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In Genesis, a very old book of middle-eastern supernatural adventure and romance, we find an intriguing glimpse of the way that homosexuality may have functioned in that part of the world, way back when. The story goes like so: this one upstanding gentleman, our hero, finds some visitors to his city standing alone near the city gates — they are messengers from God, in fact, but that’s not the point at this moment — and seeing that they have nowhere to sleep, he invites them into his house so that they will be safe. The point at the moment is that these men are pretty. Overnight, a gang of drunken men gathers outside the gentleman’s house, and demands permission to gang-fuck the gentleman’s visitors. He refuses to release the visitors, but he does offer his daughters instead. The men insist that it’s male tail they want. The story gets silly and supernatural after that. It doesn’t have a happy ending.

'The Destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah' by John Martin, 1852

You can read that story here.

When I was a kid growing up in northwest Alabama, I often heard preachers compare the city of San Francisco to Sodom (which is where that gentleman lived, and where those visitors were in danger of being raped), but I never saw anything like that happen when I actually lived in San Francisco.

“That’s because things like that don’t happen anywhere anymore,” you may say to yourself. “It’s because things like that never actually happened.”

Consider then, this excerpt from “A Boy to be Sacrificed,” a brief memoir by Moroccan gay writer Abdellah Taïa, from yesterday’s New York Times:

It all came to a head one summer night in 1985. It was too hot. Everyone was trying in vain to fall asleep. I, too, lay awake, on the floor beside my sisters, my mother close by. Suddenly, the familiar voices of drunken men reached us. We all heard them. The whole family. The whole neighborhood. The whole world. These men, whom we all knew quite well, cried out: “Abdellah, little girl, come down. Come down. Wake up and come down. We all want you. Come down, Abdellah. Don’t be afraid. We won’t hurt you. We just want to have sex with you.”

Taïa was not actually a “little girl,” though that’s what the drunk men were calling him. That was his nickname because he was an effeminate boy.

The thing to bear in mind is that those men gathered outside the house — in either case, ancient Sodom or modern-day Rabat — were not “gay men.” In Taïa’s wording, they were “frustrated men” seeking “easy sexual objects.” They would have been outraged if you called them gay, or whatever word meant “gay” to them — and rightly so. The “gay” would be the one they desired to poke their penises into. It’s not a good position to be in, if you don’t like penises poked into you.

We have a much milder version of those kinds of guys here in American culture, too. They are social conservatives who have sex with men and boys in dirty bookstores, truck stop restrooms, or via internet hook-ups, but do not live as gay men, and specifically do their best to try to make life difficult for gay people, either by being anti-gay politicians or by voting for anti-gay politicians. You’ve seen the scandals. You know they exist. Such men tend to be found in societies were homosexuality is considered shameful, and where other forms of sexual expression are also limited and painfully fraught with social stigma, too — conservative societies, in other words. No liberal, pro-gay congressman has ever been nabbed with a wide stance in an airport restroom.

In terms of its attitudes toward sexuality, Sodom probably looked much more like contemporary Morocco, Iran, Iraq, Saudi Arabia, and even Mississippi than it did contemporary San Francisco.

The common wisdom is to say that anti-gay conservatives who practice gay sex are “in the closet,” and just need to “deal with their sexuality,” but no. We are talking about two very different social practices, both of which happen to have homosexuality as a defining characteristic of a larger social ritual. Think of the way that ballet dancing and the Haka of the Maori kind of seem to be the same thing (dancing), but did not develop for the same reasons, and have few common fans and practitioners, if any. Just as there are many different forms of dance, there are also many different forms of homosexuality. Gayness is only one of them. The homosexuality of “sexual relief” bears about the same resemblance to gayness as a Las Vegas “massage” does to heterosexual marriage.

It’s unlikely for a bunch of drunk men to show up on the doorstep of an unwilling male object of desire and demand to be allowed to gang-fuck him in San Francisco because the kind of homosexuality practiced by gay people there is different, and has different social meanings, than the kind of homosexuality practiced by people who do not identify with the gay movement, in places where homosexuality is shameful.

I was never threatened with gang-rape in Alabama growing up — we didn’t go to that extreme there, I guess — but I did meet plenty of otherwise-straight, verbally abusive guys who considered young gay men to be easy marks for “sexual relief.” Those guys weren’t gay. They were fundamentalist Christians, as a matter of fact, every single damned one of them. Some of them were preachers. Bringing them “out of the closet” would serve no purpose, because they are not in it. They are up to something else altogether. At best, they might make good leathermen. But that’s another subject for another day.