The End of Heterosexuality (As We’ve Known It)

By Mark Simpson

A bullet-pointed column in the NYT by Charles M. Blow exam­ines a sea-change in atti­tudes towards homo­sexu­al­ity sug­ges­ted by a recent Gallup poll which found that, for the first time, the per­cent­age of Americans who per­ceive “gay and les­bian rela­tions” as “mor­ally accept­able” has crossed the sym­bol­ic­ally import­ant 50 per­cent mark.

Also for the first time, and even more sig­ni­fic­antly, more men than women hold that view. While women’s atti­tudes have stayed about the same over the past four years, the per­cent­age of men over 50 who con­sider homo­sexu­al­ity mor­ally accept­able rose by a by an eyebrow-raising 26% –and for those aged 18–49 by an eye­pop­ping 48%.

What on earth has happened in the US since 2006? How did the American male lose his world-famous Christian sphincter-cramp and right­eous loath­ing of sod­omy? Have the gays been secretly put­ting pop­pers in the locker-room vent­il­a­tion shaft?

Alas, Gallup doesn’t say.  So Mr Blow does what you do at the NYT when you’re stumped: ask some aca­dem­ics.  They came up with three theories:

    1. As more gay people come out more straight people get to per­son­ally know gay people which makes it more dif­fi­cult to discriminate.
    2. Men may be becom­ing more ‘egal­it­arian’ in gen­eral, partly thanks to feminism.
    3. Virulent homo­phobes are increas­ingly being exposed for enga­ging in homosexuality”.

Now, the first two of these the­or­ies seem to me fairly plaus­ible explan­a­tions for increased accept­ance of homo­sexu­al­ity at any time, but not espe­cially in the last few years – let alone that whop­ping 48% rise for 18–49 year olds. But the third the­ory about pub­lic homo­phobes being exposed as secretly gay per­haps goes too far in the oppos­ite dir­ec­tion and is too current-news spe­cific. As if the dis­cov­ery that fam­ous homo­phobe George Rekkers hired a rent boy to give him ‘spe­cial’ mas­sages could trans­form atti­tudes towards man-love overnight – rather than just change atti­tudes towards George Rekkers.

So I give them all just a C minus.

And, as Blow points out, none of these the­or­ies address the main find­ing – that men now are more accept­ing than women, revers­ing the gender split on this sub­ject that has held since poll­sters star­ted bug­ging people with ques­tions about ‘homo­sexual relations’.

In my own spec­u­lat­ive opin­ion, none of these the­or­ies can see the rain­forest for the trees. Of course young men in the US are much more accept­ing of homo­sexu­al­ity – because so many of them are now way gay them­selves. It’s not really an issue of ‘tol­er­ance’ or ‘accept­ance’ of ‘oth­er­ness’ at all. It’s about self-interest – quite lit­er­ally. About men being less down on the gays because they’re less hard on them­selves now – in fact, rather sweet on them­selves instead.

It’s about men in gen­eral not being so quick to renounce and con­demn their own ‘unmanly’ desires or nar­ciss­ism – or pro­ject it into ‘faggots’.

Which from the point of view of today’s sen­su­ally greedy male would be a ter­rible waste of a pro­state gland. Probably most young men are now doing pretty much everything that freaky gay men were once abhorred for doing – from anal play (both ways) to no-strings fuck-buddies, to cry­ing over Glee, and using buff-puffs in the shower while demand­ing as their male birth­right ‘com­fort­able skin’ (as the recent massive ad cam­paign for Dove for Men puts it).

And the tim­ing fits almost as snugly as a fin­ger or three where the sun don’t shine. It was after all only in 2003 that the Supreme Court finally struck down the anti sod­omy laws still on the stat­ute books of some US states as uncon­sti­tu­tional. It was also in the early Noughties that met­ro­sexu­al­ity really took off in the US.

Despite a mid-Noughties anti-metro, anti-gay mar­riage back­lash that helped re-elect Bush, in the Tweenies the male desire to be desired, and his eager­ness to use product – and body parts and prac­tises – once deemed ‘gay’ or ‘fem­in­ine’ or just ‘wrong’ to achieve this, seems to have become pretty much accep­ted amongst most American males under 45. It’s con­sumer­ism and advert­ising of course not the gays that has been put­ting the pop­pers in the men’s locker room.

Along the way, many young men have twigged that in a post-feminist world of com­mod­i­fied bod­ies and online tarti­ness there is decidedly no advant­age to them any more in an essen­tially Victorian sexual divi­sion of labour in the bed­room and bath­room that insists only women are looked at and men do the look­ing, that women are always pass­ive and men are always act­ive – or in the homo­pho­bia that was used to enforce it. Men now want it all.  Both ends.

And per­haps American women aren’t keep­ing up with men’s chan­ging atti­tudes because some are real­ising how ‘gay’ their boy­friends and hus­bands are already and won­der­ing where this is all leading.

There’s plenty to won­der about.  After all, it’s the end of the road for that holi­est American insti­tu­tion of all: Heterosexuality. Not cross-sex attrac­tion, of course, or repro­duc­tion – but that sys­tem of com­puls­ory, full-time, always-asserted straight­ness for men which stray­ing from moment­ar­ily, or even just fail­ing to show suf­fi­cient respect towards in the past could cost you your cojones. What, you a FAG??

If met­ro­sexu­al­ity is based on van­ity, ret­ro­sexu­al­ity, it needs to be poin­ted out, was based partly on self-loathing. ‘Real men’ were sup­posed to be repulsed by their own bod­ies at least as much as they were repulsed by other men’s. (If they were really lucky they might get away with pas­sion­ate indifference.)

After a dec­ade or so of met­ro­sexu­al­ity a tip­ping point seems to have been reached. Men’s self-loving bi-sensuality and appre­ci­ation of male beauty, awakened and increas­ingly nor­m­al­ised by our medi­ated world, seems to be here to stay. Even in the God-fearing USA. And might now, if it’s in the mood and treated right, choose to be con­sum­mated rather than just deflec­ted into con­sumer­ism again.

When I first wrote about how the future of men was met­ro­sexual, back in 1994, it was clear to me that met­ro­sexu­al­ity was to some degree the flip­side of the then emer­ging fash­ion for female bi-curiousness. I didn’t talk about this much at the time because I knew no one would listen if I did.  (I needn’t have wor­ried – they didn’t anyway.)

In this regard, one of the aca­dem­ics in the NYT piece was (finally) quoted as say­ing some­thing inter­est­ing, right at the end:

Professor Savin-Williams says that his cur­rent research reveals that the fastest-growing group along the sexu­al­ity con­tinuüm are men who self-identify as “mostly straight” as opposed to labels like “straight,” “gay” or “bisexual.”  They acknow­ledge some level of attrac­tion to other men even as they say that they prob­ably wouldn’t act on it, but … the right guy, the right day, a few beers and who knows. As the pro­fessor points out, you would never have heard that in years past.’

An A ++ to Dr Savin-Williams. Not so long ago, when Heterosexuality was a proper belief sys­tem that com­manded round-the-clock obeis­ance, ‘mostly straight’ would have been a heretical con­tra­dic­tion in terms – like half preg­nant. But in this Brave New World of male need­i­ness it’s just a state­ment of where we’re at.

For today’s young men the fear of fag­gotry is fast being replaced by the fear of miss­ing out.

Tip: Dermod Moore

33 thoughts on “The End of Heterosexuality (As We’ve Known It)

  1. As a gay man trolling the inter­net for an inter­est­ing dis­cus­sion on America’s newly open atti­tude towards male homo­sexu­al­ity, just want to say that I’m astoun­ded by the blatant miso­gyny in these comments.

    Three zingers in particular:

    1. “Sex with men rep­res­ents sexu­al­ity without entrap­ment, without fem­in­iz­ing emo­tional respons­ib­il­ity; after a while, it begins to look like lib­er­a­tion; rather than being an ana­thema to mas­culin­ity, it actu­ally affirms it. This gender reversal in the accept­ance of homo­sexu­al­ity is prob­ably a subtle sign in the re-emergence of pat­ri­archy, which is quite exciting.”

    fem­in­iz­ing” emo­tional respons­ib­il­ity? “excit­ing” “re-emergence of pat­ri­archy” ? You sound like a sad sod indeed. Patriarchy is for stiffers.

    and

    2. “Women are tra­di­tion­ally raised first and for­most to manip­u­late their hus­bands primar­ily with sexual reen­force­ment. It no won­der that in the major­ity of mar­riages that sur­vive, the woman makes all of the sig­ni­fic­ant choices: even what their hus­bands wear. Samuel Becket called the pussy a womans “trump card” , for good reason. Of course this work­sonly if it is kept a secret amonst the women folk.
    Their is no greater comic relief than the situ­ation in which a male real­izes his value to the female orgasm andturns tables on the manip­u­lat­ive stunt..”

    What a degrad­ing view of rela­tion­ships. As though a woman, or any­one, with­hold­ing sex in a rela­tion­ship is always a bad thing.

    or (on lesbians)

    I don’t think they are suf­fer­ing nervous break­downs due to their pussy only diet, or call­ing men fags to get them into bed. God knows what they are man­aging to fill their time with. I believe many of them have cats to look after.”

    As opposed to hav­ing or not hav­ing manip­u­lat­ive sex, or as opposed to actu­ally hav­ing a sexu­ally and emo­tion­ally (eek?) rela­tion­ship with another pussy ie “per­son”. I have to laugh.

    I wish you all the best in life.

  2. PugBear: Interesting spec­u­la­tion. I’m not sure how far I go down the ‘anti-male cul­ture’ route, or ima­gine that straight men are about to turn away from women, but it’s pretty clear that homo­pho­bia has been one of the prin­cipal ways of per­suad­ing men to con­form. I would also say that in a post-feminist (Western) world where women are increas­ingly lib­er­ated from the kind of con­form­ism that their moth­ers and grand­moth­ers knew, main­tain­ing and being com­pli­cit in that level of homo­pho­bia clearly means hob­bling men’s own response to a changed world — and changed gender rela­tions. Homophobia now just keeps men down. Like James Dean sup­posedly said about his bisexu­al­ity, I think more and more men are say­ing, in effect: ‘I don’t wanna go through life with one hand tied behind my back.’

  3. More thoughts on pos­sible causes of the surge in men’s tol­er­ance for homosexuality.

    Maybe polar­iz­a­tion of sexual pref­er­ences and stig­mat­iz­a­tion of male homo­sexual con­duct are an aber­ra­tion, and tacit tol­er­ance with fre­quent clandes­tine sexual encoun­ters between straight and gay men is the norm. In the book The End of Gay (and the Death of Heterosexuality), Bert Archer claims that, start­ing in the early 1940s, US psy­chi­at­rists and the mil­it­ary col­luded in stig­mat­iz­ing homo­sexu­al­ity by insti­tut­ing harsh pun­ish­ments for it and con­vin­cing the pub­lic that it was a dan­ger­ous men­tal ill­ness. The recent sur­pris­ing fast increase in men’s tol­er­ance for homo­sexu­al­ity may just be a return to the norm.

    Another cause might be back­lash against rad­ical fem­in­ism and polit­ical cor­rect­ness. PC’s pro-female anti-male bias appears every­where in our soci­ety. In pre­scrib­ing Ritalin for the nor­mal ram­bunc­tious beha­vior of ele­ment­ary school boys. In elev­at­ing feel­ings over reason. In elev­at­ing self-esteem over dis­cip­line and suc­cess. In divorce pro­ceed­ings which cater to women and harshly pun­ish men. In work­place rules agains sexual har­ass­ment which have broadened the defin­i­tion of sexual har­ass­ment to mean any­thing offens­ive even when it’s barely con­nec­ted to gender or sexu­al­ity. These trends have got­ten so out of hand, a back­lash is inev­it­able. One form the back­lash might take is a retreat into male-only social rela­tions, and maybe even male-only sexual relations.

    A divorce can ruin a man’s life, and divorce is so fre­quent now, straight men might view mar­riage as a mere pre­lude to the hellish pun­ish­ment of divorce. It might also motiv­ate straight men to see gay men’s freer lives as an attract­ive altern­at­ive. Which makes it incred­ibly ironic that US gay rights act­iv­ists are hell­bent on leg­al­iz­ing gay mar­riage and shriek “Homophobe!” at any­one who opposes it. Whether gay men’s lives actu­ally are freer is obvi­ously debat­able, but one of the often cited reas­ons for straight men’s hos­til­ity and/or envy toward gay men is our free­dom from the duties of mar­riage and child-rearing.

    I’ve always thought it’s hil­ari­ous and creepy at the same time that high pro­file anti-gay act­iv­ists like George Rekers are so obsessed with male-male anal sex. How do they stay com­pletely obli­vi­ous to the fact that their obses­sion with gay men’s sexual activ­it­ies casts doubt on their own het­ero­sexu­al­ity? Well, we know how that turned out for Rekers. I’ve always wondered if the best thing gay rights act­iv­ists could do for their cause is to issue pub­lic ser­vice announce­ments that anal sex is optional in male-male sex.

    Although I’m per­son­ally not a big fan of anal sex, I have little sym­pathy for straight men who are ter­ri­fied of the idea of tak­ing a cock up the ass, espe­cially the ones who make it the center­piece of their hos­til­ity toward gay men. To me it seems like an issue of cour­tesy and fair­ness. For males of all sexual pref­er­ences, if you want to stick your cock inside other people, you should be will­ing to take one down your throat and up your ass at least once to find out what it feels like to your inser­tee part­ners. It’s just plain rude to believe it’s okay to do sex acts to your part­ners which you won’t allow any­one to do to you because you think those acts are too scary, pain­ful, dis­gust­ing or insult­ing. How many straight men agree with me? I’d love to find out. Has any­one done a survey?

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