Op/Ed: Sex-Shaming in the LGBTQ Community Is Threatening to Tear Us Apart
“It’s just gross,” Chris was saying. “He’s complete trash. A total human dumpster.”
We were at Precinct, a queer club in Downtown L.A. I was surprised by Chris’s reaction, and the vehemence of it.
“Maybe he’s just having fun,” I said.
We were talking about a friend. We’ll call him Frank. Videos of Frank had appeared online recently: Frank at a sex party in Palm Springs. Frank was having lots of open and explicit sex.
“He isn’t having fun. It’s just sad. Gross. He’s a total sex addict, and if he isn’t a sex addict then he’s just a slut. I’m done with this guy. I don’t need people like that in my life.”
“Or maybe he’s just having a wild night,” I went on. “Who cares?”
“Who cares? He makes all of us look bad. He proves everything Republicans have ever said about gay guys to be true,” Chris said.
I’ve always hated this argument. Why is it my job, or Frank’s job, or anyone’s job to prove disparaging propaganda about gay people incorrect? Why do I have to adopt a way of living in line with people who don’t approve of my lifestyle? Just to prove them wrong? I don’t want to live my whole life defined by others’ expectations, whether those expectations are positive or negative.
Maybe Frank is just living his life and having a good time. Or maybe Frank is just a slut. So what? Why does it matter? If Frank wants to be a slut, what’s the big deal?
But it is a big deal. Sex, how often we have it and in what ways we have it is always a big deal.
For the past six years, until recently, I was in a very public and very open marriage. For two years of our marriage we were involved in a triad, meaning my husband and I lived with our boyfriend. I often wrote and talked about it as openly and honestly as I could. A few weeks ago, in response to a story I wrote about being HIV-positive and unashamed, I received this email:
I have read many of your stories about being poly and open, about being promiscuous, about being HIV-positive, and my only response: you reap what you sow. If you didn’t want AIDS you shouldn’t have been such a slut. I am sorry if that sounds harsh, but it is also the truth. This kind of sexually deviant behavior only leads to misery and sorrow. I am also a gay man. I have been married and in a monogamous relationship for the past 7 years. I believe as gay men we have an obligation to behave in certain ways. We have an obligation to show the mainstream world that we too can be normal, and live normal lives, and that we are not all sexual perverts. Your life is a celebration of sexual perversion. I think you should consider what it is you are saying about the rest of us.
I wanted to write back and ask, What the fuck does “normal” even mean? I’ve definitely not met any normal people in my life. Who gets to decide what is normal and what isn’t? And why does it matter if we don’t want to live a normal life? Why can’t we be as un-normal as possible and still be OK?
To be honest, I wish my life were a celebration of sexual perversion. That sounds kind of awesome.
I have always believed that how we choose to live our lives, both sexually and when it comes to our relationships, is deeply personal. There is no easy ‘one size fits all’ format when it comes to sexuality. There is no perfect way to be a married man. What matters is that we find what works for us, as individuals and couples. It’s important to find what makes us happy, and to live our lives in accordance with that.
I also believe that if you want to be a “slut” — if you want to go to orgies, or be in an open relationship, or get gang-banged and explore the frontiers of sexuality — then you should. As adults, we are allowed to make the choices that work best for us, and those choices should be respected.
In the current political climate under the Trump administration, the LGBTQ community is being subjected to discrimination and violence. There are attempts at major legal reversals of our basic rights. I accept that people living on the extremes of conservatism are going to equate our behavior with deviance and immorality, and they will see our behavior as a sickness. What I don’t accept is that other gay men will treat each other in that same way.
What I wanted to tell Chris is that it isn’t Frank’s behavior making us look bad as gay men; it’s the way we turn on each other, holding each other to heteronormative standards of behavior. We should stand together, and stand for each other’s right to fuck and love and behave how we want.
We have fought hard — for visibility, for the right to marry, for the right to live our lives how we see fit. We did not fight to be mainstream, and we did not fight to live according to heterosexual, conservative or religious values. We did not fight to be anything other than who we choose to be. That is what freedom is.
And we fought so that no one could have ownership over our sexuality and our bodies.
There are enough people out there who want to take ownership of us. Who want to define and control and legalize who and how we love, and define the limits of acceptability when it comes to our sexuality. People who would even try to decide whether or not our sexuality is valid. We, as a community, certainly don’t need to be doing that to each other. We should be celebrating the freedom to live our lives as openly, as brazenly, as quietly, as monogamously (or not) as possible.
Personally, I don’t want to assimilate. I don’t want to behave in “appropriate ways.” For me, that’s not what being queer is about.
Men have been appropriating women’s bodies for centuries, weighing in on how they should dress, forcing them to have babies they do not want, paying them less than men, discriminating against them in countless ways, treating them more like cattle than sexual human beings worthy of respect and admiration. As gay men, we can rise above this behavior and treat each other as worthy of respect and value.
And another thing: slut-shaming and sex-shaming are the number one tool politicians use against the queer community. They call us predators, compare us to pedophiles, refer to us as deviants and perverts or amoral, and they define us as infected with a sickness, not equal to heterosexuals. Because of our sexual activities we do not deserve even the most basic of rights. Why would we want to take on this same mentality when dealing with each other?
“If he continues to behave in this way, he will definitely get AIDS,” I recently heard someone say when discussing a mutual friend’s sexual promiscuity.
But that isn’t true. Sexual promiscuity won’t give you AIDS. Not taking safe-sex precautions — like PrEP or TasP, or using condoms — that’s what can potentially put someone at risk for HIV. The idea that someone deserves HIV — or any other STI — based on their sexual proclivities is heinous and offensive.
The past seven months has seen a continued assault on our community and what it means to be queer. Instead of attacking each other for our sexuality, we should be celebrating all the ways diversity and individuality are represented in our community. If you want to get married and be monogamous and raise kids, you should be able to do that, without fear of judgment and assault. If you want to be in an open relationship, dating and sleeping with guys other than your husband, then you should be allowed to do that.
Sex is fun, and having a lot of sex can be a lot of fun. But shaming each other — and feeling shame — for who we are and for celebrating our sexuality — that goes against what we’ve fought so hard for.
“I don’t know,” I said to Chris. “I think Frank is happy. At least he always seems happy when we’re hanging out. And I doubt he’s sitting around talking about us. He’s probably out there having fun. Or just living his life. Which seems pretty cool if you ask me.”
I’m not interested in defining someone based on the kind or the amount of sex they have. What we should be focusing on is how we are treating each other, because these are dark times and we are gonna need all the love and support we can get. Let’s work towards that, forgetting about judgment and moralizing and backstabbing. As far as I can tell, the only way we will survive what is happening out there in the world is as a community.
We won’t make it divided.
Jeff Leavell is a writer living between Los Angeles and Berlin. He specializes in queer social commentary, relationships, sexuality, art and Nightlife. His novel Accidental Warlocks will be released by Lethe Press in May 2018. You can find him at his website or on Instagram.
Featured image by RapidEye via iStock