The love that dare not speak its name

I’m in the early hours of the morning, ponied up to a bar with a few friends, among them a strikingly beautiful, model-tall female we’ll call Shannon. We’re however many drinks in – that’s inconsequential, really, but alcohol is always motivating – and leaning into each another with droopy lids and grinning mouths. She smells good. I smell good. Our chemistries are working. I throw back the rest of my beer and slide the glass toward the bartender. She does the same. Then there’s that look. We shoot it to each other, almost simultaneously, knowing that the moment is coming. And then we’re kissing – no, we’re making out. I’m an out gay man, and I’m ferociously necking with a woman.

I’d feel more self-conscious copping to this habit of mine if I thought I were the only homosexual male in my set – educated, liberal, sexually exploratory – who indulged. That’s not to say that all gay men and straight women – however liberal – do it. In both groups you’ll find more who never would. After all, the idea of two people with very different sexual identities and attractions ending up tongue-tied is tinged with the absurd, even the pathetic. I don’t want to have sex with her, and she doesn’t want to have sex with me. So why are we engaged in the most overt sexual act a person can perform in public?

My lady-kissing started (or continued, I guess, but more on that later) after I came out. I got my first boyfriend as a 21-year-old senior at New York University, but only after I’d been in the relationship for a while did I gain the confidence to slow-roll my coming out to family and friends; and by 23 – after falling deeply in love postcollege – I was a proud gay man to most everyone I knew. Given my upbringing in a small, conservative Arkansas town, you might think I’d be one of those stereotypical farm boys who, after

coming to terms with his sexuality, embarks on a series of meaningless hookups. But I had a worldly, sex-positive mother who, from as early as I can remember, looked me and my brothers calmly in the eye and said, “Sex is a wonderful and beautiful thing.” Then she’d break out the Where Did I Come From? book, and we’d go through it page by page as she explained the hows and whys of that wonderful, beautiful thing. I perceived sex as more healthy (and possibly transcendent) than raunchy; I was more inquisitive about it than intimidated. All of which is to say that when I did come out, I didn’t throw on a mesh tank top and hot pants and take my new status as license to become sexually reckless with anyone, male or female.

At the most surface level, I kissed girls because, hey, it’s a good time. Kissing is a sensual experience, and I fancy myself as somewhat of a hedonist who’ll take his pleasures where he can get them. I appreciate physicality for its own sake, relish close contact with other bodies. But did kissing a girl ever make me want more? Did it arouse me? No. Gross. (Kidding – I’m not one of those gay men who’s disgusted by female anatomy.) Yet no matter how sexy the kiss, I just don’t get turned on. So, again, why bother? Why not just find a guy and optimize my pleasure? If only it were that simple.

Growing up in the South, there were activities in which I partook because they’re what Southern boys do: fishing, hunting, camping, riding four-wheelers, watching football, and drinking beer – all with a very close cadre of guys (and no, I didn’t lust after them).

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The love that dare not speak its name