Since same-sex marriage was legalised in 2014, the days of stigma and shame in gay male society have been replaced with those of liberation and tolerance. Emerging is a gay male world free from heteronormativity, self-loathing and internalised homophobia. To find out more about this new world of freedom I met five gay male couples living across the UK to ask about the inside story of their relationships.
Adam and Jeremy, Brighton
Adam and Jeremy have been together for ten years and have been married since they converted their civil partnership to a marriage last year. Living in a small flat in Brighton, most of their free time away from their office jobs is spent watching movies and playing video games.
“We have an active sex life too,” Adam confesses as he sips his fennel tea. “We don’t take drugs or drink alcohol so we can really experience sex to the fullest.” I ask if they have varied roles in the bedroom, or if they have fallen into strict top and bottom roles as many couples do.
“Oh, we don’t do anal!” says Jeremy with clear shock in his voice. “It’s not that we don’t enjoy it,” he clarifies as I lean forward, “it’s just that we’re not those kind of people.”
“Anal sex is fine for people without commitments,” adds Adam. “I tried it three times at uni.”
“Oh yes, you were a real slut,” laughs Jeremy as he picks up another of his homemade fondant fancies. “But I think we’ve both decided just to be more respectable now. We might even want to have children some day so we don’t want to fall into any habits that might affect their impressionable minds.”
“The adoption agency doesn’t view anal sex households too favourably” Adam explains. “So we try to stick to oral with a condom.”
I ask how they keep their sex lives interesting. Adam blushes, but Jeremy seems a little more willing to open up. “It was our anniversary last week,” he says, “and we tried frottage.” I try to press him further, but he tells me quite plainly: “That sort of skin-on-skin fetish isn’t really for us.”
Steve and Pete, Nottingham
I’m chatting to Steve over a protein shake as he waits for his boyfriend Pete – or his “brofriend” as he refers to him – to finish his workout. “I usually finish first,” he tells me “but I do a more intense session. Pete does more reps.” I ask about cardio. “Nah,” Steve responds, “cardio’s for chicks and poofters.”
Steve first met Pete via a popular gay dating app whilst looking for a ‘gym buddy’, though he admits he did not know what Pete looked like until they met in person. “Most of the guys worth meeting don’t show their faces,” he explains. “The ones who do are usually flaming queens and if I was looking to hook up with a chick I wouldn’t be on this app.”
I ask Steve – who doesn’t refer to himself as gay – if people ever think his statements are homophobic. “Nah mate,” he tells me, “it’s just how it is. I’m masc and I’m looking for masc.”
Steve straightens up, pushing out his muscular chest as Pete, a 5′ 11″ block of muscle and veins emerges from the gym. The two men bump fists as Pete approaches and asks “what’s up”, although he’s neither expecting nor receiving a response.
Pete tells me I’m lucky to have the chance to chat to them today – “We usually chill out in the locker room after a workout,” he says. “Yeah, we normally chill,” adds Steve. I enquire about the nature of their chill out sessions; Pete tells me about ‘brojobs’ – how he refers to oral sex. “Steve’s my bro,” he explains. “Most guys want a wife or something, but I’m looking for men who are men.”
“I’m a bottom,” he goes on, “but it’s all about muscle control. I’m masc so I’m not interested in sissy boys. Men should be men.”
“Yeah, cheers bro,” says Steve, with a nod before he downs the rest of his protein shake.
Mark and Richard, York
Mark and Richard from York are currently planning their wedding. They tell me they decided against a civil partnership, choosing to wait until same-sex marriage was legalised before forming their union. “We’re the same as straight people,” Mark tells me, “so why would we choose anything different?”
Richard nods as he turns the pages of the catalogue in front of him. “I have to pick a suit for the wedding, but they’re all pretty much the same” he says. “I reckon I’ll just let Mark decide.”
“What are men like?” Mark chuckles, standing up and clearing away the coffee cups. I ask if he wants any help. “No,” he says, “I’m going to be a housewife so I may as well act like one!”
“I’m the man of the house,” Richard tells me. “I wear the trousers.”
I join Mark in the kitchen and ask about the dynamics of their relationship. “It’s hard being the woman,” he says “but Richard does help around the house. Any time anything needs fixing he sees to it.”
I ask Mark if he really sees himself as a woman. He tells me it’s more of a mindset than a gender. “Every relationship needs a man and a woman. Just because we’re both men doesn’t mean that one of us isn’t the woman.”
Chris and Johnny, London
I meet Chris and Johnny at a vegetarian restaurant in central London. They arrive together; Chris is wearing black skinny jeans, a tee shirt with a slogan, black Converse sneakers and black-rimmed glasses, while Johnny wears a tee shirt with a print of a video game character, dark blue skinny jeans, grey Converse sneakers and brown-rimmed, circular spectacles. “I don’t need glasses to see,” Johnny says. “I just like the look”.
We’re sitting at a table outside, and after ordering starters – Chris and Johnny both order the butternut tart – they each take out their packet of Marlboro Lights and absentmindedly offer the other a cigarette.
“It’s how we met,” laughs Chris, running his fingers through his hair. “We were in a club before the smoking ban; I was out of cigarettes but I saw Johnny and figured he looked like someone who smoked Marlboro Lights.” It turns out that that was the case.
I ask how long they have been together. “Nine years.” Johnny tells me as he brushes his hair to the side with his fingers. “We moved in together five years ago. We had to get rid of so much stuff though because we basically had two of everything.”
We’re interrupted by the sound of Coldplay’s Speed of Sound. Chris and Johnny both take out their rose gold iPhone 6’s – Johnny answers his while Chris just chuckles. “Yeah, we have the same ringtone,” he tells me. “We didn’t even realise at first but I guess our tastes just align!”
While he has his phone out Chris takes the opportunity to show me some photos of himself and Johnny. I notice they have less facial hair in the photos from last year than the neatly groomed stubble they are sporting today. “Yes, we like to change things up a bit,” he explains. “It gets dull if we keep things the same all the time.”
Dan and Justin, Durham
Dan and Justin (not their real names) have lived together in their two-bedroom flat in Durham for just over a year. I’m meeting them at the flat, and after I’ve been waiting several minutes, Dan answers the door. “Oh thank god!” he exclaims.
He takes me through to their living room, shouting “don’t worry about unmaking the beds!” as we walk down the hall.
I’m confused, but Justin joins us after a minute or so and explains. “It’s in case my mum comes round,” he tells me. “She doesn’t know about us, so we make it look like both beds have been slept in.”
I’m shown around their rather large flat, including both bedrooms. They share a bed, but I ask which bedroom they pretend belongs to which of them. “It depends whose mum is round,” Dan says, and they both laugh nervously.
The flat feels strangely un-lived in – there are no signs of personality anywhere. No photos of the occupants, not even art or posters on the walls. I notice separate CD and DVD collections. “We really have to make it look like we’re just flatmates,” Justin says. “We even have separate cupboards in the kitchen.”
I ask if they think their families have any suspicions that they are a couple. “I don’t know” is Justin’s response. Dan says “I hope not. They’d probably be cool with it, but I just don’t want to tell them.”