There's more to being gay than anal penetration

Public portrayals of gay men are highly sexualized, often centred around anal penetration. Sex is shown as quintessential; intimacy, dispensible.

Edgar Rodriguez
7 March 2016
He did the only thing I never predicted: he kissed my lips. Credit: Getty Images/Steve Eason.

He did the only thing I never predicted: he kissed my lips. Credit: Getty Images/Steve Eason.

1996 in Mexico City. The sports club I used to attend hired a new aerobics instructor; Alfred, a blond, sculptural man who would add excitement to my suburban teenage years.

One day Alfred gave me a gift: a badge with his name printed on from the ‘Centro Benessere Spa'Deus’, possession dating from his time in Italy. White letters on a green plastic card. His name was written on the badge in the same way I wrote it in my life: in capitals.

That gift triggered a thought that teased me for months: he feels attracted to me”. Yet I did not want to misinterpret him and then be ‘outed’ and ridiculed if he was not gay. Homophobic insults such as ‘puto’, ‘puñal’, and ‘maricón’ were commonplace.

Same-sex marriage is legal in Mexico City, it has been since 2009 and in the rest of the country since 2015, but legal actions are not enough to guarantee that we can safely be openly gay. While the Supreme Court discreetly recognized same-sex marriages, Mexico was 2nd in the world for homophobic crimes. Civil rights are fragile because the real problem, homophobia, is still present even in countries where same-sex relationships are legally accepted. Back in 1996, I did not think that inviting Alfred on a date was a good option.

Unintentionally, my mother and my girlfriend gave me the key that opened the door of my gay world. For my 16th birthday, they gave me each a bottle of my favourite perfume. Since Alfred’s birthday was approaching, I gave him one of the bottles as a present. His response was unexpected.

Would you like to go to my flat? I share with my cousin but she’s not at home now”, Alfred asked me while we walked from the locker room to the showers.

“I’d like to go… but it’s late and I have to go home”, I said, ashamed of my childish response.

Although I felt excited about being with that worldly man, and I spent a sleepless night thinking of our naked bodies entering each other’s, anticipating my first homosexual experience was nerve-racking. Thanks to a conference I had attended in high school, what I knew about sex was that it could be a source of infections. Images of unhealthy genitals haunted me, all of them very frightening. But not frightening enough to stop a teenager who was exhilarated to be with the man that made him feel he was not alone in the world.

The day after, I ended up at his flat. He locked the door. My teeth were clacking. A cold sensation ran across my skin. He approached, stood in front of me, and did the unimagined, the only thing I never predicted, a single act that changed my whole vision of homosexuality: he kissed my lips.

The public portrayal of gay men is highly sexualized, often centred on phallocentric sex and anal penetration. Sex is shown as quintessential; intimacy, dispensible. I was unprepared for his lips.

 On his bed, the buttons of my shirt were undone, his t-shirt fell off, and we discovered our bodies. The warmth of his bare chest touching mine. When penetrative sex felt close, Alfred asked me if I had done it before. When I answered no’, he cuddled me, and paid more attention to my emotions than to my body. Enjoyment without ejaculations.

Two months later, with a ten-page letter declaring my love, I asked him to be my boyfriend. But he was kind and no more: the transformation of kindness into love never occurred. I burst into tears when the same mouth that had kissed me before, told me then,

“I can’t be in a relationship with you, I’m 27, you’re a teenager and our lives are at very different stages… And I’m in relationship with a doctor.”

Barbicans, walls, and towers: his voice demolished the castle I had constructed for us. He put full stop to my fabricated ‘happily ever after story’ with a four-statement speech I remember well:

“(1) You’re feeling that way because I’m the first one; (2) you think you love me because you just discovered sex, but (3) throughout your life you’ll find many men to enjoy sex, and (4) eventually someone marvellous around your age who will be happy to be your boyfriend.”

I never believed it would happen but the years proved him right in three out of his four statements. He failed on only one. I didn't love him because I discovered sex with him, I loved him because he showed me intimacy, I loved him because he gave me an encounter with his kindness and not only with his desire.

Through this story I want to bring intimacy to the forefront of discussions around gay and bisexual male identity. I believe it can contribute to a social transformation for a richer understanding of what being gay or bi means.

I suggest challenging the usage of the word ‘sexuality’ to convey what LGBT means. Being LGBT is more than our sexuality and sexuality is not the same than intimacy. Lack of intimacy can sometimes impact us negatively. For a number of gay teenagers, first times can involve careless partners, aggression, unsafe places and practices, coercion, and regret. The potential for more is difficult to find within a term, 'homosexuality', that contains in itself an immediate reference to sexual activity and makes little room for other types of connectedness.

Similarly, I suggest the usage of ‘identity’ rather than ‘sexual orientation’. The American Psychological Association calls ‘sexual orientation’ to the erotic and romantic attractions for people of a particular gender but, I argue that this term lacks content to describe the experience of being LGBT. Being part of the LGBT population can touch upon language, cultural expressions, family stories, coming out stories, geography, and a number of elements that take our subjectivities beyond sexual aspects.

By reducing LGBT identities to a sexual orientation, we might be setting intimacy aside. And whether intimate experiences are lasting relationships or ephemeral encounters, it should be a positive part of our experiences with others.


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