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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 continuum 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

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

  1. 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.’

  2. 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?

  3. Speaking of meterosexuality, as male attractiveness has become more essential to success, I noticed in an article about the rapid increase of male plastic surgery. As I noted before, males are statistically far more better favored for hiring and promotions in the workplace if they are physically attractive.

    It is a fact now that correspondingly a huge number of males , regardless of sexual preferance, are opting for various types of surgical improvement. Curiously, one of the more popular forms of bodily enhancement, particularly with straight men, is that of penis enlargement:: not so that they have larger appliances for their mates pleasure,(i.e, have a larger erection) but so that they impress coworkers and business associates better in the showers at their health clubs . There is male vanity!

  4. The newer generation of American gays are mostly very confused and distressed at the apparent anti-intuitional aspect of the load of propaganda of the religion and control inspired garbage they are being feed by right wing marriage evangelists since it goes with a damning of nonmonogamous sex. As a young man said to me last night: ‘You go through, grade school and high school just wishing and hoping that you could just touch another man, then you discover that you have to seel your soul to the devil/God& marriage to do so. They are always courious what it was like when they didn’t have to posture and preen and plan and plot just to have sex. Its not just the showers, it’s the colusion of gay people.

  5. Mark, as has been discussed ad nauseum in the replies to your ‘gay4pay paratroopers’ piece, the people who are least accepting of the designation ‘mostly straight’ are gays: they continue to hold to the retrosexual ‘suck one cock’ school of gay-identity.

    While Dr. Sex’s 10% figure was probably way off, I think he was probably correct in stating that in 1949 the majority of American males had had some same-sex encounter to the point of orgasm. You see, back then they didn’t know it was ‘like . . . sooo gay!’ This was still a time when the majority of people received the very best kind of cautionary sex education in the barn: one learned early in life what happened when boy parts were put inside girl parts. A mutual wank with a friend probably wasn’t even considered sex.

    It has been suggested that same-sex encounters may be an important part of our sexual maturation process. So perhaps an established genetic paradigm is starting to re-assert itself in the wake of ‘gay

    Based on my own experience growing up in the eighties, the gay movement has had the paradoxical effect of making us homophobic in ways we had never before considered. I never participated in a circle jerk, nor knew of any guy who did: we all knew it was ‘like . . . sooo gay!’. It is my understanding that some American secondary schools have gone so far as to remove open showers from team locker rooms — a move bound to have a deleterious impact on ‘team spirit’, even for those who aren’t in the least curious about what their teammates are packing.

  6. Sadly, Dolly does not make the grade into High Camp, but then I would not expect she would want to. Our Dolly is trash-camp, but often that is the best type to be. In her refusal to project a serious persona – and all the serious effort she puts into that – along with the uber-feminity appearance (and its drag-like connotations), Dolly ridicules the expectations of her audience. And all with a self-made take-no-prisoners C&W sassiness!

  7. Sadly “camp” was a useful concept which arose out of gay culture and was left in the trash of a defunct community which people popular inrtelectuals abandoned as gay culture went the way of most truely gay liberationist thought as” power bottoms” (Mark S.) like Mrs. Sullivan forced everyone into wedding dresses.

  8. I can agree with both Uroskin and Mark S regarding Ms. Rand. I think that the best catogorization, from my experience is that she fits pretty neatly into the category of “camp’ as described by Sontag.
    Probably because she was so bizarrely right wing, people in college were pretty well divided in America between those right wing business students who worshiped at her alter and those intelectuals who found her spitfully wrongheaded.(with the caviat that American students were never bright stars in the cosmos) she was thought very important at one time on American campuses. I think that some of our tea-bag crowd (who can read) still genuflect at her mention.

    To the peoiple overseas who are actually educated she is camp in the same way that the singing plastic Rose gadens in Disneyworld are, and as Sarah Palin will soon be.

  9. Ayn Rand was a third rate Russian emigre hack writer. Spend your book club money on something more interesting, like Mark’s back catalogue of books.
    “Pussy-whipped” is one epithet not many a straight boy is aspiring to.

  10. Fully realized women, who are not non- orgasmic: often a foolish husband’s fault, are wildly needful of sexual satisfaction, and will chase a skilled paramore all over the globe, seeking that ultra experience which a woman would have a very hrd time achieving with a cat. As men realise their full value as erotic beings they are empowered in many ways.

    Even with men, it is even a fact, in recent studies done of hiring practices, that good lookig men are considered first over better skilled entrants . This is probably not overt homosexualiy, but it belies something thier than the old utilitarian ideal..

  11. BTW, Mark, that routine of withholding sexual favors from women/wives is a decided extension of Meterosexuality. The smart modern “heterosexual” man’s way of keeping “his woman “in live. That’s not as much mysogyny as “turn around is fair play”: women have done it for centuries to men.

  12. Ayn Rand is the pop right wing American figure who was the only person business students could safely read because she was the Ann Coulter of the 60’s PCB are poison, I believe.

    From what I hear from my acquaintances who go to the private sex parties that are held every weekend in the suburbs, a large part of their debauches are “straight” married men, usually youngish.

    It makes sense that women would not be enthusiasts in the movement of heterosexual males leaving the flock. They are clueless, I suspect., but sexualy frustrated: (there seem to be two attitudes quasi heteromen take and that is to chew them to death or make a quick penial plunge in and out before you knowwhat you are up to ). If women realized that the price of their liberation was to have only pussy for sexual enjoyment they would all have nervous breakdowns.
    Women have always had thissstrange proclivity that they should be able to have the best of everything, and no ill onsequences. Well it just doesn’t work that way.
    A smart bisexual man these days, just turns the ancient female strrategy on it’s head: either behave or you don’t get any nooky(cock in this case).

  13. The numbers might seem shocking, but realistically most of us have noticed the change over the years. I’ve even been directly engaged in this change with a list of once homophobic friends who have been ‘losing their religion’ due to our friendship. I think the only people that have held back this growth have been sites like Queerty who project a hyper camp sensibility that draws a strict ‘black and white’ line between what’s possible (i.e. If your gay your a queen like us and there is no exception to their rule) and on the flip side you have the right wing homo’s stuck in a futile and doomed dogmatic extremism where historical male-ness is placed above a ‘natural masculinity’ that arises free of conceptual meanderings.

    I, myself am not a “typical” camp/effeminate man, just merely a sensitive man. But sensitivity is not exclusive to effeminacy – it’s an aspect of the world we open our eyes to everyday. And as all my friends and contacts have said – that it’s in meeting men like myself that made them realize that the strict lines imposed are false. Theories are fine, but the factual experience of an experience have greater weight. We are, as Uroskin said, a people with a history who have been brainwashed, conditioned by the abrahamic religions. And, usually – it’s real life personal events that cause a fundamental change from these imposed beliefs.

    Today, just being yourself, makes you a revolutionary.

  14. I guess straight men bottom because it is something they cannot easily do at home (not all wives are willing to strap on the dildo, they tell me) so I really don’t have the time to explore my own bottom side, not that I regret that.
    I’m willing to see this major trend (sexual tectonic shift?) as a return to pre-christian/jewish/muslim sexual behaviour and a de-coupling of sexual relations from marriage and property.
    I always thought the Spartans got it right to ban men from marrying until they were 30 and getting their rocks off in a single sex environment. For many guys that is still an obvious attraction considering the popularity of single sex working/socialising spheres in the workplace, football field and prison. And naturally, these days, the sex-on-site venues.

  15. PugBear: I agree, internet porn probably has a lot to do with that ‘surge’ – in an earlier draft of this post I blamed advertising and porn for putting the poppers in the men’s locker room, but for some reason later deleted the mention of porn. Maybe because I talk about it too much. Although what you describe is absolutely true, I don’t think it’s necessary for straight men to be watching gay porn for porn to have that ‘educational’ effect – hardcore straight porn is somwhat ‘bi’ by definition, certainly when compared to gay porn (where sexual difference doesn’t exist).

  16. Internet porn might be one of the main causes for that eye-popping surge in tolerance. Particularly websites like XTube, where lots of videos are free, and visitors don’t even have to register to view many of them. XTube mixes links to gay and straight videos on the same pages. They have a gender filter which isn’t very effective. Any straight male with the slightest curiosity about male-male sex can easily satisfy his curiosity anonymously and in complete privacy. Since a lot of it’s free and not behind a registration firewall, teenagers could easily access it. Many of the videos are obviously recorded at home and feature men who don’t fit the strict hotness standards for professional porn models, which might add to the impression that all guys could be, and probably already are, having sex with other guys. These websites demystify gay sex and equalize the sexual preferences far more effectively than gay rights activists could ever hope to achieve. That the surge occurred only among males supports this theory, since Web surfing and porn are both more popular with men than with women.

  17. I think it goes deeper than just not wanting to miss out on some sexual hijinks.

    Nobody is more restricted by hegemonic heterosexuality than straight men, and nobody gains more from it than women. The initial courtship, the wedding, the house, the childrearing, his death, are all about her. With regards to marriage, the default perspective is that of the wife. Straight men get an immensely naughty thrill out defying this gynocentric institution by having sex with another man. 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.

  18. I noticed lately that my fuckbuddies are now always proudly showing off their wedding bands to me after a vigorous session in the sack. This would not have happened even a few years ago. I think you’re right that they are into it because they fear of missing out. I mean, all that ‘fabulosity’ and ‘gorgeousness’ prevalent in the more outlandish expressions of gay sexuality must have tweaked in them that gays are on to something great and they want to get a piece of the action too.
    Mind you, they are all sexual bottoms, which suits me fine. But suggesting a three-some with the wife is still a huge no-no.

  19. I wasn’t being entirely serious in suggesting that the reason women’s attitudes are now behind men’s when it comes to homosexuality is because they’re worried that as you put it so succintly, Barry will run off with Harry. I could speculate about women being more moralistic than men, especially in an age of online porn, and I could probably blather on about how a lot of women are less ‘objective’ about sex (which probably just means less fetishistic), but it seems pretty clear that greater ‘acceptance’ of homosexuality by men is now aligning itself with greater freedoms for men in general. And I’m not convinced that all women think that is a good idea. Particularly feminists – which is very depressing since those new male freedoms are the corollary of the ones that women have achieved.

    And you can write about anal sex anytime you like, round these parts….

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