From Issue 3.1 - September/October 1996
Straight as the Yellow Brick Road
Dear Mr. Ricketts:
I am wondering what other heterosexual men think and feel about playing with men. I have been giving some thought to this (but no action, as of yet). There must be het guys out there who have tried playing with men. Does it work? I see a strong tendency to put people in boxes -- het, bi, gay. So what about het men who play with each other or with gay men? At this time I have little interest in being bisexual, but that shouldn't stop me from playing with another man, even if it leaves me without a box, pardon the expression. -- CW
I'll make the puns around here, if you don't mind.
A few months have passed since your letter arrived and, in the intervening time, I've posed your question to a number of individuals -- including as an opening gambit in conversation with several potential future ex-boyfriends. Perhaps you will not be surprised to learn that, as boy-bait, it was a spectacular failure.
And that, I conjecture, is because the terror of sexual-orientation confusion is as widespread and as irrational as is the belief that the Republicans will balance the budget.
"Any straight man who has sex with another man can't be very straight," snarled one of my respondents. "In that case," I posited, "if a gay man has sex with a woman, he must really be heterosexual, right?" Well, that was enough to send him scuttling off to talk to someone with a more expensive haircut.
But as for your specific question -- "what do other heterosexual men think and feel about playing with men" -- you'd probably have to ask another heterosexual man, since I haven't been one since that rather drunken night 22 years ago in the parking lot of my apartment building. Perhaps some folks will write in with their personal experiences.
My suspicion, of course, is that there's a lot of what you describe going around. The SM scene has always been more polymorphous in its perversity than the vanilla crowd, and it wasn't entirely unheard of -- even in the bad old/good old days when Mr. Bensons roamed the earth -- for gay men, lesbians, and others who declined to state their genital preferences to play together at the same parties and in private. I suspect that today's kinky crowd is even less concerned with sexual-orientation labels -- at least when you get them behind closed doors. Too, since SM doesn't always involve genital sex, the issue may be less pressing. And if you're blindfolded, tied up, and gagged, does it really matter if the dick up your butt is real or Rubbermaid?
But you're right. How other people choose to get off is a subject of endless fascination for Americans, and there's no denying the emotional and political vexation that get churned up when you start suggesting that straight and gay don't really mean what everybody seems so sure they mean. Gender is no less racy -- nor is any distinction between people that is rigidly maintained and enforced -- and the intersection of gender and sexual orientation make for special electricity.
I recently met a young man, for instance, who liked to dress up more-or-less as a girl, go to parties, and get so drunk that some other man could shove him into a back bedroom and "force" him to suck cock. This young man insisted he was straight -- and the "scene" only worked if the other guy was straight, too. I pointed out to him that there were much easier ways to arrange the thing, if what he wanted was to give blow jobs. And he pointed out to me that I didn't appreciate the complexity of his fantasy. I had to concede the point.
So there you have it: human sexuality is marvelously intricate. And no matter what direction you try to push it in, it always pops out somewhere else.
But I wouldn't be much of a queer if I didn't ask you a few questions, too: Given your sexual behavior -- or the sexual behavior you contemplate -- why do you cling to the label "straight"? Is it because it makes your Tops hot (working over a "straight" guy who must be raped, at least in some psychological sense), because it makes you hot (homosex being so transgressive), or simply because you think it's going to make you feel better about yourself after you get home and wash the grease out of your ass crack?
You mention the "strong tendency" to categorize people according to gender preference and you're right about its limitations. But when you say you "have little interest in being bisexual," you make it sound like a decision not to take up stamp collecting. I grant you that people are restricted and even harmed by inflexible notions of how men should behave or how heterosexuals ought to comport themselves and, therefore, that you are free to call yourself anything you want.
But let's not forget that most people in America still think that queers should be lynched, stoned, or burned at the stake, and that many men who do call themselves "gay" have, by the time they are adults, experienced more than their share of bullshit at the hands of men who call themselves "straight." So you'll forgive us if we're a little suspicious of someone who wants all the fun of being a faggot and none of the stigma. In other words, I don't care what label you choose to apply to yourself, but when they come to take us away to the camps, I'd better see your ass on the train.
In a more conciliatory mood, let me say that yes, of course it "works" -- or can work -- between two men who are bi, a het man and a gay man, two het men pretending to be gay, or whatever. If you do decide to seek out male partners, you don't have to announce your sexual preference at the door, but you do have to be as clear as possible about your experience and about what you want. For my purposes, for example, it would be more important to know that you are a novice than that you are straight. And if there are certain activities you don't want to engage in, negotiate them beforehand as you would anything else. (I've had any number of AIDS-worried boys tell me they wouldn't suck dick, but I never suspected any of them of being straight.)
Finally, if you succeed in getting what you want, be grateful. The
situation you've set up for yourself isn't the most complicated I've
ever encountered, but it still won't come to you gift-wrapped and --
pardon the expression -- in a box.
Please send dilemmas you would like to see addressed in future
issues to firstname.lastname@example.org.