Shortly after I came out, I ended up in bed with a New Yorker who was 15 years my senior. I was sexually inexperienced, terrified of doing something wrong, and I was prepared – make that eager – for him to take the lead.
He started with a question I’ve always hated: “What do you like to do?” I considered it crass and avoided answering. I cut off his attempts to list his own preferences. Let’s just do it, I thought.
We had muddled, tentative sex, which I thought was pretty good. The New Yorker was frustrated. In the middle of sex, he asked something that has stuck in my mind ever since.
“You don’t need me to chew on your nipple to come, do you? My last lover needed me to bite his left nipple 40 times before he could come.”
It was the exact number, 40, that threw me. How could someone ever be so precise in their requirements for sexual pleasure? Forty times, not 38 or 41. The left nipple, not the right.
I thought he was joking. I now suspect he was serious.
When we’re young, we want to believe that anything’s possible. Gay and straight seem like restrictive labels to a teenager, top and bottom degradingly stereotypical to a 20-something. Sex in the early years can be messy, but its excitement is built on the fact that anything can happen: new partners, new activities, new backdrops, new techniques. Someone who’s measured it out to 40 nipple bites seems to have stripped something away.
But as we get older, we learn to know what we like. Certain sexual activities are reliable in giving pleasure, while others seem unworthy of the muss and fuss. If you want to get fucked and some young twink won’t confess whether he’s into fucking you, then every minute in conversation with him could be a wasted minute.
The abundant sexual information contained in something like the bear codes – “f” for fur, “g” for grope, “d” for daddy – saves everybody time and frustration. The incentives to tie ourselves up into well-labelled packages are high.
This tension between adventure and efficiency also applies to our political lives, though in the non-sexual arena it might better called a tension between engagement and vigilance.
Many lesbians, gay men, bi and trans folk are faced with oppression early in life: angry parents, unaccepting schools, bullies, unfair laws and self-appointed censors.
Our first response is muddled: a wounded reply, silent self-pity. Over time, we become more sophisticated, with snappy comebacks, support groups, protests and lawsuits.
All these mechanisms are worthwhile – they’re honest and they work.
But, like sexual single-mindedness, I wonder if homos sometimes get caught up in vigilance without a full sense of engagement.
Do we sometimes see slights where none exist, because we’re so busy looking for them? When people disagree with us, are we too inclined to call them homophobic? Do we listen to the other side of the conversation before reacting?
In this issue of Xtra, you can read about Shaw cable and Star Choice picking on PrideVision, the world’s first gay and lesbian TV channel. You can read about how the Toronto Police Service is unwilling to actively recruit homo officers.
What’s the appropriate reaction to these issues? A dismissive roll of the eyeballs? A letter writing campaign? Switching satellite or cable companies? In a world where the answers seem pat, it’s difficult to come up with fresh responses to recurring problems.
But many people do. Duncan Campbell of Regina (see the next story) successfully lobbied his cable company to treat PrideVision fairly. The drag queens (also on this site) are working to reinvigorate Toronto’s drag scene. Author Dionne Brand (our top story) is rewriting the history of the Diaspora.
Not every sexual or political encounter results in an exciting adventure. But some do. I’ve had a few.
Paul Gallant is Features Editor and Acting News Editor for Xtra.