It’s taken a long time but Ed Dyson has come to see that brand­ing all men gay to some ex­tent, can amount to ho­mo­pho­bia

Attitude - - Contents - Pho­tog­ra­phy Markus Bi­daux

Play­ing the field

My high- school best friend – I’ll call him Nick – had just ad­mit­ted that he was con­fused be­cause he’d started think­ing about me when­ever he mas­tur­bated. “Maybe we should kiss,” I sug­gested.

“I think I should be go­ing,” he mum­bled, be­fore shoot­ing off but not in the way I’d hoped. Ap­par­ently, my sug­ges­tion that we lock lips — at 8pm on a bench out­side my mum’s house in glam­orous Hud­der­s­field — was a step too far. Me mak­ing reg­u­lar cameos in his wank bank was, how­ever, per­fectly ac­cept­able. Don’t get me wrong, it was a ma­jor com­pli­ment, es­pe­cially given that I had both braces and acne at the time.

Con­fused? Well, that made two of us.

And so, at the ten­der age of 15, I em­barked on what would be­come a com­mit­ment to essen­tially think­ing all men were — to some ex­tent — se­cretly gay. Over the years, my friends, who are pretty much all fe­male or also openly gay, mocked me be­cause of it.

“Ed, you think ev­ery­one’s gay,” pals would smirk, rolling their eyes, af­ter I’d just con­fi­dently outed an­other stranger, celebrity or friendly waiter who’d held eye- con­tact a se­cond too long.

And, in fair­ness, they were right. If I had a pound for every time I’d ut­tered those words… well, I wouldn’t still oc­ca­sion­ally con­sider fak­ing my own death to es­cape stu­dent loans.

It’s amaz­ing that the irony es­caped me for so long that I — the guy who had spent high school silently dread­ing the mo­ment any­one ever ac­cused him of be­ing gay — had over the years, in­ex­pli­ca­bly, mor­phed into the ac­cuser.

It wasn’t un­til re­cently that I con­sid­ered the fact that peo­ple like my­self, while of­fi­cially be­liev­ing ev­ery­one needs to be true to them­selves, might be part of the prob­lem.

What if there re­ally are a mul­ti­tude of lev­els be­tween gay and bi­sex­ual? And, per­haps, one of the rea­sons so many men don’t feel com­fort­able ex­per­i­ment­ing, or ad­mit­ting to their cu­riosi­ties about man- on- man en­coun­ters, is be­cause peo­ple like Yours Truly are stand­ing across the room, eyes- nar­rowed, whis­per­ing cat­tily about them.

“He knows the words to the new Tay­lor

Swift song,” I’d re­mark, all- know­ingly, smug that I was right about him all along.

Yes, I’m afraid to say I might be an ex­am­ple of a gay man who has been un­wit­tingly en­dors­ing and car­ry­ing out a less- tra­di­tional, but still prob­lem­atic, form of ho­mo­pho­bia.

How­ever, in my de­fence, there was much go­ing on to en­cour­age me: a lot had hap­pened since Nick re­fused to kiss me, shap­ing these views that I’m now shame­fully re- eval­u­at­ing. As I got older, braces re­moved and acne cleared up, I could ac­tu­ally start be­ing in­ti­mate with men who weren’t se­verely vis­ually im­paired, pre­sent­ing me with new op­por­tu­ni­ties to be an­noy­ing.

“I only sleep with straight men,” I’d pro­fess at uni, proudly, about my ap­proach to dat­ing, like it was some messed- up badge of hon­our. That is just what turned me on, I’d tell my­self — and it was true, I sup­pose. Maybe I en­joyed the chal­lenge. As if dat­ing isn’t chal­leng­ing enough without re­strict­ing your­self to a group of suit­ors who, by their very def­i­ni­tion, aren’t in­ter­ested.

And yet, I was not without suc­cess. There were straight men will­ing to ex­per­i­ment. Sure, they all in­sisted they were straight, and some even threat­ened my life if I ever told an­other soul ( is it wrong that this made it hot­ter?) but they did ex­ist.

And nat­u­rally, I as­sumed each and every one of them — the ones with girl­friends or wives — were all so far in the closet they had the White Witch on speed dial. It’s only now that I’m en­ter­ing my thir­ties that it oc­curs to me that per­haps a lot of those men weren’t, and aren’t, in fact, gay at all.

Maybe they were ex­pe­ri­enc­ing the same cu­riosi­ties that I — and many of us – did in youth. I mean, keep it be­tween us, but I fooled around with a girl at school. And so maybe many of my en­coun­ters with straight men over the years helped them de­cide such car­ry­ing- on also wasn’t their cup of tea. An idea I’m choos­ing not to take per­son­ally.

A fine ex­am­ple of a man com­fort­able enough in his sex­u­al­ity to try- bi- and- not- lie is Con­nor Hunter, 21, the hunky Es­sex boy from Ex on the Beach, who “dab­bled” with a guy two years ago af­ter re­al­is­ing, dur­ing a ca­sual

“No boy should feel ashamed of any­thing be­cause if you don’t try it, you’ll never know...”

three­some, that his mate was star­ing at him, rather than the lucky lady they were sup­posed to be, erm, at­tend­ing to.

“I’d no­ticed him check­ing me out, then sure enough, three days later he phoned me and ad­mit­ted it,” laughs Con­nor. “He told me he thought he might be bi­sex­ual, and would I mind if we tried stuff to­gether? I said, ‘ What do you mean by that? How far do you want me to go?’”

Re­fresh­ingly, laid- back Con­nor fig­ured it was “no big­gie,” and agreed to meet up with his ques­tion­ing pal and take it from there. “We went on a night out and ended up try­ing bits and bobs,” Con­nor grins. “It didn’t go all the way, but we did ex­per­i­ment.”

And so, the mil­lion- dol­lar ques­tion: did he en­joy those bits and bobs?

“It didn’t re­ally do any­thing for me,” he ad­mits, sound­ing al­most dis­ap­pointed. “But I was glad I did it, and if any­thing it brought us closer. It was a big thing for him to come and ask me like that, and I’m glad he did.”

Blimey. I think I speak for most gay men when I say I wish the world shared Con­nor’s at­ti­tude, one he be­lieves stems from be­ing bul­lied at school for hang­ing around mostly with girls and not lik­ing foot­ball. “I did get la­belled a bit,” he tells At­ti­tude. “They’d say, ‘ oh he’s ob­vi­ously gay!’ I wasn’t, but from that day I’ve al­ways been open- minded, with a lot of gay friends.”

He adds: “I think lots of celebri­ties, whether they’ve ad­mit­ted it or not, have dab­bled in both swim­ming pools…”

Con­nor wishes any men “scared of la­belling” would take a leaf out of his book.

“I don’t think any boy should feel ashamed of any­thing be­cause if you don’t try it, you’ll never know.”

As re­gards to sex with men in fu­ture, he re­marks: “I’m not gonna say never. But what I will say is I love girls and I have a girl­friend, she’s amaz­ing.”

Con­clud­ing, he says: “It shouldn’t be an is­sue. But not every­body is as com­fort­able as me. I’m a very straight and open per­son and I wouldn’t ever do some­thing then lie about it.”

Straight and open, he says, without a hint of irony, but his chilled ap­proach to sex re­mains ad­mirable and rare, even in 2018.

Ja­cob Row­land, sim­i­larly, adopted a don’tknock- it- un­til- you’ve- tried- it’ ap­proach to his sex life. The en­gi­neer, 23, from Lu­ton ex­per­i­mented with his older, Rus­sian flat­mate a cou­ple of years ago. He’d ques­tioned his sex­u­al­ity – briefly – as a teenager. “I think ev­ery­one does, for a bit, all my friends did,” he says, but it wasn’t un­til mov­ing to Am­s­ter­dam aged 21 that he took the plunge.

“I lived with two gay men, one Rus­sian, one Pol­ish, both much older than me,” he ex­plains. “They hated each other, but I was friends with both.”

Ja­cob’s Rus­sian flat­mate was shorter than him and quite mas­cu­line, de­spite oc­ca­sion­ally sport­ing pink hair and mas­cara ( go fig­ure). They spent a lot of time ex­plor­ing Am­s­ter­dam’s party scene, which Ja­cob ad­mits was quite the “eye- opener.”

He con­tin­ues: “I’d never ex­per­i­mented with men, and had no in­ter­est re­ally, but since liv­ing with the guys, their mainly gay cir­cle of friends also be­came mine. I spent a lot of time in gay clubs. Men hit on me a lot, but I was just po­lite and said no. I was hav­ing a lot of ca­sual sex with women at the time.”

Ja­cob, who now has a fe­male fi­ancée and a 10- month- old son, speaks fondly of this pe­riod, and laughs: “One night my Rus­sian friend and I’d had a lot to drink. One thing led to an­other and we started kiss­ing, in the flat, and he ended up go­ing down on me.”

As you do. And? “I didn’t en­joy it, he had a beard!” Ja­cob chuck­les. “It was scratchy. But it didn’t bother me. It was a one- off. I don’t think it’s for me, but never say never.!”

“My girl­friend knows, but she’s open­minded too and didn’t mind,” says Ja­cob.

“She’s ex­per­i­mented with women be­fore so why is it dif­fer­ent?

“It’s as big deal as you make it.”

As great as it is hear­ing from modern men such as Con­nor and Ja­cob – who are hope­fully ex­am­ples of our ever- evolv­ing so­ci­ety — it’s dif­fi­cult to deny most straight men are still ter­ri­fied of be­ing con­sid­ered in any way gay.

I asked ex­pert Jane Ward, au­thor of the book, Not Gay – Sex be­tween Straight White Men, why this is. “In gen­eral, men are sub­ject to a nar­rower set of ex­pec­ta­tions about sex­ual ex­per­i­men­ta­tion than women,” she says. “There is a com­mon be­lief, which comes from decades of flawed re­search in sex­ol­ogy and so­cio­bi­ol­ogy, that men are ei­ther gay or straight and that even one sex­ual ex­pe­ri­ence with an­other man is an in­di­ca­tor of a re­pressed gay iden­tity.”

She be­lieves not only does this ren­der bi­sex­u­al­ity “in­vis­i­ble,” but it also ig­nores the com­plex cir­cum­stances in which men – like women – can have sex­ual ex­pe­ri­ences that don’t nec­es­sar­ily cor­re­spond with their sex­ual iden­tity.

“Straight peo­ple are largely in de­nial about the com­plex­ity of the sex­u­al­ity of straight men, which is why it was im­por­tant to me to write Not Gay,” she says. “We need to ed­u­cate young men that their sex­u­al­ity is as flex­i­ble, and un­der their con­trol, as the sex­u­al­ity of girls and women.”

Mak­ing me hang my head in shame, she adds: “Gay men can be very in­vested in telling any man who has a queer thought or de­sire that he is a closet case if he doesn’t come out as gay or bi­sex­ual. But I think it’s a bet­ter idea to let peo­ple tell us them­selves how they ex­pe­ri­ence their sex­u­al­ity, rather than im­pos­ing la­bels.”

It’s cer­tainly hard to ar­gue with that. As a com­mu­nity fa­mil­iar with be­ing on the re­ceiv­ing end of sham­ing, we should surely be the last to take plea­sure in pay­ing that neg­a­tiv­ity for­ward, even if dis­creetly.

Men can ex­per­i­ment, men can be cu­ri­ous, men can fuck men — without nec­es­sar­ily be­ing gay, which might just be a les­son some of us need to learn just as much as the rest of so­ci­ety.

If only I’d been able to ex­plain all of this to Nick 15 years ago.

“He went down on me. I didn’t re­ally en­joy it. He had a beard and it was scratchy!”

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