The current issue of the New Yorker magazine has a cartoon by Danny Shanahan, that, apropos of a few recent conversations, I just had to mention here.
Two dogs are walking down the sidewalk. One looks worried (his eyebrows are drawn up in the center, down at the outside corners). The other is speaking. He says “He rubbed your belly and it felt good — that doesn’t make you gay.” (You can view the cartoon for sale here.)
Given that dogs sniff each other’s butts without regard for one another’s sex, and that they lick themselves and they masturbate using any available surface (table leg, human appendage, it matters not) I’m sure they’re less hung up on this stuff than people are. So man’s best friend here must be standing in for man, no?
Is there anything makes men more anxious than their enjoyment of physical contact with another man? Apparently yes. Apparently the label “gay” makes them even more anxious than the contact itself. Having your belly rubbed is fine. Being thought of as gay? Yikes!
And while some of us are out there trying to make all those “straight” men feel more comfortable with their same-sex arousals, what about the gay men for whom “gay” is an important identity and political category?
Dan Savage understands the problem. He answered “Middle-aged Kinkster” who wanted advice about how to go out and experience “gay sex,” which he had permission from his wife to explore, and Savage answered thusly:
“A. No ideas, MAK. No advice, no guidance, no pointers. You know why I got nothin’ for you? Because if we gay guys aren’t allowed to be married— to each other—then you married straight guys aren’t allowed to be gay. Not even once, not even if you’re just going to put it in a little, not even with the wife’s permission. (Married Canadian straight guys can be as gay as they like, of course—have at it, fellas.) “
Savage is wrong, I think, to tell this guy never to explore sex with men, but I absolutely understand his resentment of people with heterosexual privilege “playing” with activities that are used to stigmatize and deny privilege to large groups of people.
So, and I know this may sound facile in the way that Rodney King’s “why can’t we all get along” sounded facile, but still: How do we create the kind of culture where everybody can relax and enjoy having their bellies rubbed without the granting or denial of respect, legitimacy and access to basic social resources or respect being determined by the gender of the person who does the rubbing?
Because we seem to be rather stuck.