Gender isn’t the same thing as sexuality

By Patrick

Fag. Dyke. Sissy. Lesbian. Bisexual. Homosexual. Does wearing an earring make me something other than heterosexual? What about going to a gay club? Men putting mousse in their hair? Women wearing high-top sneakers? Women wearing pants? Two men holding hands? Two women holding hands? Women kissing one another? Two men hugging one another?
What if a man thinks another man is ugly, or if a woman thinks another woman is cute? At what point do these actions render us to one side or another, or within any category?
Recently, a friend of mine approached me and, with much trepidation, said, “Patrick, I hope you don’t get offended, but I want to ask you a question.” She continued with a strained voice, “Somebody told me that you’re gay. Is it true?”
“Why would somebody think that I’m gay?” I asked.
She said that people had seen me on campus with a guy named Rashad who is comfortable with stating that he’s only interested in sexual relationships with men. “And I don’t know of any straight men who are friends with gay men,” she continued.
Am I gay? What defines our sexuality? And what — or who — defines my sexuality?
Having been both an initiator and, more recently, a recipient of this critical question of what people consider to be a question of normalcy, I paused and contemplated a response to her question.
What does it mean to you when you use the word “gay”? What makes someone “gay”?
As I posed this question to my friends to find out if I was indeed gay, I found that there are many definitions or identities of sexuality.
Some people believe that our genitals serve as a barometer of where we fit into sexual society — heterosexual and homosexual serve as the extremes of moral and immoral, normal and different.
But if our genitals are a barometer of sexuality, then our actions behind closed doors are contradictions. Alfred Kinsey, who constructed a seven-point scale to reflect the continuum of human sexual behavior, said 50 percent of the men in a study could be classified as bisexual and at least 10 percent of married men in the study participated in some homosexual activity.
In a 1985 study of married women, 56 percent had homosexual experiences during their marriages. In the same study, 76 percent of males and 78 percent of females in marriages in which the man had declared bisexuality described their marriages as “outstanding” or “better than average.”
My experiences growing up in Chicago serve as a reference for understanding myself and the world around me. During my teenage years in the mid-80s, a new sound developed on the night scene — house music, a name derived from a nightclub, The Warehouse. At The Warehouse, strands of underground disco, funk, soul, and classic Philly were woven into syncopated beats. Black gay clubbers comprised the original crowd of listeners.
Later, the music would draw hundreds and then thousands of people from the urban scene in Chicago, New York, and European clubs, especially in the United Kingdom. Crowds would swell and sway to these funky beats; the walls would perspire. The hypnotic sound from the bass would compel one to dance indifferently with the opposite sex, same sex, speakers, poles, the wall, the floor, in the bathroom, in the corner, and even with the DJ.
The music provided a release from oppression of racism, classicism, sexism, and most importantly, our sexuality. Words from various disco songs provided us the escape route — “Music is the key to unlock your mind, to set you free.” House music gave us all an opportunity to be ourselves, to be free.
When Rashad approached me and befriended me in class, his sexual orientation — as anyone’s, I thought — was of no concern to me. Throughout the duration of the class, Rashad and I became closer, and because Rashad was so secure with himself, I felt comfortable being myself around him.
One day I phoned him and told him I was having serious academic problems in a class. While telling him my frustrations, I began to get emotional (something I was told only women do). Rashad reassured me that it was OK to release my frustrations — if I wanted to cry, I could.
Throughout the semester, I phoned Rashad two to three times a day. He never once thought that I was attracted to him. He never made me feel uncomfortable about expressing myself. He even helped me find a tutor.
My other male friends advised me to drink some beer; that would help me deal with the problems. Or call a female over, some suggested. Whenever I refused those options and told them that I just wanted to talk, they felt uncomfortable. One of them thought that my constant calls were unmasculine.
Two men can’t hang out and provide one another support and care without the stigma of being labelled abnormal? Rashad is more human than any man I’ve met on this campus so far.
We must not confuse masculinity as the definition of a man, or femininity as a definition of a female. Our physical characteristics are insignificant; they do not, cannot, and have not served as a barometer, sexual or otherwise.

This column was first published in Tuesday’s issue of the Chicago Maroon at the University of Chicago.