The discussion on the last post has been great (which is a relief - the forums over the past couple weeks have been overwhelmed by fighting queens). My favorite comes from eagledancer4444. I don't know who he is, but I love the way he writes and thinks. Brah, if you're ever in Hawai`i, dinner is on me.
I was involved pretty much from the start with HIV/AIDS…in fact two of my first patients were diagnosed with “GRID,” the term that was being used before AIDS was coined. I worked with a few national (and later international) prevention and treatment projects, and presented on multicultural aspects of sexuality as well as gender identity. To my surprise, after my first presentations, I would have a few participants who came up to me, who said, I never really felt I was gay, but I didn’t know of any other place to go than the gay community.
I remember very well some of the quite bitter “fights” that were going on at that time. M2M or MSM were suggested because one of the most difficult subgroups of the population to reach are men who are sexually active with men, but don’t identify as gay, since they won’t pick up gay newspapers (lol—they won’t pick up anything labeled as “gay” other than a gay man), or hit gay bars where condoms and prevention material would be available. This was one of the motivations for the creation of such terminology, along with “bisexual behavior,” even if there was no self-identification with bisexuality as an identity.
There is, for many, an “evolution” or developmental journey (i.e. the Cass Model) where one starts off knowing one is “different,” but not really knowing all that means, other than a general message “different is bad.” I suspect a lot of you didn’t shout out your sexual orientation while in high school but “tried it on for size” so to speak, until you were comfortable with it. That’s why at the University where I was teaching, there was a student support group entitled, I don’t think I’m gay, but I know I’m not straight… To walk into a support group labeled GBTLQ means you’ve already accepted a label. Not everyone is there yet. One of the real “sea changes,” we’re seeing is an increasingly younger average age for coming out, which according to a 2001 publication, is now 15. I feel there’s a “generational” issue here of people like Craig, who became sexually active pre-internet (and pre-feminist, for that matter), where sexual initiation involved very specific, male only situations, such as rest rooms.
As I mentioned, I was surprised at the hostility I (and others) faced when we tried to explain to other researchers and prevention specialists, “gay” was not sufficient as a category in working within the “real world.” Many of the most vocal opponents were white gay men who had become active in the 1970s, for whom gay was a strived for identity that wasn’t just about the gender of a sexual partner, but also included self-esteem, status, and a way of confronting earlier shame, both internal and societal. Any suggestion of expanding the categories of outreach were met with accusations of “denial,” and internalized homophobia about not being able to “accept” the “true” identity of being gay.
As someone who teaches cross-cultural sexuality, this response was frustrating (and very ethnocentric), but I also felt M2M or MSM was also too limiting. In a number of cultures, there’s a concept of more than 2 genders, so asking a man, Have you ever had sex with another man? (MSM)—will not work well if the man being asked has had sex with someone his community does not identify as a “man.” In one article on Latino sexuality, the author suggested the answer would differ if you asked, Have you ever had sex with a man who was not a man? A soft man? A man who was a woman?
The question determines the answer. In a study with African-American males in L.A., when asked if they had ever had sex with another man, the answer across the board was “No.” But when the same men were asked, When was the last time you popped a sissy?” the response was very different.
Which, of course, leads us back to the actual definition of “sex.” When President Clinton said, I did not have sexual relations with that woman, we had done a research project with mid-western adults before the Clinton incident. The majority of those interviewed would have agreed with Clinton. They did not identify oral sex as “real sex.” Only penile/vaginal penetration was understood as “real sex.” This is why a few years ago, about one fourth of 10,000 adolescent females responding to an interview had engaged in oral sex, but nearly 80 percent of them considered themselves to be virgins. One of the reasons it’s so hard to reach the married men at rest rooms and public parks doing the MSM thing, is the reality they don’t classify what they are doing is “cheating” because it would only be “cheating” if they were “doing it” with a woman, and the belief what they are doing isn’t “real sex,” because the only “real sex” involves a penis and a vagina.
Simply dismissing this as “denial” on the part of the individual doesn’t make effective impact on HIV (or other STDs) from a public health level. It also doesn’t recognize other cultures may use different categories. For example, in some non-Western cultures, the gender of your partner has no bearing on your sexual orientation. As long as you are in the “active” or “insertive” role, you (and your community) will still recognize you as heterosexual. This was the hardest thing to get across to people around a discussion table…if you’re not from that community, frankly “you don’t get to vote.” You can tell them they are “wrong, bad, stupid or crazy” to think the way they do, but frankly, they’re used to being told that from the American Dominant Culture. A direct attack tends to make them hold even more tightly to their established belief system.
By the way—this is the reason reporters hate interviewing a lot of researchers and scientists who don’t provide “neat” sound bites. Asking if Craig or the others are “really gay,” doesn’t encourage an easy answer, because there isn’t a consensus of what “gay” means. Even Freud referred to “homosexualities.” I think it’s obvious that Craig and his brethren are in some sort of different classification than people who’ve posted on this topic who themselves identify as gay or queer, if nothing other than a category of “gay-impaired.”