Our Relationship: The Inside Story of Gay Male Couples

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.”


John Avocado mainly tweets at @SuperCroup, often posts photos on Instagram and occasionally shoves posts on this here blog.

Enough already with #loveislove

A lot of same-sex marriage advocates really like the hashtag #loveislove. I don’t. It’s harmful.

Today deputy leader of the opposition, Tanya Plibersek, tweeted this in support of same-sex marriage in Australia:

It irritated me quite intensely. Partly because that’s not what same-sex marriage (or marriage equality, call it what you will) is; and partly because of the harmful message it sends.

Amending the law to allow same-sex couples to marry is simply a question of giving same-sex couples equal access to a legal institution. Nothing more, and nothing less. Amending the law is not about recognizing love: weddings (well, most) do that; the legal institution of marriage does not. We are not asking that the government recognizes the love involved in many of our relationships, or that the government supports the love involved in many of our relationships, we are simply asking that the government provides us with equal access to the legal institution for formalizing our relationships.

I feel like I am repeating myself too much, but it irks me that something so simple seems to be so widely misunderstood.

Facts aside, #loveislove seems like pretty good rhetoric to convince people to support same-sex marriage. And oh, how harmful that rhetoric is.

#loveislove says that we should be given equal access to a legal institution because we deserve it. Not that all legal institutions should be equally available to all, but that equal rights are for those who deserve them.

#loveislove invites people to base their willingness to allow us equal access to a legal institution on their opinion of the validity of of our relationships. It invites them to judge that our love isn’t real love in their eyes and deny us equal rights based on that.

#loveislove sets conditions on our equal access to a legal institution. It says our marriages should be based on love – when the law does not (the law says they must be genuine, for life, and exclusive – all of which I disagree with, but that’s another matter).

Worst of all #loveislove erases the queerness of our relationships. #loveislove demands our relationships be based on a heteronormative model of two people who love each other forming a monogamous life-long relationship, when a very large number of queer relationships are just not like that. #loveislove sets up gatekeepers of equal access to a legal institution, and gives the respectable gays the keys, keeping the scandalous queers out. It sets whatever exists of the queer community up against itself, and can only ever make our demands for equal access to a legal institution weaker.

So can we kill off #loveislove? Can we give up asking for permission? Can we demand equal access to a legal institution based simply on the fact that we are people, and without placing conditions on ourselves?

I hope so.

Nico Hines could have got loads of dates

I think we’re all agreed that the article that Nico Hines wrote for the Daily Beast, in which he claimed to have used Grindr to arrange three dates with Olympic athletes, was very bad, homophobic, and put the lives of at least one Olympic athlete in very real danger. There have been a lot of responses to that (my favorite being Rebecca Shaw’s for SBS) so I don’t think I need or want to add anything there.

I’ve been more interested in the response from quite a lot of gay men on Twitter suggesting that Nico couldn’t possibly have got enough interest on Grindr to arrange three dates, simply because of his physical appearance. I’ll be fair, Nico isn’t smokin’ hot. He’s not the toned, bronzed Adonis that the stereotypical gay man seeks. And too, Grindr is full of generally dreadful men who body shame and won’t even have a conversation with anyone who isn’t toned, tanned, and under twenty-two. (I won’t go into the very real issues of racism here, but they deserve at least a nod.) And many of these men have taken to Twitter to express their dismay at the mere thought that someone who looks like Nico Hines would ever be contacted by anyone on Grindr.

nicotweet
@tobyparkin on Twitter: “I’m not about shaming, but, there is absolutely no chance he got 3 dates in 60 minutes on Grindr is there?”

In reality there’s every chance that Nico got three dates in an hour, and for lots of reasons.

For a start, beauty and attractiveness are very subjective. True, Nico isn’t the conventional ideal male body, but not everyone’s ideal is the conventional ideal. I’m sure plenty of men find Nico perfectly (at least physically) attractive – and I’m sure even some Olympians would. Hell, aside from those gay men who exclusively date people who look like themselves (and I refer you here to one of my favorite Tumblrs), what we, ourselves, look like doesn’t have much of a bearing on what we find attractive.

Looking deeper, and beyond attractiveness, there are other reasons Olympic athletes might get in touch with Nico to arrange a hook-up. Nico himself revealed that some of the people he connected with on Grindr were from countries where being gay is dangerous or illegal. And even in the world of sport, being gay means you mightn’t have the easiest time. So a a good proportion of male Olympic athletes looking for sex with men in Rio will be on the down low. Nico’s clearly not an Olympic athlete: he’s removed, so anyone really trying to stay on the DL might feel safer with him; might feel like this could truly be an encounter that would not ever come out; might feel like this could be something completely deniable with someone totally unconnected. This makes Nico’s actions all the more abhorrent, but it does explain a potential reason why Olympic athletes might have contacted him: when safety is a primary concern, physical attraction might not be.

Laws, culture, and safety concerns also mean that gay male Olympic athletes from certain countries might not be getting laid that often. Or at all. For them, maybe being in Rio for the Games was their only real chance of guaranteed sex with another man. Maybe a once in a lifetime chance. Maybe in their minds they couldn’t risk being picky; they couldn’t risk rejection from the ultra-toned stunners. They had a couple of weeks to get a shag and then perhaps never again. So they may have seen Nico as a sure thing. Someone who would almost certainly say yes.

A lot of discussion about Nico’s face, body, and overall appearance however, erases a sizable section of gay male sexual culture – one that involves dark rooms, glory holes, cottages, blindfolds – one that is truly anonymous, and one that doesn’t care about physical beauty or ideal bodies: it cares only about cock. It’s blunt, but it rejects heterosexist norms about courtship, romance and attraction and is all about animalistic sex. In that culture Nico’s appearance is irrelevant. His body shape, size, and tone are irrelevant. Every feature of his face is irrelevant. The only part of his body that is relevant is his cock. It’s not a culture we’re all part of, but it’s one that is valid and worthy of celebration.

An experiment

I wanted to know for sure if it could be possible to secure three hook-ups in the space of an hour on Grindr without being conventionally attractive. I wagered it would be possible with an almost blank profile. So I set one up. And waited.

grindr1

I put in some limited details, left out a photo and waited. Within five minutes I had three messages, all from men looking for casual sex immediately. (Note I’ve distorted the images for privacy.)

grindr2

Within ten minutes I had eight messages. I didn’t respond to the messages, and I deleted the profile straight away, but I could very easily have turned at least three of those into fake hook-up appointments with an hour, just like Nico did.

Thoughts?

Nico Hines’s actions were disgusting and harmful, but our response shouldn’t be this self-loathing body shaming. Of course Nico could have got laid in Rio – because men who have sex with men like having sex with men.

A response to Tom Ballard – LGBT isn’t inclusive enough, but GSD is no solution

I read this piece by Aussie comedian Tom Ballard on SBS Sexuality, and I was not impressed. I’ll start by saying his intent was certainly positive, but I think he got a few things quite seriously wrong.

In the piece he makes the case for abandoning the acronym LGBT and its extensions, in favor of catch-all acronyms like “GSRM” (“Gender, Sexuality and Romantic Minorities”) or “GSD” (“Gender and Sexual Diversities”). I see his point, LGBT, LGBTI, LGBTQIA etc are both cumbersome and they fail to be fully inclusive, and they always start with LGBT, leaving these four identities as ‘the main ones’, and leaving others as optional and supplementary. So he did make some good points.

However, Tom is a comedian, and the piece was intended as a comedy piece. It was fluffy and came across dismissive. And when discussing people’s identities, jokes are not the best way to do it. At least jokes that mock and ridicule the identities of people we are ignoring and excluding. And especially in a piece about inclusion. He used the too-often used tactic of fictitiously creating an absurdly long acronym to suggest that including identities we should be including is leading to the acronym becoming unwieldy, an (as he puts it) too long to fit on a T-shirt.

But (even ignoring the tired old joke) – who cares? Being inclusive sometimes is cumbersome. Sometimes it is inconvenient. They are some of the features of inclusivity – but the inconvenience is worth it. The identities we embrace by adding letters to our acronym are not to be mocked they’re to be celebrated (and as much as the L, and the G which, incidentally, there is always room for).

Tom’s point about it being impossible to be fully inclusive, though, is a good one. But I don’t think that favoring GSD or GSRM fixes this; I think it makes it worse. In our effort to be inclusive, we risk erasing identities. On paper, GSD works as a catch all – in practice it becomes the new LGB, a shorthand that really doesn’t include everyone it claims to. It becomes an easy way for people to claim allyship to the GSD community, when really they mean they gay men, and would never offer the same support to trans people, or asexual people, or polyamorous people. It’s a way of easily excluding identities while claiming to include them.

GSD and GSRM make me prickle as well because they seem to me a little sterile. A little respectable. They’re just not, well, just not queer enough. They’re acronyms that smack of gay men seeking assimilation. We know that gay men assimilate pretty well, but the rest of GSD/GSRM is left behind.

But more importantly, it extends this idea that we are one single community, when we are not. We are a collection of communities, often with a common cause, often with common enemies, often able to stand together and fight together as allies, but ultimately we are many, not just one. There is no single GSD community, and it’s harmful to pretend that there is. Rich gay men drinking champagne on a rooftop in London are not (always) the same community as, say, black trans women in the USA. Sometimes we have the same battle, often the same enemies, and we really can come together, but very often our communities are distinct and we should recognize and respect that. LGBT, LGBTI, LGBTIQ, LGBTIQA, LGBTQQIPPA, all give each identity and each community their own place in our common cause. They give us strength, not by saying that we are one, but that we are together.

All of this, however is worthless coming just from me, as I write from the same position as Tom Ballard. His piece, and perhaps mine, are examples of gay men wanting to lead the discourse on LGBT issues. It seems hypocritical to say this at the end of what I’ve written, but we need to let that go. It’s a privilege we have come to expect, and one we are so desperate to hold onto, but we have to let it go. We can’t be the gatekeepers of inclusivity. It’s not for us to be leaders, to decide how we brand our inclusivity. It is now simply our job to embrace diversity in our wide-ranging communities, and to celebrate each individual letter in whatever unwieldy glorious behemoth of an acronym LGBT+ becomes.

Note: all responses are welcome and encouraged. I anticipate that I may need to alter some of this based on others’ responses.

That ‘straight queer’ bullshit

I added some thoughts to Sonya’s. Apologies for ugly formatting, Sonya’s words don’t deserve careful attention to things like aesthetics. John.

A friend recently used the term “straight queer” to describe someone who is very involved in LGBTQ activism but identifies as straight.Sounds like a double-barreled insult to me; ally is the usual term, and even then, we’re very careful how we use it.I fell in love with this term immediately.I bet you did. It allowed you to completely invade our space.

Although I dislike the word “queer” itself (I don’t agree with reclamation) just a thought – you don’t get to decide what words we use to describe ourselves, and why we use them I absolutely love what it stands for. I bet you don’t know what it stands for. It shows that sexuality is not something we can pin down, nor that we should be trying to. That’s not what it stands for.

The ever-growing LGBTQQA alphabet soup wow, “alphabet soup” is a term used by people who aim to mock inclusivity, so way to show that you’re one of them is a testament to the fact that sexuality and gender identity are very complex things specific to the individual. I personally identify as queer because I don’t want to categorize my sexuality in a society that is obsessed with clearly labeling it. Actually our society is obsessed with labeling genders and sexualities that are not cishet. Your identity is the default, so even when you remove all labels, you are still not queer. Sorry to burst your bubble.

The term “queer” disrupts how we think about sexuality it doesn’t, it’s been used for decades to other us and we’re now using it to strengthen our own identity. The only disruption it caused was to our cause. and “straight queer” builds upon this disruption in the sense that it tries to destroy our identities, yes, you are right. It destabilizes what we believe about the LGBTQ community well, it destabalizes the LGBTQ community, but maybe not what you believe about it; most notably that LGBTQ and straight are mutually exclusive you’re talking about heterosexual trans people here, right?. Queer includes straight it doesn’t . Straight is queer too. It isn’t . Sexuality is a big melting pot that doesn’t need, nor functions well with labels. We need labels because they give meaning and reality to our identity. Shoving us in your melting pot labeled “OTHER” is not helpful. At all.

Some might argue that it’s not fair to allow people with all the societal privilege of straightness to identify under the LGBTQ umbrella and thereby enter LGBTQ space. You can identify however you want, but stay the fuck out of our safe spaces with this attitude. I disagree. You don’t get to disagree. We are living in a time when “the closet” is becoming more and more obsolete frankly, it’s feeling more and more necessary right now and the LGBTQ community is slowly becoming a part of “mainstream” society but only because of people like you invading our spaces and trying to destroy our sense of community from within. There is less of a need for exclusively LGBTQ space there is ALWAYS a need for safe spaces. Additionally, queer activism is at a point where we are working to normalize a variety of sexualities you basically know zero about queer activism. Calling in to question the normalcy of “heterosexuality”, the way the term “straight queer” inevitably does, is a surefire way to destabilize the association between heterosexuality and normalcy. It doesn’t though, it just allows you to believe that you have removed yourself from the group that oppresses us, and allows you to believe that the acts of oppression you are carrying out are actually you being oppressed. With this attitude, I repeat: stay the fuck out of our spaces.

Although I believe “straight” can be a part of “queer”, I don’t believe every single person now falls under the LGBTQ umbrella. Correct I wouldn’t feel comfortable calling people like Paul Ryan or Glenn Beck “straight queer”. Good. On the other side of the spectrum, I also don’t believe that one needs to engage in LGBTQ activism in order to “prove” themselves to the LGBTQ community. Correct. But really, I shouldn’t be picking and choosing who is “straight queer”. Including yourself, tbh. No identity label – gay, queer, straight – should be slapped onto any person. Correct. People should be able to embrace the term “straight queer” themselves – whatever their reasons may be. Stay. The. Fuck. Out. Of. Our. Safe. Spaces.

-Sonya

John

Tamal is gay and our response is harmful

In an interview with Radio Times magazine this week, Great British Bake Off contestant Tamal Ray was asked about his relationship status and responded “I wouldn’t have a girlfriend; I would have a boyfriend, but I’m single at the moment”. It’s been described as him “coming out” (Attitude, Passport), or a “revelation” (Daily Mail, Digital Spy) – but it’s neither of these things, and it has been met with a response of dismay and disappointment from the straight women of twitter, contrasted nicely with a good deal of excitement from The Gays Of Twitter.

It’s all got me rather irritated.

All of the response – from the reporting of the interview, to the tweets from, well, everybody is indicative of a society that views heterosexuality as a default. We’re assumed straight until we specify otherwise [I’ve written about this before and how I’m not putting up with it any longer] and even our friends who otherwise oppose homophobia still view sexuality not established as meaning heterosexual. Heterosexual is default, so unknown means straight, not specified means straight, anything other than a widely announced public coming out means straight. We have to stop doing this.

We also have to stop referring to incidents of people making comments that indicate that they are not straight as “coming out” or “revelations”. In the case of Tamal, this appears to be him simply correcting an interviewer who mistakenly assumed he was straight, but it happens all the time – people correcting lazy interviewers or making comments to colleagues are referred to as coming out. This sucks because it puts the onus on us to be clear about our sexualities and to comply with society’s rule of Straight As Default. But even worse, because it shames us. It furthers the idea that when society doesn’t know details about us (mostly that we’re queer), it means we’ve been hiding it – but this is usually just not the case. With Tamal, but also with almost every other celebrity who is known to be queer, we haven’t seen a change of status (despite how it’s reported); we just have some new information. And we have to stop believing that we are entitled to this information. We are not entitled to this information.

But we are also not entitled to other people’s bodies, their affection, their love, and their attention – and that’s what I say to the straight women of Twitter who have expressed disappointment or heartbreak over finding out that Tamal is not straight.

Firstly, he was never available to you anyway. Same with Ricky Martin, Lance Bass, Neil Patrick Harris, the list goes on. They were never available to you – not just because of their celebrity status, but because they were gay before you knew. You haven’t “lost” anything except, perhaps, your sense of entitlement. And because your sense of entitlement instills within you an expectation for us to disclose our availability (or lack of) at our earliest opportunity, you feel disappointment when that entitlement is taken away.

Secondly, please stop making public announcements of your disappointment. What you are saying is that being gay is a bad thing. Maybe you don’t hold this belief more generally, but even when you express disappointment about a specific person being gay for a specific personal reason, you are coming from a position of regarding being gay as being a bad thing. So please stop that.

But think also about the people who read and hear your announcements of disappointment. Young queer people who are establishing their identities and how they want to present themselves. Do they care about your own personal celebrity crushes? No. But what they do hear is that you value people less if they’re not straight. That you cannot celebrate their lives unless they are straight. That their being queer will be regarded by some – maybe including you – as a disappointment. So please stop doing this.

There has been mentioned a contrast with gay and bisexual men expressing excitement or joy each time they discover a beloved celebrity is gay or bi or anything other than straight – but it really isn’t the same thing. Part of the excitement comes from the pleasure representation brings. Seeing ourselves represented in the world of celebrity brings validation and a sense of positivity. (It’s true for other underrepresented groups, but I’m not in a position to speak for those.) Having role models to in positions we can aspire to really does bring excitement.

But I shouldn’t shy away from the fact that some of this excitement does come from a sense of entitlement. We see celebrities who are known publicly to be gay or bisexual as (newly) sexually available to us, and we now feel entitled to their bodies and their affection. It seems odd that we appear to be contributing to the very system that tries to keep us down, but we must remember that we grew up in the same heteronormative society that everybody else did. We are not removed from that and our responses are influenced by that. We have homophobia built into us the same as everybody else does. It’s no different because we’re queer.

I suppose personal responses to finding out high-profile people are queer may seem little things that are mostly inconsequential, but they’re not. They come from, and further society’s insistence that heterosexuality is default. They come from and cement heteronormativity, and that is so much more harmful than we realize.