Undress Casual

I have news. Big news. Are you ready? Are you sitting down?

Straight people have discovered casual sex. Well, not casual sex, exactly (I think they got that message in the 70s, along with disco and bell bottoms), just a recognition of its health benefits. Apparently, it took a group of academics to reveal to the world that casual sex is good for your mental health. And the media decided that it’s news.

Who’d have thunk it?

When gay men started sleeping around (and around) in the 70s, we were superficial, promiscuous, incapable of mature relationships. When straight people start doing it, it’s suddenly a wellness program.

I suppose it was inevitable. First we introduced the world to disco. “Hello, straight people, meet Gloria Gaynor. … You’re welcome.”

Not that we ever got so much as a thank you. It seems that every trend, from facial hair to Bette Midler to the cosmo, is greeted by mainstream America at least 5 years after it was all the rage in the gay community—and always with the gay backstory ignored. It’s as if a forest of trees were falling silently for decades just because there were no straight ears to hear them. (I challenge you to ask the average Bette Midler fan what a bathhouse is.)

Interestingly enough, by the time most of these trends become hot in the straight world, they’ve already gone cold among the gays. (Bette, sure, she can stay—but cosmos, oh please.) Frankly, it’s a chicken-or-egg mystery: sometimes we give up on the trend less because we’re bored than because … well, style being what it is, such things just aren’t interesting when everyone’s doing them.

Except for this one. Casual sex is a trend that I don’t see the gays giving up anytime soon. The jury, however, is still out on straights.

The researchers could have saved a lot of trouble just by asking us. If you want to know the benefits of casual sex, Dr. Feelgood, come to the source. We didn’t invent bathhouses, back rooms, pick-up bars, sex clubs, and hook-up apps as a route to the Nobel Prize. We invented them because they’re fun. Because casual sex offers a break from the stress of life.

The problem, of course, is that our larger society—and in particular, the religious wing that is intent on controlling everything and wrenching the fun out of dysfunction—has done too good of a job of convincing people that sex is primarily for making babies and filing joint tax returns. They want you to believe that the term casual sex is an oxymoron. For ages, casual sex was considered a sign of inadequacy (especially for women, of course), a futile attempt to fill a psychic hole (no pun intended).

But that’s not what it was for gay men. For gay men, casual sex has always been about having fun—guilt-free fun. And fun is good for you. When you do something for no other reason than to have a good time, it has benefits to your mental health. Like roller coasters, cotton candy, or the sacred trinity of straight men everywhere: football, baseball, and basketball. Or, for women, I don’t know, shoe shopping.

Don’t get me wrong. Emotional sex has its place. And god knows that in the long run, there’s nothing better for your mental health than a solid relationship, a safe space to rely on. But as anyone who’s ever been in a relationship for long knows all too well, sex between lovers can fall prey to its own challenges: routine, dissatisfaction, unnecessary complication. You may be reluctant to ask for what you want sexually, lest you come across as dirty-minded, or overly critical of your lover’s performance. And let’s not forget that sex between lovers can be used as a weapon—albeit, in such circumstances, the weapon typically lies in not using it.

And then there’s that other hallmark of the “proper” relationship: the misguided equation of sex and love, the expectation that sex always has to be tender and heart-based, with a background of soft jazz and rose petals. But let’s face it, sometimes you just want to fuck.

And just fucking, as we’ve finally been officially told, is good for you. It’s a stress reliever, sure, but also—and paradoxically—a chance for human connection, albeit on a fleeting level. Sex with anyone—lover or stranger—has the potential to create moments of tremendous connection, an awareness of our common humanity. It wouldn’t be hard to argue, in fact, that sex with strangers has more to teach us in that regard than sex with our most intimate lovers. That sort of connection and giving is easy with someone you love. But when all you share with someone is physical attraction and your common humanity, the momentary feeling of kinship that sex affords can be pretty earth-shattering.

Finally, the word is out. The benefits of casual sex are too good to be kept secret.
Welcome to the party.

 

Homozilla

When I was in ninth grade, Danny O’Donnell picked on me one too many times.  He was by no means the first person to call me a faggot, but he was most certainly one of the last.  For whatever reason, that day I had had enough.  He said it again, and I pushed him—in front of everyone, just before the beginning of class.

He fell to the floor, nearly knocking over a desk or two in the process, and the stunned look on his face made it clear that, for him, the thought of a faggot fighting back called the rules of the universe into question.

The incident had a corollary effect on me.  At that moment, as Danny stumbled to his feet, I was riven by a combination of fear and shame.  I was afraid of what he would do to me now, if only to save face after a very public humiliation.  But I was even more afraid of what had come out of me, and disappointed that I had given in to it.  I had tried diplomacy, and it had never worked—not with Danny, nor with any of my other schoolhouse tormentors.  By process of elimination, violence had become my only recourse.  And yet it felt disjunctive, like using a fire extinguisher on a cigarette lighter.

In those days, there was only one way to deal with a bully:  give him a piece of his own medicine.  These days, the process is a little subtler:  you shame him on social media or threaten a boycott.

I was reminded of Danny when I heard that Brendan Eich had resigned as CEO of Mozilla in the wake of controversy surrounding his views on marriage equality.  I have no sympathy for a man who declared my civil rights his personal business by donating $1,000 to the Prop 8 campaign.  And his avowal that Mozilla would remain inclusive under his leadership rang hollow given his refusal to state his current opinion on the issue.  But somehow I cringed a bit to think that he had been forced out of his position because of something that, on its face, had nothing to do with job performance.

After I sent him tumbling to the floor, Danny O’Donnell never bothered me again.  I won’t say I earned his respect or that we became friends.  But he left me alone.  So you could say my outburst succeeded.  I achieved my aim.  I just didn’t feel too good about it.

Seeing someone get his just desserts isn’t always sweet.  On one hand it’s wonderful to find that gay rights have become so mainstream that you can lose your job for opposing them.  On the other hand, when it comes to his job, it’s kind of … well, irrelevant what Eich’s beliefs are unless he uses them to harm his employees.  (Are you listening, Hobby Lobby?)

But CEOs aren’t like you and me, and it’s not just because they make 500 times our salary.  CEO is more than a job:  it’s the face of the brand.  Barilla Pasta and Chick-fil-A have learned that the hard way.  But it’s kind of sad that it has to come to this.  It’s sad that Brendan Eich and Danny O’Donnell both have to be tossed on their asses in order to learn a lesson about respect.

 

Reasons to Be Gay

Straight people haven’t cornered the market on disbelief at how the other half lives.  Sometimes I don’t get them, either.

I recently saw an excellent production of Neil LaBute’s play Reasons to Be Pretty at the San Francisco Playhouse—three years after its run on Broadway, but just weeks ahead of the New York premiere of the sequel, ironically entitled Reasons to Be Happy.  Five minutes into act 1, I was not happy:  I wanted the protagonist to pull out a gun and shoot his screeching, obviously deranged girlfriend in the head and put us all out of her misery.

Said girlfriend, Steph, was incensed to learn that Greg had been overheard describing her as “regular-looking,” in contrast to another woman, whom he deemed “pretty.”  That was enough to make her go ballistic and set in motion the demise of their relationship.

I sat through the entire first act in a combination of anger and disbelief.  Neil LaBute will do that to you:  he’s a genius at it.  As the act went on, it became clear that Greg could have called Steph a moron, a terrorist, or a tasteless tramp, and not endured this much wrath.  This woman really believed that “regular-looking” was the ultimate insult.

I just didn’t get it.  Neither did the gay male friend I was with.  So at intermission, I decided to do a little research.  I struck up a conversation with a guy by the bar who seemed straight (an increasingly difficult feat of identification these days, particularly in San Francisco).  Much to my relief, he shared my horror at Steph’s behavior, but was less surprised by it.  A moment later, his own girlfriend arrived.  (I suppose I shouldn’t indicate whether I found her pretty, but why should she care what a gay guy thinks, anyway?)  She was notably less emotional about the whole issue.  She agreed that Steph’s behavior was extreme, but she didn’t completely disavow her motivation.  And she cut off the conversation rather quickly to pull her boyfriend away.  (Maybe it was the subject matter, or maybe she just didn’t want to waste date night chatting with a stranger.)

That appeared to be the consensus among the straight members of the audience:  Steph’s obsession with how she looked (or, more precisely, how she was perceived) was extreme, but not unheard of.  At one point, Steph even tells Greg that the greater sin isn’t thinking her un-pretty but saying it out loud.  Her self-esteem is profoundly wrapped up in her appearance.

While I’ve certainly seen my share of gym bunnies who spend countless hours pumping up and tweaking their hair into gel-soaked hillocks, I’ve never known a man—gay or straight—whose ego so deeply depended upon being perceived as attractive.

As I watched Greg sit through Steph’s histrionics and allow himself to be berated through two off-the-wall soliloquies (one in public), I found myself wondering why he put up with it.  If I’m to believe that the relationship in the play is to any degree representative of real life, the disconnect between the sexes can be pretty profound—I mean, quite profound.

I wanted to jump onto the stage and tell Greg there’s another way.  I wanted to give him Reasons to Be Gay:

  1. Objects attract.  Gay men are like straight men in one crucial way:  they love to objectify the people they’re attracted to.  The difference is that—in my experience, at least—men don’t much mind being treated like a sex object.  And when the subject can identify with the object, is it still objectification?
  2. Empathy, emotional.  Freud said it best:  What do women want?  Straight men spend their lives trying to answer that question.  But what gay man has ever had to ask himself, What do men want?  You just know—it cuts down on the eggshell walking.
  3. Empathy, physical.  Having the same equipment just makes it easier to know what your lover might like.  I saw the movie Hope Springs recently, and I’m still trying to wash out of my memory the image of Meryl Streep staring at a banana while reading the book Sex Tips for Straight Women from a Gay Man.  If you gotta ask …
  4. Cut down on ironing.  If you happen to be the same size, then in a pinch, you can wear your lover’s clothes.

There’s another moment in Hope Springs (I can’t believe I’m quoting this movie twice in one post) that strikes a much more serious note.  To rejuvenate their relationship, Meryl’s character stages a romantic scene, which comes off without a hitch.  She and Tommy Lee (Jones, not the rock star) begin to make love.  But then he opens his eyes, looks into hers, and promptly loses his erection.

The moment is never explained, but she is clearly convinced that he doesn’t find her attractive.  The truth, I believe, is a lot more complex.  Looking someone in the eye is extremely intimate, especially during sex—and intimacy is clearly this man’s problem, far more than sex itself.  Intimacy—the prospect of being seen, truly seen—scares a lot of people, particularly men.

Gay men may have it easier when it comes to the physical part of sex.  According to statistics I’ve heard, straight men have sex with an average of 6-8 people in their lifetimes.  For gay men, that’s a slow summer in their thirties.

But when it comes to emotional intimacy, I think it’s fair to say that we are men first, and gay second.  It’s not just that the grass is greener in the other yard.  It’s that the gardener in that new yard doesn’t ask as many questions of us, or have as many expectations.  It’s a lot easier to share your body than it is to share your heart.  That takes time, and patience.

So if the rituals of heterosexual courtship still puzzle me, it’s not because I don’t understand straight men or don’t understand straight women.  It’s that I marvel at their ability to bridge those gaps and still make it work.  Sometimes.  Half the time, I guess, if we’re to believe the divorce statistics.

In the end, we all have our challenges.  Sex might be easier for some of us, but relationships are another story.  Nobody gets away from those without a few scars.

It was fun in the old days, looking men in the chest, the crotch, every part of their anatomy except the eyes.  And fun was a reason to be happy.  But now, when I look intimacy right in the face, I have a reason to be real.

An Open Letter to John Boehner

Dear Mr. Speaker:

While I don’t reside in your congressional district and do not share your party affiliation, I am still affected by your actions as Speaker of the House. As a concerned citizen, I feel compelled to tell you how strongly I disapprove of your refusal to end the government shutdown. I don’t need to remind you that the votes are there, and that you alone have the power to end this fiasco right now. Instead of doing the right thing, you appear to be pandering to the extreme right wing of your party, who clearly have no respect for the democratic process. The ACA is the law. It was approved by both houses of Congress, signed by the President, and affirmed by the Supreme Court. You are, in effect, holding the government budget hostage because the Republicans didn’t get their way. Sorry, Mr. Speaker, but disappointment is one of the byproducts of democracy. As Abraham Lincoln said, you can’t please all of the people all of the time.

In order to win elections, the GOP has coopted the ignorant, in the form of the Tea Party, and you are now paying the price. A true leader is a person who educates, not one who bends to the tyranny of the clueless. If you fear being primaried, then motivate the responsible voters in your party, or bring the Tea Party out of its willful ignorance. Don’t make the rest of the country suffer while you go through a family squabble.

 

Call Me Mostly: The New Sexual Label

I never thought I’d become the kind of person who shakes his head in confusion and mumbles, “Kids today.”

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I’ve gotten used to the fact that technology moves too quickly to keep up with—although that phenomenon seems two parts creativity and one part greed, with planned obsolescence built into each new gadget so we’ll all be back in line within a couple of years for the latest must-have replacement.

What I didn’t see coming was the increasing complexity of sexual labeling.  It’s as if the closet door has turned into a revolving door, and it’s spinning off its hinges.

In my day (as the curmudgeon in me would say), we had two kinds of people:  straight and gay.  And, except for a certain weekend in June, the gays were pretty quiet.

Once the closet doors flew open, though, all sorts of things started happening.  Bisexuals, who were once believed to be only homosexuals in disguise (need I say more than “Elton John”?), suddenly began demonstrating their own bona fides.  And before long, transgenders joined the fray.  Not to be confused with the transsexuals of yore, from Christine Jorgensen on.  In fact, I’m not even sure anyone uses the term transsexual anymore, but that’s another story.  As someone who finds a huge difference between sex (a biological phenomenon) and gender (a social construct), I think there’s an argument to be made for keeping both terms in circulation.

Ah, the simple days, when a man’s sexual identity was defined by whether he preferred to give or receive a blowjob.

No sooner do I get introduced to the term gaybro—which, as far as I can tell, is meant to identify gay men who are afraid of being perceived as less than masculine just because of their sexual orientation—than all hell breaks loose with “mostly straight.”

While bisexual used to define the space between hetero and homo, apparently we now need to get (to borrow a term from corporatespeak) more granular.  “Mostly straight” is intended to fill the gap between straight and bisexual, describing those guys who prefer sex with women but are open to, just every once in a while, dabbling in a little male bonding (with or without physical intimacy).

As far as I can tell, gaybro and mostly straight are terms invented by the men who embrace them, most of whom seem to think they’re describing an entirely new phenomenon.  But of course, young people throughout history—and none more so than the millennials—think they’ve invented everything.  If you believe the people in these articles, until around 2010 all male homosexuals were flaming queens, and all bisexuals were interested 50/50 in men and women.

There’s something quite off-putting about both of these so-called movements, which have in common a desire to distance themselves from perceived effeminacy.  Again, that pesky link between gender and sexuality—as if putting your feet in the air or attending the opera makes you less of a man.

The millennials have impressively proved themselves quite accepting of sexual diversity, and they are widely credited with shifting this culture’s attitude toward marriage equality.  In fact, they are often heard to decry the use of sexual labels, which makes this new phenomenon a bit ironic and a bit disturbing.

The truth is that nature loves increasing diversity, and it always has.  That’s what evolution is all about:  each new species spawns a number of new ones, and so on, and so on, like a shampoo commercial.  (And for the record, I find Heather Locklear extremely sexy.)

The sexual diversity we see around us today is nothing new.  But the discussion of it is.  The labeling is.

When you embrace labels to define yourself, you are simultaneously labeling the other—indeed, positing the existence of an other.  “Mostly straight” suggests that someone else is “mostly gay.”  And the need to label suggests to me that the former doesn’t want to be besmirched by being thought the latter.

My old curmudgeon wants to stick his head out the window and scream, “Then get the heck out of my yard!”

Balls

Okay, so here’s how gay I am:  before today, I had no idea who Jason Collins was.  In fact, when I first saw his name on Facebook, I thought it was a typo for Joan Collins.  (To be fair, it was in a post from one of my more glamorous friends, so the immediate image of Alexis Carrington Colby in my mind’s eye was not entirely unreasonable.)

Jason Collins—Stanford graduate, friend of Chelsea Clinton—was, before today, most famous for playing professional basketball.  Now he’s even more famous for being the first American athlete in a “major” sport (figure skating, for obvious reasons, doesn’t count) to come out of the closet while still playing.  In other words, he’s the most ballsy athlete in the world.

And a remarkably eloquent one, too.  (But then again, he did go to Stanford.)  His coming-out essay in Sports Illustrated is a must-read.  In fact, Jason Collins made me rethink my knee-jerk assumption about the mental capacity of athletes. 

But, not to worry:  along comes Mike Wallace.

Something else I learned today:  there’s another Mike Wallace.  This isn’t the crotchety old white guy who used to corner corrupt businessmen and government officials every Sunday on 60 Minutes.  No, this Mike Wallace is a wide receiver for the Miami Dolphins.  And he’s not quite as articulate as either his namesake or Mr. Collins. 

Granted, Twitter doesn’t allow enough characters for most people to be eloquent, but Mike tried his best.  After Jason’s coming-out, here’s what he had to say:

“All these beautiful women in the world and guys wanna mess with other guys SMH…”

Another thing I learned today:  apparently, “SMH” is tweetspeak for “shaking my head.”  I wonder if Mike’s rattles when he does that.

The stupidity of this statement boggles my Ivy League brain.  Essentially, Mike thinks that the sheer beauty of women—and the fact that, as an athlete, he could have any of them—should be enough to make Jason an avid heterosexual.  Who wouldn’t want to sleep with all those beautiful girls?

I wonder if Mike would ask Angelina Jolie this question.  Why on earth would Angelina want Brad Pitt when she could have Beyoncé?

And why would Jason want George Clooney when he could have all those Hooters waitresses?

But you can’t expect logic from homophobes.  Rationalization, yes.  Logic, no way.

For one thing, in the world of most macho homophobes, disgust with homosexuality is pretty one-sided—if the popularity of lesbian porn among straight men tells us anything.

What Mike Wallace truly exemplifies is a complete lack of empathy.  I suppose he thinks Jason’s crazy for preferring basketball to football, too.  The ability to imagine that there’s another world out there different from his own is apparently beyond him.

But before you start casting aspersions against somebody, it’s a good idea to see if your house is made of glass.  I mean, come on, when your job title is “wide receiver,” should you really be making fun of someone else’s sex life?