Ok, here's the other big myth about gay men: That we all crave anal sex.
You know what? It ain't so.
Once in great great while it comes up that I have never had anal sex. This statement by itself, without the surrounding ramifications, is not that significant to me personally. I still feel about anal sex pretty much as I did when I was 17 and the possibility first came up: It's not that I wouldn't, it's just not something that I particularly desire (from one side or the other). I always figured that if the right situation arose I might, and that right situation never arose. So sue me. Even as a teenager I was never one to respond to social pressure in doing something I didn't want to do, just because of the pressure.
But my gosh, you'd think that I wasn't really gay. (Or, to hear some tell it, this means I have "issues".)
Many years ago I saw John Boswell (now-deceased author of Christianity, Social Tolerance, and Homosexuality) give a talk, in which he made a side comment about a survey that showed a surprisingly large percentage of homosexuals do not define themselves exclusively as a top or bottom (but will go either way). I happened to be with a group that took him to dinner afterward and I asked him how people who never topped or bottomed were accounted for in this survey and he quite literally did not understand what I was talking about. This may have been my first explicit understanding that I was something of a freak here.
But that's small potatoes compared to many other things. Last year I happened to be in San Francisco during International Bear Rendezvous and I dropped by at the Eagle there during some sort of Mr. Bear or Mr. Eagle contest. The MC was interviewing the candidates, and the big ha-ha question he kept asking them was "Top or bottom?". When the contestants -- who mostly were guys doing a surprisingly good job of maintaining their dignity -- responded indirectly, the MC would sneer up his nose and say, "BOTTOM!" and the crowd would yuk it up. To whom is this funny? Well, not to me, so I walked out the door.
Since becoming a barfly I have, unsurprisingly, started to hear a lot more top and bottom talk. I don't know why people think I care, since as far as I recall I've never asked, but people will often let me know who at the Minneapolis Eagle is a "big old top" or a "big old bottom". There are many aspects of this discourse that are amusing, I admit, in the same way that aspects of campy dicktalk can be amusing indeed, but I still can speak this only as a foreign language.
In 1994 I had occasion to write up an account of a night's encounter with a wonderful guy, and part of the story involved the explicit mention of my never having had anal sex. I sent this account to some friends, and I was kind of surprised to get responses from people, gay men of my generational cohort, calling this fact out with the acknowledgment that they, too, had never done this. I hope the author will forgive me for quoting this, but I was very touched by this response in particular:
I'm struck by this paragraph because it's true for me as well, and I believe -- possibly quite incorrectly -- that it's a pretty rare case for out and active gay men. For some reason I can't put my finger on, I find this statement from you vaguely reassuring.
Talk about vaguely reassuring: This response stuck with me. The other responses stuck with me as well, although this one was pointedly articulate. In any case, I'm not alone. So there.
So why am I talking about this and what does this mean? Because this is a big reason why I don't have sex much. Sort of.
The real reason I don't have sex much is partly that in general I like to feel that the person I'm with is somebody I would still have some interest in for reasons beyond the sex itself, but even more so I absolutely need to feel that the person I'm with would have some interest in me beyond the sex itself. Because what if I'm just no good, or not attractive, or not something, then what? Yes, yes, it's a big old neurosis, but there it is. And honestly, going back over thirty years now I'm on pretty good terms with pretty much everybody I've ever been naked with (or at least I was for a while afterward -- life moves on). Heck, over half of the people I've slept with in the last 15 years are current livejournal friends (it ain't that long a list). This works for me.
What does this have to do with anal sex? Because in a world that says that sex is defined by anal intercourse, there's no way in hell I'm going to go home with somebody until I have absolute confidence that the fact that this has not yet made its way into my arsenal is not going to leave anybody unhappy with the decision to share my bed. And where does that leave me, except to sleep with people who I'm certain like me?
Strangely enough, my recollection is that this wasn't that big a deal at all for the first ten years or so that I was out. I don't know if it's because we were all teenagers or in our early twenties, or whether the gay world hadn't so thoroughly balkanized yet into specific sexual subworlds of attraction and behavior, but I certainly remember very little of this exclusive top/bottom stuff from those days. Who knows how filtered my memories are, though.
This is all retroactive analysis rather than considered philosophy, by the way. I don't think I have much say in how this all works for me.