I am going to try again to straighten out (pardon the pun) my thoughts about male sexuality. Note, again, that I am only talking about male sexuality here, not because the other genders, non-genders, between-genders and gender combinations are uninteresting to me. But because that’s not what I’m talking about at this moment.
Here are some words we use to talk about the sexuality of men:
Here are some other words we use:
My position is that the two sets of words are not exactly equivalent — that is to say, that “gay” is not exactly the same thing as “homosexual,” and “straight” is not exactly the same thing as “heterosexual.”
Before you jump down to the “comments” form, please allow me to elaborate.
“Homosexual” is a word that describes a specific activity, or a person who performs that activity (English can be sloppy like that — adjectives often step up and become nouns). When two men have sex with one another, that is a homosexual act. When one man engages solely (or almost solely, barring some experimentation) in sexual activities with other men, that man is a homosexual.
Likewise, when a man has sex with a woman, that is a heterosexual act. When a man engages solely (or almost solely, barring some experimentation) in sexual activities with women, that man is a heterosexual.
Unlike “homosexual” and “heterosexual,” which relate specifically to physical activities, the words “gay” and “straight” have cultural and aesthetic implications in addition to their sexual meanings.
Skinny jeans, stylish haircuts, and disco music — or any other number of random associations — might spring to mind when you hear the word “gay,” though strictly speaking these things have nothing to do with actual physical intercourse between men. As a social construct, “gay” points as much to non-sexual behaviors, choices, aesthetics, and attitudes as it does to actual sexual practice. Judy Garland. Lady Gaga. Elizabeth Taylor. “Gay icons” all — and none of them were men who have sex with other men.
“Straight” as a word used to describe heterosexual people started out, I think, in opposition to the word bent, which used to mean something similar to gay (with a slightly more perverse, self-hating edge). It has other meanings, when used to describe people, though they have been eclipsed.
For example, in the drug subculture, “straight” means “somebody who doesn’t do drugs.” I’ve actually had very confusing conversations on the street in San Francisco with people who were using “straight” to mean that, asking me if I was that (I am “straight” in that way). I kept saying, “No, I’m not straight,” and they kept offering me drugs, and I kept saying, “I don’t do drugs,” and they kept saying, “So are you straight?” It was like an Abbot and Costello routine.
“Straight” can mean somebody who doesn’t cheat at cards. “Straight” can mean a businessman who deals openly and honestly.
“Straight” implies steadfastness, conventionality, adherence to rules, and sincerity. It implies monogamy and marriage and sobriety and respect. It implies the missionary position.
The heterosexuality of a sultan with 47 female concubines and 2 male ones whom he never happens to use, or the heterosexuality of a pimp, or the heterosexuality of an Otaku who is “married” to a pillow in the shape of one of his favorite cartoon characters, are very different heterosexualities. The porn addict. The Slave to His Mistress. The furry.
There are all kinds of heterosexualities. Most of them don’t have names. Most of them are far, far, far from “straight.”
Likewise, there are all kinds of homosexualities, and all kinds of homosexuals, almost none of which, and almost none of whom, are “gay.”
I hope that helps.
Note: some of these thoughts came from talking to my friends on Facebook and Google+ — I’d name them, but given the subject matter, I’m not sure if they’d like to be named.