Accept Those Who Challenge Gender Norms
I get the question, “So Jon, do you give it or take it?” surprisingly often. Never from other gay guys, who might have a legitimate interest in knowing; it’s always straight guys who seem most curious. This question, of course, ignores the fact that many gay men enjoy both “topping” and “bottoming,” often in the same sex session. Furthermore, by using fingers and/or sex toys, two men can mutually penetrate each other at once. So much for easy dichotomies.
Still, as it happens, I do have a clear preference. If you ask me in person, I would be happy to tell you if I like to “take it” or “give it.” But first, you’ll have to answer me this: Why are you asking? What is it you really want to know about me?
I think this question really means: How gay are you? How far do you deviate from my idea of normality? How tough will it be for me to accept and respect you as you are?
After all, we tend to link sexual orientation with gender performance. When we say, “That guy seems really gay,” we don’t mean we saw him staring at a dude. We mean that his body language, voice, clothes or interests don’t match our expectations of “proper” masculine behavior. Especially in liberal bubbles like Wash. U., it’s increasingly acceptable to be gay as long as your gender performance is conventional. Many people effortlessly accept gay men who are “normal guys.” However, the same folks may still snigger at—or just feel uncomfortable with—gay peers who break masculine gender norms.
No gender norm holds more symbolic power than the supposed dichotomy between penetrator and penetratee. We are taught to view male and female bodies as complementary opposites, the “pole” and the “hole,” designed for a single purpose in sex. Onto this imagined binary, we overlay themes of domination and submission, power and weakness. We imagine that the supreme masculine act is to penetrate and the supreme feminine act is to be penetrated. So for a man, being penetrated is the ultimate gender nonconformity: the ultimate act of feminization and therefore humiliation. It is the ultimate boundary of normal and acceptable manhood.
In fact, up through WWII, American culture usually labeled men “gay” only if they sought to be penetrated. As in many areas of Latin America today, men could routinely seek sex with other men without any stigma as long as they (claimed to) exclusively take the “masculine,” penetrative role. Sexual identity was defined by your gender performance and not by the sex of your partner. Although our sexual definitions have changed, these older models still influence our perceptions. To be penetrated—and to like being penetrated—is often understood as the absolute antithesis of manhood.
That’s why people are so curious if a gay man “pitches” or “catches.” They feel it’s somehow easier to respect a guy who only “tops.” It’s also why many straight men are so opposed to (scared of?) exploring anal pleasure, which is a sad and ridiculous loss on their part. They feel that exploring anal pleasure would “make them gay” and/or somehow threaten their manhood.
However, like all rules of gender, the “penetrator/penetratee” dichotomy is a cultural myth and not biological fact. As many people know, men of all sexual orientations have a “male G-spot”—or as I like to call it, the “A-spot.” Located on the prostate, about an inch inside your rectum, this nerve center can blast any guy’s orgasms with extra oomph (just google “male G-spot” to find endless diagrams and how-to guides). Most men can draw intense erotic pleasure from being penetrated, whether by a finger or something more risqué. Gents, regardless of your orientation, your A-spot has always been there, and always will be. Straight dudes, if you like fingering your girlfriend, maybe she’d like fingering you. Straight ladies, looking for a way to spice up Valentine’s Day? The A-spot is certainly one option. And remember, folks, condom+finger (or toy or whatever) = no mess.
Obviously, the A-spot complicates our notions of sex, gender and sexuality. In terms of pleasure, male and female bodies are more parallel than opposite. We all have “poles” (the penis/clitoris) and “holes” (the vagina/rectum). The lines between penetrator and penetratee, dominant and submissive, masculine and feminine, are blurry and permeable. People of all sexes and all sexual orientations can fluctuate constantly across these boundaries, mixing and matching categories, and love every minute. It’s certainly dumb to think you could judge anyone’s worth or dignity based on these sexual tastes.
So do I give it or take it? I do what I want.