It’s okay to not know everything about sex (most of my past partners would probably say I don’t either) — but it’s less okay to demand explanation from people who engage in different types of sexual activity than you. While asking queer people about their sex lives is not inherently offensive, it does matter how you approach the subject. I’ve come up with some guidelines*, not because I’m trying to police how straight people talk to queer people, but rather because self love is hard and most of us are trying to undo years of hurt from being labeled as different. Language is powerful, and without meaning to, you could make a queer person feel like, oh I don’t know… they were back in a middle school locker room in Texas counting down the minutes until the bell rang to distract from their classmates jeers. Or some other unspecific example.
Don’t call it “gay sex.”
Gay sex? I don’t know her. I wouldn’t ask you, “Susan, how was your hetereosexual sex last night?” That’s weird, and such rhetorical dichotomy plays on the idea that one type of sex is normal while another is not. If for whatever reason you seek to highlight differences in mechanics, try phrasing your question in the personal: how was your sex last night? It’s crucial you don’t make the queer person feel fetishized or unnatural.
Don’t use sexual stereotypes, even in a joking manner.
It’s not uncommon to hear cis gay men and women tease each other about their sexual type. Top, Bottom, Butch, Lipstick, Fem, etc. have connotations attached to them, connotations that are often rooted in stereotypes. And while queers slinging these terms at each other can be an empowering repurposing of language, it takes on a different context when a straight person uses these stereotypes to tease. “Jake? With those earrings? He’s got to be a bottom!” You most likely mean no harm, but there’s a thin line between teasing and demeaning, and there are still several spaces where words like “butch” and “feminine” are used as slurs rather than indicators of sexual roles.
Personally, I don’t mind if a close straight friend draws correlations between how I present and my presumed sexual role, but it’s a conversational intimacy that must be earned. And while a certain stereotype might ring true for an individual, it’s vital we don’t forget it is still a stereotype.
It’s not cool to gender sexual activities.
It’s 2017, and we’re doing our best to unlearn concepts of gender, but too often we don’t extend this understanding into the bedroom. Under no circumstances is it okay to ask your queer friends, “Who’s the boy and who’s the girl when you have sex?” Jeremy, this is all sorts of fucked up. Not only are you gendering the sexual act of penetration (who says women can’t penetrate? Read: pegging), but you’re also forcing queer relationships into a heterocentric mold. Sex is not defined by straight expressions of it. While penial/vaginal intercourse between a cis-man and a cis-woman is probably the type of sex you’ve heard about most, there are so many other ways to have sex. Expand your mind, breeder!
Stop asking gay men if they get feces on their penises.
This should seem like a given, no? But every now and then some drunk person will whisper in my ear, “Aren’t you worried about getting poop on your dick?” Well, Bridgette, first I’d like to applaud your scientific curiosity. Secondly, I’d urge you to discover your own taint, for it’s a complex and self-cleaning creature possessing the capacity to give you far more satisfaction than that derived from dropping a deuce.
Avoid making any visible or audible indicators of disgust.
That being said, despite our best efforts there are inevitably times where queer men will come into contact with fecal matter. If you’re crude you refer to these moments as “shitdick,” but personally I opt for the less negative “painting.” While such moments are not necessarily enjoyable for queer men, they are an unique reality of engaging in anal sex. If you’re a hetereosexual person who doesn’t engage in anal sex, I wouldn’t expect you to understand — but I do expect you to exhibit enough respect not to make me feel bad about it. No one should be forced to apologize for their bodies, its functions, or the sex they have.
Questions are ok. But when it comes to questions about mechanics, maybe you should just google it?
You’re probably reading this on a smartphone right now, so rather than ask queer people to explain the intricacies of how they have sex, perhaps try redirecting some questions to Siri. It’s not that we are ashamed and don’t want to tell you how we fuck, but it can be tiring to be constantly put in a position where we have to explain ourselves. Imagine if we consistently asked you to unpack how the clitoris is stimulated by a penis (although, if statistics of female satisfaction are any indicator, maybe we should do this more often and loudly in the presence of straight men). Why ask a queer girl to break down scissoring when you have the worldwide web at your fingertips, chock-full of visual aids?
Stop saying you wish you were gay or bi.
Sure, being queer is fabulous and magical but it also has its downsides. It’s not cute for you to co-opt an identity, even in the hypothetical, without taking on any real weight that comes with the reality of being queer.
Be aware of how you qualify sex in conversation, and then stop doing it.
It’s natural to assume how you’re doing something is the norm, but to project that onto others can be frustrating. So therefore we have to be extra aware of how we qualify sex, including our own. It usually comes down to linguistic subtleties, for example, people often tell queer girls: “So you two just eat each other out?” Notice the phrasing, and use of the word ‘just.’ It seems small, but it implies that oral sex is secondary to penetrative sex, which can be conflated to penetrative sex is better/more legitimate than oral sex. And whether or not you intend to, your phrasing can make a queer person feel like shit. Odds are, your queer friend won’t tell you this because they know you don’t mean to hurt their feelings. But we are responsible for how we express ourselves, and a little awareness goes a long way. We all have personal preferences, but it’s important not to conflate your sexual tastes with fact. No type of sex is better than another.
It is not your place to ask non-binary or trans folk about how their private parts correlate to their gender identity.
Just because your friend is genderqueer or transgender does not give you the right to nonchalantly inquire about their body. Gender identity is expressed and manifests differently with everyone, and asking a trans man or woman to detail their anatomy, surgical history or plans, is NOT YOUR PLACE. Their bodies are politicized enough without their friends pressuring them to explain or divulge information. Not to mention that by asking such questions, you’re further perpetuating cis-normative concepts of gender, and thereby asking genderqueer/trans folk to redefine their identity in terms you — cisgendered human — can understand. Wait until they’re comfortable enough to share information about their bodies, or better yet, don’t fixate on someone else’s genitalia because it’s none of our business.
Treat the conversation like you would treat one surrounding hetero sex.
These tips are in no way meant to turn you off from talking about the nasty with your queer friends. I’m a queer cis-man and I enjoy celebrating/commiserating with my straight friends about my sexual experiences. And odds are your queer friends want to share their sex life with you, too. But like all relationships, it’s about respect, and it’s a two way street: it is likewise fucked up for queer folk to fetishize or shame you for the type of sex you have. Creating a safe and positive space to discuss each other’s sexual escapades is about genuinely listening and being mindful of how we speak.
**Lastly, this is a list of tips generated by only a few perspectives, and should be treated as such. Not all queer folk operate similarly, and therefore view this list as some rough guidelines that are general and not universal. The best way to discover your friends comfortability, believe it or not, is to ask them; always remembering we are not entitled to information about anyone’s sex life, queer or straight.
Black and white photos taken by: Sage Sohier