A couple of years ago, my partner and I decided that 25 years was long enough to live in sin, so we got hitched at one of those City Hall group-commitment-ceremony extravaganzas. Despite our initial ambivalence, the ceremony was actually rather lovely. And then we headed down to the reception. The party room featured a photo display titled “Love Makes a Family,” or something close. The photos all pictured pair-bonded same sex couples embracing at least one child.
Even then, even there, I felt marginalized. I did not see myself in those pictures. I did not see what would have passed as my partner’s and my “family” at the time, which included me, William, his two long-term fuckbuddies, the young man I was tying up and spanking, and an extended family of other tricks, nonsexual pals, and sometimes-fuckbuds. The fix was in. We sluts were second-class queers. The good girls held sway. Sodomy had gone from being a threat to het power to a laugh-tracked joke on Will and Grace.
In May of 2002, ABC’s Nightline devoted a week to queer-themed programming, featuring what seemed like an endless succession of gay and lesbian couples proclaiming to straight America that, gee, we’re just like you, except we have matching genitalia. It would have been refreshing if at least a couple of gay men had been able to point out that though most all queers do indeed have a lot in common with straight society, a notable number of us have a whole lot of sex partners and/or wide-open relationships, and still manage to live happy, fulfilled lives. Assiduously dull Ted Koppel will praise sex clubs and anonymous tricking only after Hell has acquired a nice thick layer of ice. But he sounded like a flaming libertine compared to the good-girl queers on the show, such as the nice old gent who declared that being gay was only incidentally about actually having sex, or the lesbian who denounced the goings-on at pride parades in tones worthy of Pat Robertson.
The public, civil-rightsy, fund-raising, PFLAGed face of queer America doth strive mightily to make us all sound respectable as can be. “AIDS has taught us a terrible lesson, and so we’ve decided to grow up and lead sex lives as unadventurous and inoffensive as, well, the rest of you.” But you can only hold your breath for so long. A funny thing happened on the way to respectability. Lots of gay men starting having sexagain. Lots of sex.
And, as any female-to-male transsexual can tell you, testosterone gives guys the souls of sex pigs, no matter how polished the facade; even conservative homo Andrew Sullivan, who’d been hectoring us to grow up and settle down, got caught posting ads on a barebacking Website.
But most of all, the gay sluts are back because sexual pleasure, the giving and taking of erotic delight, is just plain (if not simply) good. That’s not to say that all the club boys are tweaking toward Utopia. There are plenty of serpents in Eden redux: drug-resistant gonorrhea, rampant speed addiction, sex that’s not just promiscuous but harmfully compulsive. Most alarmingly, there’s been a quantum increase in unprotected anal sex, not only between those already HIV-infected, but amongst the not-yets as well. The people I’ve spoken to who work in AIDS prevention programs do indeed confirm what we all already knew: queer men are having more sex, and less of it is condomized. One artist who’s celebrated the gay sexual underground for the last quarter century says, “I thought we’d learned something, but apparently we have to go through it all again. It’s like watching the replay of a train wreck, in slow motion.”
One argument for gay marriage is that officially ennobling (theoretically monogamous) male-male relationships would decrease“promiscuity” and thereby reduce HIV infections. The theory may well have a grain of truth, but it recruits the virus to enforce moralistic notions that Good Girls Say No, and fuck that. “The consequences of nonmonogamy are terrible,” says Dr. Tom Coburn, one of George Dubbya’s chief AIDS advisors. “It tears up relationships and can make people vulnerable to STDs.” Well, sure, the STD thing is true: lifelong monogamy is a damn good way to guard against anal warts. But there’s clearly a moralizing agenda at work here, too, the kind of antisex Pecksniffery that makes some of us want to go out and get gang-banged--with condoms-- just for the hell of it.
So how to keep queer men safer while not joining hands with the anti-sexers and homophobes? It can be a delicate balancing act; public health officials who sound even a little alarmist about the current state of affairs have been lambasted by more than a few queers.
Gay sluts are back, god bless ‘em, a little bedraggled, maybe, but bravely marching toward the future, hard-ons in hand. The renaissance of unapologetic homolust is not without risks, but neither is it without rewards. All sorts of things are life-threatening--cigarettes, Big Macs, SUVs--but few are nearly as much fun as getting fucked.
Yes, I’m thoroughly happy to be in a wonderful very-long-term relationship with a great guy. But I’m also totally thrilled that I’ve had sex with hundreds of men in my lifetime. (Maybe even more, but who’s keeping count?) Men are like snowflakes; no two are alike. And each has something to offer. One of the great things about being a pariah is that you don’t have to play by the rules. And one of the best things about being a queer man, better than going to Palm Springs or idolizing Cher, is having sex with other men, be it one in a lifetime or three in one night.
Cocksucking will most likely never regain its revolutionary cachet. But gay sexuality, once exiled to medical journals and would-be marriage beds, is back where it belongs--in queer hearts, minds, souls, bedrooms, backrooms, tearooms, sex clubs, dark parks, bright beaches, honeymoon suites, cheap hotels, bus stops, locker rooms, and wherever else two men look at each other and think, “Oh,yummy.” So tonight, my dear and wonderful, brave and foolish fellow sluts, let’s all make love in San Francisco. And live to tell the tale.
Originally published in The San Francisco Bay Guardian, June 26, 2002.
I discovered, via Google, a rightwing attack on the above article. Being the fairminded, judicious soul that I am, I found the criticisms to be rather utterly full of crap. But don't take my word for it. Read my response right here.