Sluts, Straights and Stereotypes

I hate the word slut.

More than hate; I despise it, I detest it, I loathe it. It is a horrible, judgemental, prejudiced word. It’s one of those words that says far more about the person using it than the person it’s addressed to. When I see reviews like the ones below, I have to grit my teeth to stop from screaming.

…of course A’s always been lying to B and was just as slutty even if he isn’t a cheater slut whore…

…And over half way in all I know about the MC is he’s a slut and apparently is such a parting slut he flunked hos [sic] way out of art school. And he [sic] very slutty … Still barely know slut besides his level of sluttyness just keeps getting worse…

[The MC] was an unlike able slut IMO. Reading all of his slutty thoughts got old really quick. The whole story is pretty much slutty thoughts and remembering past lovers and orgies…And of course there was no chemistry or emotions. Just two sluts fucking in the desert because they’re both hot…

Disclaimer: None of those reviews were for any of my books. This isn’t a “wronged author” rant. I’ve disguised names to protect the actual books.

I don’t care if those characters are fictional or not, slut-calling is never acceptable. That, in the instances above, it’s a man calling other men sluts in no way excuses such behaviour. I don’t care who’s doing the calling and who’s being called, it’s a dirty, nasty, insidious little word.

What does slut even mean? Originally it meant a woman who was dirty; or kept a dirty house. These days, it seems to mean simply “someone who has more sex than I do.” The judgement lurking behind that word is two-fold; it implies that the person being called a slut is cheap, loose, of low morals; and therefore by virtue of calling another a slut the person doing the naming is implying that their own morals are impeccable; that they have just the right amount of sex.

Well who gets to make that decision? How much sex is too much; how many partners is one too many? Some might say a partner a week; a month; a year…hell, my nan would say if you have more than one partner in your lifetime you’re naught but a common trollop.

What slut-calling reads like, so many times, is sour grapes. “They’re getting more than me, so to boost my own low self-esteem I’m going to make them ashamed for what they’ve done.”

Sex, whatever else you think about it, is the great validator. Someone finds you desirable enough to want to see you naked, to get down and dirty and sweaty with you, to touch the most intimate parts of your body until you make all kinds of silly noises. Being attractive; being in a relationship, these things make us feel good. We’re conditioned to judge our self-worth through the eyes of others. Sex is the tangible proof that we are desirable, that we are wanted. We have value.

This is neither the time nor place to start decrying that. It is what it is, for better or worse.

This man-on-man slut-calling really disturbs me. We’re all used to the misogyny behind man-on-woman slut-calling and most people recognise it for what it is. Man-on-man, and particularly gay-man-on-gay-man, is something else entirely. It’s a whole new beast.

The old double-standard between the sexes when it comes to sex has been widely documented and discussed. So what’s this new double-standard all about? Since when did gay men turn on each other when it comes to sex? Since when, for that matter, did promiscuity become a problem for men at all?

Not all men are promiscuous, any more than all women are virgins. Both sexes have their share of Madonnas and whores. (I’m using that word in a technical sense, not a judgemental one). Gay men walk a line, however, between the old gendered stereotypes. They’re men, ergo they like sex and want it as often and indiscriminately as they can get it. But they’re gay men, and the implication of passivity is clear: those taking the “woman’s part” in sex can’t give it up too often without fear of censure.

Being penetrated is the ultimate act of intimacy. You’re allowing another person to enter your body, to possess you in the most basic sense. That doesn’t mean that the passive partner in intercourse has to be the submissive one, but the implication is there, and the connotations of that act have always been those of trust, surrender; of being owned by the person invading your body. Quite simply, many people argue, you can’t achieve that level of intimacy with a virtual stranger, a quick hook-up, a one-night stand. So to allow your body to be used in that sense must imply some moral looseness, some basic lack of respect for your own anatomy (autonomy?), right?

Wrong, wrong, wrong. Because what that kind of thinking doesn’t account for is the simple fact that it feels damn good. That the passive partner can take as much pleasure from being penetrated as the active can in doing the penetrating. There’s an old assumption that penetrating another person is less intimate, is less about them and more about getting yourself off. What such views fail to take into account is the fact that penetrating someone involves just as much trust and intimacy – vagina dentata, anyone? – as being penetrated. Taking the most vulnerable part of your body and inserting it in anyone else, in any orifice, is to put it at risk. Just ask any guy who’s snapped his banjo. (Google it).

More and more, I’m seeing gay sex demonised; not only by the straight haters, but by so-called allies, and by gay people themselves. No, we’re not all about the sex. Yes, for better or worse, it is sex that defines us. I don’t like that any more than the next queer. We’re ordinary people, we feel, we love, and it’s no-one else’s damn business what we get up to between the sheets. So, so often I see us reduced to simple acts; like we’re a bunch of carnal gorillas who can’t control our basest urges.

Here’s the thoughts of a so-called (self-proclaimed) “ally” (I use that word in the loosest possible sense) in a recent article in the Huffington Post.

Gay pride parades in the current political climate, should be showing the fact that gay people fit perfectly into society, rather than showing them as fluorescent wig-wearing, skin-tight leather trouser-donning eccentric extroverts; who all love bondage gear and sailor suits. How can you really blame society for believing the typical gay stereotypes when the community itself, on their biggest platform, continue to confirm them and continue to portray themselves as being different from everyone else?

Laura Pearson-Smith, self-confessed straight woman, telling us queers how we should live our lives and present ourselves to the rest of the world. Thanks Laura, but I think you can guess where I say you should shove your advice.

She argued that Pride should be about love, but from her perspective, “The emphasis was on sex rather than love”. Can sex not be loving? Are the two so divided? I don’t think so. Nor do I think that’s the case with Pride anyway. She was writing specifically about Edinburgh Pride, but she mentioned that she’d seen similar in the media images of Manchester Pride, which I attended. I’ve never been to Edinburgh Pride, but speaking for Manchester I can say that the Pride event is not just the Big Weekend and the Parade but a ten-day festival of arts, history and culture. Some of those events included (drum roll, please) a Family Fun Day, a Dog Show, a Ceilidh (that’s a traditional Scottish barndance-type-thing, and it was run by the Quakers, no less), a prayer meeting, an It’s A Knockout-style event, and Bingo. Clutch those pearls, girly!

I think there’s more truth in the old adage that “you only see what you want to see” than in anything Mrs Pearson-Smith claims to have observed. She references the original Pride event in NYC with no irony and apparently no idea whatever that that event commemorated a riot started by drag queens. Seriously. (Nor does she realise that 1969 was the year of the Stonewall Riots and that the first Pride Parade didn’t take place until 1970).

What I saw in Manchester was a lot of people having a good time. Being visible and unafraid. Yes, some dressed in drag, yes some were in their skimpies (the water polo team marched in the Parade in their, ahem, “uniform”. They were especially popular…). I spent the Big Weekend with a group of friends, some in couples, some single, some with their SOs and some without. Some of them got lucky. Some of them went home alone or crashed with their friends. One got a booty call at 2am on the Friday night / Saturday morning and ditched the rest of us sharpish. Is sex a part of Pride? Of course it is. Sex is a part of any event where you get large numbers of available young people mixed with drink and music and a general carnival atmosphere. How many people get laid at Glastonbury? Does that impact negatively on the public perception of heterosexuality?

More to the point, is that all Pride is about? Not on your life. Is that all being gay is about? Of course not. But I’ll repeat this until I’m blue in the face and my voice cracks – there is nothing shameful about sex. So what if Pride was all about sex? Who cares? And, more importantly, why the hell does that have to affect anyone else’s perception of our community? Do we only deserve equal rights if we behave at all times in a way that the masses find morally upstanding? I could cite a thousand examples of straight people acting in promiscuous and “immoral” ways. Does that mean that all straight people are like that?

Actually what I see so often in the gay community is that we embrace our diversity. I love being part of a community where girly-girls and butch-boys brush shoulders with drag kings and queens, with trans people of every shape and size, with BDSMers and twinks and disco divas and gym bunnies and leather daddies. Whoever you are, whatever you’re into, on the scene you are not alone. What people like Mrs Pearson-Smith want us to do is shun those people. They want us to segregate our community, to discriminate against its most marginal members because they’re – shock! gasp! – different.

Well forgive me, but isn’t that what the straight community has always done to us? I don’t believe any form of discrimination is ever right, and I certainly don’t agree with one minority kicking it down the line to another. If, in order to make our public face palatable to the majority, we have to trample over anyone in our community who is deemed undeserving of equality, then that’s not equality to begin with and I for one want no part in it. Watching gay men turn on each other and start slut-calling makes me sick. We’ve got enough shit to deal with already without having to defend ourselves against our own community.

I don’t care what anyone thinks of me. My sole aim is to live my life in a way that makes me happy. If I’m not hurting anyone else, then it’s no-one’s damn business how I go about that. If I want to sleep with a different person every single day I damn well will, and I don’t see how anything that I do – or don’t do – says anything meaningful at all about anyone else who identifies as gay – or white, or female, or blue-eyed, or anything else for that matter. The cornerstone of all discrimination is the fear of what is different.

Sex might be universal, but it’s also the great divider. It’s something so personal, so intimate, that we will always be tempted to judge other people for the things that make them go ooh! As long as we do that, drawing our highly-subjective lines in the sand, we will never embrace true equality. Until we accept that it doesn’t affect us in the slightest what someone else does in the sack, we will always be perversely fascinated by the private lives of others. We should not be fooled by the lies of our so-called “allies” into turning on each other in order to prove that we’re somehow “better” than them, that we are somehow more deserving of equality. It’s a lie: a nasty, dangerous one. If other people can’t accept us because of some percieved fault in a minority of our community, then that’s their problem. Let’s not make it ours.

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Kate Aaron is the bestselling author of contemporary and fantasy gay romances.
Find all her books on AmazonAReB&N,  iTunesSWSony & Kobo

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