If a man repeatedly slept with other men but insisted he were straight, would you believe him? From a queer perspective, we’re well-acquainted with the type. Their image-less profiles are all over Grindr, expecting you to show every square inch of your body without a single glimpse of their own. (I’m generalizing here, but you know it’s true.)
It would be easy to denounce these self-professed straight men as closeted or confused, and in some cases, this may be true. But sexuality is a complicated and personal thing. Take it from me: I identified as straight until I came out as bisexual at 27 years old and as queer at 30. The difference between me and most of these men is that I never had a gay sexual experience until I declared my departure from the closet.
After years of serious introspection, I realized that internalized homophobia was to blame. At the time, I’d convinced myself that by having gay sex, I would be a gay man, so I wouldn’t do it, no matter how badly I wanted to. It sounds ridiculous, but shame is powerful. Though I knew my queerness to be true, I fooled myself into thinking it wasn’t real as long as I didn’t engage in sexual acts with another man.
Since my perspective is just one, I decided to ask my mostly queer Twitter following about straight men who have sex with men. Responses were mixed. Some, like Matt, 24, believe these men are too scared to label themselves outside of heteronormativity. That they don’t accept their bi nature or don’t believe it exists, which leads to bi erasure. “They should find fluidity in their sexuality and be proud of who they decide to sleep with,” he says.
Shane, 34, is more supportive, adopting a “more, the merrier” mindset. He thinks we should encourage more men to communicate with their partners, openly question societal gender and sexual norms, and learn to embrace the sexuality spectrum in a positive way.
Others, like Adrian, 25, regard these men as potentially harmful to our community. “It pushes a narrative to hateful majorities that sexuality is a choice and can be flicked like a switch,” he says. “We have definitions for a reason. If you enjoy sex with men and women or multiple gender identities, you’re bi or pan.”
Joe, 28, thinks it’s fine as long as they aren’t choosing to identify as gay, bi, pan, etc. from a place of repulsion or shame. “But if it comes from a place of fluidity, curiosity and free of toxic masculinity, it’s all healthy and good,” he says.
Dr. Joe Kort, Ph.D, is one of the more outspoken professionals on the subject, which he has studied for nearly 40 years. He boasts hundreds of thousands of views on TikTok where he defends straight men’s sexual autonomy among a multitude of other topics.
Kort has worked many clients who have sex with men and identify as straight and is adamant that these men are, in fact, straight. “They don’t have any romantic interest in men and their sexual attraction is not generally to the entire man, it’s to the possible sex acts that are available to him with the man,” he tells NewNowNext.“That’s what sexual fluidity is all about. There are plenty of gay men who are periodically sexual with women in context-driven situations but are not generally attracted to women.”
Kort believes that identity is where you feel a sense of belonging and where your “home culture” is. As such, a straight man can have sex with another man and still be straight if that is how he views himself.
When these men come to Kort for answers, he asks them a series of questions about if they were ever attracted to men in their youth, if they are homophobic, who they want to wake up next to in the morning, and last but not least, what he calls the “beach test” (When you’re on the beach, are you checking out men, women, both, or neither?). More often than not, Kort has found that their answers all point toward them being straight. (He makes a point to mention that none of the straight men he’s spoken to claim to be homophobic.)
Aside from claiming they are closeted, a self-described straight man might have sex with other men for many reasons. One is a fear of being judged by a female partner for expressing desire in something that is culturally perceived as “gay,” like prostate massage or rimming. Another is narcissism. Put simply, they might enjoy the attention they get from gay men.
My friend Perry loves sleeping with straight men and hasn’t slept with a man who identifies as queer in years. He doesn’t fetishize straight men; they just happen to treat him better. “Straight men don’t want you to be sexy and ripped and toned and perfect and hung and hairless,” he shares over text. “The whole vanity aspect of the hookup is gone. They don’t care if you’re the sexiest man on earth. They’re just in it for the experience.”
Research has found that these men may also be re-enacting unresolved early life trauma, which can manifest as fetish-type behavior. Kort shares that the behavior could be attributed to “gynephilia,” meaning these men are turned on by femininity, and gender is secondary or wholly unimportant. As queer people, we’re well aware that gender, like sexuality, can be fluid — and that a person’s gender presentation doesn’t necessarily correspond with their gender identity.
These men may also be drawn to the fact that sex with other men is often more transactional. In his book Still Straight: Sexual Fluidity Among White Men in Rural America, sociologist Dr. Tony Silva found that straight men who were married to women would have extramarital sex with men because men were “less clingy” and therefore less of a threat to their marriage. Some also said they enjoyed receiving anal sex from other men because it allowed them to experience pleasure without the pressure to perform they felt with women.
According to Silva, many of the men he interviewed felt that sex with men was irrelevant to their identities given other aspects of their lives, like their romantic relationships with women and the people they surrounded themselves with. In short, it’s complicated. “Gay and bisexual men view their sex with other men as a sign that they are gay or bisexual,” he tells NewNowNext. “Straight men, in contrast, view themselves as straight despite their sex with men. Each group interprets their sexual acts differently even though they are doing similar things.”
Silva mentions that most of the men he talked to were primarily physically attracted to women and exclusively romantically interested in women. Those who were in a relationship with a woman wanted to stay in a relationship with them. Generally speaking, sex with men was just one small part of their life that did not affect anything else.
“I think there’s a definite disconnect between gay and homosexual,” one of these men shared with Silva. “There’s the homosexual community, which isn’t a community, there’s the homosexual proclivity, and then the gay community. It’s like you can be an athlete without being a jock. And you can be homosexual without being gay, or into all of it. It just becomes so politically charged now.”
Silva mentions this because he feels it perfectly describes the nuance of this topic. Many people have queer or same-sex relations, but only a small portion of those people actively identify as LGBTQ.
If nothing else, this conversation shows how multidimensional and individual sexual orientation can be. It’s also contextual, and our desires, identity, and behaviors don’t always align. How we regard our own sexual identity is ultimately up to us, and we should respect and embrace the labels people use to describe themselves as long as no one is being harmed. Your sexuality is just that: yours.