This article was published on February 17th, 2016
This article is for the straights. The heterosexuals. Most gay guys have straight friends and family and sometimes these people can get incredibly confused by what goes on in the gay community. Sure, they know that ‘gay’ means two dudes having sex. And they may come and watch the occasional pride parade, though they are probably baffled by some of the groups in the parade.
Along with the dudes having sex with each other, there is an entire subculture that has been developed around gay guys and gay sex – a subculture with roots extending back to the molly houses of the 18 century (gay liberation was not the beginning of the gay subculture). When straight people see glimpses of this subculture, such as references to bears or Mr Midwest Leather, they get confused and often just pretend they didn’t see it. But for those straights that are a little curious, here is a very small and inexhaustive explanation of gay subculture.
Hookup culture. With the push for marriage equality, it can seem that all gay guys want to do is pair up for life and get married. Well yes, many if not most want to get married. However, even those guys are usually hooking up with other guys, including alongside their husbands. Gay guys are still guys and guys like sex. An entire infrastructure and code has developed to enable gay guys to have easy access to sex with as many guys as their libido enables. Gay guys hook up with random strangers to have sex, they have fuck buddies or friends with benefits, they have triads (like a couple but with three people), they hook up alone or with their partners. Basically, the average gay guy will have far far more partners over their life than a straight person.
Sex, but where? There is an entire infrastructure built to enable gay men to have sex. Some originated from a time when gay guys needed to be discreet or otherwise get arrested. There are the bathhouses, found in most major cities in the Western world, where gay guys walk around in towels, down passages with little rooms, meeting strangers for brief sexual encounters. Then there’s the outdoor cruising spots, such as parks and beaches, whose location is passed orally through the community. There are popular bathrooms, known in Britain as cottages, where men will discreetly hang around and screw in the stalls. And this has all entered the modern age too. There are far too many phone apps and websites where guys meet looking just for sex, sending each other nude pics to determine if they’re into one another. And of course there are dance and circuit parties where hookups are frequent.
Sex techniques. Straight people have many sex positions too but, for two men, the logistics are a bit different. So gay men have learnt their own ways of receiving and providing pleasure. Yes, gays treat the ass as an important sex organ. This can involve things such as rimming (similar to cunnilingus) or fisting. Sex toys such as butt plugs are involved. DP, or double penetration, is a goal for many bottoms. Oh, and that leads to tops and bottoms. Most gay guys have a preferred position – the top taking the penetrative role and the bottom taking the insertive role. However, even with a preferred position, most gay guys switch it up. If a guy likes both equally, he’s versatile or ‘vers’.
Fetishes. Many many straight people have fetishes. However, they’re practiced much more freely in gay culture. Leather, BDSM, rubber, daddy-son (age role play), wrestling (getting into singlets and playing a bit rough), watersports (piss), cum, etc. Even gay guys will often hide these from each other. However, others proudly display them. One way to let others know what you’re into is to where a handkerchief out of the back pocket with the colour indicating the fetish. Sometimes a leather wrist band with that colour will be worn. The side you where it on indicates whether you’re submissive or dominant.
Animal references. So your gay brother tells you he’s an otter. Does that mean he dresses up like an animal and that’s his fetish? Not exactly. Gay culture uses animal terms to denote body type and age. For example, a polar bear is usually a bigger, older, hairy guy. There are bears, cubs, otters, wolves, pups (which is also a fetish). Then there are muscle bears, twinks (not an animal). It’s not clear how all this started but it is an easy way of telling people what kind of guys you are into.
Gay subcultures. That’s right, within the gay subculture, there are even smaller subcultures. These often have their own specific gay bars in bigger cities and their own social norms. This list could be quite long but four of the biggest are: leather, bear, queer, and drag. The leather scene has competitions, local, regional, and national, its own bars, and particular ways of dressing. The bear scene is for beefy guys who tend to be pretty down to earth (beers over cocktails). The queer scene is for alternative folk, often disregarding gender norms and heavily influenced by left wing politics. And the drag scene has its own pecking order and methods for mentoring the new drag artists – and it’s also competition heavy and filled with a sick sense of humour.
Drugs and alcohol. Gay culture has often centred around the bar – in fact, this goes back centuries. Few gay guys have children to make sure they get up early on a Saturday morning. This means that they often like to party a lot harder into older age than most straight people. This often means drug use is more frequent, particularly party drugs. This includes methamphetamine (meth), ketamine (K), GHB, MDMA (molly), etc. Now the reason for this drug use is complex but is mostly due to more common mental health issues, ease of access, less familial responsibility, and because it’s a part of the culture. For good and for ill, they are a part of the culture.
Divas. Many gay men have a strong attachment to female icons. Why? Who knows really but it may be down with a stronger identification with women. The most celebrated tend to be entertainers who have a track record of supporting gay rights: Bette Midler, Madonna, Lady Gaga, Elizabeth Taylor. So don’t be surprised with how frequent their names come up.
The next time you meet this nice gay guy in the office with his suit and Italian shoes, don’t assume he’s all about lychee martinis and haute cuisine – chances are he’s involved in an entire subculture he’s not going to talk about at work.