Beyond Sin: The New Gay Sex

"Homosociality was a commonplace, accepted and indeed expected. Pushing the boundary into sin, however, was sodomy," says Benedict. Credits: YouTube

“Homosociality was a commonplace, accepted and indeed expected. Pushing the boundary into sin, however, was sodomy,” says Benedict. Credits: YouTube

Bodies, and what we do with them…

When I came out, at the ripe old age of fourteen, there was one question which I was asked again and again, in a wide variety of different phrases or levels of coyness. The simple question was ‘Top or bottom?’ Almost everyone I even vaguely knew at school would ask it in different guises – ‘Would you be the dominant one or the submissive one?’; ‘How would you decide who’s the guy and who’s the girl?’ The second one was particularly odd – I had, after all, just come out as gay, so I’d have assumed that that answered the question.

It’s strange to think now that I took such questions in my stride, without embarrassment. Often now the enquiry is prefaced by something like: ‘Are you … sorry no, it doesn’t matter, it’s quite personal’, by some of my closest friends. I’ve never felt any embarrassment in answering the question, perhaps because my sensitivities to subjects of this sort were moulded by my growing up openly gay in an all-male (very) heterosexual school, generally accepting, and open and innocent in its prurient curiosities.

The point I’m trying to make, however, is that it is something of an obsession. Stephen Fry, in his first autobiography Moab is my Washpot, says something to the effect of: ‘What really gets the gay-hater is not sex between men, but love.’ I’m inclined to think the opposite. What for centuries has ‘got’ what historically might more accurately be called the ‘sodomite-hater’ is sex. Before the existence of homosexuality as a definition for an identity, before the twentieth century (and beyond, to now, concurrent with modern sexuality), all of this came down to irreducible acts. Love between men was commonplace – in the sixteenth century men in Cambridge would share beds, spend all their time together, get up to all sorts no doubt, and not be condemnable because homosociality was a commonplace, accepted and indeed expected. Pushing the boundary into sin, however, was sodomy.

I wonder how very different it is today. I wonder, really, if a stranger knows I’m gay (an overheard conversation, a particularly camp gesture: yet surely coming out is being unafraid of anyone in the world knowing…?), if a stranger has a moment of realisation, what flashes through their mind? What images of what acts evade suppression and form in their head?

I have liked on Facebook the page of Attitude, ‘the UK’s No. 1 bestselling gay lifestyle magazine’. Popping up on my newsfeed every day are pictures of naked or semi-naked men, often with a caption such as ‘happy 32nd birthday to X – to celebrate, we give you some of his hottest moments.’ Fine, nice – my daily fix of eye-candy. And yet, my computer cluttered with photographs of almost-invariably straight men, what prevails is a sense of discomfort. On the cover of the magazine a heterosexual celebrity with oiled pectorals and bulging boxers meets my stare with his: what is he saying? Look at me, enjoy me, I have done this for you. Acknowledge my universal appeal – on this subject we can all agree. His stare is a pornographic accusation, like, when actually watching porn, one stops to think that perhaps the person is straight, perhaps he’s doing it for the money, hating every second, and then one feels guilty and stupid. By asserting that male attractiveness is universal, Attitude makes me feel like an outcast. The man doesn’t – will never, probably – do what I do, so what am I doing looking at him, and him at me?

Where am I then? When I feel that sexual acts define me I become uncomfortable, but when their existence is denied, I am uncomfortable as well. The most poisonous, devastating and current example of acts defining the homosexual is AIDS. In the 1980s policemen, when raiding a gay club, would wear gloves to prevent scratches and wounds from the clientele, would push them to the ground in case they spat in their mouths. This is not fear of love; this is fear of what gay sex had come to mean. The gay man as a poisonous body, a walking dead, because of sexual acts. I’m not going to comment on how far this has changed, but if this presentation of gay men has ceased in the media, then there is nonetheless a spectre which stalks the world and the conscience, which defies words and yet gives a new meaning to them, which denies sex but changes it irreparably.

We are each of us defined by what we do with our bodies, whether we put ink onto our skin or holes through extremities, how we walk, where we choose to stick it or have it stuck, or not. Denying it, as Attitude does, isn’t progression but alienation. I think it was Jean Genet who said: ‘The last thing I want is to be accepted’. What is needed is reclamation, and on one’s own terms. To imbue the queer body with a symbolism not of sin, or disease, but of something else, something other. It is that body because of its actions, it is your body because of yours. Maybe it’s as simple as that.

Benedict Hawkins

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