Last week, I wrote a blog post on the Huffington on the subject of the impending poppers ban. As always, I received a decent amount of feedback, overwhelmingly positive. Most people, it seems, agree that the idea of outlawing poppers is a blatant act of social conservatism. So far, so good.
Something fascinating happened after the piece was published and shared on my Facebook page; I began to haemorrhage subscribers, most of whom, admittedly, are family and friends. Around 100 people clicked 'unlike' in the 24 hours after the post was added.
Interestingly, one person, unknown to me, wrote 'Gross!' under the article, before indulging in an incoherent and contradictory rant, trotting out the tired old 'Adam and Eve, not Adam and Steve' line before claiming to be 'non-judgemental'. Yet, it was that first word, 'gross', that told me all I needed to know.
Gay men have sex. It might be an inconvenient truth but it's the truth nonetheless. We may be able to marry, adopt children, 'fit in' in a 'socially acceptable' sense, but select a featured image for an article showing two men kissing or, worse, write about the use of poppers within the context of gay sex and you may find yourself persona non grata.
This is not new, of course. Historically, male homosexuality, and particularly intercourse between men, has been, and in many places remains, a social taboo of the highest order. While lesbianism has never been a criminal offence in some countries (women can't possibly take an active interest in sex, after all, right?), gay men have been subjected to the worst ill-treatment imaginable, a trend that continues to this day in far too many parts of the world.
Many will cite archaic notions of masculinity as the main cause of this. To a degree, they are absolutely right. Orthodox gender constructs undoubtedly blight the lives of untold millions of people all over the world. I do, however, believe there is a more visceral reality behind a lingering dislike of male homosexuality; the prejudice that dares not speak its name. Many people just find what many gay men do in bed yucky.
At this point, I am reminded of an incident a few years back involving a highly inebriated hairdresser at a house party. Having started the evening fairly socially acceptable, said coiffeuse became steadily more abusive towards my partner and me the more Bacardi she imbibed. Starting with the tiresome 'Who is the man and who is the woman?' line of questioning, it wasn't long before the situation became far more hostile. What we 'do', she said, was 'disgusting'. Ultimately, the charming individual was asked to leave, her mortified sister apologising profusely to the host for the 'inconvenience' without even acknowledging the victims of this verbal onslaught.
The misconception that being a gay male is all about round-the-clock anal intercourse feeds into myriad expressions of prejudice. When the Christian B&B owner refuses a double bedroom to a gay male couple, you can be sure the image in their mind is of relentless nocturnal sodomy within earshot of other guests. The notion that, like any other couple, gay men might just need a bed for the night seems to escape such fundamentalists. Newsflash: It's not just gay men who have anal sex and gay men don't just have anal sex.
You see, whether we admit it or not, the age-old 'I don't mind what they do in bed but I don't need it ramming down my throat' culture lingers on, even in supposedly more 'enlightened' countries such as ours. From openly affectionate gay couples being assaulted on the streets of Tower Hamlets to the verbal abuse hurled at men who dare to hold hands while walking down their local high street, the struggle for social acceptance is still very real.
The preliminary findings of research carried out by TheQueerness.com show that 43% of gay men have experienced verbal homophobic abuse in the last year, while 54.5% confirm having witnessed homophobia online. Only 16.5% say they would feel comfortable holding hands with their partner in public. This may not seem especially outrageous given that there are parts of the world where gay men face imprisonment, torture and death. However, social progress is contextual; can it really be claimed that equality has been achieved in a country in which gay men continue to fear the consequences of being visible?
I stand by the content of the article that may have caused so many to flee from my Facebook page. It is imperative that gay men are able to be honest and open about sex online at a time when comprehensive sex education remains so disturbingly rare in our schools. A lack of openness about these matters can literally endanger lives. It may surprise some people to learn that gay men don't just spend their time listening to Madonna, accompanying female friends on shopping trips and partying in Gran Canaria. Sex does not define us, but neither are we confined by a straitjacket of desexualisation. We are fully-rounded emotional, social and, yes, sexual beings. Deal with it.
This article was originally posted on The Queerness.