I'm A Queer Man. So Why Are Queer Sex Scenes Making Me So Uncomfortable?

"I suddenly feel strangely exposed to the judgments of the straights."
Taylor Zakhar Perez as Alex Claremont-Diaz and Nicholas Galitzine as Prince Henry in "Red, White & Royal Blue."
Jonathan Prime/Prime Video
Taylor Zakhar Perez as Alex Claremont-Diaz and Nicholas Galitzine as Prince Henry in "Red, White & Royal Blue."

We’re living in the golden age of LGBTQ+ movies and TV, and I’ve been binge-watching all the queer content I never got to see growing up. Most recently, I watched the latest season of ”Heartstopper” as well as the movie ”Red, White and Royal Blue,” but while watching the sex and kissing scenes in both, I found myself nervously holding my breath or even looking down. That’s when I came to a disturbing realisation: Nearly eight years since I came out of the closet, seeing physical queer intimacy on mainstream TV still makes me uncomfortable.

All things considered, seeing queer foreplay and sex on TV should not make me uncomfortable. For one, I live my life as an openly queer man. I knew I was gay in second grade and I started dating boys when I was 16. I even run a queer party collective, Whorechata, that consciously centres queer sex positivity. So why was I feeling so weird about seeing gay intimacy on my screen?

Part of these feelings come from the fact that queer sex scenes still feel new to me. Although LGBTQ relationships have been portrayed on-screen for a while now, they never really showed much in the realm of sex (this is actually addressed in a now-23-year-old episode of ”Will & Grace”).

In the 2018 movie ”Love, Simon,” for example, the most physical the main characters get is a kiss at the end. ”Moonlight,” arguably the quintessential queer film of the 2010s, barely shows any real sexual intimacy between the male characters. It’s almost as though the creators knew that people were ready to hear queer stories, but not quite ready to see queer love. In some ways, I think I internalised that, too.

For many queer people, physical intimacy feels very contentious. Many of us were told that queer sex was immoral or gross, and straight boys in school would follow up hugs or any form of physical contact with a stern “no homo.” I’ve had many serious relationships, but in each of them, I’ve been weary of being too physical with my partners in public — in part for fear of our safety, and in part because I’ve been conditioned to keep queer intimacy behind closed doors. I grew up hearing straight people say they didn’t have a problem with gay people but that they also didn’t want to see gay people “flaunt” their love in their face. The only time I feel empowered to be physical in public is in established gay spaces. These are usually bars or dark nightclubs (and, unfortunately, often involve alcohol).

At one point in ”Red, White and Royal Blue,” the main characters talk about topping and the challenges of bottoming before they engage in the act. My first instinct when I watched that scene was to wince at the knowledge that straight people would be watching this movie, too. They would be able to peer into a part of our lives that I always felt we had to protect or keep extremely private. It made me feel strangely exposed to the judgments of the straights, even though none of them were around when I watched it.

When I thought about it more, I had to admit to myself that seeing queer people show each other love in an authentic way, however positive, is something that my mind is still processing. Also, I think there’s still a voice in the back of my head telling me that I’ll never have love like that — a pure and innocent love that thrives in the light of day.

Maybe it’s because I grew up sneaking out of my house to go to gay bars or meet up with strange men, often older than me, keeping it all under wraps. Even though I have all the support I could ever wish for now, those feelings of secrecy and shame that I carried with me for 19 years don’t just disappear. In fact, I’m willing to accept that it might take the rest of my life and a whole lot of therapy to undo them.

I hope these new queer shows and movies that are no longer afraid to show us what healthy queer physical intimacy can look like signal the beginning of a new era. Sex can be a beautiful part of any relationship, and all queer people deserve to feel fulfilled in that way, on-screen and -off. Straight people have seen other straight people love each other on-screen since the beginning of TV and movies — it’s time we got that, too.

I am so happy that the next generation of queer people might grow up seeing people like them being physically intimate with each other. Maybe when they start dating, they won’t automatically look over their shoulders when they hold hands with the person they’re with. Maybe they’ll know that they deserve happiness, and will not accept relationships shrouded in secrecy. And maybe they’ll teach me a thing or two about not holding my breath when I see us expressing love out loud.