Tuesday, February 06, 2007

What It feels...

Is it possible to separate the sex from the sexual orientation?
"Honestly, as far as I know, I'm the only gay virgin in Buffalo," says Michael Empric, 24, who does public relations for the American Red Cross, drinks skim milk, doesn't smoke, loves TiVo and going to the gym, and had been chosen as Gay.com's 'Hottie of the Day'. Empric dated women before he started coming out during his senior year of college, but he didn't have sex with them. "I never made the connection between the strong feelings I had for men and actually being gay," he says. That is, until he did an inventory of his enthusiasms and started doing the math. "I was like, 'Duh. I like shopping, and watching The Golden Girls. There's a pattern here.'"

The pattern of cultural passions that helped Empric come to understand that he is gay doesn't make him particularly unusual. Gay men and lesbians have used Bea Arthur, Barneys sales, mullet haircuts, and U-Haul trucks as touchstones of sexual identity for decades. But for gay people in previous generations, mastery of this pattern has generally been a by-product of sexual experience, a post-coital code learned in order to mark oneself as a member of the tribe. The reason they learned the code wasn't primarily to take on a gay or lesbian identity, it was to meet people with whom to have sex.

Recently, however, much of America has become increasingly fluent in gay culture, and that's helped a new generation of gay men and lesbians to come out and, in some cases, spend years developing a highly articulated gay identity without having sex. This, of course, raises a couple questions: How do you know you're gay if you haven't had sex? And what constitutes virginity for gay people? In other words, is a gay man a virgin if he's had only oral sex?

These questions lead fairly quickly to lexical problems on the order of explaining what your definition of 'is' is. Gay virginity is a highly unstable concept, and gay people who call themselves virgins often change their definition of the term as they proceed with sexual exploration. For Eric, a 24-year-old administrative assistant in San Francisco, virginity is correlated with desire. "I define virginity as not going to the furthest level that you want to go to," he says. "I consider myself a virgin because I haven't had anal sex, even though I want to." His gay virginity exists on a sliding scale, he explains. "There was a time a few years ago when I had no desire to have anal sex and I had done everything I wanted to do, so I didn't consider myself a virgin. At that point I didn't want to have anal sex. Now I do, yet I have not, so I consider myself a virgin again."

Going further, many would argue that the term 'virginity' itself is useless to gay people. A spokesperson for the Los Angeles Gay and Lesbian Center says no one on his medical or mental health staff has anything to say on the topic: "It's not a subject that has really come up for us." The center's executive director, Lorri Jean, adds, "I don't think that most people's gay identity is based on the sexual act. We are what we are, whether we're doing it or not."

Still, some lesbians and gay men believe they've successfully adapted the term to their own experiences. And they're practically unanimous in their decision to use 'virginity' as a figurative description of isolation, the disappearance of which occurs when true intimacy is found.

Meanwhile, in Buffalo, Michael Empric is still waiting, for reasons that are perfectly clear to him. "I think many gay people seek happiness through relationships and having sex," he says. "I wanted to figure out who I was outside the context of a relationship, and being a virgin has forced me to become comfortable with myself."

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Gayness is an orientation, operating through Erotic attraction and Erotic desire. It doesn't need Gay genital activity to prove or confirm itself.
Virginity refers to genital experience. Some Gay men lose their physical virginity in hetero-genitility, so they are generally said to have had some sexual experience. They retain their homo-genital virginity until they have their first homo-genital experience. Since some gay men set anal copulation as their definitive genital activity, they mentally view that as the point at which they are no longer virgin when they have accomplished that, however, intercourse just isn't the genital preferance or goal of all gay men, so other forms of homo-genitility are going to be the mainstay or even sole type of experience or their gay sex lives. Normally, the first time two humans engage in some type of interpersonal genital activity is their "first time", regardless of penetration, or the specific activity chosen, and thus the end of their virginity. Virginity is about sharing sex with another, keeping oneself exclusicely for another, and not the preservation from penetration and/or the breaking of a hymen. It would be a disasterously dishonest delusion for a women to think she is a virgin and misrepresent herself as a virgin just because she has succeeded in maintaining her hymen intact even though engaging in various alternative genital sex acts that have pleasured herself and her lover(s). Similarly, no gay man would want a gay partner who claims to be a virgin just because he has never had anal penetration pass himself off as HIV-safe or AIDS-free, when he has had plently of other gay sex experiences that could have exposed him to AIDS or STD's. For the sake of honesty and clarity, "Virginity" needs to be reserved to it's original meaning of untouched by anyone else and kept exclusively until the "first time". This is not an appeal to regressive cultural mores or moralistic religious rigidity. It's a commonsense commitment to be clear about one's level of prior sex experience for the presevation of health through informed decision making.