Since the 1960s in the West, the view of wider society regarding queerness has changed. As the fight for queer liberation has progressed, queer people have become slowly more tolerated and eventually accepted by society as a whole. This acceptance and/or tolerance has come in many forms.
Growing up in the 2000s through 2010s in rural England, it was certainly more tolerance than acceptance. Like much of rural England, village and family life centred on the church – specifically the Church of England (CofE). Whilst much more progressive than other denominations, the Church’s ‘acceptance’, like much of cishet society, was solely on their terms. In the acceptance of the church 1 Peter 4:8 was often quoted; “Above all, love each other deeply, because love covers a multitude of sins.”. The love between gay partners is to absolve the dirtiness of the act. Ultimately their rhetoric still accepts that having gay sex was immoral, was sinful. This is a view that has been projected by much of wider cishet society in their acceptance of queer people.
Within cishet society there is still a view of queer people as being inherently sexual. Whilst being somewhat archaic, some continue to hold the view that homosexuality is an act rather than an identity. I often recall the story of my friend coming out to his grandmother as bisexual; in which, she thought that it meant he could only have threesomes with both a man and a woman. During the fight for queer liberation this has been a view that we have had to combat. There is more to being queer than just sex; sex with people of the same sex does not define us, our love for them does. Queer people can be parents and teachers and we can teach queerness to children, because we are more than just sex. When we teach about queerness we teach about love, and art, and families, etc.
In the fight for our acceptance we assimilate and cut off the sexual part of us that drove queer culture to begin with. Some take this to the extreme, they are open about their queerness but also claim celibacy. While some just hide the sexual, they maintain their monogamous suburban relationships whilst condemning hook-up culture, gay clubs, and kink at pride. This new relationship between sex and queer people has risen within a new wider purity culture – Gen Z have less sex than any previous generation. In her article “Everyone’s beautiful and no-one is horny”, RS Benedict discusses trends in contemporary mainstream media where everyone on screen is insanely beautiful and yet none of them have sex – no-one is horny. Not only is this represented by the straight films Benedict discusses but also in the film adaptations of queer books. An example of which is the gay bar scene in Love, Simon – which was filmed but didn’t make the final cut.
Benedict also brings to attention how the standard of beauty has developed to a point where bodies, especially male bodies are required to be ripped to the point that can only be achieved with steroid use. She explains that exercise now becomes a purely aesthetic project, not social like in bygone eras. And in discussing gyms she says, “People worked out to look hot so they could attract other hot people and fuck them”. Gyms used to be a cruising hot spot for gay men – the steam rooms, and locker rooms let many a queer man cool down after a workout. It even inspired a whole porn series – steam room stories. Now gyms exist mostly in gay culture to create the most aesthetically perfect body. The expectations of queer men’s bodies to be the buffest or skinniest or leanest has skyrocketed and men with average, healthy bodies are frequently shamed and labelled fat. Gyms, even gay ones, have no-longer become a place of horniness; they have become a place to build status, to create a body worthy of likes on social media.
There is an argument to be made that maybe as oppression lifts, queer people no-longer feel the need to compress their interactions into hidden, quick, vapid fucks. Maybe our interactions with each other can be something more. I think these arguments fail to acknowledge that queer people possess the ability to maintain a culture that has both non-sexual interactions and sexual interactions with each other, as straight people have been able to maintain for millenia. The fact is sex plays an important role in queer history and identity and when we allow straight people to insert shame into our sex lives we allow them to define and to control us. Queer liberation cannot happen without the liberation of queer sex.
By Joe Bloggs (he/they)