The Cutting Room Floor: Masculinity, Gender and Orientation

It's often a bit of a bummer to do extended interviews for press pieces, because a lot of the time -- including just because of length constraints put on the reporter at hand, which are often very strict -- I find I feel like the most interesting stuff said, or some important context, winds up on the cutting room floor.

I recently answered some questions for a reporter from the Globe and Mail about issues of masculinity, gender identity⁠ and sexual orientation⁠ in Lynn Shelton's new film, Humpday. Quite coincidentally, I'm acquaintances with Lynn, who also lives in Seattle. The world just never stops getting smaller, I swear.

I'm feeling a bit silly about not having realized before today that when I do an interview with a reporter and am disappointed with what they chose to use, there's nothing stopping me from publishing all of that myself. With the most recent interview I did, I was particularly bummed because I thought the reporter asked some really great questions. Why waste all those thoughts and words when I don't have to?

So, starting today, when I do interviews that involve issues central to Scarleteen (and that's what I usually do) via email, and think some good things came to be that didn't see the light of day, we'll have a Cutting Room floor post of the full text of the interview.

Q: Why is that Katy Perry can sing "I kissed a girl and I liked it" but most people would find it strange if a straight male singer sang "I kissed a boy and I liked it"?

Well, as I'll get into some more with your other questions, let's take a look. Katy Perry is very conventionally attractive. Straight men hearing her sing that are probably more likely to be turned on by her singing that than turned off.

That particular song also makes a lot of excuses for her kissing⁠ that girl: she says it wasn't her intention, she had no plans to do that, she was drinking, she was only curious, she has no romantic⁠ feelings, and it's really important her boyfriend (thus verifying her heterosexuality to the listener: you presume it yourself in the question you asked, when in fact, if she's kissing girls, she's probably not a 0 on the Kinsey scale) is okay with it. She says it felt wrong; says that girl -- not even just the kiss, the girl herself, objectifying her soundly -- is an "experimental game."

In many ways, this is actually the perfect anthem to what's currently considered socially acceptable female homosexuality or bisexuality, especially for teens and twentysomethings: it's got all the ingredients of the ways same- sex⁠ attraction or activity can be excused. It'd be a sadly-great guidebook for young women now wondering how to justify sexual⁠ experiences with a woman successfully were someone looking for such a thing.

What she doesn't say is she's only attracted to women or attracted to women more than men, that she thinks she might be lesbian⁠ or bisexual⁠ , that it felt TOTALLY right, that it was freaking amazing, that she wanted anything more an an innocent (a word she uses in the song) kiss, that she MEANT to do exactly what she did with the clearest head possible. Saying any of those things would make what she says she did a whole lot less okay with a lot of folks. Let's also be frank. She's talking about kissing. She is NOT singing, "I shagged a girl and I not only liked it, I liked it better than when I shagged a guy." I imagine that'd elicit a VERY different cultural response.

Additionally? I think we also have to take into account when you ask that how many people figure that kissing isn't even something they'd consider masculine⁠ . When straight people envision two men being sexual together, they pretty much leap to anal sex⁠ -- do not pass go, do not collect $200 or any snuggles or smooches -- immediately. I think we can also observe that a lot of people seem to think kissing is something men do for women, not because kissing rocks and is mutually enjoyable. So, that song being okay but the inverse seeming strange, if it does, not only is about homophobia⁠ , but about gender⁠ roles.

Q: Do many boys experiment sexually with other boys at some point in their lives?

Based on what we know from sexuality research and self-reporting, many people of all genders have sexual experiences with the same sex or gender during life, and it's even more common among younger people, who, as a group do tend to be more fluid with their sexuality than their older counterparts, mostly because the part of life they're in is all about identity⁠ -seeking, trying to find out⁠ who they are. And from what we know, that's always been the case: it's not something new for this generation or the last few, though younger generations may be more inclined to disclose those experiences or relationships.

I don't say "experiment" as you did, because even in that we see some of the attitudes and homophobia I'm talking about. Who is to say what experimenting is, anyway? Isn't all the sex we all have, no matter with whom, experimental in some way? Most people will also say "experiment" when we're talking about sexual exploration with the same sex, but won't use that same language when talking about early or formative sexual experiences with those of a different sex or gender. See how this all works and how sneaky and pervasive it is?

Q: Are young men (and everyone else) now perhaps more comfortable talking about experimenting with other young boys than they used to be?

It depends on what you mean by "used to." If you mean compared to a hundred or fifty years ago, yes, absolutely. Compared to ten or twenty years ago? Maybe, maybe not. This particular generation of young people have both received and sent a lot of strong messages that it's cool or sexy for women to have sexual experiences (as opposed to romantic relationships: that's treated differently) with each other, especially with male onlookers or participants present, but there's a very intense double standard there. They are not given that message around male-male sexual interactions at all. Gendernormativity and heteronormativity⁠ have been pretty strongly enforced and reinforced with a lot of this generation, especially during the Bush years.

However, overall, with nearly every decade in the last couple of centuries, we have been seeing progress when it comes to homophobia and a greater acceptance for a range of sexual orientation. It's been very slow progress, to be sure, but progress all the same.

Q: Why is it that we tend to think female sexuality is fluid whereas male sexuality is rigid?

Possibly because in some sense, it has been found to be true and often is so. Many sound sexuality studies have shown that women do tend to be more fluid in their sexuality then men, including in their choice of sexual partners in terms of gender as well as with with their sexual behaviour, ideas and attitudes.

However, there's always some chicken-and-egg going on when it comes to human sexuality and this kind of stuff.

While we have strong reason to believe some aspects of sexuality are pretty hard-wired, we also know many are learned, and a lot of what we learn we learn before we even have context for that information, or know we're getting that information. For instance, many children will grow up seeing women be far more physically affectionate with other women than they will men with men. Plenty of children and adolescents come of age with overt and covert messages that tend to say it's more acceptable for women to be fluid than men, or to go outside perceived gender norms. Ideas and ideals of masculinity and femininity play a huge part. Women also are often raised with the message that it's important to BE sexually fluid for some not-so-cool reasons: for example, because women, for instance, are supposed to have our sexuality revolve around love first and feelings of physical attraction second, because male partners may want things sexually we're not so keen on, but it's our duty and place to satisfy them.

We really have no way of knowing, since no one grows up or lives in a vacuum, how fluid people are based on nothing but their chromosomes or gonads⁠ . For all we know, men might be just as sexually fluid as many women are if they got different social conditioning around sexuality, or women might be less so if our conditioning was different.

Q: How does that stereotype⁠ affect men?

I'm not sure we can say at this point it is exactly a stereotype, because it does tend to often be factual in many ways.

However, that idea, or that fact (when it is fact), certainly sends some strong messages, especially since it is not usually paired with any discussion of the fact that less fluidity may be -- and in my opinion, probably is -- learned behavior rather than biology.

It reinforces homophobia, to be sure, and it reinforces a lot of the negative ideas of masculinity (men shouldn't touch each other and if they do it's sexual, female bisexuality or lesbianism are still about men or include men, men who love men are icky, men who love men aren't masculine, et cetera). It also makes it tougher for gay⁠ or bisexual men to come out and be out, as well as putting up barriers for men who may have sexual or romantic feelings about other men and want to explore those.

P.S. In that Globe and Mail piece, Dr. Lippa said the following:

If you're a gay man, you're turned on to men. If you're a straight man, you're turned on to women. There's a very specific category that turns you on. Women just don't seem to be category-specific in the same way,

... which pretty much implies or states that bisexual men just don't exist. If there were a prize today for fostering invisibility, I'd give it to Dr. Lippa. But I'd first have to think of how to make an invisible prize. Hmm.