Sex Shouldn't Be Scary


Sex Shouldn’t Be Scary

I’ve been trying to wrap my mind around the shooting in Orlando since I heard about it. I was one of the few awake when the estimate was twenty and woke again to it being fifty people dead. Despite the media and popular discussion about ISIS (ie islamophobic scapegoating), or that because of this discussion, I keep focusing on the one reason that “makes sense.” The sight of two men being sexually and romantically involved is not only not preferable to bigots, it is frightening and we respond to that fear with violence. Why does sex, that doesn’t involve you, matter? 

This may be a novel idea for some people, others will think it’s obvious, but one thing is for sure; if you’re a minority in the (LGBTQIAP+) community sex is scarier than love because that is what we’re dying for.

Not my view of sex, mind you. The idea that sexuality is linked to morality is both archaic and non-sensical. My moral compass does not direct who I am attracted to and if it did, I would have to have serious conversations with morality about why it was trying to do so. Morality isn’t about sex, morality is a measuring stick for who is right and wrong. So why is sex about morality?

Religion, is the easy answer. Race, might have been your first thought as well. Class, is also right up there because how the hell do we think Orange-Zombie-Hitler (the asshole formerly referred to as Trump) got to where he is? He doesn’t have class or the money he says he does but man, he sure puts on a good show like he does.

There is no one thing to point to and say this is the problem. Our country was built to allow for this, to allow for changing thought and allow for how we represent ourselves but that system is broken and we know it. These are intersectional issues that are institutionalized at every level of our society. From bathrooms to nightclubs, from churches to the White House; we have established the understanding of what is normal, safe, and white enough for us to feel comfortable. Fixing things never makes anyone comfortable.

As ridiculous as Mitt Romney’s recent claim about “trickle-down racism” exploits his own ignorance of the degree to which minorities are reminded every day, if not every minute, that they are considered less than. This has not trickled down from anywhere, it is bubbling up from our foundations. The American P.O.W. camps, the American war on Minorities aka war on drugs, terrorism, rape, the American genocide and attempted genocide and shame that has warped, tortured, and ultimately killed some of our greatest minds; we can’t avoid them when we talk about sex. Why?

If war is destruction, sex is creation. Sex is not a dirty word, nor is it innately a dirty deed. Sex is natural and, hello!, necessary for the basic survival of our species. The social understanding of sex however is completely built around the idea of power control. Why is it that when men are insulted they are call (forgive me Jack) “tools” but when women are insulted they are threatened with rape?

Both Western and Eastern cultures have had their moments of ascribing supernatural power dynamics of gender and sex throughout history but currently, at this moment in time, we’re struggling between extremes. The extreme right who are terrified of all the slutty poor girls who just love getting abortions (sarcasm) can’t even begin to understand the far left who tell them that sex is about love and not morality.

Think about that. Ultimately, what I’m saying is that sex is not morally based and therefore should not be morally judged. But it is. So if it is, it’s important to understand exactly why sex scares us so damned much. Why is it still so taboo to talk about sexual preferences when we’d gladly have parties to watch people beat each other near to death or have scantily clad people dance for us? It’s the intimacy of the moment, the honesty it demands, that is what I think is terrifying for most people.

A friend of mine recently wrote a wonderful piece on how the evolution of her relationship with her husband involved not only the way they lived and loved each other but also their D/s and power exchange relationship. I pointed out to her that, for me, she was learning to trust herself as much as she trusted someone else and she responded with thanks and tears. 

Whether in D/s culture or plain old American masculine as dominant and female as submissive culture, we have encouraged a power imbalance that has embedded itself into the way we feel free to live our lives. Yes, gender essentialism, this strict understanding of what is “appropriate” for one gender or another doesn’t just affect sex. It affects us everytime we want anything that feels inappropriate. A masculine woman is threatening and a feminine man is laughable, why? Because this power exchange exists at all levels of life.

When we already have all this gendered baggage, talking about sex is already loaded. What happens if you don’t enjoy it? What happens if you enjoy it too much? Who cares who you’re having sex with and why? We address these questions daily without thinking, just with expectations and preset understanding.

Specifically, why are gay men so threatening? What is it about two men kissing that is enough to drive conservative homicidal “normal” cis-het guys?

Oddly enough, I think back to high school. I think about when I first started getting the, “you’re only fifteen?” shocked smiles from people that I thought was because of how well I presented myself. I’m sure part of it was that, I was a theatre kid at least, but I also know now that it was a response in part to my breasts. The fact that they thought I was older meant that my ability to “perform” my sexuality felt powerful and it was reinforced.

The female performance of sexuality is treated by western society as though it were the only power women have. The narrative goes so far that we are now having to remind men that the way women dress, put on make-up, act, live, is not about a woman’s desire for someone else. It’s about how that woman chooses to dress.

This is a toxic view of masculinity and for masculine sex. It is a reaction to the gender binary we have for relationships. If women have power in how they perform their sexual attractiveness it is because they perform as bait. Taking binary thinking, if masculine sexuality is the opposite, the performance is then not about attractiveness as bait but as fear and power based predatory performance. 

If you’re a gay cis-het man, especially if you’re a minority within that group, your “power” is questioned all the time. Sex and romance between two men sets that binary, that makes most of us so comfortable, into question. Two men in a relationship can try to adhere to gender dynamics i.e. the “woman” in the relationship can do the household chores but as time goes on we recognize how that is internalized heteronormativity, whether it makes you unhappy or not.

Ultimately, what makes sex scary is that we don’t talk about it. Our society is built so that we can have expectations but expectations inevitably lead to miscommunications and at some point, guilt and shame. It is easier to perpetuate that guilt and shame, within ourselves and on to others. Sex shouldn’t be scary unless you want it to be, that’s another essay, but it especially shouldn’t be scary enough to kill. We may call this shooting an act of “terrorism” but as the great WCW said in his poem “To Elsie,” it may be that “Pure products of America/go crazy… No one/to witness/and adjust, no one to drive the car.”

Get behind the wheel. Drive the car where you want it to go. Make it there safely and then make it better.


Janine 4 years, 8 months ago

Shana, this is a lovely piece, thank you. It's lovely to have you here :-)

Also, I nearly posted that comment as 'Sean Dillon'. Not sure what's happening there? I hope Sean Dillon doesn't have access to my email address now, though I'm sure he's lovely.

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Elizabeth Sandifer 4 years, 8 months ago

It's an old site bug involving some mildly corrupted cookies. It's fixed on our end, but people with the bad cookies (like, apparently, yourself) will need to clear out their browser cache to have it fixed on yours.

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Janine 4 years, 8 months ago

Ah, okay thanks. Quite a dodgy bug that, but at least it doesn't take passwords too.

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Sean Dillon 4 years, 8 months ago

I just checked, no I do not have access.

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Jack Graham 4 years, 8 months ago

To explain why Shana referred to me when talking about men insulting each other with the epithet "tool"... I was recently called one on Twitter by Gareth Roberts, and I'm afraid I rather publically enjoyed it.

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Elizabeth Sandifer 4 years, 8 months ago

I love that this is the point where Eruditorum Press goes "actually, maybe we should start actually explaining our cryptic jokes."

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Jack Graham 4 years, 8 months ago

Well I'm still boasting, obviously. (There I go again, explaining other peoples' jokes.)

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Kevin 4 years, 8 months ago

Great piece. As I read I found myself thinking this is why 50 shades of Grey is popular while Jacqueline Carey's Kushiel series will likely never reach the same level of public fascination. 50 shades tames and domesticates BDSM while retaining a very white and monogamous worldview for sexuality. Carey, on the other hand, is a source of much debate among my circle with half of us thinking it should be the next GoT and the other half unable and unwilling to wrap our minds around the darker fetishes.

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Austin Loomis 4 years, 8 months ago

"50 shades tames and domesticates BDSM while retaining a very white and monogamous worldview for sexuality."

Twilight fanfic with serial numbers filed off is basically vanilla dressed as kink. Alert Lester Holt.

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Comment deleted 4 years, 8 months ago

David Brain 4 years, 8 months ago

I certainly accept that religion has a lot to answer for in this regard, but it's not really religion per se, as much as tribalism - religion is particularly good at this (especially with the guilt part), but other ideologies can be equally poisonous, whether they are racial, gender, political or whatever. It's the abuse of power that's the problem; seeing past whatever excuse is used and not mistaking the symptom for the cause, is the difficult bit.

(Anyway, the other problem with gender and sexuality is that it isn't a spectrum. It's a ridiculous multi-dimensional space that is probably unique to each person, which is probably why relationships are so bloody difficult because even common reference points probably aren't.)

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Aylwin 4 years, 8 months ago

a gay cis-het man

Without wanting to be too pedantic, I'm pretty sure that's not a thing.

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