Sex and Distortion

First published at on March 13, 2009

Sometimes we gay writers do such a good job cutting down one another that we scarcely need our enemies.

Consider a recent column [] in Bay Windows, a New England GLBT newspaper, where Jeff Epperly identifies me as a “gay conservative” who’s a “a bit touched in the head when it comes to sexual issues.”

Epperly’s column analyzes “the tendency among right-wingers, gay or straight, that the louder they complain about that which offends their sexual sensibilities, the greater the chance that they are getting freaky with those same sexual acts in their personal life.”

Apparently I’m one of those freaky right-wingers.

I don’t know Epperly personally, although Bay Windows was one of the first papers to run my work, and Epperly was editor at the time. (I have great respect for the publication.) On what basis does he diagnose my supposed sexual neurosis?

Oddly, he bases it on a column [] in which I, too, discuss conservatives’ obsession with sex.

In that column, I point out our opponents’ tendency to reduce our sexual intimacy to its bare mechanics. Since they find those mechanics weird, they label our sex—and by extension, us—as disgusting, unnatural, perverse.

My response was to point out that when we reduce it to bare mechanics, it’s not just gay sex that’s weird, but ALL sex. (There’s a reason people call it “doing the nasty.”) But it’s silly to think about sex merely in terms of mechanics.

I illustrated by way of an e-mail exchange with a closeted gay British 15-year-old, whose parents went off on a tirade about how disgusting it was for a man to stick his penis up another man’s bum. (With stunning insensitivity, Epperly describes the youth as “equally obsessed with the alleged grossness of homosexual sex.”)

Epperly quotes from my response to the young man:

“In the abstract, of course it’s weird (and from some perspectives, gross) to think of a man sticking his penis up another man’s bum. But isn’t all sex weird in the abstract? Sticking a penis in a vagina, which bleeds once a month? Sucking on a penis, something both straight women and gay men do? Pressing your mouth—which you use for eating—against another person’s mouth, and touching tongues, and exchanging saliva (i.e. kissing)? Weird! Gross! (In the abstract, anyway.)”

Perhaps if I had stopped there, Epperly might have been justified in his conclusion: “I know this is simply a gay conservative’s variation on the ‘we’re just like you’ argument to heterosexuals, but somehow I think that ‘our sex is as gross as yours’ is not the most effective argument in the world. But it says a lot about the person delivering it.”

But of course, I didn’t stop there. Immediately thereafter—in a section that Epperly, tellingly, doesn’t quote—I wrote:

“Sex makes no sense in the abstract. But then you have urges, and you eventually act on them, and what once seemed weird and gross becomes…wow.

“Our opponents recognize this in their own lives, but they can’t envision it elsewhere. It’s a profound failure of moral imagination—which is essential for empathy, which is at the foundation of the Golden Rule.”

The Golden Rule is something Epperly might brush up on. Or the Principle of Charity.

The point of that column was that our opponents are using a double standard. For their sex, they see the deeper emotional picture. For our sex, they see only the mechanics. No wonder they find it weird.

Epperly seems so keen to peg me a “gay conservative” that he completely misses—or deliberately distorts—that point.

(Though perhaps I shouldn’t write “keen to peg me,” since that wording might just fuel his hypothesis about my sex obsession.)

I always find it funny when people label me a gay conservative. It’s true that I write for the moderate-to-conservative Independent Gay Forum. And in some ways, given my work as “The Gay Moralist,” the label is apt. But in many of the standard ways it’s not.

I haven’t voted Republican in two decades, except in a primary where the Democrat ran uncontested. I’m an avowed atheist. While I support marriage equality, I don’t believe that marriage is for everyone, and in my column I’ve defended sexual pleasure for its own sake. I’ve also publicly supported affirmative action.

Of course, even if I were a hardcore gay conservative, I’d deserve a fair reading—just like anyone else.

As a columnist, I’m used to the occasional reader setting me up as a straw-man and then psychoanalyzing me on the basis of that straw-man. It comes with the territory.

But from a fellow writer—particularly one who shares my disdain for sexual small-mindedness and the distortions it engenders—I hope for better.