Stop Treating Gay Men Like Hypersexual Perverts

It’s blatant homophobia, even when another queer person does it.

Photo by Dimitar Belchev on Unsplash

Pride Month is very nearly upon us, which means a variety of intra-community queer fights are getting kicked up yet again. I say “fights”, but what I really mean is “one-sided bigoted diatribes”. That’s the real problem. All kinds of queer people are professing that other kinds of queer people do not belong at Pride.

Some people viciously deny the place of Asexuals within the LGBTQ community. Others claim that straight trans people do not belong at Pride, or that bisexual people in male-female relationships are “straight”, and therefore not genuine members of the community. And some queer folks argue that Pride needs to be “less sexual”, “less kinky” and more family-friendly than it has historically been; on this point, the main lightning rod always seems to be gay men, who are unfairly perceived to be more sexually inappropriate than other queer people.

This assumption pops up in all manner of places. I’ve heard it at activist events, nonbinary support groups, on trans masculine discord channels, and in more Tumblr and Twitter posts than I can name. Fellow queer people frequently talk about gay men as if they are vapid, sex-obsessed, and politically apathetic. Frankly, it’s horrifying to witness. What’s even more disgusting is how often this bigotry goes unchecked.

It’s no secret that straight people see gay men as perverted, sex-addicted, and socially inappropriate. But it’s time we talk about how frequently those exact same homophobic views pop up in queer circles.

Take, for example, this Tweet by The Devils’ Daughter, and its ensuing response.

Two photos, one depicting two gay men in leather holding hands, the other depicting a man and a woman in bathing suits holding hands. The accompanying Tweet reads: “Can you spot the difference? Apparently one of these pictures is appropriate for all ages and the other is not.”

Before we get to the responses to this Tweet, I want you, as a reader, to do a brief gut check. How do you feel about the men on the left? How do you feel about the people on the right? Does one picture seem more intense to you? Does one seem more sexual? If you saw the couple on the left at a music festival or a street fair, how would you feel? Would you stare? What about the couple on the left? Why?

I suspect that many of you see the men of the left as more sexual and family-unfriendly than the people on the right. And if you feel that way, you probably think your reaction is obviously correct on its face. I mean, those gay men are wearing fetish gear, right? Their outfits are sexual, right?

If that’s how you feel, you certainly aren’t alone. Take this Twitter user, for instance:

Tweet reads: Maybe if the left pic was two guys holding hands, but in similar swimsuits to the people on the right, then your point would probably have a lot more impact. It’s not unsafe because it’s two gay men, it’s because what they’re wearing pushes intense sexual messages that ARE nsfw.

Or this one:

Tweet reads: “ I mean, I understand why it makes folks uncomfortable — One is explicitly for swimming and one is a kink. And that makes folks uncomfortable for various reasons.”

Or this one:

Tweet reads: “The men look happy, but I don’t like seeing that much skin on people. I get really uncomfortable and feel embarrassed like as if I wandered into a private, intimate setting and am disrupting it.”

Quite a few people in that Twitter thread seem to see the outfits on the left as publicly inappropriate because of how “sexual” they are. Yet both couples are showing a ton of skin. In fact, the man in the yellow trunks is wearing less clothing than either of the gay men depicted on the right. So why are the gay men more sexual?

Maybe you’d say the problem is not the amount of skin being shown, but how it is being shown. The way these men are showing off their bodies strikes some people as way more erotically charged than the way bathing suits show skin.

Yet the outfits the gay men are wearing include items that women wear to concerts, music festivals, and outdoor parties on a regular basis. You see short-shorts, leggings, arm bands, and bikini bottoms on women at public, outdoor events all the time. Those women do get sexually harassed, which is also a huge problem, but no one claims that they are involving strangers in their sex lives or being sexually inappropriate.

So why are these men being viewed as inappropriate?

Tweet reads: “I mean, I understand why it makes folks uncomfortable — One is explicitly for swimming and one is a kink. And that makes folks uncomfortable for various reasons”

Is it because the clothing is not only skimpy, but is specifically associated with leather and BDSM? That claim doesn’t quite hold up. We also see women wearing fetish gear in fashion spreads and on runways very, very frequently. Collars and harnesses have become common accessories on the red carpet.

Of course, not everyone who wears a harness as part of an outfit is doing so because they are kinky. So is that the difference? Is the problem here that we can safely assume the men wearing the gear are involved in the kink world?

Nope, sorry, that claim doesn’t hold up to scrutiny either. People, typically women, wear collars in public nonsexual settings all the time. When that’s the case, no one is disturbed by it. Some women who wear collars in public are doing so because they are in BDSM relationships. And some just wear collars because they like how they look. Either way it’s nobody’s business, because the woman wearing the collar hasn’t done anything socially unacceptable or sexual in front of anyone. And neither have these gay men.

So again, I’ll ask, why is the picture on the left more sexual? Is it because you see the gay leather scene as perverse and deviant? Is it because you associate leather with sex parties and orgies, even when nothing of the sort is playing out in front of you? Is it really the fault of gay men that you keep fantasizing about their sex lives when you see them?

Tweet reads: In b4 “BUT THEYRE IN FETISH GEAR” what ten year old would know that. Your average kid would look at those men and think “they’re overdressed for the beach aren’t they”

If you are a member of the queer community, it’s important that you realize Leather is way more than a sexual, fetish-driven thing. It’s also a community, a subculture, and a meaningful way of finding other like-minded queer people. Leather has an important role in gay history. People get into leather because they like the way it looks, what it signifies, and how it feels, and not always or only in sexual ways.

You can compare it to drag. Many gay men (and other queer people!) find drag affirming, self-expressive, transgressive, and fun. It’s a popular subculture in which people decorate themselves, show off items they have lovingly hand-crafted, and engage in friendly competition. Leather is very much the same. I went to International Mister Leather this year, and I can promise you, it is not some unending, vapid fuckfest. Guys are meeting up for sex there, sure. But it’s also a competitive pageant with a ton of artistry and craft on display.

If you were to accuse a drag performer at street fair of being sexually inappropriate and predatory towards children, people would rightly call you a homophobe. Yet many people, including queer people, feel comfortable implying that scantily-clad gay men are sexual deviants to be viewed with suspicion.

Why the double standard? I suspect it’s because drag can render gay men non-threatening. Drag doesn’t have sexual connotations for most people. A drag costume hides the gay male body rather than showing it. When gay men do drag, it’s often intended to perform and delight. If someone is mildly homophobic, they still might enjoy seeing men performing their identity in this caricatured, desexed way.

But the second gay men appear as fully realized, adult beings with sexualities and pride in their physiques, people get a lot more cagey. A lot of folks, including other LGBTQ people, unfortunately view gay men as threatening, and their sexualities as violent:

Tweet reads: “ It’s even worse being two very large burly men who could very easily overpower me even with my self defense training. If I met them in regular clothes I would be a little wary. If I ran into them like this… Well it’s certainly upsetting but I don’t think I can go to Pride.” I’ve anonymized this user because they made their account private following this exchange.

The person who wrote this Tweet is scared of gay men. They’re queer-identified but they see gay men and their bodies as menacing, and their sexual orientations as threatening. And they are disturbed by the idea of gay men showing their bodies and being proud of their identities… at Pride.

This should not be an acceptable attitude to broadcast in LGBTQ circles. Gay men have been beaten, sexually harassed, assaulted, and shunned because straight people viewed them as deviant and disgusting. For decades, gay men had to hide any suggestion of their identity, because even the most benign details were viewed as inappropriately and flagrantly sexual, and deemed worthy of violent rebuke.

When queer people reproduce that kind of thinking, it can wreak just as much havok, and can cause just as much shame. Horizontal aggression is a very real problem in queer communities, as all of us struggle to understand and respect one other’s unique experiences of oppression and alienation. Sometimes this leads to outright marginalization of gay men and their subcultures within queer spaces, such as when the Pride parade in Oakland, California banned leather groups from attending back in 2014.

This is a real problem, and it is not going away. The conversations about how Pride must become “family friendly” and avoid “sexual” content get reignited every year, and approach a fever pitch that leaves far too many gay people burned. Just because the homophobia is coming from people who are also sexual and gender minorities does not mean it is acceptable in any way.

If you are bisexual, trans, nonbinary, a lesbian, an asexual person, or a queer person, you need to interrogate your own views and reactions to gay men, and you need to do it now.

If you view the actions, motives, and identities of gay men through a lens of hypersexuality and perversion, there is some homophobia infecting your heart. If you feel disgust or discomfort at the thought of gay men’s bodies or sexuality, you have serious biases that you need to address. And if you think it’s inappropriate for gay men to be proud and open about who they are when they are at Pride, you’re doing as much harm as any aphobic, biphobic, or transphobic person in our ranks.

LGBTQ+ people deserve to celebrate and take pride in our bodies, our identities, our genders, our desires (or lack of desires), the ways we love, and yes, the ways we have sex. We have been oppressed, violated, erased from history, and abused for each of these elements of our identities. Yet each of these parts of us are beautiful, pure, and fundamental to who we are.

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