this particular group of people is treated differently (read: unfairly) by society, law etc.

    Yes, it would be lovely to live in a world where any form of identity – race, gender, sexual preference and whatnot – is regarded as a spectrum rather than separate boxes. A society in which the question of who you’re having sex with is as insignificant as your favorite kind of ice cream. I would love to live in a world in which all these identity labels have become superfluous, but unfortunately, we’re not there yet.

    Different example: I don’t really like the fact that people get sorted into boxes according to their genitals. I don’t think there’s “us women” and “them men” and “woman” is a word to describe my body, but it means as much or little for my personal identity as the color of my eyes. However, “women” is a group of people that still faces extreme challenges in many areas of our society, and as long as this is the case, it is necessary to fight for the rights of “women”.

    Me, I’m just human. But as long as society wants to stick funny labels on me and as long as some of these labels make life harder for me in some respects, it is necessary to stand up and fight these inequalities.

    I hope that one day, we’ll all be content to simply see each other as human – without having to bother about the particular kind of flavor.

  3. If it’s only about sex I could do that by myself.But it’s the way the sexes are wired we maybe equal but we definitely don’t think alike.Women have estrogen and men have testosterone.It has to do more with biology.Men are easier satisfied than women.Once a man has an orgasm everything is beautiful.And that’s it. I don”t know how women feel after the act because I’m 47 and never had sex with a women and have no desire to.If If have no desire to do something why should I do it.I’ve had plenty of women say they would give some to me if I want.This is a sad state of affairs when all you have to offer is sex.China India and Russia are headed for an AIDS catastrophe.Read the article The Future of AIDS on here but it seems like people just don’t care or they think it won’t happen to them.But the truth of the matter is AIDS will be this centuries number one infectious disease.And we will all pay the cost.

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